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My Story: Jumping the Broom with a White Boy

Marriage is for white people.

It’s hard to say what I felt exactly when I read that Washington Post editorial a few years ago—offended, outed, but mostly just sad.  But finally, someone in the media had exposed the furtive secret, the dirty laundry. Despite the fact that my own parents had been married for 45 years, I learned early that marriage for whites and blacks was distinctly different—if it happened with blacks at all.   In my pubescent, wide-eyed youth, I remember, hands clasped against one cheek, sighing my dreams of love, marriage, mutual understanding and cooperation to some friend or relative only for them to scoff, “That’s some fairytale-white-people-shit.”

If black women—regardless of class and education—were really honest, most will tell you that their ideal mate is a black man.  The problem is, the chances are slim.  U.S. Census data from 2001 confirms it—African Americans have the lowest marriage rate of all races, and black women are at the back of the line.  I once knew a single black woman with a thriving career as a civil engineer and co-franchiser of a Subway sandwich shop, who told me, “I’m still holding out for my black man.”  In her church, work, or circle of friends, she could not find one single, solitary black man who could fit the bill.  “I don’t care if he’s a FedEx carrier, I just want a good one,” she had said.

We lost touch so I never found out if the delivery man ever came knocking with that ring in hand.  But if I were a gambler, I’d say she must have faced some tough odds on finding her black man considering 42 percent of black women never marry, compared to 21 percent of white women.

So, if marriage is for white people, what option does an educated, fertile, marriage-minded black female have?  Know this, sisters, Prince Charming comes in all colors. White women have already figured this out – and if you can’t find the right color or cultural match, it’s time to expand your horizons and simply find a good man.

I realize that some black women, steadfast in their quest to find the ultimate brother, may bristle when they read this.  Some would rather concede to “baby momma” status if they can’t get their partner to commit for life, for reasons here too presumptuous of me to assume.  I can only speak for myself.  Because my twelve-year-old daughter’s father, who is black, outright refused to marry me when I became pregnant in college, despite dangling the marriage carrot in front of my nose for a year prior.  His parents never married.  His own father has three illegitimate children (that we know of).  As my belly swelled, I remember being so ashamed that I bought a cubic zircon to wear on my ring finger when we were out together in public.  It didn’t bother him a bit.  To him, marriage was extraneous.

And still others, like my engineer friend, would rather forfeit marriage and motherhood than ever consider marrying outside their race.  It’s a betrayal of the Afro-centric us-against-the-world groupthink, and a heartbreaking remnant of slavery. It’s the pebble in all our shoes. Marriage for slaves was not legally or spiritually binding by the ruling class.  Defiant lovers still found ways to express their eternal devotion by jumping the broom, which symbolized the leap into a new life, lived together.  Such ‘frivolity’ did not stop the slave owners and foreman from raping the women, while husbands and sons watched, helpless and impotent.  Some of us still have not forgiven.

My husband and I jumped the broom the day we married.  My mother insisted on it, perhaps as a not-so-subtle reminder to me from where I’ve come.  So with clenched teeth and sweaty palms I took the leap with my white husband, and into world that wasn’t quite black or white, but brushed with of wisps of gray.  An interracial marriage is truly risky.  You join the ranks of odd couples that abdicate their anonymity and risk ridicule. Tall and short, skinny and portly, black and white.  Someone stares a millisecond longer than what is comfortable, and then you wonder.  A salesman snubs you and then you speculate.  You weren’t invited to a party and you can’t help but think, is it because my husband is white?

Is it because I’m black?

I have been called a nigger three times in my life.  The first time was in elementary school; a blond boy with dirty clothes and flies perpetually circling his face spat the word at me while on a swing.  Then it happened again in high school—some cowardly adolescent thought it was funny to yell out the slur while I was walking alone from school.  The last time came just before my wedding.

I was walking alongside a coworker passing out notices to homeowners about freeway work to be done in Costa Mesa, California.  We made the best of it, laughing about the ridiculous job, how the execs liked to farm off the grunt work to the juniors.  We took in the sunshine.  We talked about our significant others.  He knew my intended was white, and asked me about it.

“What’s it like?” he asked, innocently.  “Do you ever worry about what people say?”

“Not at all,” I said, full of cosmopolitan bravado.  “This is California, not Mississippi.

Almost immediately after, a white pickup blazed passed us, a little too close to the curb.  A man hung his elbow out of the window. Then it had happened the third and final time.

“Nigger!”  The cowards hit the gas and zoomed away.

My coworker, who was white, seemed incredulous, almost embarrassed, and a little scared. Then, unsure of what to do, he chuckled nervously, “You’re not offended by those jerks, are you?  Ha!  What jerks!”  Then, he looked at me and saw my face, brown and burning, tears swelling against the bridge of my nose.  “God, Chris.  I’m sorry.”

I remember thinking at the time about how absurd it was.  Why apologize for what those chumps yelled out?  Did he think that I would hold him responsible in some way, like some collective condemnation for all bigots of the world?  In a way, he did.  In some ways, we all do.

Before that incident I lived in a bubble of self-imposed denial about what it would be like to be married to someone white. I grew up in the eighties, but I was only one generation removed from drinking out of the “Blacks Only” fountain. That day, something grabbed hold and shook me.  I began to overanalyze the incident, rewinding and replaying.  Seeing us laughing and walking together must have looked like intimacy to those men.  They must have thought we were on a date. Ghosts may be dead, but they find ways to make you see them.

Later that evening I told my fiancée about it.  He kissed my tears.  He called the men bastards.  Then we went on, one foot in front of the other, down the aisle.  Because no matter what, nothing changed the fact that we loved to cook and garden together, and debate the latest outrage in Newsweek in bed on Sunday mornings.  It didn’t erase that we completed each other’s sentences.  He had an uncanny way of reading me and knowing my secrets, and loving me still.

When it was time to take the leap, my palms slick with sweat, part of me was giddy with love and promise; the other, secret part, was full of fear and dread.  I would begin a life with a man whom had never known bald prejudice, never been called a name meant to humiliate and dehumanize him.  He would have to understand why that word had so much power, how it could cause me to crumble into tears.  He would have to toughen up to hear a few slurs of his own, now that he was going to be married to me.

I gave one last look at the audience.  To my left was his family and friends—mostly white—and to the right was my family.  Black sand, white beach.   As the tide ebbs and flows, each part takes and leaves a little of itself with the other.  I looked at my soon-to-be husband, with his wide smile and hopeful green eyes, and I knew in an instant that no matter what the future brought, this was my man.  He was the man.

Almost equally ironic as was the drive-by name-calling a fluke, my husband and I have been lucky thus far to never experience blatant outrage or bigotry about our bi-ethnic, bi-cultural relationship.   Indeed, the world is changing. At almost 12, my oldest daughter has never been called a nigger.   There are more families that look like us, both in real life and on television.   Finally, the ghosts of slavery and all the “isms” that go along with it are being exorcised.  Of course we get the furtive looks and stares of bald curiosity or distain that comes along with being different.  And I must admit I still hold my breath when we walk together passed a cluster of black men.

I sometimes think about that person who once told me that marriage was a fairy tale in which white people cornered the market. They were wrong.  Imperfect and glorious, this little black girl got her fairy tale ending.  My marriage works, just not in the confines of tradition or with the ease of anonymity. We continue to transcend together, beyond Jim Crow and the n-word, beyond the fear of ridicule.  Knowing what I do now, I wish I would have told the engineer-slash-sandwich-shop-owner that you just have to snatch love for yourself when it comes knocking, in whatever color or cultural package he’s wrapped in.  That’s the purpose of this book, and my hope is that all who read it will find love, however it arrives.

–Christelyn D. Karazin

14 Comments leave one →
  1. January Noir permalink
    June 13, 2010 5:31 am

    I loved this story. Thank you for sharing your life.

  2. June 13, 2010 10:37 pm

    Nice!

  3. Roni Jackson-Etienne permalink
    June 14, 2010 7:41 am

    Chris, I want to thank you for sharing your story. It truly brought me to tears because as an Afro-American single woman, I DO UNDERSTAND!! I feel honored to know you. You give me hope in knowing that I will one day find my soul mate despite of his ethnicity. God Bless, Roni

    • randomthoughtsfromcali permalink*
      June 14, 2010 7:53 am

      Thanks so much for the kind words, and here’s to hoping you find Mr. Right VERY soon!

  4. June 17, 2010 9:49 pm

    This was beautifully written. I appreciate your story. Thank You!

    • randomthoughtsfromcali permalink*
      June 17, 2010 9:51 pm

      Thanks so much for visiting! Stay a while…this is a great community!

  5. stellas permalink
    June 19, 2010 4:09 pm

    Wonderful story and so filled with hope.
    “If black women—regardless of class and education—were really honest, most will tell you that their ideal mate is a black man.”
    Some black women (myself) actually prefer white men. I’ve always been attracted to white men but somewhat shy about flirting with them. Blogs like these give women like myself the courage to go after their dreams.

  6. Robin Henson permalink
    June 24, 2010 6:34 am

    I recently married a white male June 19,2010…I really enjoyed the story …I understand exactly where your coming from …..But love is deeper than that….it deeper than skin color….height, weight..economic levels ….its all about those two people and how they feel about each other…We are truely happy and we defend our love to ingnorant people…… loving my white man…..truth be told
    I’ve only dated white men….
    I’ve only been with 2 black men in my entire life….i just prefer white men…

  7. Hodan permalink
    June 24, 2010 5:48 pm

    wow, I don’t know how I missed this amazing story. Thank you for sharing your life with us, I’ll pass it on to my friends.

    • randomthoughtsfromcali permalink*
      June 24, 2010 6:23 pm

      Thanks so much for passing it on. It’s my hope that it will give hope to whomever needs it.

  8. June 30, 2010 2:42 am

    What a lovely story, although I married my husband and we divorced after seven years, I have always found white men attractive, there are the ones who always spoke it me, even when I was a teenager, I am from the UK, most of the guys who I was friends with were mixed race (white mother and asian or other race father), Asian, Greek parentage, English. Most of the black boys only laughed at me, except for my cousins.
    God bless you!

    • randomthoughtsfromcali permalink*
      June 30, 2010 6:42 am

      God bless you, too! Here’s to you finding love again!

      Cheers,

      Chris

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