1. I’ve known you since high school, and I’m so elated with what you’ve done post high school. Would you please share what your life has included since then (i.e. academics, job, hobbies / interests, etc.)?
Oh, wow, that’s a big question! Well, in terms of school/career, in college I double-majored in French and Secondary Education with the intention of becoming a French teacher. I did student teaching during my last semester (which was also the first few months of my first marriage and was not a happy time for me for many reasons) and got my teaching license. My then-husband was working on his Masters by then, and I was inspired to do the same, so I started working on my graduate degree in teaching foreign languages. Two years later I had my masters degree, but I no longer had a husband. I was already a divorcee at 23. Without going into the details, leaving my first marriage was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and also the best decision I’ve ever made. I finally gave myself permission to take care of myself and discover who I really wanted to be.
Going back to academics, I’m still really interested in linguistics, particularly in second language acquisition. If I could have my pick of careers, I’d be doing research in that subject and teaching French at a university. In fact, I was planning to get my doctorate, and had been accepted to the University of Arizona, when I learned that I was pregnant. I’m putting all that on hold now for as long as I feel it’s necessary. I consider it a privilege to stay home with my kid(s).
In terms of hobbies and interests, I don’t know if you remember that I used to sing in high school. Music/singing is still important to me (although I don’t do as much of it as I would like), and I’ve recently added visual art (especially painting, mostly abstract) to my self-expression repertoire.
My spirituality is also really important to me. I’m very into Eastern philosophy and do a lot of yoga and meditation. My interest in this even took me to my guru’s ashram in India for a month early last year, which was an absolutely amazing trip. He also has an ashram here in Tennessee that I visit frequently. It was there that I met Ken, my current husband.
2. Although I’m not from Chattanooga, TN, I’m very familiar with the city and it’s views about interracial relationships. How has living there supported and/or hindered your views about interracial relationships? You currently live in Murfreesboro, TN, and is that city any different?
As you know, Chattanooga’s more or less segregated by neighborhood and also pretty old-fashioned, although I think that’s very slowly changing with our generation. My parents took deliberate steps to create an environment for me that would counteract the social norms in Chattanooga. For example, my local elementary school was almost totally white, so my parents sent me to a magnet school where they knew I’d be exposed to kids of different races/colors/backgrounds. I think this was one of the smartest things they could have ever done. Because I spent my early years (grades 1-6) at a school that was probably about 40/60 black/white, I never developed the kinds of prejudices that kids gather out of ignorance and/or fear of people who are different from them.
As for Murfreesboro, it’s ridiculously homogenous. There just aren’t that many people of color, or even of different cultures or economic backgrounds, in this town. It’s really kind of boring that everyone is the same. That’s one of the reasons we’re planning to move to Nashville soon. It’s a larger city and has a surprisingly diverse population, which I think makes it much more interesting.
3. You’re married to an African-American man, and the two of you are currently anticipating on your baby girl (congratulations again). How did the two of you meet? Have you encountered any racism towards you relationship?
Ken and I met at a retreat at our guru’s ashram in Tennessee, as I mentioned before. He was living in DC at the time, and I was here in Murfreesboro. At the retreat, it wasn’t the kind of thing where we had much opportunity to talk, but there was a definite connection. We both felt it very strongly. We began communicating regularly via Facebook, then email, then phone. Before I knew it we were flying back and forth to visit each other on the weekends, and then he decided to move to Tennessee and made it clear to me that he intended to marry me, if that was what I wanted. I did, but we hadn’t set a date or even made our engagement official when I left for India. He completely supported that trip and my three-month retreat at the ashram in Tennessee last summer, even though the latter meant no contact with him during the duration. Then an opportunity came that astounded us both. Our guru offered to marry any meditators who were interested (he almost never offers to do that), and the wedding was to take place at the end of the retreat. With six days’ warning, I was allowed to call Ken and ask him if he still wanted to marry me (a strange conversation to have with someone after no contact for three months, let me tell you). He gave an enthusiastic yes, we invited our parents, and we were married five days later. It was last minute, but the way it happened was perfect for us. It had been our “impossible” dream to be married by our guru, something we thought would never happen, and yet somehow it did. I’ve never been happier.
We haven’t encountered any overt racism. If anyone has a problem with it, they’re keeping it to themselves. (Anyway, even if white people have a problem with you, they usually won’t say it aloud because they don’t want to be called a racist.) Definitely no one in either of our families has a problem. I am the first person in my family to marry interracially though, so Ken does stick out at family gatherings. It doesn’t bother him, and I certainly don’t care, so that’s no problem. I do think it’s kind of funny, though.
Every now and then some little weird thing will happen. Maybe someone will look at as longer than they might otherwise when we’re walking down the street hand-in-hand. Or sometimes we’ll be eating out at a restaurant and the server will ask if we want separate checks. I don’t remember that ever happening when I was out with a white man. It’s like the server is slower to assume we’re a couple since we’re not of the same race. But no, we’ve never encountered anything overt or cruel in any way. I like to think that’s a good sign that even in the South, things are changing. Finally.
4. OK, I can’t lie; I would have never thought you would date interracially, let alone marry interracially, LOL! I guess that’s due to the societal norms of Chattanooga, TN. Has being in an interracial relationship changed you in any way? Were you always comfortable with the idea of interracial relationships?
I’m not surprised you didn’t expect me to date interracially. I didn’t really have expectations one way or the other. I did always date white men, but by the time I reached dating age, I was in private school and pretty much surrounded by white people, as I’m sure you remember! To be honest, I didn’t really date much at all. I only had a couple of boyfriends in middle/high school before I met my first husband (who was also white), and then I met Ken.
I think I was always comfortable with the idea of interracial relationships. It certainly never bothered me to see other people in mixed relationships. I barely even noticed. And I find men of different races attractive – obviously! Remember, I was married to a white man before, and it didn’t work out. Even though Ken is a black man, he and I are infinitely more compatible.
It’s more important to me that the person I’m with understand me fundamentally, that we share similar interests and views of the world and of the future, that we have a mutual respect, and that we feel safe enough with each other to talk about anything at all. But I also like there to be enough difference that it’s interesting, you have something to learn from each other.
I think that’s the biggest benefit of being in an interracial relationship. Ken and I are so similar in so many ways, but simply because of his race he has a different perspective than I do, and I enjoy that. I love that I can ask him questions I might be afraid to ask anyone else for fear of being called a racist. I like to learn from his experience, and I like the way hearing his perspective broadens my own world view. Being in any relationship changes you, but I think being in an interracial relationship forces me (speaking now as a white person) to look at myself and question what kinds of prejudices I might be holding on to out of sheer ignorance. Where are my blind spots? What societal norms have I accepted just because it never occurred to me to question them? It takes courage to look at yourself in that light, and it can sometimes be challenging, but I think having a terrific partner like Ken makes it easier.
5. You currently have a blog called The Meditating Mom, and I love the first entry! In that entry, you talked about not expecting the pregnancy (which is probably normal for women), but is there anything you’re expecting with raising a biracial child? Is there anything you really wish to instill and teach your child?
To be honest, I have no idea what to expect with raising ANY child, much less a biracial child! I worked in daycare long enough to learn that children are so different. They really are individuals with their own personalities (even in the womb!), and you can never really know what you’re getting yourself into. Early in the pregnancy, I’ll be honest, I freaked out a little bit about having a biracial child. I was concerned that I wouldn’t know how to take care of her hair, which will be different from mine (but calmed down when I realized that any number of women, Ken’s mom included, will probably be more than happy to give me pointers). Then, I worried that strangers might not think the baby is mine because her skin will probably be significantly darker than mine. It sounds really awful to say it, but I even worried that she wouldn’t look like me at all. It was a short-lived worry, of course, because all that really matters is that she’s healthy and happy. Whoever she is, whatever she looks like, I love her already.
We all go through periods of difficulty of figuring out who we are, where we fit in, and who we want to be. She may struggle with that more than your average person. White people will probably treat her like she’s not “really” white. Black people may treat her like she’s not “really” black. So, in that sense, she may struggle to find a place where she feels like she belongs. It may be more difficult in the beginning, but my hope is that ultimately it will be freeing for her. She isn’t locked in to one race or the other, one culture or the other. She is both, so she has complete freedom to choose exactly who she wants to be. If there’s anything I hope to teach her, it will be to explore that freedom to discover herself and to refuse to listen to anyone who tries to draw conclusions about her based solely on her appearance.
1. Let me first say congratulations on the baby girl! So, if you’re married to Alyson, you must be an amazing person, so if you would, please share more details about yourself (i.e. who are you, and what do you do LOL).
So… who am I? That’s a very loaded question. It always makes me think about how people define themselves. Am I a son, husband, brother, father, friend, man etc? Do these roles that I play define what I am? I say they do not. When a role no longer has any meaning, does it mean that I am a fundamentally different person? I say no, I’m not defined by what I do or whom I’m related to. Ok… I had to get the existential response out of the way.
Seriously though, I’m just a guy who met a girl and immediately knew that I wanted her to be a part of my life. We clicked, immediately. I knew that I was ruined for other women as long as she was a part of my life. I’m from Michigan. I like to read, travel, and cook. I love learning new or interesting things. I love trying to solve challenging problems. I love computer programming. I have a PhD in physics but have been working in data analysis and consulting. I’m briefly between jobs, so I don’t do anything right now ;-) I also have extensive martial arts training, am on the spiritual path, and went to Dartmouth.
2. My brother once dated interracially while living in Chattanooga, TN, and during his experience, he related encountering a lot of negativity, and for him, he wasn’t able to handle it. How has your experience been when it comes to dating interracially? When did you start dating interracially?
My experiences have been almost universally good, regarding the interracial aspect. I started dating interracially in grad school. I had wanted to in college, but let myself be swayed by the opinions of others. Once I got to grad school, I stopped caring what others thought and decided that I have to take care of myself as I see fit and let the chips fall. The only negative experience I can recall was during my postdoc at Michigan. I was dating a white girl who had grown up poor. As a postdoc, I only made $36K/yr and was paying off student loans. Ann Arbor also has a relatively high cost of living, so I didn’t have huge amounts of disposable income (shocking!). The girl got upset at my not wanting to pay for a week-long trip to an expensive city. That wasn’t the problem. The problem arose when we began to talk about money and I explained that I had loans to pay off. She asked me if I had a child and was paying child support. WHAT!? The question came out of left field. I knew she only asked me that because I was black. As if all black males have children and baby mamas. I was really shocked. The relationship ended shortly thereafter.
3. When I was going to high school at Baylor, it was expected for the black boys to date the white girls (especially if he was an athlete), and it was accepted. On the other hand, if a black girl dated or spoke of having an interest for a white male, she was picked on / called names. Why do you think this double standard exists? Do you see it ever changing in the future?
I’m not sure about it. For black males, it sometimes seems more like a resignation than an acceptance. I feel like a lot of it can be boiled down as a consequence of slavery, combined with the perception of some that “black” is cool or sexy or something else in that direction.
Regarding black men dating white women, specifically non-athletes, the dislike has been explained to me as a response to the “there’s a lack of eligible, educated, non-incarcerated black men” in America issue. I’m not sure about the perceptions of black women dating white men. Perhaps it’s seen by some other black women as a sign of giving up on black men. Those of other races may see it as an eligible white man being taken away from them. Who knows?
There is always the possibility of the future not mimicking the past. The question is whether people are willing to do the work necessary to make it happen.
4. The saying goes, “Love has no color,” but when you live in the south, you see color; that’s just the culture of the location. However, I believe we should focus on culture and not color, as race has no genetic significance. As an African-American man, have you ever felt the need to hold onto a cultural identity in your relationship? Do you wish to instill a cultural identity in your children?
I don’t feel a need to maintain a cultural identity in the relationship or in my life in general. I have never really felt connected to a particular cultural or racial identity. Culture is part of a society’s or an ethnic group’s mental software. It isn’t something that a person chooses, usually. It’s foisted upon us by the people and society around us. With culture comes cultural baggage. That baggage includes many wonderful things, but it also includes the weight of prejudices, fears, assumptions, etc. I want to determine what kind of person I am. Isn’t that what it means to be human? I have the ability to choose.
Regarding children, no. I want to influence our child as little as possible in that direction. I don’t want to fill our daughter’s head with things I don’t know to be true, so that she starts believing them blindly and then acting on them automatically. Essentially, behaving like an automaton with respect to those things. My guru has said there’s no such thing as a good or bad habit. A habit is just something you’re doing unconsciously. I don’t want it to make it easier for our child to fall into that.
5. It’s often suggested that in the future, no one will be able to specify who belongs to what race because everyone will be mixed. What is your thought about that? How do you see interracial acceptance changing in the south?
Such mixing could be a good thing. The author Steven Barnes (who has a biracial daughter) has written about this on his blog. I see it changing in the south and elsewhere as people mature. I won’t suggest a timeline for that maturation though.