Jill Scotts Essay On Interracial Relationships

I'm used to checking "other" to describe myself. As the daughter of an African-American Air Force serviceman and a white Danish immigrant, I have yet to find a form with an Afro-Viking box.

Still, imagine my surprise -- not at the recent headline that interracial marriages are at an all-time high -- but that my marriage is included among them.

Unlike President Obama, I was one of the 9 million people who checked more than one box under race on the 2010 Census form. It was only the second time individuals could do this. According to Census terminology, I am "African-American, Black, Negro" and "White." My husband checked just one box: "African-American, Black, Negro."

Our choices make us part of the second most represented group among interracial married couples: marriages in which at least one person identifies as multiracial. (The most frequent combination at 45 percent are married couples between non-Hispanics and Hispanics, according to the newly released Census figures.)

I will admit I never imagined our relationship would be classified this way.

Our marriage was never and would never have been banned by law like my parents' was in 1965 in South Carolina and 16 other states forcing my parents to marry in my mother's Danish hometown.

And frankly, I don't think most people see our relationship that way either.

Not even singer/actor Jill Scott would "wince" as she famously phrased it in an Essence magazine essay because of her instinctual aversion to interracial couples if she saw my husband and I walk hand-in-hand. I am, afterall, not a "white girl." She'd likely see in me a fellow sister (as I do her) and suspect that I'm just light-skinned.

I suppose I have assumed that interracial couples are something "other" than what my husband and I were -- and that kind of "other" didn't include me this time. My husband's black and I'm black "plus" which doesn't equal interracial the way race and math work in America.

And yet, I do remember on one of our first dates, I wanted to signal to him that I was comfortable identifying as part of the black community. I made some comment about "white people" with a knowing wink. (I'm not proud of it.) His immediate and stern response stopped me cold: "You know, my stepfather is white."

I quickly apologized and sighed with relief: I didn't have to pass as black for him. I knew in that moment that we shared many racial and cultural touchpoints having both grown up in blended families. I wouldn't have to explain my mixed family. I wouldn't have to worry about whether he would feel comfortable around half of my people. He grew up knowing "white goodness" too.

In the many years since, our extended family has become increasingly multiracial and multicultural with nieces and nephews who are African-American and Filipino, black and Irish, and ancestors of Russian Jews.

My lived experience is that we have a very interracial and multicultural relationship but I didn't know society would let it count that way. Our story seemed a kind of aberration. But maybe the aberrations matter most.

It makes me wonder: does counting interracial couples this way expand the definition blackness? Does it also expand the definition of whiteness?

Mostly it makes me more sure in my belief that what would be more valuable as a true portrait of us as a nation are the stories behind the statistics.

My husband chose black on the Census form because of his blood quantum; his experience and his story is far more complicated than the label.

For years, whenever I would see a mixed kid or even adult, I would lightly punch my husband on the arm and say "biracial." This was sometimes socially awkward if it came out in a particularly loud blurt. I'd just get so happy to see another family that looked like mine.

I was surprised to learn that my friend Lori, an African-American mother of what she jokingly calls "SpaNegroes" (Spanish and African-American) did the same. But she used a code word: potatoes.

I adopted it immediately.

When I told my husband, he said: "So that means interracial couples are tomatoes?"

"Sure," I said, "let's use that."

And now here we are. Because of our Census form choices, we now count as tomatoes ourselves. I guess we did all along.

Follow Heidi W. Durrow on Twitter: www.twitter.com/heididurrow

You know the moment when you realize that fine, accomplished brother is with a White woman? Let's call it "the wince." Three-time Grammy Award-winning artist, writer, actress, philanthropist, mother and all-around Renaissance woman, Jill Scott gets to the root of our feelings on the matter in the April issue of ESSENCE... My new friend is handsome, African-American, intelligent and seemingly wealthy. He is an athlete, loves his momma, and is happily married to a White woman. I admit when I saw his wedding ring, I privately hoped. But something in me just knew he didn't marry a sister. Although my guess hit the mark, when my friend told me his wife was indeed Caucasian, I felt my spirit...wince. I didn't immediately understand it. My face read happy for you. My body showed no reaction to my inner pinch, but the sting was there, quiet like a mosquito under a summer dress. Was I jealous? Did the reality of his relationship somehow diminish his soul's credibility? The answer is not simple. One could easily dispel the wince as racist or separatist, but that's not how I was brought up. I was reared in a Jehovah's Witness household. I was taught that every man should be judged by his deeds and not his color, and I firmly stand where my grandmother left me. African people worldwide are known to be welcoming and open-minded. We share our culture sometimes to our own peril and most of us love the very notion of love. My position is that for women of color, this very common "wince" has solely to do with the African story in America. When our people were enslaved, "Massa" placed his Caucasian woman on a pedestal. She was spoiled, revered and angelic, while the Black slave woman was overworked, beaten, raped and farmed out like cattle to be mated. She was nothing and neither was our Black man. As slavery died for the greater good of America, and the movement for equality sputtered to life, the White woman was on the cover of every American magazine. She was the dazzling jewel on every movie screen, the glory of every commercial and television show. She was unequivocally the standard of beauty for this country, firmly unattainable to anyone not of her race. We daughters of the dust were seen as ugly, nappy mammies, good for day work and unwanted children, while our men were thought to be thieving, sex-hungry animals with limited brain capacity. We reflect on this awful past and recall that if a Black man even looked at a White woman, he would have been lynched, beaten, jailed or shot to death. In the midst of this, Black women and Black men struggled together, mourned together, starved together, braved the hoses and vicious police dogs and died untimely on southern back roads together. These harsh truths lead to what we really feel when we see a seemingly together brother with a Caucasian woman and their children. That feeling is betrayed. While we exert efforts to raise our sons and daughters to appreciate themselves and respect others, most of us end up doing this important work alone, with no fathers or like representatives, limited financial support (often court-enforced) and, on top of everything else, an empty bed. It's frustrating and it hurts! Our minds do understand that people of all races find genuine love in many places. We dig that the world is full of amazing options. But underneath, there is a bite, no matter the ointment, that has yet to stop burning. Some may find these thoughts to be hurtful. That is not my intent. I'm just sayin'. Jill Scott is a three-time Grammy Award-winning artist, writer, actress, philanthropist and mother. Read more:

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