In 2012, Steven James Dixon, relationship expert and author, wrote a short piece titled, “Why I Married a Black Woman” for Essence. In it Dixon, a black man, lists a string of reasons why he “had to have me a sister”, most of which pointed to cultural similarities. He wants to marry “someone who understands that Thanksgiving means collard greens, cornbread, peach cobbler and honey ham” or his need to have “somebody to watch Love Jones with me.”
The article was most helpful towards the end, in its exhortation to black men and our relationships with black women. Dixon tells black men, “when you attack the Black woman, you attack yourself. When you look at her, you should see your mother, your sister, your aunt, your niece, your likeness.”
But I thought what preceded this conclusion painted a monolithic picture of black women and black men, for that matter. It assumed cultural preferences and unintentionally defines what being black means.
There is nothing wrong with celebrating black love or even preferring a black spouse. People who claim not to have preferences are as comical as people who claim color-blindness. Yet the Christian’s preference must never trump godliness or degrade the beauty and value of other ethnicities. Ethnic and culture similarity are fine preferences, but it takes so much more to make a marriage last.
White Women Only
When my wife and I announced our engagement, I received several comments applauding the fact that my soon-to-be bride was black. Certain friends rejoiced because two committed black Christians, both living cross-cultural lives, were tying the knot.
To provide context, some who watched my life from a distance simply assumed I wanted to marry a non-black girl. Despite my explanations, I was found guilty by the public court of opinion of favoring white women over black women. Therefore, our engagement shocked some. Why did some think I wanted to marry a white girl?
During my teen years, I dated only black girls because my context consisted of only black girls. It wasn’t until college that I entered the multi-ethnic world and this was one of the factors changed my dating habits.
Throughout college, the women I dated were mostly white. Eventually, this led to statements such as “He’s not trying to keep it real” or “Why is he so obsessed with marrying outside his race?” Frankly, this led to irritation on my part.
The accusations came from blacks and whites alike. Some black women assumed I wasn’t interested in them because they were black and that I would only date white girls. When an interethnic relationship didn’t work out, some whites were puzzled about why I didn’t simply date a black girl, as if it’s really that simple.
Don’t misunderstand me, there is a time to explore whether someone is obsessed with pursuing those of other ethnicities. I’ve encountered many who have a fetish for other ethnic groups, refusing to even consider someone in their own. Indeed, this is a problem we must address. Nevertheless, my point is we shouldn’t jump to this conclusion. Other factors are at work.
Context, Context, Context
A pattern of ignoring other factors tends to overemphasize a difference in ethnicity. Ignoring context, preferences and theological convictions is unhelpful and dangerous.
To understand why some make the decisions that they make in choosing a spouse, context is key. For example, for nearly a decade I lived in a majority white context. I enrolled into a mostly white Christian college, joined a majority white church, and later enrolled in a majority white seminary. The girls I spent the most time with were white because whites were the majority.
I pursued young women I did life with. The odds of me finding a black woman in this context were slim, though not impossible. But frankly, I wasn’t exclusively looking for a black woman. I refused to limit myself to one ethnicity because ethnicity is a small factor when it comes to marriage.
Another factor ignored was my preference. I’m not referring to ethnic preference, though I don’t think there is anything wrong with it. Preference becomes sinful when it marries a demand that is motivated by ethnic supremacy.
This thought pattern, which ignores preference, assumed if I met a black woman who was Christian, I would want to pursue her. Black people aren’t attracted to black people simply because they’re black.
There are a number of elements involved in why someone chooses or refuses to pursue someone of the opposite sex. The solution of only pursuing relationships within one’s own ethnicity trivializes a much bigger issue.
Same Ethnicity, Different Cultures
It’s often assumed people of the same ethnicity also have the same culture. One of the most used arguments against interethnic marriage is that since the couple comes from different backgrounds, the marriage will be too hard. Therefore, we should avoid interethnic marriages.
My wife and I are both black but our backgrounds couldn’t be more different. I grew up in rural Pickens, MS but she grew up in the suburbs of Houston, TX. I grew up in a single parent home, she grew up with both her parents. I was raised with one older sibling (who left home when I was 11), my wife was raised with eight younger siblings. My wife was raised in a cross-cultural context, I was raised in an all black context. Needless to say, the wife and I come from very different backgrounds. Just place our family in the same room and it would be obvious.
Distinct from Dixon
I can understand Mr. Dixon’s desire to marry someone who shares cultural similarities. I can even appreciate celebrating black love and join the celebration. My wife and I share tastes in music, literature and television from black culture and we’re always thankful for depictions of solid black families. We love it because it reflects the image of God in all ethnicities. However, ethnicity or culture are not the primary reasons I married my wife.
While my wife and I have similar interests, there is much we have grown to appreciate about the other that we didn’t before.
I had to have Jasmine. She gets me. She’s patient with me. She sees me for all that the Lord can do in me and yet she loves me where I am. She compliments and challenges me in ways I couldn’t have imagine.
We struggle together. We have fun together. We cry together. We pray together. We live life in light of one common goal: Glorify God in all that he ordains. And the list goes on and on…
My wife is more than just a “sister”. In fact, she’s more than just a Christian. There are a bunch of sisters and many Christian women, but only one Jasmine Linette Holmes.
She chose me and I chose her. She’s beautifully made and specifically chosen by God as my wife. At the end of the day, her blackness will never trump her love for Jesus, yet her love for Jesus does not disregard her uniqueness. I married a black woman because she’s Jasmine.
Celebrate black love, but never feel that you’re less than black if you choose to marry someone who is not black. Choose your spouse because they’re biblically qualified to fulfill that role and you love the unique person God has created. Ethnicity becomes somewhat trivial once you’re married, but willingness to die to self is imperative.