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Essay: Struggles of an interracial relationship

Learning to look past stares and criticism

Photo courtesy of Chelsea McGartland

Chelsea McGartland is a senior at MU who desperately hopes to graduate next December with degrees in magazine journalism and religious studies. She hopes to continue her semi-nomadic lifestyle by working freelance anywhere between New York, NY and Dallas, TX.

January 31, 2011 | 12:00 a.m. CST

My life has become the 2010 version of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. The 1967 film stared Sidney Poitier as a respected doctor who falls in love with Katherine Hepburn’s white daughter while on vacation in Hawaii. The pair return to California to convince Hepburn and her husband (played by Spencer Tracy) to let them marry in a time when interracial marriage was still illegal in several states.

As Spencer Tracy’s character says in the film, my boyfriend and I are just “two wonderful people who happened to fall in love and happen to have a pigmentation problem.”

Most places we go I don’t notice any looks. Honestly, I’m the one who seems to draw the most attention and not from other white people— which is what I expected and prepared for— but from black women. Is that because white people are too afraid to let me see their disapproval because they don’t want to seem racist, or because they don’t care?

On a plane ride home to Texas, I sat next to a black man, who said he is dating a white woman and taking a lot of backlash from his black female friends. He said black women stare at me because I’m “taking one of their men” for myself, which seems like a strange notion to me, but maybe that’s just because I’m white and there are some cultural differences I will never fully grasp.

My parents are a lot like Hepburn and Tracy’s characters from Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner. They’ve taught their children that everyone deserves to be treated well because everyone belongs to someone; Everyone is someone’s child or sibling or parent or friend, and if you wouldn’t like something said to someone who belongs to you, then you probably shouldn’t be saying it either.

Yet, somehow their actions don’t match up when their lessons start to affect their personal lives.

My parents met my boyfriend before he and I started dating and thought he was a fine, upstanding gentleman. But now that he’s dating their daughter he’s become “a brainwashed military thug who can’t think for himself or recognize when he needs to listen to God’s lessons.”

My younger sister is dating a boy who is half Chinese, and my parents are starting to make jokes that our holiday dinner table will look like a meeting of the UN. They suggest my brother date an Indian girl, just to make sure everyone’s represented.

I admit, I’ve thought about the long-term effects of this relationship. I’ve thought of what my children might look like if he and I were to marry and the difficulties they may face because of it.

Will they be too white to hang out with the black kids, but too black to hang out with the white kids like my mixed high school literature teacher was?

I look at pictures of my cousin’s children and sigh knowing that my children would not look like hers, with the rounded McGartland face and small nose.

On my return flight after Thanksgiving I sat behind a mixed family. The mother was white, the father, black, and they had two beautiful daughters. I mentioned later to a friend that I didn’t think the girls looked much like their mother and how I was predicting a similar outcome for my own hypothetical children. He said, “That’s because you’re white and you’re used to seeing white faces. If you were black you’d probably think that they looked nothing like their father.”

What if my future daughter should be born with hair that is kinky or coarse instead of thick and frizzy like mine? Will I be able to fix my daughter’s hair for her when I have no idea how? Now there, finally, is a question I can answer with certainty: I will learn.

And with that simple phrase I unlocked the answers to the rest of the questions this situation presents. How will my parents deal with my relationship? They’ll learn. Will I always have to put up with sideways looks from people on the street? I’ll learn.

I never expected to love someone of a race other than my own, but here I am. Despite their reactions to me dating a black man my parents always taught me to see people as people before seeing anything else about them. I guess, like the family in Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, they just never fully realized what the consequence of that lesson might be.

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