As most of you know, my husband Al is black. Actually I hate that word, but I'm going to use it this one time so just in case you're new here, you'll understand exactly what I mean. But Al's actually just a human being, like me, who happens to have brown skin. We have two human children who happen to have skin closer to the color of mine. Around here, on the rare occasion that our skin comes up at all, which probably isn't any more often than it does in your family, we talk about pink skin and brown skin. I'd toss out the currently-trendy, "In my family, we don't see color," but I just think that's dumb. Of course we see color. We see color for exactly what it is: The qualities of light reflected off of things, or in this case, people. Boom, done.
And that's how it's always been between Al and me. The day I met him, I noticed he had brown skin. After that, he was just Al. And I've already written our love story(<--- A word of caution: Some of the writing in these love story posts makes me want to burn down the internet), but I'll nutshell it for purposes of this post: We worked together for years and then we became good friends and then much, much later, we fell in love and got married. I'll never forget the day I emailed a close friend in the very early stages of our romantic relationship. "I think I'm going to date Al, do you think that's a bad idea?" I typed. I was asking her the question because Al and I still worked for the same firm, but she thought I meant because he's brown, and she answered, "I couldn't do it, but if you can, I think it'll be great." That floored me. Honestly, and I am seriously telling you truth here, the brown thing hadn't been any sort of road block for me. But it was the first thing my friend considered when she contemplated Al and me as a couple.
I realize now that I'm happily and visibly ensconced in an interracial marriage I'm naturally insulated and pretty much the last soul on earth to whom any polite person would ever feel comfortable making observations about why people with different skin end up together. So I can't pretend to know anyone else's current mind on this topic. (Thankfully, Al and I have only ever heard one overt expression of disapproval of our relationship, and that one was hurled at us from the back of a motorcycle as its rider flew past us at 65 miles an hour. As you can imagine, we were terribly disappointed to miss out on the opportunity buy that guy a cup of coffee and listen, enraptured, as he thoughtfully explained his own personal opinions and feelings about our marriage.) But before I met and married my husband, I'd heard many theories on why white women marry black men. So I thought, now that I've been married to Al for almost ten years, it might be interesting to share my own personal perspective and experiences as they pertain to the most common of those theories.
1. White women marry black men because they can't get a white man to marry them. Gosh. Aside from pointing out that this theory implies a white woman somehow settles for less by marrying a black man and is overtly racist and wrong and doesn't even deserve consideration, I'll just say this: My first marriage and all of my other dating relationships, from mere flirtations to serious commitments/engagements (which I broke off) were with white men. Al is the first black man I ever dated, and not because I wouldn't have dated black men -- just because no other black men ever asked me out. I wasn't out to find a white man and couldn't. I was out to find the best man for me, and did.
2. White women marry black men because they know a black man will be grateful to a white woman who will marry him, and thus she'll have most of the control in the relationship. Again, racism much? But that aside, if Al is any more grateful to me for marrying him than I am to him for marrying me and all of my messed-up crazy, he's delusional. I know both of us well, and believe me, I got the far better end of this deal. I was keenly aware of that going into our marriage. (I'm a pretty shrewd negotiator.) And actually, one of the reasons that I married Al was because I knew he'd never let me get away with any of the ridiculous stuff other men had. I wanted an equal partner I could trust to neither try to dominate me nor let me dominate him. It's not that I've been a controlling monster in any of my relationships, it's just that I'd never been with a man who had Al's quiet strength or instinct and ability to lead. His leadership lets me relax a bit, and I like relaxing.
3. White women marry black men because they're more romantic than white men. I can't say it's because he's black, but honestly, Al is the most romantic man I ever dated. I think it's more likely because he was older and more mature than any of the men I'd dated prior to him and thus knew more and had a greater comfort level with expressing his feelings in words and actions. But also I think Al's just always been genuinely interested and good at in making other people feel special and important. I'd seen this quality in him, one that made him stand out among everyone I knew, male or female, black, white or otherwise, long before romance entered the picture. I love Al's romantic side, but I'd guess it's a natural extension of that quality vs. linked to his ethnicity.
4. White women marry black men because black men have - ahem - certain anatomical advantages over white men in the bedroom. I suppose it'd be inappropriate to just shout "BOLOGNA!" and let that be it, huh? (Giggle.) I probably don't have enough data points on my grid, so to speak, to either confirm or deny this theory, but I can assure you that I wouldn't marry a man solely because he had a great big data point. I'm much more into Al's ginormous brain and heart. He also has a freakishly large smile, and that thing? Makes my toes curl with pleasure.
5. White women marry black men because they're more attracted to black men/think black men are better looking than white men. Okay. Have you seen Al? He's gorgeous. I love his dark eyes and his amazing smooth, velvety brown skin and even his perfectly round, sleek, nearly-clean-shaven head (yes!). The guy is smokin'. And for purposes of illustration only, I also think Denzel is very easy on the eyes, and Blair Underwood makes my teeth sweat a little, as does Will Smith (especially in Hitch). But dude. George Clooney? Adam Levine? SHERLOCK (the Benedict Cumberbatch one)? Yeah, white guys are nice, too. (Not that I'm looking, and if Al asks you, I think Bruno Mars is hideous, okay?)
6. White women marry black men to rebel and/or make a social statement. I can't deny that I value the message my family sends to people who see us and know us about progress and equality, love and acceptance. And I pray that Al and I and other couples like us just showing up, bold and together, in this generation, will bring more and more freedom to our kids and their kids to espouse wide-open views of what love and commitment can look like for them. But true social change activists, we are not. In the truest sense of the phrase, we're lovers, not fighters. And at 41 and 36, we'd both wrapped up the rebellious phases of our lives a decade before we said our vows. We got married in a quest for peace, not conflict.
7. White women marry black men because mixed couples make the prettiest children. I never heard this theory until after Al and I were married and I was pregnant with my daughter Alex (Bean). Al brought me a magazine article about Mariah Carey and said, "Did you know she's an Alex?" (Since that moment, we both refer to all bi-racial women we see as "Alexes" and bi-racial men as "Peabodies." True story.) The article alluded in some way to the uncommon beauty of bi-racial children and I was all Woo to the Hoo! Our baby's going to look like Mariah Carey! And she totally doesn't, but she's still gorgeous. Our kids are both beautiful. They're the most beautiful kids on the planet. But yours are too, aren't they? Bean and Peabody's good looks (and enviable hair) are an awesome by-product of our marriage, but I didn't marry Al in a quest to mother supermodels.
So why DID I marry a black guy? I'm afraid this may be a bit of a yawner because it sounds so much like anyone else's marriage story. My initial attraction for Al came from our easy friendship, his amazing listening skills, the way he made me laugh (he's the funniest person I've ever met) and our shared faith. I married him because we loved, trusted, respected and easily understood one another on an honest, open, totally-vulnerable level. We could see a clear way to use our natural gifts to support and serve one another in healthy, affirming ways. It's that simple. I married Al for the similar reasons a white girl marries a white guy or a black girl marries a black guy or a green toad marries a purple hedgehog. Because he's awesome, he loves me back, and I want him right here beside me forever.
(If you're part of an interracial marriage yourself, or have heard any other theories or conversations on the subject, feel free to jump in with your stories and thoughts in the comments below. I don't think I need to ask you to be respectful and kind because that's almost never been an issue here, but yes, do. And if anyone happens along who isn't kind and respectful, I'm all about the delete comment feature. I love dialogue and I can even stand conflict, but I will always, always protect myself, my family, and my readers from hatefulness. Every single time.)