Things I've learned from being in an interracial relationship

It's hard to believe but not too long ago, interracial marriage was illegal. In fact, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark case, Loving v. Virginia, in which Mildred Loving, a black woman, and her white husband, Richard Loving, fought and, eventually, won the right to be legally wed. As depicted in the critically-acclaimed 2016 film, Loving, the pair were sentenced to a year in prison just for marrying outside of their race.

We've come a long way since then. Incredibly, in 2013, a staggering 12 percent of Americans chose a spouse of a different race, revealing a clear shift in thinking when it comes to interracial relationships. Still, these diverse unions continue to be met with hesitation or outright disdain by some. I know because I've dealt with it my entire life.

Biracial beginnings

I am the product of an interracial marriage. My mother, a black woman from Chicago, married a white French-Canadian man. Born almost 39 years ago, I was treated as a bit of a novelty when I was a little girl. I joined modeling agencies, was cast in commercials and television shows and, even at a young age, knew that the attention I received was largely because I had an "exotic" look without being too "ethnic."

There were moments when I felt like and I didn't quite fit in, but for the most part, I was happy to be Canadian and American… and black and white… and French and English. I felt like the human representation of a melting pot!

Early interracial dating lessons

When I started dating, I never even thought about the color of someone's skin. After all, no matter what, unless I chose someone with the same biracial roots as mine, I would be dating outside my race! I started seeing a guy in Upstate New York and we really hit it off. Everything seemed great until, one day, he made a very odd request – he wanted me to pretend we were just friends.

We were walking through the mall when, suddenly, he snatched his hand from mine. He had spotted his mother and quickly explained, "She doesn't like black people. I can't change her and I don't like it but I don't want her to make me stop seeing you." Even though I was really hurt, I went along with his request because I was too shocked to do anything else. That was the first time I felt a piece of my soul being lost to racism.

The history is complicated and emotional

Despite the fact that interracial marriage was illegal, there have been reports at the time, of people falling in love with "forbidden fruit." Thomas Jefferson is a great example. While there are disputes about all kinds of things surrounding the author of the Declaration of Independence's life, one thing seems to be true – he had children with Sally Hemings, a slave who lived on his property.

Many see Jefferson, a man who became a widower at just 39 years old, as someone who was trapped by the circumstances of his time while others have been unwilling to accept that a Founder Father could have been in love with a black woman. He did little to hide their relationship, even taking Hemings with him while he lived overseas in Paris for years, and was publicly ridiculed as a result, when he later ran for president.

People think I'm my own children's nanny

I've been amazed by the direct and indirect ways that strangers will let me know that they disapprove of my interracial marriage. All six of my children are light-skinned and some even have blonde hair and blue eyes. While some will show curiosity about my relationship to them, others have taken a more hurtful approach.

Some years ago, I was shopping in Walmart with one of my daughters. A woman approached me, saying, "Are you the nanny?" Taken aback, I blinked with surprise, especially since my little girl had just been bellowing "mom" over and over again. This woman had to have heard that. Yet, she went out of her way to imply that I could not possibly be this child's mother.

After explaining our family composition (why should anyone ever have to do that?), she shrugged and simply said, "You can't ever tell since everyone insists on mixing so much these days." I was absolutely stunned. Unfortunately, I've gotten used to it. It literally happens all the time.

My own in-laws don't get it

It's one thing when it's strangers are rude but it's far worse when the disapproval comes from family members. While my relatives are pretty accepting of all races, my husband's family has been less-than-thrilled by our union. Growing up, he remembers being scolded for showing interest in the black girls at school and was literally told that it was "inappropriate" to date non-white classmates.

When we became serious, there was a lot of backlash and, at times, it has been devastating. He's had to face a lot of criticism and scorn while I've lived through many painful and awkward moments. Even after having our first child together, his grandmother refused to make eye contact or speak directly to me. I wish I could say that I've learned to laugh it off but, truthfully, I've shed many tears.

Cultural differences will probably exist

To some degree, we are all products of our upbringing. The food we eat, the sports we like, and the issues we consider important are largely influenced by how we were raised. While there will be variations from one household to the next, the differences can be magnified for couples raised in racially diverse backgrounds.

One of the funniest memories I have from the early days with my husband, was trying to watch The Original Kings of Comedy together. While I laughed uproariously at Steve Harvey, D.L. Huguely, and Bernie Mack, my husband sat almost completely silent. When I asked if he was insulted by the humor, he explained that he simply was struggling to understand what they were saying. He was genuinely lost. Now, years later, he has adapted and laughs right alongside me!

You may clash on societal issues

He's a white guy from the South with Baptist roots. He's never had to wonder whether he's been looked over for a job because of his race, doesn't struggle to find products designed for his skin and haircare needs, and can look around and see other people who look like him in every major city in America. I, on the other hand, have lived in cities where I'm among a small handful of visible minorities. I do have a hard time finding products designed for taming my curly mane and my family has been impacted by racial profiling.

It's understandable, therefore, that our perception of the world around us can feel very different at times. Sometimes, it separates us on social issues and it can, admittedly, be pretty tough. It's during those moments, though, when we dig deep and focus on the love that we have for each other. It gives us a common goal and helps us overcome our differences.

You will need to learn to listen

Healthy communication is important in any relationship but it might be even more important for interracial couples. There will be times when it will be tempting to say "we're too different" and walk away, but those are the times when something truly magical can happen.

The combining of two cultures — two races — can be a beautiful thing. By being an example of how much can be gained from listening, interracial couples can be ambassadors for how race relations can be improved within their own homes and, also, in society at large.

Interracial relationships are important

As we continue to try to move forward as a society, we can become more accepting of people from all walks of life. While many couples will have private, unseen differences, the diversity in an interracial relationship is immediately obvious.

This, of course, can put these couples at greater risk of being judged or condemned — but it also sends a powerful message that love is love and it comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors. What message is more powerful than that?