Color Struck

Paul and me in St. Thomas, April 2017. Photo credit: Toes in the Sand Photography

A frequently posed question in the Multiracial community goes like this: "Is a relationship considered interracial if one person is mixed with the race of their partner? Example: I'm Black, White and Asian and my husband is Black."

I have decided yes, we are an interracial couple because he is monoracially Black.

Color Struck: Flashback to 1995

Tony* was the guy every girl wanted to be with: tall, handsome, a great smile, and very nice and friendly. With a complexion like honey, Tony was fetishized by brown-complected women. He made White women feel he was just Black enough to piss off their parents, but not so Black they were forced to confront their own biases. We met and had a whirlwind relationship and within six weeks we were engaged.

I had no idea at the time he and his family had some serious color struck issues.

At the time I was living in Southwest Washington, D.C. in a tiny studio apartment barely big enough for my two cats, Milo and Otis, and me. I had recently lost my mother and left a boyfriend who’d been a complete nightmare—physically and emotionally abusive. After breaking up with the man I “affectionately” refer to as "Time Travel Asshole" (we’ve all met him in one form or another), I wasn’t thinking about anything serious and really had no business dating yet. I needed to reflect on what my part was in that relationship so I could be sure not to choose a guy like that again.

So when I met Tony in one of those hip and trendy coffee shops, I should have enjoyed the flirting and walked away. The next thing I knew, I was having dinner with him. Wait, where had I been heading when I met him?

Whirlwinds Never Work!

I'll cut to the chase here. Tony was a nice man. He was the opposite of the Time Travel Asshole. But, we had zero in common. He was a rebound—the kind of guy a woman needs who's just come out of a bad relationship. He should have been a no-strings attached, hang from the rafters, never leave the bed, insane sex, guy.

He was not marriage material.

So what the hell was I thinking when he asked me to marry him just six weeks after we met? I should have walked away then, but I didn't.

Then I met his family and I really should have walked away, but I didn't.

Tony’s mother couldn’t have been more thrilled. “Oh your babies gonna look so beautiful with their light skin and pretty hair.” WTF?

Fast forward to May 1996 and it's the rehearsal dinner the night before our wedding. My father had flown in from France (where he and my mom had retired to in 1988). It was a small thing with Tony's parents, his sisters and their families. It was their first time meeting my father.

Tony’s mom asked to speak with me privately in the ladies’ room. “Sugah, you didn’t tell me your father was White.” She almost choked as the word White came out.

“Is that a problem?” I asked.

“Well, yes, you weren’t honest with us,” she responded.

“What difference does it make whether I am light complected and both my parents are Black, or whether my parents were different races and I am the complexion I am? Why is complexion such a big deal in your family?” I paused. “Why are you all so damn color struck? And if you’re lighter than me, doesn’t that mean you have a White parent or grandparent? I am not sure what it means but it definitely means there’s a lot of mixing on both sides of your family.”

“No, honey, my family has proudly maintained this light complexion by marrying other light complected people on both sides for generations.”

My jaw dropped.

“What’s your mother?” Tony’s mother asked me. Her eyes were intense and narrowed. She was genuinely angry.

"She is deceased." I was both sick to my stomach and irritated. "Oh, back to the race shit. She was Black and Japanese,” I said.

“Japanese? Excuse me? You mean to tell me you’re not even half and half?” she asked me.

color struck

My parents, circa 1986. They were married 7 years before the Loving vs. Virginia decision to ban anti-miscegenation laws.

“How did you think I got this light complexion? If my mother was only Black and my father White, don’t you think I would be darker than I am? I can’t believe I am having this conversation with you the night before I am going to marry your son and be married into your … family.” I felt dizzy and nauseated. I nearly fainted. It's not at all how I imagined my life turning out.

“Oh sugah, image how we feel! We will never truly be able to welcome you into the family. Who knows what my grandchildren will look like now?”

I went to one of the stalls and threw up. I grabbed my father and said we had to leave the restaurant. Let these assholes pay the bill.

Don't ask me why but the next morning I got up convinced I had to go through with this wedding. I committed to him and we were going to do this. And we were going to fight this insanity—as husband and wife. I dug my heels in.

When his family showed up to the church, they couldn’t have been more disrespectful. They sat in the front pew and all of them dressed in black and wore dark glasses during the entire ceremony. What was this to them, a fucking funeral? During the reception nobody in his family said more than five words to me, and whatever they did say was rude.

During the reception, I pulled Paul—Tony’s best man—aside. I asked him what this color struck shit was. “Oh, Tony’s family has been like that since we were kids. Tony once had a girlfriend who was the complexion of Maya Angelou and they used to call her Sheronda that Black A$$ N*****er! They could never say just her name when they talked about her.”

What had I done? Why had I gone through with it? I hadn’t met anyone like this before. I knew White people who were racist against Blacks and even Blacks who had serious distrust of White people, but I had never met people of color who were so color struck. This was all such a new and upsetting experience for me.

Not long after we were married, Paul had started having problems with his girlfriend. He called the house to talk with Tony about it, hoping he could shed some light. Or maybe Paul just needed a male shoulder to cry on.

As soon as Tony would see Paul’s number come up on the caller ID, he’d say, “You pick up. You’re better at this stuff than I am.”

At one point I confided to Paul that Tony was staying out a lot and that I had suspected he was cheating. Paul hadn’t believed Tony capable of cheating and he kept encouraging us to try and work it out. Paul suggested we move out of the area—get some distance from his family.

I called my father to talk with him about it. He told me he was so sorry but that he’d always thought I’d married the wrong man. “Your mother would have loved Paul! Have you ever thought about dating him?”

That night I told Tony I wanted a divorce. There were no fireworks. He didn't ask why or even beg me to stay. I moved out a few days later and found a group house with three single women. The house was perfect for Milo, Otis and me—and my new single girlfriends.

Tony and I divorced nearly a year to the day we had gotten married. No drama and in truth, we parted on good terms. Then two things happened.

First, Tony admitted he’d father a child with his ex-girlfriend—the one his family used to call "Sheronda that Black A$$ N*****er!" Their child was due in just a couple of weeks, which meant my suspicions had been right. I actually felt genuine happiness for him. I suspected he’d always loved Sheronda.

Second, Paul admitted he was in love with me. This, you can imagine, was slightly awkward. Not that I wasn’t attracted to Paul. I was, but I was concerned what people would think—particularly Paul’s family.

Color struckOn Thanksgiving Day 1997, several months after my divorce was final, I met Paul’s family. One of the first things I noticed was that their family—like mine—spanned the rainbow.

Both parents were Black, but like so many in the United States due to miscegenation, his mother was even lighter in complexion than me. His father was very dark in complexion, and Paul and his sisters’ looks reflected this mixing.

So why am I sharing our love story so openly? As Paul and I are about to celebrate 17 years of marriage (20 years together), people can think what they want, but clearly my father was right—I had married the wrong man the first time.

I have since corrected that mistake.

*For obvious reasons, I have changed my ex-husband's name.