I remember sitting in Sunday school every Sunday of every February and learning about Black History Month. The teachers would talk about everything from Harriet Tubman’s escapades on the Underground Railroad and Frederick Douglass’ journey out of slavery and into freedom, to Martin Luther King’s civil rights activism and the murder of Emmett Till, a story that always managed to bring out a special kind of fear in me.
As I grew older, I started hearing the same Sunday school Black History lessons in my actual history classes. But even then, all these lessons were just stories to me. Simply history.
As much as the African-American community tried to make my generation aware of racism, it was dead to me. The world seemed like a completely different place than it did back in those days. The most racist thing to me was a white person using “the N word” and that wasn’t even too serious to me, personally. We didn’t drink from separate water fountains or anything like that.
In fact, I got more hell from black people than I did white people. I was being taught that black people need to unite and support each other, but the black people in the real world ridiculed me for having my pants secured at my waist (or SLIGHTLY below) with a belt; called me a nerd for reading Harry Potter instead of watching BET.
I felt so shunned from the black community. The only black friends I had were either friends from church or other black kids who were similar to me. But my white friends were so nice to me that racism wasn’t even a thought in my mind.
In high school, I branched out and my friends became much more colorful, and I developed a strong equal view of every human being. Of course I had encountered small incidents of “racism,” but I could find a logical view behind all of these incidents. It still didn’t look like racism to me. People were just people, regardless of their ethnicity.
When I started dating, I usually dated whoever I could come across that would appreciate my company. In my junior year of high school, I met my current girlfriend (we’ll call her Mary), who became the first white girl I would ever date. As soon as we started becoming close, the images and the stories of Emmett Till crept into my mind. But she assured me everything would be okay. I met her parents and they both seemed to like me; I even spoke to them at her softball games.
We started dating on May 31, 2012, the day after her birthday. There were very few interracial couples in my community, so this relationship felt so special.
However, looking back at everything now, I was so naive. Young, dumb, and blinded by love. I should have been able to read the signs. After about 10 months of dating, we had gone out in public very few times, there was always an excuse for why I couldn’t come to her house, she tended to avoid any direct contact with me on Twitter, she posted very few pictures of us together on her Instagram, and she couldn’t even do the grand march at my senior prom with me because she was "too nervous.”
But her kisses were sweet, her eyes sparkled in the sunlight, and we were hopelessly devoted to each other.
Then, shit got real.
My mother came to the school one day and pulled me out of my guitar class. She said Mary’s dad called her at her office and he was PISSED. He made it clear that he didn’t want me anywhere near his daughter and that he would die for his kids. He said that he wasn’t part of the Klan but he “knew people,” he knew what I drove, and he knew where we lived. I had never heard my mother curse before this day, and I will never forget her words: “Leave the white girl alone before you fuck around and get your black ass killed.” And she was serious as a heart attack. Both my parents and I took this man’s comments as a threat to my life.
Mary and I were devastated. I wouldn’t wish that feeling upon my worst enemy. She didn’t understand how the situation felt to me because she wasn’t in danger. No matter how much she said he was “just making noise,” he was a serious threat to me. She was saying one thing, but other adults who actually knew her father would talk to me and tell me how crazy he was and that I should take his threats seriously.
Several people, black and white, told me about a situation similar to my own that happened in my hometown about 23 years before that involved Mary’s father and some of his cousins. And the result ended in a black boy being beaten, having his testicles cut off, and shot. There was never a trial.
Racism was real to me.
Nothing was the same for a while. I couldn’t go out in public alone, I couldn’t go to any sporting events because he would more than likely be there, and I had to let my parents know my whereabouts at all times.
Our breakup lasted about 2 days, but I couldn’t continue to pretend that I didn’t miss Mary. We found ways to communicate. We got cell phone apps that worked around blocked numbers, we passed notes in the hallways, we found teachers we could trust and we met in their classrooms, even if it was just for a hug and a “have a good day;” and we secretly continued our relationship. I was foolish for risking my life for one girl when there are a million others, but I would also be foolish if I let myself cut ties with someone who made me so happy.
Eventually, after laying low for a few months, everything calmed down on my end, but Mary pressed assault and battery charges against her father for physically abusing her, something that I was completely unaware of. He was forced by the law to move out and he is still waiting for his trial. I was by her side through every step of her emotional process.
Today, even though I am in college about 120 miles away from my hometown, I come home to a warm welcome from Mary and her mother. We are able to visit each other freely and our relationship has finally come to the point where we have always wanted it. We go out on dates, we go out to eat, we have minor arguments, and we kiss and make up; everything normal couples do.
We have been together for 16 months, and we’re still counting. I don’t know if I mistook my bravery for idiocy, but I don’t regret any of my decisions.