When my daughter graduated from college and determined to spend a year doing volunteer work in Birmingham, Alabama, I was as proud as I could be. To me she had put aside her own life to work in an inner city program to help those less fortunate than herself. She had learned some valuable lessons at home and at school and one of them was about the value of service to others. The last thing I would have imagined when she left home was that her service would end up rewarding her with an African- American husband and me with an African American son-in-law. I could never have known at that juncture how my daughter’s inter-racial marriage was going to change my life.
1. There are many cultures. Perhaps the first thing that changed in my life after my daughter’s marriage to an African- American was that I became very aware of the cultural differences between African Americans and me, a white woman. When I had no connection to anyone outside of my own lily white community there were few opportunities for me to encounter a culture other than my own. Live that way for 50 years and you begin to think that your culture is the culture.
My daughter’s inter-racial marriage changed my life by tuning me in to a whole world of culture that I had only vaguely recognized. I got a quick immersion into different food, different music, different expression of the same faith, different manners . What I learned was not that we are really all alike but that in fact we are delightfully different and that that’s fine as long as everyone respects the cultural background of everyone else. In fact I came to see the differences in our cultures, black and white, made me think more about my own culture, where it came from and why I am the way I am as a white woman. My daughter’s inter-racial marriage changed by life by making me more open to the cultures of others and more appreciative of my own.
2. Introduced me to the South – For better or worse my life, prior to my daughter’s marriage had been spent predominantly north of the Mason-Dixon Line. But since the marriage there are regular trips to the South. As a result a whole new geographic portion of my country has been opened up to me. Many places on the map that had once been unfamiliar territory now mark the stops along the way to Birmingham .
Our trips to visit my daughter and her husband have given us eye opening travel experiences we would have missed out on had she not married a southerner. But , my daughter’s inter-racial marriage changed my life by allowing me to see our travel through the south through a whole new perspective. I saw the places and the people there in historical terms. I looked at everyone there correctly now I think of sons and daughters of a history quiet different from mine. My daughter’s inter-racial marriage changed my life by introducing me to the South now seen through an entirely different filter.
3. Learning what it means to live a belief. As part of her upbringing my daughter had clearly been taught that all men and women are created by a loving God and that all should be treated with the respect due God’s creation. This was a belief that was instilled in our children. It was easy to do because we lived in a homogeneous community in which you seldom had to worry about meeting anyone who really wasn’t just like you.
My daughter’s inter-racial marriage changed my life by helping me to realize the very real, sometimes challenging difference between holding a belief in the abstract and actually living out that belief in your everyday existence. My daughter had taken the lesson of equality and mutual respect and applied it in her life. When she announced her engagement to us, we accepted it, even though we hardly knew the young man, because we trusted her judgment and could see she was truly in love. In the afterglow we had a chance to see that living out your belief is not nearly as easy as talking about it. We all had lots to get used to and we all were glad that we started from the same core beliefs in human value and dignity regardless of color, gender, creed or any other categorization of human life. Living out our beliefs will perhaps always have challenges but my daughter’s inter-racial marriage changed my life by helping me to see how important it is to live what you believe.
4.Brought me bi-racial grandchildren As strange as it initially felt to all of a sudden be connected by marriage to a black man and his family, nothing can compare to the recognition that I would have bi-racial grandchildren. Of all the scenarios in my life, having grandchildren that were of different racial composition than myself was never even a consideration. Before my daughter’s inter-racial marriage, I had never given one second of thought to the idea of having bi-racial grandchildren. I didn’t accept or reject the idea, I just had never even considered it as a possibility.
Now I have three bi-racial grandchildren and each day they teach me that the love of grandparents for their grandchildren is devoid of color considerations. They are mine and I love them, end of story. In fact it seems to me that if every bigot in our nation had one grandchild of another race we would see racism collapse across the country. My daughter’s inter-racial marriage changed my life by allowing me to see the depths of my own familial love.
Not everyone has the blessing of an inter-racial marriage in their family. In fact few people ever come close to that situation. I am truly blessed because of the ways in which my daughter’s inter-racial marriage has changed my life.