I Thought I Was Prepared to Marry a Black Man, But I Had NO Idea
I had no idea what racism was until I married a black man.
It was a little over two and a half years ago, right before I was about to be married that I was asked the question, “Are you prepared for what you and your family will experience seeing as how you are marrying a black man?” Being a white girl raised in Salt Lake City, Utah I was offended. The man I was speaking with took notice to my offense and simply said “I don’t mean to hurt you, I just wanted to make sure that you were aware that things will be different than I think you are expecting. Things will be harder.” I explained that I was fine and that things were going to be great.
Two and a half wonderful years later, our son is now 5 and our youngest is almost 2 and the woman that I am now often looks back at that day and wishes I could have understood what he meant. I wish I would have understood that my husband would be pulled from his car and handcuffed, placed face down on the ground and arrested while I watched his helpless face, all because he had recently expired tags on his car. I wish I would have known that people would accuse my husband of kidnapping our oldest son because he’s white while simultaneously praising me for being a saint who graciously adopted a little black boy. I wish I would have understood the mean words that can escape someone’s lips when speaking about our mixed little family and the heartache that follows. I wish I would have used that time to consider how I would explain to my boys why people weren’t always nice.
In the past few years, there have been multiple events that have transpired that have caused me to really decide where I stand. I’ve watched and read and talked about men and woman of color being shot and disrespected by law enforcement and I’ve found myself on both sides of the fence. I’ve tucked my babies into bed and watched them sleep and with tears in my eyes I’ve thought, how do I protect you from the world? And I’ve also looked my baby in the eye and said “You better make smart decisions. Safe decisions. No robbing a gas station. No walking down the street swinging a sword around. No rioting. You are to be respectful. You are to be a member of society that contributes to the world. You are to be proud of who you are and your heritage. If you are anything less than these things, you might not come home to me one day.”
I suppose that part of the problem with the world is that once you are White you will never be Black and trying to understand their fear based on their experiences will always be hard for you. I would say that it’s been about 8 years since I had a taillight out on my car. I went over a year without fixing it before my uncle offered to fix it for me, not one day did I ever even think about it. Fast forward to about a month ago when my taillight was out again. Given my experience as a white female in the past, my current self had chosen not to fix it and instead save the money. My husband was crazy paranoid. He talked every day about the need for me to go and get it fixed. He would drive my car always on the lookout for police and in the event that he saw one he would quickly take another road, pull over to the side and wait for them to pass. I wasn’t quiet about my annoyance to his situation often complaining about his need to feel that because he was black the police were always out to get him. He would always patiently respond with “Babe, we just don’t need that problem.” Our taillight is now fixed but as I listened to the news of a man being shot in his car and the initial reason for the stop was a busted taillight I found myself feeling panicked. What if that was us and my lack of respect for his fears would have taken this same turn for the worst? I went to sleep that night wondering what the future looked like for my family but when I woke up the next morning I would only realize that things were about to get worse, not only for my family but for everyone.
The world is full of people. It’s not full of police officers, doctors, teachers, Asians, Hispanics, Males and Females. Our earth is full of people. People who fortunately and unfortunately have the same equal opportunity to decide how they live their lives. It’s full of people who get to make decisions whether they are good or bad. It’s full of people who are affected by those decisions whether they are good or bad. It’s so easy to get caught up in the idea that the problem is US against THEM when the reality is that it’s good versus evil and always has been. People don’t come out of the womb hating their neighbor. Hate is taught and learned. Hate comes from the inside. It’s felt and it lingers. Hate pushes you to find revenge for what you feel is unjust and unfair. Equality is something that we can only hope for and in a perfect world it would exist but the reality is that it doesn’t now and the sad truth is that it’s probably going to be a while if ever.
So what do you do now? Now that 5 police officers are dead because of the bad decisions of other PEOPLE. What has that fixed? How many people are going to bed tonight wishing their loved one had come home, black or white, but because of hate they will never walk in the door? All I keep seeing are officers who are afraid of my husband now more than ever. I see wives begging their husbands not to leave whether they are leaving the house with a badge or black skin. I see parents teaching their children to be afraid of the police instead of teaching them to respect those that put their lives on the line to keep us safe. Or parents who pull their children closer when a black man sits to closely on the bus. Ultimately the difference that I want to see in the world doesn’t come from finding justice for those that have been mistreated and disrespected. It comes from what I choose to teach within the walls of my own home. It comes from raising law abiding citizens that respect those around them. It comes from teaching your children that wrong decisions are coupled with consequences and that life isn’t always fair, it was never meant to be. It’s about seeing people as just that, people. Not as their skin color or what they do for a living. Not as who they choose to marry or what they choose to worship. It’s about seeing people as free humans who choose their life and make their own decisions and then finding peace within what you can control. It’s about showing the world through how you live that they were wrong about what they thought they knew about you. It’s about teaching them that while racism is still alive and well, we are working to teach our kids to grow up expecting a better tomorrow regardless of circumstance.
All lives matter but the truth is that Black lives haven’t always mattered. It is important to place an emphasis on finding solutions to our deepest fears as we watch our loved ones struggle to be treated equally. Violence no matter how oppressed you may feel will never yield the trust and peace filled relationships we yearn for. Taking the life of a father or a mother or a husband or a wife will never bring back what you may have lost. It will not take away your fears and it will not calm your troubled soul. It is not paving the way for any future that we hope to be brighter for us and our children. Hate breeds hate and our only hope left in this world lies within what we can control. Hope isn’t in your Facebook status, your Ksl news article debate or even your good-willed peace protests. It starts at home and it starts with you.
By Chelsie Dort