Racism, Street Cred And Mixed Race Couples In Atlanta

Brian and Umah, April 14th 2006This is a post I’ve been destined to write since I started this blog a month ago. As a white guy who is married to a dark-skinned Malaysian Indian, I have a unusual perspective on the issue of race and racism. But not as unusual as you might think, particularly in Atlanta.

Last weekend, my wife and I were out running errands up in the area I like to call “the Alphaghetto” (because it almost rhymes, and because I used to live there, and I really don’t like suburbs). As we were wandering through the Macy’s bridal registry/glassware area looking to find a few pieces we were missing, I noticed another couple being attended to by the wedding registry staff. White guy with a black girl. Wow, I thought, you don’t see that everyday. (Of course, the irony there is that I do see that every day, in a picture frame on shelf in our living room.) It made me smile. Later the same day (I forget where), we encountered another couple with the exact same make up. I felt like I found a winning scratch-off lottery ticket. This, to me, was anecdotal proof that Atlanta is actually a lot less racist than rumor has it to be. And I immediately felt happier and more comfortable with living here.

It’s not that I have really ever had a reason to be uncomfortable. When my wife and I were still dating, I was concerned about the reception she’d get when she met my friends and family back in the U.S. (I was actually more concerned with having to cut ties with people who had an issue with the two of us being together.) Fortunately, my concerns were completely unfounded. Everyone, family and friends, who has had a chance to meet her invariably tells me I made an excellent choice and are exceedingly complementary. And I know quite a few people in a lot of different places, in terms of geography, lifestyle and background.

Friday night, while the Braves were beating the Dodgers, we were sitting in the Chop Shop getting compliments from an unexpected source. We were approached by two black brothers (meaning that they both had the same parents). They were friendly and I think they wanted to have a closer look at my wife. One of them paid her a compliment, and I said that I agreed with him and that she’s my wife. The guy who said it apologized and shook my hand, and I told not to worry about it. Seriously no big deal. I guess he was embarrassed, and he wandered off. His brother sat down and told me how impressed he was with us. He told me several times that he knew I “was doing my job” because of how her face lit up when I told them we were married. He also went on to say how much better the world would be if more people were like us and “didn’t look at skin color and just did what was right.” That made my night. The rest of the night I was joking about having street cred.

Saturday night, just as we were about to pop in a DVD we got a call from the neighbor down the hall inviting us to see watch the De La Hoya-Mayweather fight. It sounded like fun, so headed down the hall. As we were watching some of the other match ups leading up to the headline fight, I realized that I was the only white guy at the gathering. Instead of feeling uncomfortable, which you might expect from a mild mannered pasty-white guy like myself, I loved it. (I long ago became comfortable with being the minority while I was living and working in Malaysia.) The fight itself wasn’t that exciting (De La Hoya chased Mayweather around for 12 rounds hardly landing a blow), but the debate about who was winning was. Jim, an older charismatic fellow was trying to sell everybody on the idea that De La Hoya was winning, in spite of the stats at the end of each round. And when Mayweather’s father appeared to say De La Hoya should have in an after-fight interview, Jim was ecstatic, running around dancing with excitement.

After the fight finished and the debate over the winner slowed down, another guy named Andre, a R&B musician, and treated us to a subdued version (it was late, and we didn’t want to wake the neighbors) of a song that he’s releasing on an album soon called “Maintenance Man”, featuring his vocals over a juggernaut hook (the kind they’d play as basketball players run on the field, or during footage of them slam-dunking). The guy has a lot of talent, and I can see this song hitting the charts. If it does, you heard it here first. 😎 (Reportedly he’ll be featuring it on a MySpace page sometime soon. If I find it, I’ll link to it.)

It could be that my wife is awesome and draws cool people to her. Both of these things are true. Or perhaps it was a chance great weekend. But I think that these events are all signs of significant progress in civility, common sense and equality. Anyway, I’ve got the warm-fuzzies right now, so it could just be me. 😀

UPDATE: No sooner than I write this, but I see this: CBSNews.com Turns Off Comments on Obama Stories because of excessive racist comments. OK, so you believe in the scientifically-unproven inferiority of people based on ethnic background, fine. You have the right to think whatever you want. But why insult people?

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  1. babychaos said,

    May 8, 2007 at 2:18 am

    On the one hand, I think it’s incredibly sad that it should have to even occur to somebody that marrying a person a different colour from them might cause them to lose some of their friends. On the other, the more barriers break down, the harder people who want to keep them there fight, so if people are vocalising racism a lot where you live it means they are uncomfortable with developments and fighting to keep the barriers in place, ergo, in a kind of obverse way, it could be a sign of progress.

    We do get racism in the UK but on the whole it’s not as obvious, a person’s colour isn’t an issue that occurs to many of us I don’t think. That said, I’ve noticed we get jittery, as neighbourhoods, when large groups of people, all come from the same country and settle in one part of a town and stick to their own language. I think it’s because when we see them wandering along chatting away in Arabic, Urdu, Polish, whatever… we think they’re bitching about us. 😉

    Good post.



  2. Brian said,

    May 8, 2007 at 10:48 am

    Hi babychaos,


    Yeah, I agree it is sad that I was worried about it, happily, it turned out to be completely unfounded. I like to think that it was more me being a pessimist, prepared for anything, but it doesn’t really come across that way, does it?

    We both love the U.K. I worked there for about a month and a half (right off Cannon Street in London) and my wife went to school there. She keeps asking me when I’m going to get another international contract so we can spend some more time there! 🙂

    You know, one pleasant side effect of a bunch of people of the same ethnic background settling into area is you get places like Brick Lane- I spent many a night burning my tongue on Vindaloo after a few pints of Leffe with the lads while I was there. *Sigh* Good times.


  3. Miche said,

    May 9, 2007 at 7:18 pm

    My husband is Indian and I am white. I had no problems with friends or family, but he did. I think it was less about ethnicity and more about culture. I think his family worried that he was “dissing” their culture in favor of American culture. (He is first generation US) We have been together 10 years and all is great between the families. It doesn’t hurt that I wear a sari like nobody’s business. ;o)

  4. Brian said,

    May 9, 2007 at 8:10 pm

    Hi Miche,

    That makes sense. I speculate that my wife’s late father didn’t really approve of the two of us, but he never actually said anything about it. At least not that I ever heard. When we went back for his funeral recently, I got along very well with her large family. I think I got bonus points for flying us both back on very short notice.

    Glad to hear it’s worked for the both of you. Fortunately, I don’t have to resort to wearing a Sari. Nobody needs to see that! 🙂 Though I did wear a kilt for a friends wedding once…

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