“Um, will this be together?”
This happens to us all the time. Every week. Sometimes more than once a day. Even living just outside of both LA and Seattle hasn’t prevented the head tilt, quick evaluation by baristas, bartenders, servers and doctors. At the coffee shop, grocery store, bar, doctor’s office; people are always asking if my husband and I are together.
I mean, really, it’s my groceries and his? Wouldn’t there be a little bar down between the limes and the bread? Would I be chatting with him so comfortably? Sometimes we play them a little.
“What him? No way. Creeper, get away from my avocados.”
“Her? I’m not paying for her. She’s been following me around for like 30 years!”
It’s our own multicultural teaching moment. I don’t like to humiliate people, but make them flush with embarrassment a little by holding their bias up for all to see? Oh yeah.
Once, we were out to dinner with all the families from our swim team. We had driven all day from Seattle to Idaho for the big regional swim meet. The kids had their own table and the parents were at one big, ranch style table. The server was matching up couples to prepare our bills; I knew we were in trouble. Tommy’s mom was Asian. Even though she was seated all the way down from us and across the table, her bill was paired with my husband’s. There was no way in our server’s mind that the Asian man and woman were not together. No way.
We have been very lucky as a family. Our health has been good, we have always had enough to eat and a safe place to live. We come from humble beginnings with little assist on the financial launch in life, but my husband is the hardest working man I know, so we’ve done OK.
We have not, yet anyway, had our house vandalized or been told to leave a neighborhood. We moved to the West Coast because in Minnesota we were always the diversity crew on the block, and people would literally turn around to stare at us in the grocery store. Now that our kids are gone, we mostly keep to ourselves. We know the other dogs in the neighborhood and their people, and we wave to the couple who lives next to us. People around us know we’re together.
It’s a funny thing. I don’t believe that a barista is making an intentionally racist statement by totalling my husband’s coffee without looking past him to the white woman standing there. I don’t. But it is a little of our systemic racism poking at us all the time. Sometimes as he orders I’ll touch his shoulder or hand as code for “we’re together” to save time and avoid the hassle. It’s always present for us.
What I wish was that we didn’t have these deep scripts that play out about who goes together and where race fits in our lives. But we do. Me, too. I work hard to root them out, but it is in the air I breathe and the water I drink. It’s deep.
Luckily, I do have this fine partner in life who claims me over and over again, even when the bartender tries to make me pay for my own drink.