People often ask me, "Lauren, what is it like being married to a black man?" Actually, no one has asked me that, but I am going to tell you anyway. To be honest, I often forget that James and I have two different skin colors when we are living in our own little bubble, but to the deny that simple fact would be doing a disservice to my husband. Claiming that we don't "see color" keeps us stagnant and motionless while embracing and accepting the differences in color enables us to move forward with compassion and empathy.
Most of the time, we can joke about our black and white skin. One day, as James and I were driving around admiring the Christmas lights on houses, I turned to him and declared that I prefer the white lights to the colored lights. Of course, his response was that I was a racist. Other times, when asking him to fetch me my water, I have inadvertently added the word "slave" or "servant" at the end. A joke that we didn't think twice of making in an all-white family growing up just got real as I stared open-mouthed at my black husband. Thank goodness he has a sense of humor, but I quickly squelched that little antic as I came to terms that our "all in good fun" jest might have been a tad bit insensitive to people who have had a history of being slaves and servants.
Then, there are other times when we are forced to think about the harsh realities of this world. A world that might not be as accepting and accommodating as everyone in our own little safety net. Every Christmas, we make the journey from diverse America to white America along the West Virginia turnpike and I-77. In the past, I had absentmindedly stopped at whatever rest stop I so pleased and any restaurant I so desired. Now, our stops are calculated. Where will James least likely be the only black person? At first, I thought this was absurd. "You have to give people the benefit of the doubt," I would persist. But, I was being blind to color and that, as we know, only leaves us stuck in place. I have become more compassionate to situations where James feels uncomfortable because of the color of his skin, and he has soften on the fact that all people are not out to get him because of the color of his skin.
This past Christmas in my hometown, we walked with my friends into a bar. The first thing James and I noticed was that everyone was white and the second thing we noticed was that everyone collectively stared at us as we entered. James tensed. I tensed. Gradually the stares dissipated, but James still remained on guard. I whispered reassurances that in a small town everyone stares because they want to know a.) Do I recognize the people who just entered? and b.) If I don't recognize these people that just entered, who are these new outsiders? James still seemed rattled. What I have learned from being married to a black man who has a black family is that they tend to excuse a lot of comments and actions that white people make and do because they do not want the white people feeling bad because they know that these white people mean no harm at all. Therefore, I knew that James would never suggest to our group that we should leave in order to avoid justifying why he felt the way he felt. As I was assessing the situation and wondering whether I should make an excuse to leave, the older waitress came over, smiled a genuine smile, lightly touched James' arm, and asked to take our orders. James relaxed and finally took a seat on the bar stool. I don't know if her actions were intentional or unintentional, but that single, simple act of kindness by that waitress, which would have normally gone unnoticed, was now a God-sent miracle.
So what is it like being married to a black man? Yes, the hatred and injustices of this world are more apparent, but the kindness and compassion are even more so.
Hello there! Just so you are aware, approximately 4.2 million black children live in poverty, which is 4 times the rate of white or Asian children living in impoverished conditions. Also, I want you to know that schools where the majority of students are black receive less funding per student when compared to schools where the majority of students are white. I would also like to point out the statistics that black youths are victims of violent crimes at significantly higher rates than their white peers. As I am sure you can comprehend, given the fact that you seem like an intelligent human being, all of those environmental stressors can do a lot of negative harm to a person. However, this is where I am sure we disagree. You, like many others, probably cast blame on the black community. “If their parents only made smarter decisions…” “Black people need to stop making themselves the victims.” “Black people just need to vote.” “Black people kill each other more than white people kill them.” “I don’t see black people doing anything about their problems.” I am not going to waste my time arguing with you on that one because that isn’t my point. My point is that those children are innocent, and they should not be responsible for putting food on the table, fighting the educational system, or escaping violence on a daily basis. I think you can agree with me that you don’t ever want to see a child go hungry or be the victim of violence. Right? Right?!
Okay, great we agree on something! #progress. Now, let me back up a little bit and address a comment you made to Trevor Noah on The Daily Show, which, by the way, was a surprisingly refreshing segment of two people disagreeing with each other without spewing hate everywhere. On his show, you connected The Black Lives Matter Movement with hate, crimes, and violence (the deaths of the Dallas police being one of them). Again, I do not wish to argue with you on this one. What I do wish to, I guess, “argue” is that by your logic we then can also contribute the good things that happen with movements. For example, the Ice Bucket Challenge raised awareness on ALS and brought in nearly $115 million dollars. Therefore, it’s safe to say that the Ice Bucket Challenge was a success and still would have been a success even if it only conjured up $500 because that is $500 more dollars than it had before the Ice Bucket Challenge became a thing. Right? Good, we agree again!
Moving on, we have now come to our good friend Colin Kaepernick and his decision to kneel during the National Anthem. I know, I know, you do not like him nor do you like his actions. Unfortunately, we disagree on that, but again, we are not going to argue that. However, and hear me out, what if one child and one child only was spared from violence or poverty or given the gift of a college education that he or she otherwise couldn’t afford because someone was inspired by Colin’s actions? Then, that child grew up and had his own children who were free from poverty and given a chance at a fair education all because their father was removed from a bad situation all because someone out there resonated with Colin’s message (#mindblown). Would then Colin's movement not be considered a success? I’m going to take it even further and explain why America is so great. What if by Colin’s right to his bold and controversial actions that he got people exercising their right to hate and disagree with him and therefore because some people, like you, have bashed him so hard it only inspired some people, like me, to want to prove you and all of his critics wrong by fighting the poverty, crime, and educational disparities that children experience in black communities? Except, Tomi, there are no “what ifs.” It’s happening. And remember we agreed earlier that we would never want to see a child go hungry or be the victim of violence, so then can’t we both say that Colin’s movement has been a success, right?
So in all, I want to thank you Colin Kaepernick for taking a stand on something that deserves much needed attention. Also, Tomi, I want to thank you and anyone else who posted a negative attack on Colin to social media because you only fueled my desire to make a change to help children even more. And lastly, I want to thank America for being a cunning little devil. Here we all were thinking we were so divided, but, in reality, we’ve been working together this whole time. Well played, America, well played.