[Disclaimer: while in Americaland, the term “coloured” is a strongly negative term, in South Africa there is a unique group of people who have come from a heritage of different cultures but now have developed their own distinct culture. They are neither black nor white, nor are they mixed race, and they would call themselves ‘coloured’.]
Marriage and Melanin
“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 like the love in his heart, 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. They were words written for a heart coming face-to-face with the way people often view inter-racial relationships.
We met in December 2007, when the South African sun was being chased away by a thunderstorm. We met at my work. I was a TV producer and he was a guest on the show. Xylon was early. He was also funny, entertaining and easy to talk to.
A few months later Xylon took me for lunch but neither of us ate. We talked about 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 Xylon home to meet my parents and they told me they didn’t approve. They didn’t like him because he is coloured and I am white.
It’s been 8 years since I found the note saying we would make it. We’ve been married for four of those. It wasn’t an easy path to marriage for us. Both of us had to step back and give my parents the time and space to accept our relationship (you can read that part of the story on my blog here). In that time, we learnt to talk about real issues rather than just surface issues, we learnt how keeping our hearts from each other can destroy a relationship, regardless of the tones of melanin involved.
When I first started dating I cared about the race thing a lot. I worried about how people would look at me differently if they saw me dating someone of different colour. I’ve found that the more time passes the less I think about it. The more Xylon is just a person to me, the less the colour of his skin suit matters to me.
From time-to-time we talk about adopting across colour lines and I am always surprised, considering my parents were the ones that opposed us, how resistant his family are to us bringing home a black baby. I’m reminded of my parents and of the grace they needed to see that love is not a colour and character isn’t a shade of skin.
I’m not colour blind. I notice the skin colour of others. I love the way when I hold my husband’s hand pale ivory skin sits harsh against his dark caramel skin. I pity any photographer who tries to light balance a photo with us in it.
I don’t love the way other people sometimes stare, point or comment. But I try to remember that I sometimes stare at inter-racial couples out of curiosity, and unless I’m with Xylon they would probably think I’m judging them. As my husband would say, “everyone has a story”, and until we hear it we won’t know his or her heart.
[Wendy van Eyck writes at ilovedevotionals.com for anyone who has ever held a loved one’s hand through illness, or believed in God despite hard circumstances or ever left on a spontaneous 2-week holiday through a foreign land with just a passport and a backpack.]