One of my favorite TV shows is Mythbusters, and for the first few seasons it would open up with a clip of Adam Savage saying “I reject your reality, and substitute my own.” I love that line, because it comes in handy so often. There are many times when someone else’s reality just doesn’t line up with what mine is. It’s not necessarily that their reality is wrong, but it’s different from mine.
That’s the case with Eric Deggans. In a piece he did for NPR earlier this month, he says that interracial couples on TV live in an all too perfect world, where the “elephant in the room” of their racial differences is almost never an issue. He says that he makes this observation based on his 20-odd years of experience as a black man married to a white woman.
I reject the reality of Mr Deggans…or at least I reject it as being universal. I’m also a black man with 20-odd years of experience being married to a white woman, and I can tell you that we don’t spend a whole lot of time discussing racial issues. Currently our biggest ongoing issue has been getting our eight-year-old daughter to practice piano and clarinet without whining and dragging her feet. In fact, in the almost 23 years that we’ve been married, there have been very few times when the fact that I’m black and she’s white have ever been points of contention. Not from our families, not from our friends, not from our co-workers. There may have been a few comments from strangers, but even then, if we had five bad experiences in the past 23 years, that’s saying a lot.
Of course, location probably matters a bit. I’ve lived in the Northeast all of my life, and in a college town for the past 38 years. I suppose things might be a bit different in Missisippi…or Florida, where Deggans writes from.
I think that who your friends and acquaintances are matters a lot too. If most of the people you know are fairly open-minded, then being an interracial couple isn’t going to be any more of an issue than being an Italian-Norwegian couple…and talk about the cultural differences there.
Moreover, as long as we’re talking about different realities, there are as many different realities here as there are people in relationships. Just looking at five of the white girls I’ve been involved with during the past 38 years, I can say that things have run the gamut from “Paula” who couldn’t even bring me home to meet her parents (that lasted about three weeks) to “Lisa,” whose Italian mother loved me like one of her own kids, and for six years always made a point to try to make my favorite food when I came over for dinner. Sometimes it really is that easy, and really is a non-issue.
Which brings me to my next point: as relatively easy as it was for me 30 years ago, things have changed a lot. I can tell you, from 19 years of being a teacher, that among the students and families I know, interracial relationships are no big deal. The people on the shows that Deggans complains about, and indeed the writers of these shows, reflect this new reality; they came of age in a much different era.
So, to be fair, as I’ve said before, I’m not going to reject Deggans’ reality out of hand. For surely there are people for whom his reality is their experience. Instead, I’ll just say, again, that he hasn’t considered that his reality doesn’t necessarily reflect that of the rest of us who’ve been in interracial relationships. There’s a lot of variation out there.
And that’s the reality.