You are the most beautiful girl I have ever seen.
We will make it through this.
The words were written in irregular handwriting outside the lines that sought to contain them. They were written in red, scrawled across a page torn haphazardly from a notebook. They were courting words, wooing words – words meant for me, words meant for a heart that cracked a bit more every time it beat and pounded anytime he was near.
We met in December 2007, when the South African sun was being chased away by a thunderstorm. We met at my work. I am a TV producer and he was a guest on the show. He was early. He was also funny, entertaining and easy to talk to. We chatted while we waited for the show to start. Then bid farewell and went home. I saw him a week later when he invited me to the movies with his friends. We stayed in touch over email and text, and invited each other to different social events. I was never quite sure whether he liked me or not until one day I opened my desk drawers and in each one was a single long stemmed red rose. I couldn’t speak for about an hour, I just sat there flabbergasted; he had taken my breath away.
A week later he took me for lunch but neither of us ate. We talked about my friends and the cold drinks and the way our bosses spoke. Then he took a deep breath, and said I shouldn’t laugh, because he’d never done this before. Then he told me that he liked me, and asked if I liked him, and I said I did. I’d love to say that we then went on to live happily ever after, but we didn’t. I took him home to meet my parents and they told me they didn’t approve. They didn’t like him because he was multi-racial and I was white.
That was the day my search started of how to have a successful inter-cultural or inter-racial family in a world which isn’t always accepting of families, relationships or people that aren’t like them. My search has led me to talk to families and couples of many different races, languages and cultures from all over the world. Some had married a person of a different race, language or culture, while others adopted a child into their formally mono-cultural or mono-racial families.
It is estimated that by 2020, 20% of the American population will classify themselves as multicultural, bi-racial or inter-racial. All terms which apply to people of mixed heritage whether because of culture or race. Technology and modern transport are making it easier for people of different nationalities and backgrounds to meet. As a result, multicultural families, whether through marriage or adoption, are becoming more common.
Interculturally blended families and couples often find themselves at the center of discussions around racial stereotypes.
Jennifer, a Zimbabwean of Caucasian descent, clearly remembers driving home from school with her mom one day and relating a story of a white teacher who had married a black man. Her mom turned to her and said, “Just don’t marry one…” A decade later, Jennifer walked down the aisle in a pure white dress towards the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with, a man her mom had told her not to marry, Phibion Mguni, a black Zimbabwean.
Phibion and Jennifer will have been married four years in April but were together for 7 years prior to their marriage. Jennifer recalls that much of the ups and downs of their early years together were caused because of uncertainty about parental approval. “For a long time the fear of what their opinions would be kept me from bringing up the subject,” Jennifer confessed. “When I came to a point where I was convinced that our relationship was right for both of us, I was prepared to face their disapproval and even rejection if that is what it came to.” Fortunately, both families warmed up to the idea and now fully accept Phibion and Jennifer into their families.
The couple, who now live in Brussels, Belgium, don’t believe that their marriage is more difficult because two different races are involved. “I am a difficult person!” laughs Phibion, “the thing is not that Jen is white or not black (took me a bit of time to see this) but the thing is she is perfect for me.” Jennifer chimes in, “The race or culture aspect of our marriage is more of a big deal to others than it is us. I don’t really think about myself as being in a relationship that is different to other marriages just because we’re not the same race… being in a relationship will always bring difficulties because it’s two selfish people trying to get along and share a space! Yes, others have given us a hard time sometimes because we don’t fit people’s limited view of what a relationship should look like – but because our security hasn’t rested on the opinions of others this hasn’t affected us really.”
Interculturally blended families and couples often find themselves at the center of discussions around racial stereotypes. Phibion and Jennifer recall how people often assume they aren’t together because of their different races. Another couple, Justine and Garvin Willemse, relate how some of her old school friends walked past her husband in the garden and thought he was the gardener when they came to visit. Both South Africans, Justine and Garvin were put under much scrutiny as the country has only recently begun reshaping itself after apartheid.
Perhaps, because of the South African context, Justine and Garvin’s relationship was originally not supported by friends and family. “My family [was] cautious,” Justine says, “concerned I hadn’t considered the effect on any children we may have. Garvin’s family [was] concerned that I was playing with him. Why would a white English speaking doctor be interested in a colored guy?” The couple, who met while performing in the worship team at their church, didn’t start dating until two years after they met and got married 18 months later.
The Willemses have now been married for six years and have three children. Although their immediate family is now very accepting and loving towards them, the couple admit that distant family still treat them as a novelty or a freak show. “It hurts when they reject one of us, but we know that in Christ we are an example of reconciliation and love across the color barrier in our nation. We demonstrate that in Christ it works!” Justine speaks honestly, “Also we have children and a longstanding relationship, so it’s not just a fling which everyone can shake their heads about and say I told you so…”
Apparently, not allowing others’ opinions of your relationship to affect you is one of the keys to maintaining a healthy multi-cultural or inter-racial relationship. This is even more important when you bring children into the mix. One of the objections I hear most often to multi-racial and multi-ethnic marriages is “But what about the children?” In a recent discussion with Grammy Award Winning Gospel artist Nicole C. Mullen who is based in Nashville, Tennessee, she replied emphatically, “What about the children?”
Not allowing others’ opinions of your relationship to affect you is one of the keys to maintaining a healthy multi-cultural or inter-racial relationship.
Nicole who is African-American has been married to her Caucasian husband, David, for over 17 years. The couple has three children, two biological and one adopted African American child. Nicole admitted in an interview with FamilyChristian.com that before she got married she was more paranoid about the race issue than her husband, “I was always like, ‘Oh no, what are people going to think?’ He always said, ‘Who cares?’ We finally got to a point before we got married when I said, ‘We’re not asking the world’s permission. We got our parents’ permission. We got the Lord’s permission and we love each other.’ We don’t get up every morning going, ‘Oh, we’re in an interracial marriage.’ You just don’t think like that. It’s an important part but at the same time, it’s irrelevant because it’s a people issue, it’s not a color-of-your-skin issue.”
As a recording artist, Nicole, often broaches the topic of race in her music. One song, “Black, White, Tan” was written by David and Nicole for their daughter. “It’s not bad to notice color. It’s not a mean thing. It’s a good thing,” comments Nicole refreshingly, “When God made the rainbow, He made it multi-colored on purpose because He loves variety, He loves color, He loves beauty. When He made the grass and He made flowers, He made them colorful. They’re not just black and white. They’re not just pale. And so we always encourage other people that when you see these things and when you see people that look different, that speak different, get to know them. Appreciate it. Look at it. Don’t become colorblind all of a sudden.”
With 17 years of parenting under their belts it’s worthwhile listening to the Mullens’ thoughts on raising children. Nicole says her children are aware of color but not overwhelmed by it. “We talk about history – there were good white people and there were bad white people. There were good black people and there were bad black people. You’ll always have that. We have currently and we will have it in the future. Color’s not what makes them good or bad. It’s the heart of man. And without Jesus Christ, we’re all inherently evil. And without Him redeeming us and saving us, that’s our lot in life.”
South African couple Richard and Anne Tait looked past the color of skin to the hearts when they chose to adopt their two daughters, Emma and Christina. The couple, who now live in Mauritius, adopted Emma almost four years ago and Christina a year ago. Although Emma and Christina have a darker skin tone than their parents, Anne says, “The race of our children is not something we think about very much…The joys of adoption I imagine are the same as for any parent. There’s nothing more incredible than watching a child grow and them being totally dependent on you for everything.”
The couple admits that having children of a different race sometimes brings them more attention than they would like and sometimes means having to answer awkward questions in front of the children. Anne also admits to being worried about how her children will be accepted amongst their peers. However, this doesn’t make Richard and Anne regret their choice to adopt trans-racially one little bit, and when asked if they have any words of advice for people considering adoption they say, “Just do it! We have received more joy than is imaginable. The race and adoption are really no big deal. You and your child both need each other and I believe will form bonds as strong as a biological child. I decided long ago that I would die for my children – just like any parent would.”
It’s been 18 months since I found the note saying we would make it. We have so far, but it’s not always easy. My parents still do not approve of our relationship although they are always civil and often surprise me with their kind actions towards the two of us. A year ago we decided to start dating. Since then we’ve laughed, we’ve fought, we’ve wanted to kill each other and at other times we’ve needed to be reminded of that note, “We will make it through this.” I’m not sure what the future holds but I know my life has been made more beautiful and rich because of the diversity, and the diverse people, I have allowed to become part of it.