Meeting the parents can be a nerve-wracking ordeal; but for lovebirds in an interracial relationship, the worry game can spin even farther out of control.
Anyone who’s fallen in love with someone of a different race knows the feeling when you first meet his or her family. It’s a combination of fear and fascination. You want to hide behind a door, yet still peak out to see what’s going on. I can’t speak for everyone, but I do want to share my story so anyone entering an interracial relationship knows that meeting your significant other’s family can be a positive experience.
I’m a black girl from Detroit who fell in love with a white Jewish boy from Philadelphia. I I know, it sounds like it’s straight out of A Bronx Tale (great movie!), but it’s my life, as cliché as it might appear.
I met him at a mutual friend’s party. It was a Saturday night, a typical gathering of 20-somethings. The beer selection was Coors Light, Budweiser and Modelo. Not gourmet exactly, but I liked it. Most people made snide remarks, except one disheveled boy, bearded with a flannel shirt. Fit the part of a guy who would like a cheep beer. He grabbed a Coors Light and seemed to enjoy it. Sounds like a small thing, but that got me interested.
We caught eyes and went from there.
Donny and I dated for three months before the topic of meeting family came up. “What do you think of meeting my parents?” he asked so innocently. I froze.
On the one hand I didn’t want to appear resistant to meeting his family. I really liked him, but was afraid of meeting his parents, worried about how they might react. I had heard horror stories from friends who also dated interracially—the painful silent dinners, the follow up commentary drip-fed for weeks. Already struggling with school and in a somewhat precarious emotional state, I didn’t want jeopardize myself.
“Baby, what do you think of holding off?”
“We can. But why?”
“Well, the obvious—what’s your family going to think about you dating a black girl?”
“Oh babe, they already know!”
My stomach dropped. I thought to myself, “I’m already the black girl.’” I knew it was one thing to be told your son is dating a black girl, but it was another to actually see his arms around her, to see him kiss her, to hear him say, “I love you.”
“Baby, are you sure it’s the right time?”
“Of course! They can’t wait to meet you!”
“Because I’m not sure your parents are ready to see you with someone like me. I know I don’t know them. They sound like wonderful people. But I’ve never dated a white guy, let alone sat down at a dinner table with a white family. And I’m not sure they’ve sat down at a dinner table with their son’s black girlfriend. In fact, I’d bet they haven’t.”
“It’ll be great, baby. Nothing to worry about. My mom’s a great cook.”
Food. As much as I love to eat, it was the last thing I wanted to do when I first met his parents. I worried about everything from how I held my fork to what my culinary tastes meant as far as cultural divides. What were we going to eat? What were we going to talk about? I brushed up on Jewish history. Should I draw a parallel between ancient Jews and black people in America? Too serious a conversation topic? I was nervous.
We drove to his parents on a Sunday night, a small suburb outside Philadelphia. I remember rolling the windows up and down throughout the ride. I couldn’t get comfortable.
“Sure,” I replied. “No, wait. Just talk. About anything.”
We got to talking about the party we met at. Neither of us was planning to go. I only went because a good friend of mine pleaded with me. He only went because of the “free beer.” The universe can be pretty mysterious, I thought.
We pulled into the driveway. No going back now. Do I fake sudden illness? Truth was, I did feel partially ill.
The house was on a quiet cul-de-sac. A cobblestone path led us to the front door. A basketball hoop adorned the garage.
“This is a mezuzah,” he explained, pointing to the small doorpost affixed diagonally, “not exactly sure what it means, but it’s some kind of Jewish law.”
“Yeah. Inside is one of the main Jewish prayers.”
I’m not sure if he was impressed or shocked, but either way, his face nearly dropped to the floor. And for some reason, it gave me a bit of confidence.
He rang the doorbell. “Oh they’re here!” I hear from inside. Can I do this?
“Hi Donny!” his mother exclaimed as she wrapped her arms around him. “You must be Carmel,” she said, extending her arms out for a hug, “I’m Suzanne, Donny’s mom. This is Steven.” I gazed into the future as Donny’s father approached. He looked exactly like Donny with an extra thirty years. The physical resemblance abated my anxiety.
“I’m Carmel. It’s so nice to meet you both. I brought some wine,” I gestured, grabbing a wine bottle from my oversized purse.
A couple glasses of wine and a delicious main course later, the four of us were talking about my job as a social worker. I shared how I got started in my field, how I was inspired by a young social worker who helped my cousins when I was young. Even at a young age, I was moved by her selflessness and commitment to others. I didn’t phrase it so sentimentally at the dinner table, but I got it across in a way that felt genuine.
That’s when Steven put his fork down and turned to me. I knew he was an attorney, but I didn’t know he was a public defender. I’m not one to judge people on political leanings, but the fact he made a career helping the disadvantaged made me feel safe in his home. That’s not to say I wouldn’t have enjoyed the company of an oil-man, but his particular vocation comforted me.
As we left, Steven pulled me aside and thanked me for the work I do, explaining that there aren’t enough social workers in this country. I thanked him for the recognition and insisted I wasn’t anyone special. He smiled and gave me a hug.
We’re told to not prejudge situations, but experience can challenge that call. I’ve encountered different forms of prejudice since a young age. For being black. For being a woman. Accordingly, I approached meeting Donny’s parents apprehensively.
But something funny happened. Within a few minutes of meeting his parents, I realized my apprehension was unwarranted. I realized that past experience informs you only so much, that each new experience is just that, new. It reveals new truths. It can assuage the past. The past does not have to be prologue. It wasn’t that night.
On the car ride home, I left the windows down and asked Donny to put on some music.
About the Author
Carmel Jones is a 32 year old social worker living in Philadelphia. Inspired by a social worker at a young age, Carmel decided to dedicate her life to helping children in need. In her spare time, she writes about love and romance from an interracial perspective for The Big Fling. When not working or writing, Carmel can be seen at movie theaters and on the streets of Philadelphia pedaling her 3-speed cruiser.