When I was a senior in college, one of my closest friends shocked the snot out of me when she informed our little rainbow coalition of friends that despite the fact that she'd only dated non-Korean boys in college, when it came time for marriage she was going to stick to her own kind. Back then I was still wearing my rainbow colored glasses and truly believed that if we all just inter-married and inter-mingled, we'd put an end to racism and bigotry. Oh, I was so naive. But still, I thought my friend was crazy for insisting that despite the fact she often found herself more attracted to men outside of the Asian tribe, she was going for the comfort of her familiar. I remember she said something like, "I don't want to have to explain my culture to anyone and I want my husband to be able to speak to my parents in their own language. It will just be easier."
And sure enough, several years later, after seriously dating an African-American man, my friend married a nice Korean boy and for the most part they are living happily ever after. But somehow I felt betrayed and confused by her choice. If she was happy with someone else, why was she choosing a boy to please her parents. It's taken me a while, but I'm now beginning to get it. It's not racism. It's not bigotry. It's not wrong. It's called comfort. And I don't think there is anything wrong with that. I'm starting to see now in my own life where comfort can definitely trump romance.
Did you know that my parents and el esposo's parents have never met? Well, that's not entirely true. El esposo's mother came to New York City right before we moved to Philadelphia. My parents flew in to meet her. They saw each other for about 45 minutes and their conversation went something like this.
"It's nice to meet you"
"Yes, Yes. Let's eat."
Last night I spent the evening with a Book club that was mostly women "of a certain age," all of them Black. I was only supposed to stay for an hour, but that hour stretched into two hours easy. We talked about my book, Substitute Me, but we also talked about life. And hair. And love. And things that every woman talks about but there was a shared cultural understanding and language and nuance in the conversation that only happens in a room full of Black women. I drove home smiling and content even though there was a pile of work waiting for me at home. Those two hours were so uplifting. I laughed and relaxed and felt comfortable sharing my entire life story to a group of virtual strangers, who somehow didn't feel like strangers. And that's when it hit me that I enjoyed spending time with these women, because they were 'my kind of people.'
Now, here's the tricky part. By saying I enjoyed myself in a special kind of way because all of the women in the room were Black, am I excluding or insulting my non-Black friends? I know I could have an equally uplifting experience in a room full of non-Black women who were in the thirties and had all gone to Smith College, or had all married Spanish men, or who had two sons. Yes, it could be equally uplifting but it wouldn't be the same. How do we reconcile our desire to be clannish with the knowledge that being clannish inherently leaves others out of the game? I honestly don't think there's anything wrong with gathering with others like yourself. It doesn't need to be regulated or anything, but how do you ensure that you're not excluding or hurting other people?
You know I'm listening.