Actual Space: Love’s Limit by Monet Thomas

Editor Robert Lashley, Editor's Choice, October 14th, 2016

"...just like that I was sleeping with all of white America."

monet thomas essay about being in a biracial relationship
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“Actual Space” is a monthly column for black voices. It is a forum to tell your story, and answer questions on a variety of topics concerning how you cope with being black, what concerns you about race, what you wished you learned, and what gives you hope for the future. Anyone who wants to be honest, give your own particular witness, and go deeper within yourself with something only you can write; there will be space for you. You may also send art and photography concerning blackness, to be considered for a header image. Email Robert at robert@nailedmagazine.com.

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The summer my white boyfriend of three years and I moved to Portland, Oregon was the summer Mike Brown was left to die on a street in Ferguson, Missouri. Our reactions to Brown’s murder, the subsequent rioting, and the general unease that settled over our country like smoke fire, were vastly different. For him, Mike Brown was an isolated, albeit sad incident, but not a reason to protest by blocking traffic or destroying property. He asked what Mike Brown had done, sited his criminal record, and just like that I was sleeping with all of white America. As a black woman from the South I’d learned young to move through the world aware of how even my resting body could betray me and get me raped or killed. A quirked eyebrow could be seen as aggressive or angry, a voice raised could be a threat. My hips were an open invitation to white desire. And long before the death of Mike Brown, I knew, as all black people know, that innocent people were being killed by police. But for my boyfriend, even our relationship was not enough to make him see how every day for me was an act of survival.

It was not that before Mike Brown and Ferguson we hadn’t encountered hate toward our relationship or I hadn’t experienced acts fueled by racism or ignorance. One night, we were in a bar in northern Idaho when suddenly we had to leave, because he recognized before I did that we were getting ugly stares. And it is not that he isn’t an understanding person or a caring partner. He had been with me when I had straight, relaxed hair and when I transitioned to my own naturally kinky hair, the process was fraught with challenges and I had to face self-doubt as I unlearned a lifetime of American beauty stands. Yet he never once made me feel less attractive.

But over the next two years I struggled in our relationship. Most interracial couples, I believe, must come to an understanding early on, which essentially takes their races off the table. It is only when the outside world interferes do they have to remember who they are. We’d always had stereotypical, straight couple problems: him not putting the toilet seat down, me being a snarling monster when I PMS, him being tight-lipped about his feelings and me wanting to break down everything that had ever happened between us. But after Ferguson, every day we woke up together was a day of being black and white. I began to ask myself how I could be with a man who didn’t have to confront his whiteness on a daily basis like I have to confront my blackness. I wondered if I was suffering unnecessarily, if love could really overcome such different life experiences. Is it my job, I wondered, to teach the man I love to see the injustices that people of color face every day? And even further, could I raise children with such a man and in such a world as ours?

Outside of our relationship, I started making an effort to address racist comments or day-to-day microagressions. I noticed my white friends becoming more vocal on social media, even going so far as condemning police violence, and it seemed like some of white America was waking up from the nightmare that black people had been living in since we’d been brought over on slave ships. It was almost amusing to see the realization come over them, the kind of ironic amusement Shakespearean heroes experience when they understand how fucked they are when it’s too late. Well-meaning friends asked me what they could do, how they could help. But it was exhausting to add comforting them to my daily regimen of survival. I tried, gently at first, to prod them in the direction of self-reflection. And when that wasn’t enough I suggested that instead of speaking about racism to a person who knows, to maybe speak to another white person who doesn’t.

Black people continued to die, executed without trial by police who were then found innocent of murder. My boyfriend stopped feigning surprise when I told him about another tragic life lost. I wonder now if I’m taking on too much responsibility, martyring myself with thinking my love should have the power to change a man or teach him. What are the limits of love? What should I be expected to bear? And what should he? Even as our country barrels toward an election that feels apocalyptic, even as I question the longevity of our relationship, he is and has been for as long as we’ve been together, my rock. But I don’t know if that’s enough.

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Header image courtesy of Michel Nguie. To view his photo essay “Memento Mori,” go here.

Monet Thomas Essay Nailed MagazineMonet P. Thomas is a reluctant Southerner. She earned an MFA in poetry from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University in Spokane, Washington. Her writing can be found online at Word Riot, Hobart, Split Lip Magazine, and a few others. She writes a weekly letter called, “While You Were Sleeping,” which you can subscribe to here. And she can found on Twitter, @monetwithlove, wasting time she should be writing.

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Robert Lashley

Robert Lashley is the author of The Homeboy Songs (Small Doggies Press, 2014). A semi finalist for the PEN/Rosenthal fellowship, Lashley has had poems and essays published in such Journals as Feminete, No Regrets, NAILED, and Your Hands, Your Mouth. His work was also featured in Many Trails To The Summit, an anthology of Northwest form and Lyric poetry. To quote James Baldwin, he wants to be an honest man and a good writer.