He Had A Dream: My Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.
Way back in November, 1992, I went on my last first date, with someone dark and handsome. (I initially thought he was tall. Not so much.)
Cue 'Ebony and Ivory'.
In the post Seal and Heidi, current Kayne and Kim world of 2013, where we've elected a black president to two terms, interracial love seems like no biggie. Twenty short years ago, in rural Rhode Island, trust me, it was.
The facts: I graduated from a high school that had exactly ONE person of color. Yes, that would be any color, other than white. My school's integration came courtesy of John, a junior, who arrived on scene during the start of my senior year. Fall. 1988.
Yet, apparently, he wasn't the first black man to call Burrillville home. According to my grandmother, who was born in 1909 and showcased a racial political correctness reflective of her times, John was preceded by a cat, 'fondly' referred to as 'N---er Johnson', as well as a local branch of the Klan, you know, to keep the threat in-line.
My exposure to people of color, first came during my formative years courtesy of Sesame Street (Gordon, I owe you, man), then via a blind college roommate situation that ended badly. Very badly. So, when this dark and handsome co-worker asked me, to see, drum roll please, Malcolm X, this was, on many levels, one of my biggest tests.
I wish I could say that I easily stepped up to the challenge. But initially there wasn't anything easy about it. I remember thinking our relationship would be perfect--if we could only stay by ourselves, safely tucked away from the world within the confines of Andre's apartment. Here, there were no judgements.
Part of the problem was that I was used to going through my everyday life without a second glance. Or at least without the addition of complete-stop-in-your-tracks, head turning stupidness. Sometimes in curiosity. Sometimes in spite. All completely new to me. A co-worker once told me Andre and I were a 'striking couple'. Often, I have to go there, in order to avoid strangling someone.
In addition to the rubbernecking, I had to really open my eyes to what it meant to be black in America. As a young white woman, I never had to experience life as a minority--or be at the end of other people's prejudices. No driving while black scenarios for me. No, quite frankly, bullshit situations. There were so many things that Andre had to deal with on the daily that I never even considered. And now, if he was going to be part of my world, I needed to be part of his.
So, I had to make a choice.
Adapt and grow. Or give in, give up and take the easy way out.
I don't think much thought is given to interracial relationships, or the type of person you have to be to work one successfully. You have to be incredibly strong. And freakishly confident. And not care that people are starring, sneering or yelling "OJ stay away from that" from a speeding car. You have to grow a pair. Say I don't give a fuck. And know that real love conquers all.
But there's also a delicate balance. Because while you need to be able to protect yourself in this often non-colorblind world, you don't want to live life on defensive default, making untrue assumptions that everyone is going to give you a hard time. That just makes you a perpetuator of the hate. So, you've got to move beyond the angry, to a place of peace, where you see most people as good. Because, indeed, they are.
Fast forward to 2009 and the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans. The R&B concerts of all R&B concerts. I was in musical heaven. As well as solidly within the minority. More like in the minority of the minority. In, fact, as a white person in America, you'd be hard pressed to come up with a social situation, where you could be more of a minority.
And it was a beautiful thing.
Because I finally realized how truly comfortable I was, both in my own skin, and as Andre's wife. And people responded. A young usher displayed the most gracious of Southern hospitality and lent me a hand down the stairs. Another older woman, gave us directions and told us to 'Hold onto each other so you don't get lost'. Ladies in the bathroom asked if I was having a good time.
No one cared what color my skin was.
Because I didn't.
And really, isn't that how it should be?