The White Girl on His Arm

Scene 1

You are sixteen. You don’t know much yet about the significance of white womanhood (or, in your case, girlhood). You sense that your boyfriend, Marcel, is afraid of your neighbors, but you don’t yet understand what that has to do with you. You aren’t aware yet that, sweet as you are to him, you still put him in danger.

All your life you have heard the way your own community speaks about Black people in their absence. And where you’re growing up, Black people are almost always absent. By now, you have some idea of what Marcel represents in the eyes of your neighbors. You haven’t thought much yet about what you represent in the eyes of his.

What you do know is that you’re excited for the night ahead of you. Marcel is taking you to jam-session tonight in a basement bar downtown. Admittance is 16+ with no cover charge, and your parents don’t expect you home for several hours.

You don’t know the guy standing in front of the door, but Marcel knows him. Some guy from the neighborhood. He and Marcel slap a hand in greeting and then he gets a look at you.

“Daaaaaamn. CongratuLAAATIONS, my man. ConGRATulations. Damn!”

He looks and he looks and he congratulates, over and over. What is he congratulating, exactly? You haven’t even spoken a word.

Marcel is so uncomfortable. You are so uncomfortable.

You know that Marcel doesn’t see you as a prize. But he doesn’t stand up for you, or for himself. He takes it. So do you. You both smile awkwardly, trying to diffuse the moment. Trying to get past the guy quickly so Marcel can hop on stage, and you can enjoy the show.

You think the guy is saying that you’re pretty.

You don’t understand the other piece of it yet.


Scene 2

You’re grown now. In your twenties. You have come to meet your date, Charan, at his luxury apartment in your own car. You hug in greeting, and then he brings you upstairs.

Charan’s roommates, an unmarried couple, are stiff and formal when he brings you inside and introduces you. Each utters a quick “Hi, nice to meet you,” then looks away. You return the stilted greeting, not knowing what else to say.

Once tucked away inside his room you mention it casually. “Your roommates don’t say much.”

“Oh, they were probably just nervous. A white girl in their house, you know.”

After, he takes you out to eat at the South Indian spot that the area’s Indian population favors, the one with both a lunch and dinner buffet every day of the week. Inside, men watch you from every corner of the restaurant.

You eat, and then Charan heads to the bathroom to wash his hands. In the minute that he’s gone and you’re alone, a handful of those stares transform into winks. One of the waiters goes so far as to blow you a kiss.

You tell him about it when he gets back. Throw a quick nod in the direction of the kiss-blower to point him out. Charan says he would have expected as much. “They aren’t used to seeing a white woman in here with a dark-skinned Indian guy,” he says, as if there is some implication there that should be obvious. And maybe there is, but you’re not sure of it.

Charan appears vaguely uncomfortable. But then again, with you, he always seems a little ill at ease. In the face of this strange form of approval, who knows? He might even be pleased.


Scene 3

You’re still young. Not yet thirty. When you’re out with Wei, you wonder whether it’s your attire or the age difference that causes everyone who looks at you to bristle with distaste. Maybe the racial makeup of the pairing only seals the deal. Young white girl, older Asian guy. Does that confirm it for the onlookers – that this is exactly what it looks like?

Women in public have a way of glaring while averting their eyes.

The ones behind the hotel counter, at least, must be pretty damn sure. They’re the ones who checked him in for the day-use room.

Wei, for his part, loves the way they look at you. He asked you to dress this way for a reason, brings you outside of the hotel room to parade around in the open for a reason. Each time, you probe the experience, your self-consciousness tinged with curiosity. These moments are an experiment in kink, an entry-level taste of humiliation play. You wade inquisitively through the hate-stares.

Then, one day, you are leaving a restaurant together at three in the afternoon. Wei in his unassuming tee-shirt and track pants, you in your short-skirted getup with the stripper heels.

There is a man sitting drunk around the stoop of the restaurant. As you pass, he points a thick white finger at your body and yells, “You two have yourselves an INTERESTING night!” And suddenly, all at once, it isn’t fun anymore. The game is not a game. Your body trembles.

You never wear the short skirts and heels for Wei again. He understands.


Scene 4

You go out with Colin and nobody stares at you.

You feel the non-stares as loudly as though they are shouts.

Colin feels it, too. He, like you, is used to walking arm-in-arm with a Black woman – namely, his wife. This morning, she’s out on her own breakfast date with your wife.

Neither you nor Colin has ever been half of a white couple before. Like you, Colin is used to moving through quiet hostility when moving in a pair. The difference this morning is somehow both uneventful and staggering. In the small white town where you and your wife have lived for 5 years under a microscope, suddenly, you blend right in.

You start speaking to him so loudly that you are almost yelling. Saying there are too many American flags in here. American flags on little toothpicks in the food, for crissake! It’s not the damn Fourth of July.

In this moment, you lean into privilege in a twisted attempt to rail against it, morphing your insecurity into an absurd one-person protest. You are trying to broadcast an image of yourself, to tell all the white diners in attendance we are not like you! I am not like you! We don’t want to blend in with you. He and I aren’t this white couple. This is only a disguise.

But still, the normal, silent wave of hostility, or curiosity, or whatever it is that you have gotten used to swimming in, does not come. No matter how loud-mouthed and rude, you’re just the loud-mouthed lady of a nice white couple.

You storm out, off in search of a breakfast with no toothpick-tiny star-spangled banner stuck in the top of the pancakes.

Eventually you’ll find someplace to go. You will still be a white girl on somebody’s arm, representing whatever it is you represent, when you get there.


Photo by Nadezhda Diskant from Pexels

Hi readers! I’ve been on a blog hiatus lately as I struggle to process the current state of the world. I’m working on it, and intend to be back soon with some relevant reflections. For now, I decided to post this piece that I wrote a year ago (when I was still married, polyamorous, and sugar-dating), if only to prove that I’m still here.

If you haven’t already, make sure to follow this blog to keep up with the ever-changing love adventure. And if you’re open to content that’s even more intimate, take a peek at my author site, PeachBerman.com (18+).

Peace and clarity,

Peach

Slamming on the Brakes at Our Intersection

This conversation is becoming a weekly ritual. Next month she turns thirty. I’ll be close behind. And we still can’t seem to make up our minds:

Do we want kids?

We trudge through the usual debate points and musings. “We’ll have to eat dinner at 5:30.” “We’ll be broke. We’ve barely got the money for the sperm.” “If we don’t, who will take care of us when we’re old?”

Then, suddenly, she calls up a different kind of trepidation. Says,

“You think I’ll make them hate being Jewish.”

Screeeech! Hit the brakes. Where did that come from?

“Baby,” I say. “No I don’t. You’ll be a wonderful Mom to Jewish kids. You already know the most important blessings…”

“No. I won’t be.” She pauses, considering something. “Maybe it’s just… it’s them having an identity that I won’t have. It’s too much. Being Black is hard enough, but Black AND Jewish… It’s a scary intersection.”

I blink. “It’s our intersection.”

She nods, slowly. “Yeah.”

She’s got a point. Would we be cursing our future children by deciding to have them? Is it fair, to put challenges onto our children that neither of us have faced ourselves?


On the coffee table in front of us a copy of The Color of Water by James McBride lies open, near its end. I have almost finished reading McBride’s telling of his mother’s story, in which she flees from her Orthodox Jewish family, marries a Black man, and raises twelve Black children. She overcomes the divide between the two communities that hold her life by destroying the Jew in herself, and never looking back. She changes her name, comes to Jesus, starts a church.

In my own family, I see the same pattern reflected. My eldest auntie married a Black man in the 1960’s and faced the rejection of her family and community for years. Though she never converted to a different religion, though she reconnected with my grandparents before I was born, she did not raise her son Jewish.

I remember my shock when I overheard her on the phone with her grown son in the week leading up to Rosh Hashana, explaining to him, “We eat apples and honey to celebrate a sweet new year.” My forty-year-old cousin didn’t know this simple tradition that was second nature to me by preschool?

One generation later, my aunt sends me pictures of her grandson lighting a menorah for Chanukah and reading picture books with Jewish themes. She is teaching him to take pride in his Jewish roots, and to understand that the history of the Jewish people is his history, too. But embracing one’s Jewish ancestry is not the same as being Jewish. I don’t know how my little cousin will identify as he grows. Will our traditions become his?

My wife and I have long since decided that, should we have children, we will raise them Jewish. They will be Black, of course. That part will most likely be determined by phenotype; it was never a subject of debate. We will raise our babies to be proud of their Blackness, to celebrate their heritage as descendants of the African diaspora. So why, I used to argue in the earlier days of our commitment, should the children we bring up together reflect her culture, her people, and not mine? Over time, she relented. It was a decision we reached before we married, and a condition of the marriage itself.

Our children will be free to reject Judaism if it does not suit them. Up to 70% of Jewish kids outside of the Orthodox community choose not to live a Jewish life when they grow up. And our babies will have more reason to reject the religion than does the average Jew. A wide majority Jewish communities in the US are white-dominated, and they harbor the same diseases as other white enclaves. It is unfortunately likely that the congregants of the synagogue where we enroll our children in Hebrew School will alienate them with racist comments, harassing them with questions like “how are you Jewish?” and “are you adopted?” Maybe our kids will want out of all Jewish spaces by the time they reach B’nai Mitzvah age at around 12, going through the sacred rite of passage into Jewish adulthood only if we force them, and withdrawing from the community immediately after.

And on the other side, how will their Black cousins and friends who are not Jewish shape their views of themselves? Will the same ugly conspiracies that have led me into tearful fights with my inlaws worm their way into my babies’ ears? Who will be the first to tell them that the Nazi Holocaust is a big lie, that their white mother is not a real Jew, that white Jews stole the religion from its Black rightful owners? Will it be family, a cousin they look up to? If those conspiracies don’t erode their sense of connection to their Jewishness, it may be that their Catholic elders will convince them that they are bound for hell until they come to Jesus.

None of these outcomes would surprise me. And there’s not a lot my wife or I could do to prevent them, or to protect our future children from the bone-deep confusion of belonging to two communities and feeling out-of-place in both– not a lot, beyond deciding not to have children at all.


For tonight, we run out of steam for the debate. She heads to bed, and I flop onto the couch to finish The Color of Water. In an afterward included for the 10th anniversary edition, McBride reflects on his family’s story with these words that feel uncannily apt, tonight:

I have met hundreds of mixed-race people of all types, and I’m happy to report that– guess what, folks– they’re happy, normal people! They’re finding a way. … The plain truth is that you’d have an easier time standing in the middle of the Mississippi River and requesting that it flow backward than to expect people of different races and backgrounds to stop loving each other, stop marrying each other, stop starting families, stop enjoying the dreams that love inspires. Love is unstoppable. It is our greatest weapon, a natural force, created by God.

James McBride, The Color of Water

I want to wake her. To rush into her quiet, shake her, tell her, “See! We won’t be failing our children by raising them. Our children can proud of who they are.”

“We will raise them in love and safety,” I want to tell her. “They’ll know a struggle that’s familiar to neither of us, it’s true. But they will know a peaceful home– they’ll know joy and healthiness that was also unfamiliar to us. We made it through our childhood hurts. They’ll make it through theirs, too.”

“Our children, our Black and Jewish children, if we have them, are gonna be okay.”

Instead, I resolve to show her in the morning. I tuck myself beside her, press my skin against her back, and join her sleep.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels