Love In The Time Of Black Lives Matter

·9-min read
Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

From ELLE

I’m a Black American woman married to a white British man. My husband, Alex, always believed he was adept at recognising racism whenever it showed itself in the subtlest guises. He attributed this knack to education and to the fact that he was raised within a family that celebrated cultures, languages and differences.

My husband has lived all over the world. He has experienced many different cultures. But nothing has given him a greater education in racism than being married to me. It’s taken him years to confront his own ignorance and to understand the racial microaggressions that shape my everyday life.

There was a time in our relationship where I’d share these lived traumas with him only for him to suggest that I was exaggerating; that I played some part in provoking my aggressors. When a white man called me a 'b*tch' and pinned me against a train because he wanted to get on first, I knew I was targeted for being a Black woman. 'Maybe he was having a bad day,' Alex nonchalantly suggested. But his blatant denial of the act I viewed as racially targeted even being a possibility in such a hostile interaction was not something I expected, least of all needed, from a man who had promised to protect me, love me and comfort me.

We have been married for five years and throughout that time there have been numerous other instances – many of which baffled Alex. 'Why do you always get yourself into these situations?' he used to ask, inferring I was grappling with an innate feeling to fight everyone I came into contact with.

Photo credit: recep-bg - Getty Images
Photo credit: recep-bg - Getty Images

Relationships are about compromise and understanding – and there’s an added layer of pressure in mixed race ones. What I quickly came to realise is that you can still deeply love someone who is the opposite of you in many ways – including skin colour – but it still doesn’t exempt you from unconscious biases. Our strength and ability to actually admit that is what can initiate progress and understanding about racism both within our relationships and the outside world.

There were times we couldn’t escape it of course, the discrimination towards us as a mixed race couple becoming so overt and devastating that a Black man spat in my face in 2019 after he saw me kiss my husband in the street as we said bye to each other. When I told Alex, he was shocked. He didn’t really know how to respond – it was a concept he never had to deal with before. It was a reality check not just for me but for Alex as well, that I would even face aggression from another Black person for being with him.

The adage 'love doesn’t see colour' is a romantic ideal that assumes an innocence that true love can override any adversity. Yet, the reality for interracial couples navigating a world where the Black Lives Matter movement has finally gone global isn’t always romantic.

It took the explosion of the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement for my husband to really see that I’m not only hurt by racism directed towards me but towards Black people collectively. It was a hard concept for him to grasp until he saw me tearing up, exhausted and depressed at every single news report of yet another mistreatment or murder of a Black person during the summer of 2020.

Photo credit: Klaus Vedfelt - Getty Images
Photo credit: Klaus Vedfelt - Getty Images

Alex now knows the importance of being more than just 'not racist' but actively 'anti-racist'. He has realised that there are aspects of the Black experience he will never truly understand. This was a first and it changed our relationship for the better. His acceptance of that was a wave of relief. He has acknowledged that it is his duty to understand that he won’t always understand what I go through – and that’s not something I’ve seen many white people admit. It does make me proud of him. Most importantly for me, my husband knows now to believe in my Black experience as the truth. And that I am the most reliable witness to the racist attacks I experience.

Naomi Walkland, a first-generation British Nigerian, is the marketing director of the dating app, Bumble, and is married to a white British man. And while every mixed race relationship is very different, she has been on a similar journey of racial learning and understanding in her own.

Naomi says she’s never really felt negative pressures encroach on her mixed race relationship until BLM protests erupted across London during the summer of 2020. It opened up a lot of significant conversations that, as a Black woman, she wouldn’t really have to go through if she were in a relationship with someone of the same race.

'During the BLM movement if you were with somebody who’s also Black you’re both feeling, understanding and processing the events in similar ways – you don’t need to talk about what you’re going through as result or what happens when you start raising (mixed race) children,' she says.

Naomi admits that there’s a disconnect about race with her husband sometimes because their lived experiences are different. Yet, BLM ultimately strengthened their relationship.

Photo credit: RyanJLane - Getty Images
Photo credit: RyanJLane - Getty Images

'I felt upset, drained and angry. I was also dealing with aspects of my own British Nigerian identity too. It was actually my husband who said, "Let’s go to the protest". He invited a group of our friends to come too, and I never felt so supported and loved. It was eye-opening and special because you can explain so much that they might not necessarily understand, but to have your partner fully supportive of this … it means a lot.'

Naomi says the BLM protests laid a strong foundation for real racial understanding within her mixed race relationship.

'There’s a lot more empathy and a shared understanding now. In the past, I’d tell him to read this book or Instagram post and would get frustrated about the lack of understanding on his part. But I’ve come to realise that, just like I’m on a journey, my husband’s on a journey too.'

Adanna Steinacker lives in the UK and is a digital influencer and doctor married to a white man. They’ve been together for nine years. Adanna says her and her husband have been on the receiving end of racially charged attitudes.

'We usually get a lot of racist comments, mostly directed at me because I’m the Black one. Most of the comments would insinuate that he did me a favour marrying me, but as a highly educated Black woman that's clearly not the case. And I believe his presence will normally turn around a situation that would have otherwise resulted in a racist experience which I find very sad,' she says.

While her husband has made an effort to understand the challenges Black people face, the recent mobilisation of the Black Lives Matter movement has stimulated deeper and much needed conversations on race within their household.

'My husband didn’t always see them (discriminations) in the beginning for what they were. Since the Black Lives Matter movement really spread across many countries, we've had very long conversations about all the subtle ways that people of colour are being discriminated against and the disadvantages they face. It reiterated our conversations earlier in our relationship when I’d tell him "This happened to me because I'm Black." Like the times we were house hunting so we would go to viewings together, and we would always lose the house (that was still listed as available online). At some point we decided together that it was best for David to go alone to house viewings because we were more likely to get the house.'

The Black Lives Matter movement holds an important significance for non-Black POC (people of colour) too.

Shamikka lives in London, is Indian and met her white boyfriend, George, through the dating app Inner Circle. For now, Shamikka has decided not to introduce George to her family, going as far as to hide in the footwell of her car once when she was with her boyfriend when her parents happened to drive by them. 'I’m pretty traditional when it comes to introducing someone I’m dating to my family, especially when he’s not the same race as me, as I know it would take some time for them to accept it whole-heartedly.'

Photo credit: Linnea Rheborg - Getty Images
Photo credit: Linnea Rheborg - Getty Images

Shamikka says there have been several occasions where she’s noticed racial bias occurring but her partner couldn’t see it. Sometimes Shamikka will take her partner to a restaurant she’d been to before without him. Here, she notices the service is suddenly better and the waiters are chattier because she’s with a white man.

'You might think, "why is she complaining if the service was better?", but the fact there was a difference in service due to the company I had … makes me feel that I only deserve to enjoy a meal when my white partner is there with me. George sometimes may not notice this and just assumes the staff are being friendly, but when I tell him it’s because he’s white, I don’t think he wants to believe it.'

When I first started dating Alex, race wasn’t a topic we really discussed, but it should’ve been. Had we broached those complex, awkward topics in the years where we were growing to love one another, we would’ve saved ourselves a lot of emotional battles.

With all of the emotions I’ve experienced in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement – I truly feel it has been worth it. It has brought underlying frustrations and resentments to the forefront of conversations and provided an opportunity to work through them and for my husband and me to emerge stronger as a couple on the other side.

Understanding these racial differences is not supposed to be a simple process. And it doesn’t need to be the main aspect of making or breaking a relationship. It can bond us together and make relationships even stronger - if only we can acknowledge what divides us first. Love must see colour in order to endure.

Tineka Smith (@thisistineka) is the co-author of 'MIXED UP: Confessions of an Interracial Couple' - available on Audible and out in paperback in April 2021.


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