When my mostly white Brazilian family went to dinner with my black American boyfriend at a Cuban restaurant, we were treated to a pretty good dinner, but a startling lesson in race relations.
The restaurant server went around the table starting with my younger sister asking what she would like to order. But when my boyfriend, who went last, tried ordering grilled chicken, the server’s response was quite unexpected.
“What do you want? Fried chicken?” she asked, in broken English.
“Um, no,” he said while laughing it off.
“You don’t want fried chicken?”
“Nah, I’ll just have the roast pork.”
“You eat pork?” Ugh.
My family’s reaction to this scene: how ignorant. It was the first time they saw the kind of discrimination my boyfriend and I occasionally experience. And because of his patience and good humor he showed in dealing with the situation, it melted away any reservations my family may have had about us being together. The experience became an inside joke, a story they now laugh about together.
As for the restaurant, we won’t be going back there anytime soon.
Yes, even though one in every ten heterosexual couples in the U.S. are mixed race, there are people out there who don’t know how to treat someone who looks different.
When Cheerios came out with an ad with a black father, white mother, and mixed-race child, the comments on YouTube were so vulgar and discriminatory, YouTube shut off the comments section.
There are those who don’t understand that it is possible for two people to learn and adapt to each other’s cultures. And the stereotypes for a black man, in particular, are some of the most negative.
I have been asked if we are too different, if I can manage our future children’s hair, and even if this was just a phase. I’ve also been asked if he’s done drugs and whether he gets aggressive.
Some of those questions were unfortunately asked by friends.
On the flip side, he’s gotten mean stares when walking with me in public and has been asked why he won’t date a woman of his race assuming that he wouldn’t.
While some of those concerns may seem practical or “for our own good,” there is an undertone of racism - a belief that two people of a different race just will not be able to connect with each other on a human level. It’s a tone that becomes louder and more clear the more he and I grow closer.
We’ve discovered we have the same values in the areas of family, health, finances, and character. We’ve discovered we have the same dream to own a home, to be debt-free, have a dog, and a few kids.
In fact, our generation is discovering this more and more among each other. A Pew Research Center study found that nearly 93 percent of all Millennials are accepting of interracial dating and about 54 percent have close friends of a different race.
If that doesn't prove race is no obstacle for dating someone, then maybe the act of falling in love does.
A friend told my boyfriend that I had always wanted to marry some green-eyed white Brazilian guy, which wasn't quite true nor a nice thing to say.
“Babe, is that true? It’s alright if it is,” he asked.
“Well, I wasn't really raised to imagine being with a handsome black man.”
“So why are you with me?”
I replied with an old Brazilian adage, which he agreed is a universal truth: Ninguem manda no coração. Translation: no one orders around the heart.
You simply can’t.
But maybe we should order fish next time we eat out.