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.