Guess who’s coming to dinner?
Written by Erika Linker
“Aren’t you going to eat the meat I put in there for you?”
The dreaded and familiar question had been lobbed at me before I could turn away and hide the remaining contents of my bowl. As I poked at the mysterious hunk of tough, grayish-brown meat with my spoon and attempted to delay the inevitable, I recalled the excitement that had been caused by this meat a few hours earlier. “Is that what I think it is? Oooo boy! That’s right, that’s right,” the excited shouts tumbled out of the kitchen and I had started to wonder exactly what was going to be served up.
With my poking getting me nowhere closer to tasting this intimidating meat chunk that had been so cleverly disguised in my favorite creamy peanut sauce, my boyfriend grabbed my bowl and deftly sliced the chunk in half.
Oh, the swells of gratitude that crashed over me — thanks honey. Drowning the meaty half in as much sauce as I could fit onto the suddenly tiny spoon, the moment of no return had finally arrived. With my mouth wide open, and boyfriend staring, my taste buds were assaulted with these salty-smoky, weird and unrecognizable flavors that I dreamed of washing down with the glass of red wine sitting within arm’s reach.
As I chewed the meat, I could feel my impending doom as it expanded in my mouth— the same way steak did when you tried it for the first time as a child and you ended up spitting it out into your parent’s napkin. With one more mental kick in the pants, the deed was done, the meat swallowed, and my mouth was being cleansed by the familiar sweet-tart taste of wine. I looked up to see not just my boyfriend watching me, but his cousin and two friends as well, all grinning widely.
“We’ll make you into an African yet, girl,” they gleefully jeered at me. I’d just had my first taste of goat meat.
In cosmopolitan San Francisco, the concept of interracial relationships is often taken for granted. It is a metropolis of mixed races, ethnicities, genders, and sexualities, the concept of interracial relationships seems rather tame to the modern city dweller. As an insider of the interracial relationship club, I can tell you that the joys and pains of dating a person of another race are as real now as they were forty years ago— they’ve simply evolved and look different.
The novelty and hesitation that interracial relationships are met with are unsurprising when one examines the low numbers of them in the country. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, interracial marriages make up only ten percent of marriages in the country. The number rises when looking at unmarried couples, though not by much: eighteen percent of opposite-sex unmarried couples are interracial, and twenty-one percent of same-sex unmarried couples are.
For Ayuchi Haga, thirty-four, the reality that her relationship as a Japanese woman with a Jewish-American man was still a novelty, came when her nephews first met her husband.
“I’ve always been really close with my nephews— from the time they were born to this day, they look up to me, and I’m always helping take care of them,” says Haga. “So I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry on the day they met my husband. He kneeled down in front of them to say hi, and they started crying because his face and his features were not familiar to them.”
It’s true— the modern day interracial couple is still faced with judgment and disapproval by family and friends. One of my closest friends once shocked me by saying that she wished I would “just date white guys” because it would be easier for her to understand and relate to. This remark came after I had told her the story of my first trip to a barbershop for black men.
I sat waiting while the barber asked my boyfriend how he wanted his hair styled. He suddenly turned to me for my opinion. Should he line his hair? How far should the barber take it down? All I could do was stutter— what was lining? Take what down? I had never heard of these terms. Was there a menu of choices I could look at and point to?
Bridgette Marshall, a twenty-two-year-old white woman who has been dating a Filipino man for two years, says that for her, these humorous moments make up for the harder ones. She recalls the hardest moment in her relationship: when her boyfriend’s mother asked them to pretend they weren’t dating for the day so a close family friend wouldn’t be offended during her visit.
“I was speechless,” said Marshall. “I couldn’t believe that after all our time together, his family wasn’t willing to proudly stand beside us. How could we offend someone with our love? What about love is offensive?”
The funny moments that happen when new foods are tasted, new languages are learned, and new customs are introduced— these help interracial couples get through the snarky comment here, a raised eyebrow there, when people do just enough to remind them that they’re still discriminated against.
“We, as a couple, still get weird looks when we’re out in public. No verbal comments, just facial expressions,” says Marshall. “I believe that diversity has played a large role in the workplace, educational systems, and society is more knowledgeable of other cultures. But those little looks that people give us, they start to add up and make you wonder sometimes if we’ve really come that far from Loving v. Virginia.”
Loving v. Virginia is the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision that put an end to a Virginia statute that barred whites from marrying non-whites, while simultaneously overturning similar bans in fifteen other states. However, anti-miscegenation laws were still on the books as of 2000, when Alabama became the last state in the country to remove the anti-mixed marriage law from its constitution. The change almost didn’t happen, as the revision only passed by a narrow twenty percent.
In the end, people are going to love whomever they are going to love, no matter what color their skin is or what language they speak. While racism still exists and there is still some discomfort about interracial dating, we have to remember that not everything is about race— unless we continue to make it so. Love, after all, is a universal language.