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Mixed blessings

June 16, 2008 - Betsy Bethel
When my cousin was 18, she got married. Her parents were angry and flummoxed. It wasn't enough that she wed instead of going to college like her older sisters. She married a black man. And, I know what you're thinking, but no, she wasn't pregnant.

I was 15 at the time. I will never forget the phone call I got from my father. He told me if I ever committed such an atrocity, he would kill me. I'm sure he didn't mean it literally, but it sure sounded like it at the time. I was shocked, outraged and deeply disappointed in his reaction. I did not share his viewpoint ... far from it.

Since getting married, my cousin has given birth to four beautiful children, a boy and three girls. She and her husband are wonderful parents. My cousin and I aren't extremely close — they live in Cincinnati — but she holds a special place in my heart. Nonetheless, we have never openly discussed the difficulties she has encountered in her mixed-race marriage.

Last Thursday, I received en e-mail from her with "The Loving Decision" in the subject line. I expected it to be a Christian-themed forwarded message, as she sometimes sends me. I did not open it until I had time to read it this morning. I was suprised to find a beautifully written essay from Kathie about the issue of mixed marriages. It's a message that moved me so much I asked her if I could post it on my blog. She was pleased that I wanted to share it with you.

In the Ohio Valley, where a man can feel no shame getting up at a fundraiser for sick children and telling a racist and sexist joke about the recent political primary (this happened in Wheeling Friday night), I think Kathie's personal story bears repeating. Below are some excerpts:

"Some of you may be aware that today marks the anniversary of a very important court decision. On June 12, 1967, the 'United States Supreme Court declared Virginia's anti-miscegenation statute, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, unconstitutional, thereby overturning Pace v. Alabama (1883) and ending all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States' (Source: Wikipedia).

"My husband and I are very conscious of the importance of celebrating and acknowledging the diversity of the history of our children. ... We're beginning to give some attention to the history and contributions of other ethnic groups as we have a generation emerging that is less concerned about focusing on our differences and more interested in cultivating a culture of unity.

"But as I look at my multi-ethnic children I often wonder: Who can they look to — who looks like them, who thinks like them, who experiences this world and sees it like they do? It is naive of me to think that ethnicity and prejudice never enter their experience. Our son (17, senior this next school year!) has told us that he has been asked on more than one occassion — who do you live with, your mom or dad? The assumption (is) that we are not an intact family. That has cultural significance just in how marriage and the family are perceived in general, but there is specific implication to how multi-ethnic relationships or families are viewed, as well.

"Although I was very young (too young looking back!) when my husband and I married (I was 18, he was 25), we were not pregnant. We have faced many subtle forms of prejudice as we have walked together in our journey. As I grew up, I didn't face the same kind of issues as my husband did. As we've continued together, I have come to share in his experience and have been humbled — I have swung between anger, sadness, ambivalence, you name it.

"I've come to a place where I understand now more than ever the value of each person's unique experience including their ethnicity. It is relevant. We can't ignore it and say we value the person.

"I am so grateful for the relationships and multi-hued expression of life I get the honor and privilege of interacting with on a day-to-day basis. There really isn't enough room or time for me to exhaustively express how I feel and the impact of being willing to look at and accept that there was purpose in God's design of the ethnic groups, and that though there was separation for a time the goal has always been that we be reconciled to one another and ultimately to Him.

"We've come a long way — but make no mistake, we have further to go. Multi-ethnic marriages aren't new — we're returning to something, something is being restored — a quick scripture search shows us Moses, Abraham and others were in multi-ethnic relationships (including) Noah, the father of nations!"

— Kathie Clarke

Kathie placed a link at the end of the e-mail to an MSNBC feature in which people share their personal stories of being multi-ethnic or in mixed marriages. I have posted the link at the top right of this blog.


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