This weekend I went to a family wedding. I was thrilled to see my niece, who I have known since she was a little girl, walk down the aisle. Watching the father-daughter dance brought tears to my eyes. The music was great and people got their drink on with great gusto. All in all, it was a day to be remembered. This sounds like a typical wedding, doesn’t it? We all know the clichés.
My partner and I have been together for more than 20 years now. Through ups and downs, we keep on fighting. One of our most constant negotiations is race, because I am black and he is white. I knew before we even arrived at the church that I would be spending the entire day without seeing another person of color. I knew at the end of the night no one would be stumbling around slightly tipsy on the dance floor barefoot doing the electric slide. The best I could hope for was that they would have the good sense to avoid the Macarena or that hideous chicken dance. Those are two things you don’t see at black weddings.
For the most part, his family and I get along well, but that does not mean being surrounded by them doesn’t leave me with a strong sense of dysphoria. Well intentioned comments and carefully chosen words make up a large part of our speech patterns to avoid dealing with the elephant in the room. No matter how progressive they believe themselves to be, I am essentially the square peg in the round hole. The very absence of any other person even remotely considered raced speaks volumes about their regular interactions outside of those with me.
At weddings, we invite family and our nearest and dearest friends. With the cost of the modern-day wedding, it causes us to prioritize who we deem important in our lives. Even as some might refer to that co-worker of color with whom they occasionally have coffee as a friend, when it comes to shelling out more than $100 a plate, suddenly that friend’s appearance at a wedding is decidedly not important. Friendship is a word bandied about far too easily, and it is only during life’s major moments where we can see who we truly value.
I know the dysphoria I felt at my wedding was mine and this was not something many of the guests would acknowledge, even to themselves. My body represented change and an inclusiveness I didn’t even remotely feel, despite the exchanged kisses, hugs, and well wishes. When you marry outside of your race, you’re not only getting your white partner, you’re getting you’re white partner’s family and all that it entails. The family events, which for the most part should be race-neutral gatherings, shift to those fraught with problems a lot deeper than who isn’t speaking to whom.