Many years ago my marriage was not only unusual, it was considered by many to be beyond the pale. In fact, eighteen states had laws against it and even our own state had only just taken such a law off the books. Although no longer so unusual, we still get looks b/c my wife is Black and I am White. For the past 53 years we have dealt with this (2 years going steady, 51 of wedded bliss) and people ask us about this issue in our marriage. In our marriage, the issues are money and kids; the racial stuff is with the larger society. As we explain this, people get warm feelings like you get when you pee your pants. They like an emblematic couple that “doesn’t see color”.
Well, nonsense. How can you help but see color? It is just that between us there are no racial issues. More sophisticated people delve deeper and ask about cultural differences. Yes, we do have those. Just the other day, I was explaining to my wife Edward Hall’s polychronic and monochronic time awareness, a big cultural difference between us, and high context and low context cultures, an even bigger factor between us. But those are not racial issues; only unsophisticated people would call those racial rather than cultural, people who think one’s culture, i.e. behavior, derives from one’s “race”. More sophisticated people realize that race is a social construct and has to do with behavior only insofar as one’s status in the society may affect one’s behavior.
However, there is one racial issue that we’ve run into before than surfaced again last night. In the recent past, my wife was angered and my daughter reduced to tears as I explained that Africans held other Africans as slaves. They had that Kunta Kinte “Roots” view of slavery. My daughter does not read even though she asks penetrating questions; my wife does read but is not widely read in history or geography, so this revelation came as a shock to them but only because of the narrative advanced over the years that slavery was a matter of racial prejudice, the same as found in a small Southern town in the 1950s think In the Heat of the Night.
So last night I read a brief passage from a book on Barbados about how slavery began in Barbados on a large scale. At some point, the author, herself a Black Barbadian, mentioned the fact that early slavery, 1600s, was not racial. At the end of the passage my wife said, “Now wait a minute, back that up. That’s contradictory.” I reread that part and she rejected the notion. Africans were enslaved b/c they had Black skin, period. I spent a brief time trying to unfold the early history of slavery and the attitudes toward Africans on the part of Europeans, the role of the Native Americans (none in Barbados) and of White Europeans brought over to work but under indenture contracts. Yeah, was her response, servants, not slaves. Africans were slaves b/c they were Black.
Well, yes, eventually the concept of racial slavery became embedded in the Caribbean as well as North America but not at first. No. Firm rejection. I tried to explain the reason Africans fell into slavery despite coming from another continent and culture and why they were preferred over either Europeans or Native Americans, to no avail: they were enslaved b/c they were Black.
And here is an example of how race is a factor, albeit small, in our marriage: the fact that my wife experienced discrimination on the basis of her color in every way, incl. where she lived, where she went to school, who she played with, went to church with, etc. For me, having little contact with anyone except people we would label White now, the discrimination commenced only when I entered the Black community and married into a Black family. The difference does not materially affect us but it is there, for those who care to know.