A few weeks ago, I stayed late at work with a co-worker to finish addressing envelopes for a celebration. As we were talking, we got on to the subject relationships, and what my relationship is like with Bryan.
If you don’t know what Bryan and I are like as a couple, well, we are interracial:
And we’re very cute, in B’s words, we’re “friggen adorable.”
My co-worker asked me about a few things: how accepting our families are (overwhelmingly, we couldn’t be luckier), how we felt about it at first (it was never weird, but we talked about the elephant in the room even when we first met), and what we think about how society treats interracial couples.
And that’s really where the conversation got deep for me.
I’ve been followed by store associates while shopping with friends who aren’t black, but all you can do in those situations are point to ignorance and move on, it even happens to Oprah. Not everyone is like that, and not everyone has malicious intent. In those situations, it’s pretty easy to place a pair of jeans back on a table, ask the store clerk to be a little more liberal with their sense of space and just leave. You have the freedom to leave.
The thing that feels like it’s sucks the life out of you, is when you’re holding hands with your boyfriend, and you’re laughing and happy, and someone who is so miserable with themselves looks the two of you up and down like you’ve committed some kind of crime. And they scoff, and they squint. I hate THAT look.
The first time it happened to us (and I want to say the only time, because most people aren’t crass and unwelcoming) I nudged Bryan, and I asked “DID YOU SEE THAT?!” He didn’t, but this older woman was very overt about her opinion in the Target parking lot. It made me uncomfortable. I thought we might be bothering people by holding hands, or standing too close, but then I thought, “this isn’t about bothering anyone.”
The moment when you get THAT look is weird. You’re just frozen, and the moment is surreal. It moves in slow motion, and you snap back into reality so slowly because it’s hard to remember, especially at 23, that not everyone is okay with you being…you, while you’re with him, or vice versa.
It’s that moment where you wish you could have just smiled and said hello instead of looking baffled and frightened.
When someone else notices who you are, and they hate it, it feels terrible. You can’t change you. You don’t have the freedom to just leave who you are because someone else hates it, and you shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable because of it.
Having that conversation is hard, because it’s the conversation that everyone avoids, but talking about it with someone else who completely understood was refreshing because it reminded me that it’s OK to talk about things that might be uncomfortable.
When you do finally open up, you realize that no one is allowed to make you feel uncomfortable. Especially because you don’t let them.