I hope you enjoy this beautiful story. If you do, please share. I want thousands of people to read this. I had chill bumps as I was reading her answers. The family will remain anonymous, but I can tell you the Mother is an incredible woman.
1. Where did you meet your husband?
I had gone to work for six months in a Kenyan city along the Indian Ocean. I was working with teenagers in school and church settings as part of a Christian ministry and joining a small group of Americans already living there. Dear Husband (DH) was from this city and was also working in Christian youth ministry. My roommate already knew him and his group of friends AND DH’s best friend taught at the same school I did and was my neighbor. Apparently 😉 he had a crush on me from the first time he met me and our proximity with friends and neighborhoods made it easy for him to visit on a regular basis. My apartment soon became the Friday night hang out and DH and I got to know each other over shared meals in a group setting.
2. How long did you date?
We never really dated in the American sense of the word. When we lived in the same city overseas, my job restricted what kind of interaction I could have as a single woman, so we weren’t able to see each other in a one on one type of setting. If we did talk one on one there was almost always another person or group of people close by. But, after knowing each other a few months, he did ask me if we could get to know each other better with the intention of marriage. I was hesitant at first, because of my job and wondered if I really knew him and could trust him, but before I left there I was sure we would end up married. But, neither of us had legal status to live long-term in the other’s country so we had no idea how that would happen.
The week I was supposed to return to the US, I got a phone call from my Army reserve unit and was told to report to work. It was December 2001 and I ended up getting put on Active Duty and spending some time in the Middle East. When I was released from active duty in August 2002, I returned to visit DH and meet his family and we were “officially” engaged. DH had been accepted to a US school and we hoped to get his visa and travel back to the US together. But, the US embassy denied his visa and we were separated once again.
I returned to the US and got the help of an immigration attorney and began planning a wedding. The paperwork still took a very long time and in October 2003 I flew back to visit the US embassy with DH. Thankfully, his visa was approved and we traveled to the US together and were married two weeks later.
3. How long have you been married?
It was 11 years this past October.
4. Was your family supportive?
For the most part, yes. But when I first told my parents, they were shocked. I’m sure it was really hard for them seeing as DH was a virtual stranger. So, they really had to trust me and that I was making a good decision. They didn’t have the chance to get to know him face to face before our wedding. But, DH and my mom did email and interact during our time apart, so by the time we got married there was less shock.
I did have some out right “this is wrong, you shouldn’t do it” from one of my family members, one with whom I’m extremely close, because of DH skin color and national origin. This family member had been led to believe by others that God made people different to keep us apart and we ought to stay apart and that our children would be half-breeds, or some awful sentiment. It was hurtful but I knew it was incorrect and I shared Bible verses to back up my beliefs and why the racist thought pattern was a fallacy. I said “this is who I’m marrying, be part of my life or don’t, it’s your choice.” Thankfully, we now have a restored relationship.
5. Was his family supportive?
They were, as soon as they got to know me. I was stranger to them also. But, after spending a few days at his parents home, they were calling me “daughter.” I’m really glad for the chance I had to spend with them because DH’s dad passed away a few days before our wedding.
6. How often do you feel like people are judging you for having an interracial marriage?
That’s hard to say. When we first married and I was navigating life afresh, it probably felt like I was often answering questions or questioning looks. But, with time, I no longer felt the need to make people comfortable with who I was and who I married. I think depending on the circumstances in which I meet someone new, I make sure they know quickly who my husband is and what our family represents. I don’t want to invest my time in relationships, especially with other women and moms, if they are going to ‘snub’ me for the complexion of my husband’s skin or my children’s. It’s not my job to convince people that they are racist or bigoted and frankly, I’d rather save my energy for my family. In a work or business setting, I assume its no one’s business and that non-discrimination laws protect me, so I don’t bring it up.
I remember one time someone I barely knew had the nerve to ask me if I’d only ever dated “black” guys. Alluding to the stereotypical idea that I had always been broken and attracted toward only “exotic, black” men; just a messed up “white girl” who didn’t know how to interact with her own “kind.” I don’t even remember my response, but I was definitely prepared if it ever happened again.
I’ve also been asked where I adopted my kids from, when they were young and I was shopping without my husband. I “played dumb” and made the woman repeat herself a few times to make sure I was hearing what I thought I was. I shook my head and told her the kids were my biological children. She replied “Oh, all those missionaries are always bringing kids back from Africa.” Huh? That’s nonsensical. At any given time only 3-5 African nations even allow international adoption without a lengthy in-country residency by the adopting parent. Out of my diverse circle of friends, I only know one who has successfully adopted children from Africa. A few others have tried, but volatile government situations have prevented adoptions from being completed. many more of my friends have adopted “black” children domestically, or from the Caribbean, including Haiti and Bahamas. Okay, now I’ll step off my geography teacher soap box! 🙂
7. Do you feel discriminated against at times?
At an institutional level, no. But, there have been times where I feel confident that my husband is getting treated differently than I know my brother would get treated. He had an extremely hard time getting his first job, just looking for something minimum wage. It was very frustrating for him because he’d already waited one year for work authorization and after a dozen or two applications he hadn’t gotten any response. I’d never dealt with that in my life at that point. Finally after a few months, he applied at a restaurant that was newly opening and had a lot of jobs to fill. He was hired as a dishwasher and got several promotions in a short amount of time. Thankfully, God has put enough people in our path to keep us encouraged and open doors of opportunity, that any discrimination we’ve encountered hasn’t deterred us. But, if I hadn’t already had a college education when we got married and had the parents I have, with their educations and economic resources, I don’t know if it would have been the same.
8. Have your children ever commented about you and your husband having different skin color?
My oldest didn’t say anything about our skin for the longest time. He was maybe 4 years old when he asked why I was so peachy and his “Baba” was so chocolate-y, or something like that. I think a girl on the preschool playground had asked him. I just told him that God had given us different complexions and wouldn’t the world be boring if we all looked just the same. He was fine with that answer and it doesn’t come up much. I don’t know that we’ve ever used the terms “black” and “white” with our kids.
But, little girls talk more than they play at a young age and my daughter was barely three when another girl asked why she looked different than me, her mom, and informed my daughter that we were supposed to look alike. She came home upset and we had a talk. It was both a complexion talk and a “God made you special and you are beautiful just the way you are” talk. I assured her that her skin was special because she was a little bit of me and a little bit of her “Baba.” Girls seem to be more self-conscious than boys about appearance for a variety of reasons. So, we have to revisit the beauty conversation regularly, both because she is a girl and because she is a woman of color. It’s one thing to want Princess Elsa’s blonde wrap-around braid because everyone does and it looks fun. It’s quite another thing to hate your own skin and curly hair because it’s not like Elsa’s and blonde, straight hair is the beauty standard. I’ve tried to be very conscious about putting role models in front of both of my kids that are a broad range of complexions, but especially my daughter.
9. Have your children ever been discriminated against?
We’re very cautious to only place our children in environments where they are safe, both physically and emotionally, so we prevent a lot of things before they might become an issue. We choose communities, churches and friends who either embrace our uniqueness or reflect the same diversity we do. We also check out situations before we bring our children into them. My kids are home schooled during this season of our life, but I would never put them in a school or classroom or sports team that I thought would undermine their sense of self or ability to be proud of their heritage. And the reality is that skin color isn’t the only thing we have to consider. It’s possible in both a “black” or “white” setting for my kids to get teased about their father’s accent, or the food we eat, or Swahili words we use, or that they don’t “match” their mom and dad. So, I just try to evaluate everything we do and make sure its in the best interest of our family. Its not always possible to protect our kids. One day a boy on the playground told my son that he couldn’t play with him because he wasn’t allowed to play with “brown” boys. My son didn’t tell me until later in the day but it hurt him deeply. I don’t know if it was the way the other boy said it, or the simple fact that he was being excluded, but it was troubling and not something I’d like to repeat. I’m not ignorant to the fact that the world is ugly, but until my kids have the tools and maturity to handle situations and protect themselves, its my job to protect them.
10. Have you had to talk to your children about racism?
I think after he was excluded for being “brown” we had a talk about how some people think they know something about us by only seeing our skin color. I reminded him that God gave us our skin color and that he (God) judges us based on our hearts, not our outside appearance. We remind them that all people have equal value because they were created in the image of God. That’s about as far as we go right now, they are 5 and 4. I’m not ready for them to have categories and words like black and white in their hearts and heads. People are so much more nuanced than that and I want them to have the chance to understand and define the world and themselves on their own terms. I’m sure one day they will be confronted with the question of whether they are black or white. I hope by then they have the words and self-awareness to decide for themselves or explain why those categories don’t define them.
11. Do you feel things are better now than they were when you first married?
That’s hard to say. I think as a nation, the majority group has tried to bury racism and our troubled past and pretend life everything is fine. But, minorities know that discrimination does happen. I think recent events like Ferguson and Trayvon Martin’s death have allowed a starting point for conversations, but we still have so far to go. The victim blaming makes this obvious to me.
But within our family, things are easier because we know ourselves and don’t feel the need to make excuses or apologize for who we are. And we surround ourselves with people who support us and aren’t trying to undermine our family. We still have to deal with questions or curiosity at time, but when they come from a place of genuine interest, its okay. But, if words like mulatto and half-breed are part of your vocabulary, you probably need to do some research and self-education before we talk!
12. What is one thing you feel like you want others to know about your family?
That there aren’t neat and easy terms to describe us, and if there are, they probably will won’t be accurate or have much meaning. We’re a multi-ethnic, Kenyan/American, Luo/Caucasian, bilingual family, with two biological children being raised as Kenyan-Americans. We’re complex and that’s okay. But we probably also have more in common with your own family than you can imagine.
I love this family! I love her answer to number 12!
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