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East Meets West Meets Us

Light and Dark

My story is about a type of discrimination that is rarely discussed or even admitted to. This is the discrimination that an ethnic group can have among its own members.

I am African-American and so is my wife. However, while my skin complexion is that of coffee without cream, my wife has the color of light brown toast. While my wife and I never had a problem with the difference in our skin hues (I mean we are still black regardless, right?), her parents did. In particular, her father.

You see, my wife's parents are from the state of Louisiana where they were members of a black social group called the "paper bag club." Membership in the society was restricted to blacks whose skin color could be no darker than that of a paper bag. In the club's opinion blacks with lighter skin tones or "high yellow" color were a result of a larger amount of white blood in the family tree which therefore made these particular blacks superior to their darker brethren. Sons and daughters of club members, in order to maintain the proper color, were forbidden to marry darker-tone black people.

As a result I was referred to as a "monkey" and a "janky nigger" by my wife's father when I was introduced to her family. This was despite the fact that I am a college graduate with a master's degree and I work for one the most reputable firms in the midwest. According to my father-in-law, I was only a janitor and lied about my credentials, because "darkies" can't read, much less have college degrees.

When my wife and I continued to date despite his objections, her father kicked her out of the house. I was in college at the time, but I helped my wife pay for an apartment. I also bought her a car after her father took back the one he gave her because she would not stop seeing me. It was a tough time for both of us because we were forced to do a lot of unnecessary things because of same race discrimination.

My wife and I have since gotten married (two years and counting).

This situation has really forced my wife and I to open our eyes about all kinds of racism and discrimination. We have close friends from all races, religions and sexual preferences. We've just been invited to a gay wedding. Now, although neither of us is gay it would be rather hypocritical of us to discriminate against them for being gay when they have never discriminated against us for being black (our soon-to-be-married friends are white.) Also because of her father's actions and the things he says, my wife and I have had to be very open and honest about our feelings toward each other. We've had to work out any differences and rely on just us because we've never wanted to give her father the satisfaction of seeing us at odds.

The bad part of this all is that there is no relationship between my father-in-law and me. I have not spoken to him since before our wedding. When I brought him a gift for last father's day (a white dress shirt, five cigars, and a silver cigar lighter) I had to drop it off

More importantly, our marriage has driven a wedge between my wife and her father. Sometimes in the middle of the night, during rare moments of self doubt, I wonder if this is all my fault and if it was all worth it.

The good part is that our marriage is more self-reliant. It has forced us to expand our circle of friends and experiences. You have to find something to do on the vacation days when you aren't allowed at the in-laws right?

I love my wife to no end, and her father's attitude can do nothing to dampen my feelings. We have a beautiful relationship. My mother-in-law has gradually come to accept me and even love me; I can only hope and pray that the same will happen for my father-in-law. I still love him even though we don't speak. I pity him for his ignorant attitude but I keep hoping that he will change.

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