I'm used to checking "other" to describe myself. As the daughter of an African-American Air Force serviceman and a white Danish immigrant, I have yet to find a form with an Afro-Viking box.
Still, imagine my surprise -- not at the recent headline that interracial marriages are at an all-time high -- but that my marriage is included among them.
Unlike President Obama, I was one of the 9 million people who checked more than one box under race on the 2010 Census form. It was only the second time individuals could do this. According to Census terminology, I am "African-American, Black, Negro" and "White." My husband checked just one box: "African-American, Black, Negro."
Our choices make us part of the second most represented group among interracial married couples: marriages in which at least one person identifies as multiracial. (The most frequent combination at 45 percent are married couples between non-Hispanics and Hispanics, according to the newly released Census figures.)
I will admit I never imagined our relationship would be classified this way.
Our marriage was never and would never have been banned by law like my parents' was in 1965 in South Carolina and 16 other states forcing my parents to marry in my mother's Danish hometown.
And frankly, I don't think most people see our relationship that way either.
Not even singer/actor Jill Scott would "wince" as she famously phrased it in an Essence magazine essay because of her instinctual aversion to interracial couples if she saw my husband and I walk hand-in-hand. I am, afterall, not a "white girl." She'd likely see in me a fellow sister (as I do her) and suspect that I'm just light-skinned.
I suppose I have assumed that interracial couples are something "other" than what my husband and I were -- and that kind of "other" didn't include me this time. My husband's black and I'm black "plus" which doesn't equal interracial the way race and math work in America.
And yet, I do remember on one of our first dates, I wanted to signal to him that I was comfortable identifying as part of the black community. I made some comment about "white people" with a knowing wink. (I'm not proud of it.) His immediate and stern response stopped me cold: "You know, my stepfather is white."
I quickly apologized and sighed with relief: I didn't have to pass as black for him. I knew in that moment that we shared many racial and cultural touchpoints having both grown up in blended families. I wouldn't have to explain my mixed family. I wouldn't have to worry about whether he would feel comfortable around half of my people. He grew up knowing "white goodness" too.
In the many years since, our extended family has become increasingly multiracial and multicultural with nieces and nephews who are African-American and Filipino, black and Irish, and ancestors of Russian Jews.
My lived experience is that we have a very interracial and multicultural relationship but I didn't know society would let it count that way. Our story seemed a kind of aberration. But maybe the aberrations matter most.
It makes me wonder: does counting interracial couples this way expand the definition blackness? Does it also expand the definition of whiteness?
Mostly it makes me more sure in my belief that what would be more valuable as a true portrait of us as a nation are the stories behind the statistics.
My husband chose black on the Census form because of his blood quantum; his experience and his story is far more complicated than the label.
For years, whenever I would see a mixed kid or even adult, I would lightly punch my husband on the arm and say "biracial." This was sometimes socially awkward if it came out in a particularly loud blurt. I'd just get so happy to see another family that looked like mine.
I was surprised to learn that my friend Lori, an African-American mother of what she jokingly calls "SpaNegroes" (Spanish and African-American) did the same. But she used a code word: potatoes.
I adopted it immediately.
When I told my husband, he said: "So that means interracial couples are tomatoes?"
"Sure," I said, "let's use that."
And now here we are. Because of our Census form choices, we now count as tomatoes ourselves. I guess we did all along.
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