When the 15% Becomes the 17%

A few statistics around interracial marriage are the same now as they were several years ago. Asian’s tend to ‘marry out’ at much higher rates than other racial or ethnic groups. African-American men marry out at twice the rate their female counterparts do.

One thing is different for sure, which is that 17% of all married couples today are interracial. The rate of interracial marriage ticked up by two percentage points from 15% about four years ago, according to a recent analysis of think tank and government information by CreditDonkey, the (weirdly named) consumer Website.

A couple of other interesting nuggets:

  • Today the most common interracial pairing is one Hispanic spouse and one white spouse. This combination makes up 42% of interracial marriages today. (This statistic is interesting because I always understood ‘Hispanic’ to mean various ethnic groups and nationalities that are Spanish-speaking. But not Spanish. And I thought we had ditched the term ‘Hispanic’ for the Millennial-friendly ‘Latinx?’)

  • Hawaii has the largest number of interracial newlyweds today. 42% of newlyweds in Honolulu are mixed race. The next city with the largest number of interracial marriages is Las Vegas, with 31% of married couples being interracial.

  • Approximately 41% of mixed race couples end up in divorce within the first 10 years of marriage.

  • Approximately 31% of same-race couples end up in divorce after 10 years.

So people can howl and crow all they want to about interracial pairings. The trend is growing and doesn’t seem to be doing any harm in any measurable way. On the last two statistics, I’ll drop a piece of advice I picked up from a church sermon. “Choose wisely. Treat kindly.” Of the marriages I know of that have lasted through decades and decades, the two partners always treated each other with kindness — more so the men.

 

 

 

Along Came A Spider: Our Daughter’s Growing Affinity with African-Caribbean Culture

I decided from the jump not to introduce a lot of angst into my interracial relationship, or make growing up biracial a special burden for my child. While a successful and well-adjusted life depends as much on how the outside world treats us as how we react to it, I took steps to ensure that everyday life is as full of as much positivity as possible.

From a library book on African folk tales.

Anansi, from a library book on African folk tales.

It’s working. And I have a clever little spider named Anansi to thank for part of it. I started reading stories, very small ones to my daughter almost as soon as I felt her kicking!It started off as a way for me to have something to say to her all the live long day. (I was really excited to become a mother, as you can probably tell.) After she was born, the reading choices ballooned from modern classics like “Goodnight Moon,” to global folk tales to classic children’s stories to contemporary American fare. When she was a baby, reading became an essential ritual to help fertilize her mind for learning. We wanted to cultivate a thinking and feeling child, who would be capable of logic and spirituality. We didn’t want her to be in the army of vacuous automatons who go through life not really doing much, and who are practically numbed to her own existence. Worse still, numbed and inert to an existence higher than themselves. And yet we didn’t want her to be overwrought, either.

Folk tales are helping big time with that. We learn about Africa, Jamaica, and the diaspora of blacks in general. And it’s all pretty much fun for us, because we’re doing it through the hi-jinx and pranks of a clever little creature. I kind of wondered how baby would react to stories about a spider. Would she recoil, frightened and put off, or approach them with fascination? None of the former happened, thanks to the fact that my daughter loves animals — all of God’s creatures, even the creepy crawly ones. And we also read “Charlotte’s Web,” which helped promote good spider-child relations.

My daughter's rendering of Anansi, inspired by her library book.

My daughter’s rendering of Anansi, inspired by her library book.

Those stories opened the door to other tales, like “Mama Panya’s Pancakes,” and “Summer Jackson, Grown Up.” When I attended the Circle of Sisters with a friend last October, I picked up a paperback in a series of books about the adventures of two Jamaican boys, Mark and Markus. And recently Hubby’s family in Seattle sent my daughter three books from the “Anna Hibiscus” series, about a little Nigerian girl growing up in Africa. So it’s all snowballing from there. When I was growing up, we had to make special efforts to find nicely bound books filled with African tales. Modern tales about Black kids doing everyday things were a little more scarce. I’m relieved that it’s easier to find the stories these days, so that my daughter will know her mother’s background and culture is just as accessible and inviting as her father’s. Even if Mommy “stands out” in all the family pictures. (Oh, yes. There’s a story about that, too.)

Baby’s Most Important Connection Yet

My in-laws live almost 900 miles away from New Jersey, tucked in a two-story log cabin-style house in the foothills of the Appalachian mountain range, the part that touches the Deep South. We see them twice a year, yet my daughter has always known their faces and been familiar with them, thanks to the miracle of Skype. Hubby would carry her over to his desk when she was just weeks old, and hold her up to the camera while he chatted with his family.

This weekly Skype ritual is an extension of my in-laws’ already well-established habit of calling each other every week, to talk about … whatever. OK, it’s mostly their sharply opposing political views. (Sometimes the arguing gets to the point where I wish this family would just take up sports.)

Now it is my family’s turn to reach out and touch someone. I placed a Skype call to my mother the other day, mainly so that Baby could get an up close visual of the maternal grandmother that she doesn’t know, and whom she has been asking about lately. After Baby broke the ice in her usual manner of parading her favorite stuffed animals, they settled in for an hour to talk about school, church and extra-curricular activities. Baby even tried to show her grandmother a few of her acrobatic moves.

It was a nice little video call, and there might be many more. What my mother doesn’t know is that we already semi-regularly call my father in Canada. My daughter and Hubby get on the phone with him, and it’s a funny thing to hear this gruff-voiced Jamaican man patiently draw his shy grand-daughter into conversation.

The Skype call with my mother was a relief. I really started to feel that my daughter was losing her connection with her Jamaican and Black heritage. As it is, she doesn’t identify as Black, and barely has a concept of what it means to be mixed. She’s probably thinking, ‘Mixed with what?’ Most of the time she sees her white relatives, and I’m the exception in the mix, the one likely explanation for her tightly curly hair and dark coloring. I’ve explained over and over that her ‘Black’ grandparents are from Jamaica, but I think that without personal contact, it’s all just abstract in her mind. I do have loving and supporting cousins who live about an hour’s drive from us, and we make efforts to get together and stay in touch. In the back of my mind I always hope that Baby knows she belongs as much with them as she does with me. I think it’s important for her to understand all of she is, with careful emphasis on her Black heritage. In these United States, where the dominant culture doesn’t always celebrate her type of beauty or see as much value in her as it would her white cousins, it can be disheartening after a while. She might be tempted to respond in ways that won’t ultimately have a healthy outcome. Maybe she’ll want to change her appearance, in an attempt to go along and get along. I want her to have positive things to hold onto from my side, so that no one can make her feel less than.

All this keeping in touch is a novelty for my family. My mother, father and I have never been a family unit in any sense of the word. My parents never married and went their separate ways right after I was born. I’ve met the guy twice in my life, the first was during a long weekend, when I was seven and my mother brought me to Toronto to see him. He sat me on his lap and held my hands in his as he steered the car. He had a smooth voice back then, and maybe a short afro. The second meeting happened when I was seven months pregnant with my daughter. I rode the Amtrak for 12 hours from New York to Toronto. While the passengers disembarked the train, I noticed him right away on the crowded platform. It wasn’t because I remembered his face. He was the handsome older man smiling broadly and practically stepping over other people to get to me.

There was an opportunity, when I was pre-school aged and living in Jamaica, for me to get acquainted with my oldest half brother. But my family snuffed out that idea rather quickly.

All this distance is symbolic of the ongoing estrangement from both my parents: In my father’s case, I barely know him, because my family kept him away when I was growing up. As for my mother, it is because we have a relationship that I would call touch and go. I know that as time passes people get more and more set in their ways.

So here is to important baby steps in bridging chasms and repairing breaches. I just hope that for the sake of helping my child develop a solid sense of her identity, my parents can get over their hangups and keep making those important connections.

 

 

 

Marshana’s New Real-Life Interracial Boo?

Some women might give up on interracial love if she had a bad experience, particularly if the relationship ended in a public breakup — and I mean a nationally televised rejection like what you see on “The Bachelor.” That’s what happened to Marshana Ritchie, one of the women competing for the attention of Matthew Grant on the “London Calling” cycle of the farce TV dating reality show. Marshana, who is Black, was cut before the hometown dates, which I doubt had anything to do with him hesitating to introduce her to his white parents and brother. The Bachelor is from England, and anyone who is familiar with that country knows that mixed couples, even ones where the woman is Black, are frequent.

Well, Marshana is taking another chance at televised interracial love, in a new BravoTV “unscripted” series called “Friends to Lovers.” I did a double take on her new boo, Stephan, who looks mixed to me. I’m not sure exactly how to place his background, but I think I see a phenotype other than strictly Black in his face, complexion and even his body build.  Anyway, check out a snippet from the show here:

http://www.bravotv.com/friends-to-lovers/season-1/videos/friends-to-lovers-show-me-you-know-me?clip=2834900

When she was on The Bachelor, I Googled Marshana, and she turned out to be a far more interesting person than she was portrayed on the show. She won some kind of contest or pageant, where she represented an environmentalist group. Think Miss America and a Miss Greenpeace, only a lot more charming on the latter part. She created a blog about appearances that she was making around Portland, the Pacific Northwest and other states, educating people about ecologically sound ways to live.

So we’ll see how this pans out for Marshana. She seems smart, and more substantial than a lot of reality dating contestants, so many of whom pursue acting careers after their Unscripted” dramas wrap up. Hopefully, she’ll find happiness when the cameras stop rolling, too!

What do you think? Would you get back in the saddle and cross over again after a failed interracial relationship?

First-World Address, Third-World Problems

We were all shocked and grieved by recent news accounts of the death of Mary Spears, a 27-year-old Detroit mother of three who was shot, ultimately, because she turned down romantic advances from a stranger.

It’s a tragedy that tears at all our hearts, or should, not only because it was an unspeakable act of cruelty, but also because it’s an example of the kind of dangerous and backward existence so many Black women face in this country. Black women are routinely treated with moral depravity at the hands of Black men – the very ones who should defend them the most in our society. It is the kind of misogyny and casual violence that we associate with the rough and remote warlord territories of Afghanistan or the repressive regimes of the emirates.

Now here is my pandering and obligatory disclaimer, for the oversensitive types who will rush to pan this post as a Black male-bashing effort: I’m not bashing or vilifying Black men. Ms. Spears’ fiancé tried to intervene before the shooting happened, so clearly he is a shining example of: a Black man who deplores violence; a Black man who is responsible enough to marry his girlfriend and give three Black children a full-time, attentive and protective father; and a Black man who thinks Black women should be able to move through society without being harassed and threatened with bodily harm. 

Yet the late Ms. Spears’ fiancé is a figure whose job in Black society is hindered by the troublemakers, and we all know this. How many communities are in the grip of violence, which shaped the mentality of that shooting suspect? How many times have I complained on this blog about Black men who I encounter in public who become enraged when I don’t feel like making idle chit chat with them? Clearly the shooting suspect is unstable, but I’m not willing to brush it under the rug of mental instability, or slap a bandage of “hurt people hurt people” on the situation. He has no impulse control, no anger management abilities, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a psychiatric or clinical psychological assessment revealed a dangerous personality disorder. It’s unclear as to what really drove this man to a murderous rage: Does a mental imbalance perhaps stem from untreated trauma from his youth; are his impulses unchecked because a father was never there to help him control them; or did he have a good upbringing but simply made poor decisions and looks down on women as less than him?

This is the kind of violence that we read about in dispatches from Third World nations, mainly Asia and the Middle East, where many of the men feel that women don’t have rights or feelings that need to be respected. She must keep her place and not seek betterment through education, and she has to submit to the desires of his id on demand, regardless of what place, if any, he has in her life. Over there, we call it backwardness and misogyny. Here, or London, Kingston or anywhere else Blacks of the diaspora are assembled, we call it Blackistan.

We have known that for a long time American Blacks have been socially and economically disenfranchised. Over time, social scientists believe or fear that it has relegated us to second-class status. I disagree. We’ve fallen well below second-class to third world. If researchers with the CIA World Factbook, the CDC, or the Bureau of Labor Statistics or the Pew Center were to assess the well being of Blacks as a separate society unto itself from Whites, the results would tell us that we are far behind the mainstream Whites in terms overall wellness. We can either become defensive about it, lapse into pro-Black denials, while ranting about the white supremacist systems that thwart all of our efforts to do better, and try to censor the message (I’m looking at you, Lisa McDonald), or we can take action. That does not always mean marrying out, and I’ll tell you why: I married a White man with Liberal (or Pluralistic, if you ask him) ideologies, and we jointly decided to live in an aging urban city in the Northeast. You can call it a “transitional neighborhood” or “pre-gentrified” all you want. The nearest high street has too many liquor stores, too many used condoms that litter the sidewalk, and so many idle riff-raff that when I used to send my little sister on errands to the local bodega, I strictly timed her and promised to come looking if she wasn’t back within the grace period. The next high street has too many drug-addled wraiths of people who used to be young with bright prospects, too many prostitutes and too many abandoned buildings. We didn’t escape the challenges of living in the inner cities, so I have to confront these issues as much as any other woman living in a distressed neighborhood.

There are too many, far too many, Black men who become violently, irrationally enraged when a woman tries to walk away from a relationship, or when she refuses to engage with him in public. We are not a Taliban-controlled society. We are Americans, and women are supposed to enjoy a world-class standard of living here. This kind of extreme violence, enabled by broken families, personal failings and yes, the irrational prevalence of military-grade guns, undercuts what we aim to be as a civil society. We need to deal with this problem and do so from all angles, and we need to be committed about it, not letting bruised egos suck us down into censorship tactics, or be stymied by squabbling among different factions in the Black community.

When it comes to my only child, a good-natured and polite girl who is growing up beautiful – I grow more fearful of what she will encounter in the days when she moves through our city unattended. As a matter of fact, Hubby and I had to deal with a situation at her school recently where she tried to ignore the inappropriate advances of a boy classmate. None of our suggested tactics or teacher intervention worked, until one day we were preparing dinner in the kitchen and she told us that the boy had touched her on her privates, and when she moved to correct him, she was detained by the teacher. We did eventually bring this up with the teacher and have since worked out an acceptable solution. We are still happy with the school, but I am concerned about that little boy. Which older sibling or older male relative taught him invalidate a woman’s ‘no,’ to pester her, and overstep boundaries to get what he wants anyway? Someone is failing him, and if steps are not taken to correct his behavior, I fear we’ll read about his arrest, trial and sentencing — or worse — one day in the newspaper.

Mary Spears’ experience is not unheard of in cities that have a Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard – and what a heartbreaking irony! It’s another failing on our part to get a grip on these issues and stop losing young people to such violence. Somewhere in America right now an attractive young Black woman is rejecting the advances of a paramour. May God watch over and protect her until we get it right.

Why Did We Get Married (Outside Our Race)?

Hubby and I don’t get a lot of malicious stares from strangers whenever we go out about town. Maybe that’s because we have an adorable little girl, a disarming toddler whose dimples and curls reduce women to puddles, and soften up grown men, too. Also, Northern New Jersey is the kind of place where interracial marriages are becoming common, especially ones involving Black women. Black women from all walks of life, from teens huddled over their smart phones at the skate shop to couples in the winter seasons of their lives sitting in cafes, are with men of other races. So stigmas around Black women dating and marrying out are losing their potency, I think.

But judgments remain. Angry Black men vloggers continue to spew hateful vitriol. Women like Venus Williams take withering criticism for their romantic choices. Strangers have muttered to me in public “Is that your guy?” while I’m WEARING THE RING. Although I almost never feel the need to defend my relationship, there are some especially ignorant ideas floating around out there about relationships like mine. Here are a handful that need to be addressed.

We did this to spite black guys. Black women who intermarry or date interracially, the logic goes, are exacting revenge on black men, especially the eligible ones, for marrying across color lines. Please think about how silly this sounds, people. In the first place, I’ve never felt slighted in the least whenever I’ve seen a black guy, successful or not, walk through a crowd, down the street or lounge at an airport gate with a white woman at his side, or any other woman who is not black. I didn’t want him, and he wasn’t mine before he hooked up with Miss Whoever, so she didn’t take anything of mine. But let’s be clear about one thing: I have a huge problem with black men who denigrate black women whilst they themselves their race. It suggests that they want to monopolize happiness. But also, holding up non-black women as the standard of beauty over us, and acting like they are running away from all of our supposed dysfunctions is offensive to us, and devalues the lady in his life, too. It makes her the default girl. The clean up woman. In any case, using white guys to lash out at black men would be just as silly.

We did this out of self-hatred. I cannot speak for every black woman who has gotten married outside her race or is dating a man who is not black, but my relationship does not betray any deep insecurities about my complexion, nose, hair texture or figure. When Hubby proposed under a full moon at the edge of a bluff on Jamaica’s southern coast, I was not thinking: “My babies will have pretty hair!” Going out with Thomas back in the mid 1990s didn’t push me away from my Caribbean heritage. His firm Italian Catholic upbringing complemented my no-nonsense Pentecostal rearing, in some ways. Plus we both had silly senses of humor and had great laughs. Using a relationship to distance oneself from one’s upbringing is another undertaking that really goes nowhere. As anyone who’s lived long enough knows, once you have children and start to settle into family life, many of those old habits and teachings come roaring back anyway. It’s always a good idea to take the best of both cultures and fashion an updated family tradition.

We couldn’t find good black men. There might be a grain of truth to this one. An oft-quoted statistic estimates that a shocking 78% of black women are single, and that unless we open our eyes and minds to potential prospects outside our race, hordes of us will end up alone. The problem with this that once again it puts the white guys in awkward positions, like they are our last chance to avoid years of lonely desperation and decrepitude. How romantic. The stigma of living single is diminishing, as we realize that a lot of women lead active, balanced, full and healthy lives. A lot of single black women are mothers, so they have families, and they are socially connected through churches, other houses of worship, sororities and community groups, etc. So no, we’re not running out and grabbing onto any old rundown white, Latino or Asian male reject that we can find, because we’re afraid of ending up as spinsters.

We’re siddity. House negro, oreo, coconut or whatever. Some people think that marrying or dating a white man is a way to put on highfalutin airs. Once on an overnight trip to Canada, a friend teased me about ironing some of my clothes the night before or something else. She said: “Oh, you were raised in the massa’s house.” I took her joke in stride, of course, but strangers have always put a harsher more judgmental spin on comments like that to me. All I know is that I love Caribbean food, which I grew up on. I love, love, love Southern cooking, I still attend church. I’m not wealthy or necessarily aspiring to be and I don’t look down on anyone for any reason. I mean sure, I’ve never been one to talk to people willy-nilly, but that has more to do with growing up painfully shy. I went through a period of great change to overcome that, and I’m glad I did! It has opened up a whole new world of food, cities, music and literature to me. Those experiences make me more refined, not a snoot. By the way, there is a really funny “How Siddity are You?” quiz on another blog. I scored a 6, which makes me happy. It is another joke, of course, but it’s nice to know I’m well within the range of normal. And so is my relationship.

We don’t know that we’re ‘bed wenches.’ Whitney Houston (RIP) had a song “My Name is Not Susan.” Well, my name is not Sally as in Sally Hemings. Anyone who spews this trash out in public, whether blogging, vlogging or tweeting, is depraved and deserves every humiliating rebuttal. Interracial marriages existed long before the brutal European/American slave system came along and brought shame to this country, and there are famous stories all over ancient literature where Black women have caught the attention and enduring admiration of men from other cultures. It’s so tiring to keep pointing this out! Those who define BW-WM romantic relationships as relics of the master and the slave wench are thinking with traumatized minds. And since the most vicious critics are Black men, they come across as angry little boys who can’t deal the emotional scars of a past episode, one where they didn’t even take the brunt. Aside from all of that, popular culture (read up on old issues of Essence) and academic writing (see: Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow, by Jacqueline Jones) have been very clear on the fact that black women contribute a great deal to their communities. Isn’t it quite natural that whilst working alongside men of different cultures that they would recognize our intelligence, wit, thrift, etc., and not just focus on our curves? This way of thinking also reminds me of stories our moms and big sisters told from the 1970s and 1980s. They would be on business trips and while walking through a hotel lobby or restaurant—in professional clothes—be approached by an older white man or woman who took them for service workers. In the case of white men in business suits, it was sometimes worse: a call girl. The service worker part doesn’t bother me, because there is dignity in any job well done. (Plus, the part where our moms and sisters pocketed presumptuous tips and walked off are just hilarious.) But when people presume that white guys are just experimenting with us validates the wrong-headed attitudes of that offensive guy in the hotel lobby. We have many attractions to guys outside our race. I’ve heard that Native Americans have a saying: “Women hold up half the sky.” Of course white guys would eventually notice this about us, too!

Those are the five most commonly cited and wrong-headed, ignorant reasons I’ve encountered as to why relationships like mine—and maybe yours—exist. Make no mistake: there are a lot of shallow black women out there who might put one or two of these reasons forward for dating interracially.  My only response to that is that the inevitable fallout from such a superficial undertaking could be really severe. Hearts crushed. Families destroyed. Cherished delusions, poof, up in smoke. But this blog will never devote a lot of time to those issues. I’m here to point out that these relationships are normal, functioning and healthy. And they deserve to be respected.