When Damian Smith, a Black man, told his friend he was engaged to his now-wife Jackie Smith, of Italian descent, she replied with “Wow, I’m happy for you, but we lost another one.”
“I didn’t respond racially but attempted to defuse the situation by telling her that we’ll be friends forever — so what does that mean — the implications (of remaining friends despite what she said)?” said Damian Smith, who was born in San Francisco, raised in Oakland and lives in Brentwood.
Fortunately though, most of their combined families have been supportive of their 27-year relationship, 25-year marriage and three grown kids.
“We’ve been very lucky to have a family (on both sides) and friends who have completely embraced our relationship,” said Jackie, who was born in Redwood City and raised in Hayward. “In fact, we have been so sheltered from the issues that could come up that we forget we’re a biracial couple sometimes.”
It’s only been recently that their biracial status has become a spotlight.
“We started to be reminded of our biracial status when the debate over racial inequality and police brutality really started to become more prominent in the news and a topic of conversation among social media,” said Jackie Smith, a business owner with her husband in the financial services industry.
Biracial couple Andre and Gina Wade, of Bay Point, are relative newlyweds compared to the Smiths but not new to contending with racial stereotypes, especially when it comes to the kids.
“I’ve been told that I should feel wrong to want to bring mixed children into the world, as it is considered a hardship to be a mixed person in our society,” said Gina, a Mexican woman born in Oakland and raised in San Leandro.
Gina works for Kaiser Permanente as an executive assistant, and she’s co-owner of Wade A Minute Street Eats with her husband, Andre, the company’s chef. Gina says when her kids were growing up, clear communication was key.
“I would always encourage them to share with me any experiences they may have at school, work or social settings so I could be aware if I needed to address the situation and share advice on the best ways to handle ignorance,” she said. “I also cannot stress enough to them that they have become targets and their lives can be taken away from them quickly when dealing with the police and they must not ever take that fact lightly.”
Andre, who is Black, says Black History Month feels like an insult.
“Black history in general means a lot to me for the simple fact that I am Black,” said Andre, who was born in Miami and raised in Vallejo. “However, Black History Month is a slap in the face. It’s the shortest month, and we should be celebrated longer than that since we played a great big part of paving the way in American history and how America was built, period.”
Damian Smith has similar feelings.
“Quite honestly, Black History Month meant more to me when I lived in Oakland because I could ‘feel’ more of an emphasis and pride in it from that area,” said Smith. “As an adult, I’m annoyed that our curriculum is outdated and doesn’t always reflect the ‘Black experience.’ For example, Black Americans — African Americans — get deprecating exposure year-round in the media and then in the shortest month of the year, there’s an emphasis to feature a few extraordinary Black Americans. Systemic racism is such a pervasive issue in our country — why can’t we dismantle its premise year-round?”
He recalls an incident they had with a neighbor’s kid, who lived a few houses down from theirs.
“Their boys were roughly the same age as our boys and would sometimes be in the same play groups. The other White kids didn’t have the best reputations, because they were known by all the neighborhood parents as being spoiled brats,” recalled Smith. “One day, the younger boy said to one of my sons, ‘Somebody’s dad is a (racial slur),’ and my son proceeded to rough up the kid. The kid went home and told his dad about the incident at the same time my son told me about the incident. The dad came over and explained that his son didn’t know any better about what he was saying and that he had heard that term through music and that he would excuse the fight between them because boys will be boys.
“I would oftentimes tell my kids that other people’s stupidity was the result of them not knowing how to react because of limited interactions their parents may have had with minorities. Stupidity is and always will be everywhere in some sort of fashion, and it definitely wasn’t up to our family to change their perception. But if we could make a difference, then so be it.”
For Jackie Smith, it’s all about keeping an open heart and mind about all ethnicities.
“As a biracial family, we’ve been able to really open our minds and hearts to others’ experiences. Learning about the differences in culture have made us more understanding, tolerant and empathetic to each other’s races,” she said. “I did not set out to marry a Black man, nor did my husband set out to marry a White woman. But here we are — married for 25 years with three amazing humans as children. And for that, I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Charleen Earley is a freelance writer and journalism professor at Foothill and Diablo Valley colleges. Reach her at email@example.com or 925-383-3072.
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