Guest Post by Jess Sweigert
Hi, my name is Jess, and I am dating a man whose skin color is a few shades darker than my own. His mother is white, his father is black, and he is tall, dark, curly haired, brown-eyed, and gorgeous on the outside and even more wonderful on the inside because of his love for the Lord and other people. (Sorry, allow me to gush for one moment…okay, I’m done.)
We began our friendship one year ago. Our first conversation revolved around his hair and whether or not he could grow it long enough to rock a man bun. Later on, we had the “What do you think I am?” conversation. He does, in fact, look slightly ethnically ambiguous which sometimes throws people for a loop, resulting in questions like “Wait, so you’re not Middle Eastern, then what are you?”
In many ways, my relationship with this gem of a man is similar to the relationship that is not interracial. We eat a little too much ice cream, we enjoy going on long walks together, and he not only tolerates my shopping habits but has a joyful heart while doing so. We enjoy binge watching YouTube fail videos, we fail miserably at cooking for one another every now and then, and I sustain his popcorn addiction as he sustains my coffee addiction. We enjoy deep conversation about politics, injustice, race, and theology. For all you psychology nerds out there like me, we have the same MBTI personality type. Our relationship is currently long distance as he is in Costa Rica, so we spend a lot of time praying and our dates are via Skype. But he is my person as two white people are one another’s. Despite the many similarities and wonderful quirks that seem normal to any relationship, skin color has added a different dynamic of anomaly, grace, and opportunity to our relationship.
March 25, 2016 was the first time I experienced and felt the pain of unsubtle racism alongside him, and it rocked me to the core. This experience would eventually change my worldview entirely. It was Easter weekend and I brought him home with me to my small, middle-of-nowhere, Ohio hometown. I grew up around direct racism as classmates and people in my community flew the confederate flag and threw “nigger” around as if it were no big deal. Our first night in Ohio, we decided to head a local ice cream shop. We walked in, and as soon as we walked through the door, something felt a little bit off. The attitude in the room changed. Conversation between customers seemed to lull as they could see who was walking in.
We walked to the counter and I ordered my ice cream, completely caught off guard by the older couple who was staring at us with the nastiest, most disapproving looks on their faces. He ordered his ice cream, and I could tell from his posture that I was not the only one feeling this heaviness. I wrapped my arm through his for a brief moment, he paid for our ice cream, then we found seats at a corner table in the back of the restaurant. Less than a minute after we sat down, these people got up and left with disapproving smirks still on their faces.
I understand full well that this was not the worst possible thing that we could have experienced, and this event was very situational. The demographic is different in small-town, rural Ohio than that of where we go to college. Not all people give us looks and walk out of restaurants, in fact, most in the millennial generation do not think twice about it. There are many things that could have been worse. We could have been threatened. We could have been told we were not allowed in the ice cream shop together at all, which unfortunately is not too far removed from the history of the United States. Regardless, I left the ice cream place that evening feeling hurt by the injustice of racism that still exists in this world. My heart broke a little bit more for those who go through small, big things like this each day. Those people did not have to say anything because their looks said everything, which brings me to the first way our relationship is different because of our skin color.
To many, our relationship is an anomaly. Regardless of age or generation, many people do still look at us and have some sort of presupposition in their head. Our relationship deviates from what is expected. Those who have a worldview laced with racism might look at us when we are in public and think it is out of the ordinary that I am not covered in bruises. They might think something to the effect of, “I am sure he will leave her someday,” or, “I wonder how he really treats her behind closed doors.” Rest assured, this man is a God-fearing, kind, gentleman. He is not the only one who may get a glare or two in public.
Interracial dating is an anomaly because whatever race it may be, dating a person whose skin color is different than your own breaks the American stereotype of a happy, white family that lives out the “American dream.” Instead, it is a happy, diverse family that has a little extra room to make people who do have racist presuppositions wonder, “How does that work?” This leads me to the second difference in our relationship because of our skin colors.
The anomaly of the interracial relationship opens many doors to reflect the love of Christ to people around us. It is not uncommon for us to walk out in public, especially in my hometown, and receive a glare of disapproval from a stranger. It is not uncommon for white people born a few generations before my own to entirely avoid making eye contact with either of us because our skin color causes some level of discomfort to their worldview and what they grew up knowing.
At first, these types of situations caused me to become rather defensive, hostile, and hurt. As time passed, the Lord made it very evident that this subtle racism should not be a margin for defensiveness and hostility; rather, it should be a margin for His glorification.
This is a margin for a friendly smile, a hello, and maybe even a conversation. This is a margin for the truth and love of Jesus Christ to be evident in how we treat one another and how we treat the “spectator” of our relationship. This is a margin to tangibly show that the selfless love of God does not discriminate or give worth based on the color of skin. Do not hear this the wrong way, seeing this racism still breaks my heart as it should, because racism breaks God’s heart. However, God is molding each of our hearts to love people when they are hard to love in the midst of injustice. Grace, humility, and a willingness to learn are a few more different aspects of the interracial relationship. We are learning each day to show each of these toward those around us who place worth and value on us based on the colors of our skin. In showing grace and humility during hurt and injustice, we have the opportunity to reflect the love of Jesus. Grace, humility, and willingness to learn are important to show not just to everyone around us, but especially to one another.
Interracial dating demands both persons to be fully committed to resolving differences and talking through hard topics. To put it simply, I was raised in the midst of cornfields, guns, and confederate flags. He was raised in the Chicago suburbs where guns are not viewed as tools, there is not a daily stench of cow manure, and confederate flags are a no-no. We are not only racially different, but we are culturally different. We have had to trust God throughout our relationship because there are some things we struggle to understand from the other’s cultural perspective without the help of His Spirit, a spirit of grace, and a willingness to learn. We were close to shouting at one another once around the time we were becoming friends during a tense conversation about gun ownership. Now we can lovingly chat about this over hot drinks because we began to learn and understand with an open heart why the other feels the way they do.
In any relationship one must be committed to resolving differences, but as race relations are continuing to be strained in America daily, we must be willing to put the others’ personhood and life before the issue or the opinion itself. Each time I read a headline about another unarmed black man being shot and killed by the police, my heart sinks because I am learning how this impacts him, as a biracial man, who will most likely someday encounter a police officer at a traffic stop. The racial tension the United States has unified our relationship even more as we walk with one another and love one another in an American society that often portrays a picture of hatred between the white and black man.
It was not until 1967 that the United States government declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional. In November 2000, Alabama became the last state to overturn a law against interracial marriage. Millennials generally have taken interracial dating and proudly run with it. I am proud to be part of a generation that might be labeled by some as “lazy, disrespectful, and ungrateful” but at least knows how to love others regardless of their skin color. And I am so incredibly grateful that I can be in a relationship with this person without risking our freedom and well-being as a citizen of the United States.
Ian put it beautifully when he said, “This kind of relationship is not gloom and doom, but a breath of fresh air into a stale, broken world that offers a small measure of hope in the face of the crippling pain of racism, discrimination, apathy and dehumanization.”
God’s love resides in each of us even during the days that it feels as if we are fighting an uphill battle with the racial tension in this fallen world. We find ourselves giggling about his need to borrow my lotion every now and again as I convince him to do just one more Starbucks run then pose for a selfie while doing so. We celebrate differences. We love one another more because of them. Loving one another and most importantly loving Jesus in the midst of adversity is a breath of fresh air as we walk the path less taken. Interracial relationships today are a tangible example of the hope and reconciliation that is found in Christ-like love. We cling to the truth that some glorious day when we are reunited with our Lord, we will no longer be discriminated against by the color of our skin. Oh, what a celebration-filled day that will be, but until then we will be love so others can see that glorious day too.
Love, dear friends, regardless of their shell in this world.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” –Martin Luther King Jr.