Living in America as half of an interracial couple isn’t that unique these days, but it doesn’t feel all that common when my wife and I interact with the general public. I will not discuss overt acts of prejudice or racism. That will have to wait for another day. My focus now are all the subtle actions from others that send the message to my wife and me that we don’t belong together.
Here’s a situation that happens quite frequently: My wife and I are standing side-by-side at a check-out counter of some store and the store employee addresses her or me, “Hi! How can I help you?” It seems quite normal, until the transaction is complete and the checker turns to the other one of us and asks, “Hi! How can I help you?” That’s when we annoyingly respond, “We’re together.” In response, we’ll hear an embarrassed, “Oh!” Sometimes one of us will raise the ring finger for extra emphasis. I guess that’s one way to send someone a message by giving them the finger.
Another case: We’re walking through a crowded area like a busy sidewalk, a fair, a sporting event, etc.
People are socially conditioned to try to move through crowds without splitting through a group walking together. It’s customary to move to one side or the other of a group and one typically moves to the right in the US. So, as one ambles through a big crowd, his mind subconsciously groups people based on how close they are to the people next to them and the speed at which the group is moving. When there isn’t much space between groups, our minds pay attention to other details (without our awareness) that enable us to determine the likelihood people of ‘being together.’ In essence, our brain is trying to form groups when it can’t see obvious groupings. Well, more often than not people will split right between my wife and me, unless we’re holding hands. This tells me that their minds are signaling to them that the Black man and the White woman are not together.
Since most couples in this country are not interracial, it may be natural for one’s mind to split groupings of people based on race. Although, if you saw me and my wife in a group of ‘mainstream’ Americans, you would probably consciously group us. She looks like a hippie and I look like a Rasta. That’s not too much of a difference when placed in the context of most people out there.
Maybe it’ll just take time for our unconscious minds to catch up to what we know are socially acceptable beliefs about race, love and marriage.