An Interracial Marriage: Seeing life through the eyes of the other
by Guest Contributor Michael Dobson
It’s hard to write about your spouse or your marriage, but easy to write about love. When writing about both, it’s a story of humanity, of our world and the lens through which we see and experience our journeys.
Nearly 20 years ago I called my eldest daughter Mia and told her that her dad was about to do something radical, that I was about to marry a white women. She was happy for me. There were few interracial marriages then. When we married In Leon County those 20 years ago, to some, we were pioneers of some sort. We were radical “cool”… the interracial couple, not just living together, but married and raising a family. With the Tallahassee community being more “liberal” than some others, we never thought of any backlash.
For us, the issue of race was never a concern. That’s not how we were reared. My wife and I are children of the 1960s , but by living in completely different worlds, we saw those years through starkly different lenses. She was reared in the white suburbs of Chicago, while my early years were mostly in Jim Crow era Florida, with annual sabbaticals to Elizabeth New Jersey.. only to keep returning to Florida. We both saw the 1960’s riots on TV, when Watts and Detroit burned. Being black and white then, meant living in completely different worlds. We saw America come of age with the assassinations of JFK and Bobby Kennedy, and of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We viewed, from different racial camps, America’s struggle to reform itself after the passage of the civil rights act.
In the intervening years, we’ve all seen race relations harden and change for the worst. At the same time, paradoxically, we’ve seen the number of interracial families quadruple along with a spike in interracial dating, paralleling the changing attitudes about sexual orientation. We have also witnessed an uptick in interracial and multiracial couples in film and on television. In the early days of our marriage, whenever my wife and I left our safe enclave of Tallahassee to travel the back roads, we’d invariably find ourselves at a restaurant or store…. whereby someone may look at us sort of askance, or stare just a little too long. At store checkout counters in Tallahassee, we often had to correct the cashier to advise them that we were together.. apparently, not an assumption easily made in those days. That’s changed. But, there are a few actions by others toward us, which still elicit some pain, once remembered.
Despite having to withstand occasional displays of bigotry, my wife and I are ordinary people in an ordinary marriage. When my wife is upset with me, which may be today, it is never about race. Our marriage is like any other. Ordinary. It requires constant work, is dependent upon patience, commitment, love, understanding and forgiveness.
What I can say is this: The experience of walking through life with the women I married and love (through good and bad times), who just so happens to have a different pigmentation than I, has provided a view of our humanity not shared by many. It’s a unique gift. As a black man, I get to see the world through the eyes of my wife.. a white women. I get to understand her and those of similar backgrounds whose family’s journeyed to America from Ireland, and their struggles to get their footing in the Midwest; me know their family tragedies, their loss, heartbreak, grief and celebration; the loss of dear relatives over time ( cousins, aunts and uncles), and knowing the tapestry of her life.. her white life in America. Through her eyes, I get to better know the struggle for equality for white women, just as I also know of the struggles faced by my mother and the other strong black women in my life, of their humiliations, the physical brutality overcame from their oppressor and the accompanying bondage, and their dreams for their sons and daughters. I got to see my wife fiercely protect our children from the rare teacher who practiced their own version of bigotry and racism ..not quite feeling this whole interracial thing. Through my eyes, she knows that Dr. Benjamin E Mays is correct when he said “He who starts behind in the great race of life must forever remain behind, or run faster than the man in front” meaning a black man has to work twice as hard to make the same dollar. Through my eyes she saw the way society sometimes reacted to my skin color, that black men are indeed treated differently than their white counterpart.
Through each other’s eyes, we understand the world and people better. What we have been privileged to see through each other’s eyes, while warring communities struggle on the issue of race, is that God does not have a favorite, that trials and tribulations are visited on the comfortable as well as the afflicted, that people are good, that they have great hearts , that everyone has a story and a worry… that we are the walking wounded.. a part of our shared humanity. Through each other’s eyes, we’ve learned that our hearts and what breaks them does not change based on race or religion. We’ve learned that we endure each day with bright sunny smiles, with exclamation points on Facebook … i.e. “Congrats”, with a “Awesome”, or an simple “Great” when asked how are you, even while some are dying inside. We’ve learned that tragedy strikes us all and with the same intensity of grief regardless of race. Through my wife’s eyes and the experiences shared with the blending of our extended families; we have learned that regardless of race ethnicity, culture or sexual preference, we all want the same things out of life and care about the same things. Together, we’ve seen that irrespective of race, we all love our children, wanting them to have opportunities that escaped us; we want them to be healthy, all have personal freedom to pursue our dreams, have health care, a job that pays a living rage; we all want a place to live, respect, food to eat.. just the basics, and to have those we love out of harms way.
Through each other’s eyes, we see our sameness. Through each others eyes, we see the unfathomable ridiculousness of bigotry and racism; we see it for what it is.. its fear. We know that what passes as racial indifference or bigotry is not based on any thing rational, but instead fear .. fear of what is different. Seeing life through each others eyes, we are more humane, and forever have our hearts and our minds open to live in wonder, not fear. Through each others eyes, our love and respect for all things in us and things that are different, is strengthened.
Michael Dobson, is a long time Tallahassee based governmental relations professional and columnist; President/CEO of Dobson, Craig and Associates (aka Dobson and Associates), and renewable energy policy leader as founder of Florida Renewable Energy Producers Association. Can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Michael@dobsonandcraig.com
This article first appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat and USA Today. Michael Dobson has given Project RACE his permission to reprint the original essay.