12
Jun

Loving Day: Deaf Interracial Relationships

June 12 is Loving Day in the USA. This day celebrates the anniversary of the 1967 Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia. Interracial marriages were banned in Virginia and other 15 states in 1924. A Deaf woman, Debbie Colbert, shares her story about being in interracial relationships and how she dealt with people’s opinions.

Video transcript provided by Debbie Colbert: Debbie Colbert is signing. She is white, has long, dirty blonde hair and is wearing a teal V-neck t-shirt, with ILY symbol on the left side. She is sitting on a white leather sofa and the background is royal blue. She is also wearing various colors of beads bracelets on her left arm as well as a necklace with a heart-shaped rose quartz.

“Right now is the month of June. Loving Day is on the 12th of this month. I feel I the need to share my experience of being in the closet and being oppressed when I experienced acts of racism. I will explain several situations briefly here.

First of all, when I was living at a residential school for the deaf, I dated a guy and we both were not the same race. As we had been dating, several boys informed me that the guy I was dating got picked on by some boys, even though he was athletic; not the best, but he played well in some sports such as football, basketball, and was on the track team. But he was picked on by some boys because of us dating. Then one day I saw the boys gang up and pick on him. I just stood there and saw the whole thing. I confronted him about it. He brushed it off and said it didn’t bother him and he was okay. I didn’t feel right about it, so I ended our relationship. That was it. My parents were not aware that I dated that guy.

Years went by, I enrolled in Gallaudet University as a student. I started dating a guy and we both were not of the same race. Then, in the spring, my parents decided to come and visit me all the way from Illinois to Washington, DC. That was about a 12-hour drive. You know, in Gallaudet University’s dorm life, other students can come and visit also stay in your room. I was worried about that, so I told my former boyfriend, who wasn’t the same color as me, that my parents were coming and he needed to stay away from me. He was surprised by my decision that he needed to stay away because I didn’t want to upset my parents who drove all the way from Illinois to visit me. He didn’t complain, but accepted my suggestion out of his love for me. When he was around, I saw him and I became very nervous, so badly that I wanted to hide myself. My parents kept asking me if I had a boyfriend. I told them no because I had no interest in dating as of yet. After my parents left, he and I were back together and everything went back to normal.

On my parents’ second visit, I told my ex-boyfriend that he needed to avoid me again. He expressed his frustration because he felt that I was rejecting him. I was surprised at his reaction because I thought he would understand about my being in the closet about dating someone outside of my race. He insisted that if I really loved him, I would introduce him to my parents, but I was not ready to come out of my closet. During my parents’ visit, he became more bold. He would approach my parents and tell them that he liked me and we were in the same class, which was not true. He was an employee during that time. I immediately said bad things about him to my parents after he left. That he was goofy and dumb. Now I looked back and think to myself that I let fear get the best of me.

The third time around of my parents’ visiting me, I told him not to be around me again. This time, he became furious and we argued about my being selfish and being in the closet when it was time for me to get out, but I was still not ready. My parents and I went to the Abbey. It was once called Rathskeller, then it changed to the Abbey, but over time, it changed back to Rathskeller. I was busy having fun with my parents. All of sudden, I saw him with a lady whom I had seen around on campus. He was flirting with her. I was upset. My mom noticed and asked me if I was alright. I told her yes. Then, the next day, I went up to him and asked him why he did that. He pressured me to introduce him to my family, so I did. I told my mom that I was dating him, but it was nothing serious, and I kept on making some excuses like he was no one special and he was just someone to hang out with and have fun.

My mom was concerned about my dating someone who is not the same race as me. She told me to think about my future, like I might encounter oppression, some friends would not want to be friends with me, and my job. She was focused on my future. Meanwhile, my dad said nothing, as usual. He followed whatever my mom said. My mom lived like a queen when I was growing up.

On Thanksgiving, in between my parents’ first and second visits, I was with my family visiting my grandparents for Thanksgiving dinner. My grandmother boldly told everyone at the table that she was told I was dating a black guy and that he made me become a wild woman. My stomach turned upside down and I froze because I didn’t know how to react. But my step-grandfather, who was the only grandfather I knew growing up, immediately told my grandmother off by saying if you heard those rumors, please make it go in one ear and out the other ear. He proceeded to eat, so we all ate.

Many years later, I met my husband. We both decided not to have a wedding because I felt that no one would want to come to my wedding since he is hearing and I am deaf and we were an interracial couple. I didn’t think people wanted to come and witness us. My husband agreed, so we got married at the Justice of Peace and I was pregnant at that time. My friend asked if my parents knew I got married and was expecting a baby. I told her no, but she kept on asking me, which made me feel uneasy. So I told her that I would let the rumor reach my parents. 

My mom found out through the grapevine, so she contacted me via TTY asking me if I was married and pregnant. I told her yes, but I was very vague about being married. In a few months, my parents informed me that they were moving from Illinois to Pennsylvania. I was not too thrilled because it knew it was time for me to get out of the closet. But then I thought to myself, maybe my baby would change my parents’ hearts about me being married to a black man and having a biracial baby. 

On that very night of my parents moving, my mom saw my beautiful baby girl. She informed me that family members would come to see us, too. Then family members came. They were upset to see me with my biracial baby, so my mom went out to try convince them to come in, but they refused because of me and my baby. They were arguing about me being with a black man and having a biracial baby. I stood there and watched them arguing from the window. I saw the whole conversation and it was very hurtful to watch because they didn’t realize that I’m my mom’s firstborn child. My parents had been trying for two years to conceive a child and finally had me. My parents were so proud to have me as their firstborn child and those family members tried to turn my mom against me. I was very hurt when I watched them talking about me. 

When my mom came back in the house, she had tears rolling down her face. I decided not to talk about it. She told me she felt bad about the whole thing and I told her to forget about it. I didn’t even tell my mom that I had seen the whole conversation between her and my family members. Still today, I’ve never told those family members that I saw their conversation with my mom. I simply put it in a can and canned it tightly because it was too ugly to talk about. My mom loved my husband and always asked for him. When she saw him, she always waved at him and chatted with him. My husband, Derik, liked my mom as well. They tended to chat with each other. My mom passed on 8 years ago, so that’s the end of the story. I am going to share some other stories about my peers and the deaf community.

Alright! Here is my other story: When I was a student at Gallaudet University, I was dating the same boy for a while. I remember how he used to stop by in the hallway, trying to get my attention while I was in my class, just to say hi to me or tell me to come out of class to steal a kiss from me. One day he was hiding something in the back and told me to come out. So I did…He handed me a bag and told me to take a look inside the bag. I was surprised to see a nice Seiko watch in a box. Seiko wristwatches were so popular back in 1980. I asked him why, because it was not Christmas, since it was Spring and my birthday was not until Fall. He said he got the wristwatch just because he loved me. He put it on my left wrist. I was so proud. I had to run back to my class and he had to go back to work. As soon as I sat on my chair, my friend asked me what’s up. I told her that I got a nice wristwatch. My friend, who is a person of color herself, immediately told me that black people always buy wristwatches from drug dealers because they made fake wristwatches. So my wristwatch was not a real Seiko but a fake one. I showed my friend the bag and a box with the department store on it, but she said he pretended that he had bought it from a store. I thought to myself, wow it’s really sad that people don’t like people from different races, but again I was confused because she is also a person of color. I was hurt by that, and I decided not to tell him what my friend had said. Ever since I was dating him, I can see people’s attitudes toward me were not the same. I had to be extra careful because I can be easily removed from them. I felt oppressed by that on a daily basis. I had some women talking to me about why I was dating a black man. They told me they would rather it was someone like Billy Dee Williams, who was a famous singer a long time ago. They would rather someone like him than my ex boyfriend who had very black hair. Billy Dee Williams’ hair was very soft and looked almost like white people’s hair. They were telling me many things about why they would not date black men…I felt oppressed. It was hard because people treated me differently ever since I dated my ex-boyfriend. I went through a lot and it was nothing but peer pressure. I plan to write a book about it one day soon.

My experience in a deaf community: Years and years later, I got married and have biracial children. A woman came up to me informing me that her daughter is dating a black man. I was surprised by that, because it was out of the blue that she came to me and informed me. I thought to myself, can she see that I’m married to a black man and have a biracial child with me. It was just my daughter at that time. She blurted out to me, saying that she would rather that her daughter was a lesbian than dating a black man. I was tempted to say, “What if your daughter was going with a black lesbian?” but instead, I said to her that maybe it was because her daughter had fallen in love with him, which was her decision. She said no, then she showed me her arm and pointed at her arm. I was not sure what she meant by that, but I had to be careful because my daughter was with me and I thought about my husband, so I decided to say nothing more. So I am always careful with people around me like her. I’ve encountered so many acts of racism in my life. Now, I’m telling you from my life experience up to now. I’m so glad I live for myself and stay with who I am. I married my husband, Derik, and we have two beautiful children. My family is one of a kind and I am truly blessed to have them. I can’t worry about what people are thinking and what their opinions are. If people don’t look at me as a person but negatively focus on what I have, I keep myself away from them. But as for people who look at me as a person, Debbie, and accept what I have, that’s who I want to be around. I’ve learned to be very selective about people, for my protection, after the acts of racism I’ve experienced with some people. That goes the same with my job, because people forget that I’m married to a black man and have biracial children and they slip and demonstrate their acts of racism. So I am always careful around those people.

Alright! Here is my other story: When I was a student at Gallaudet University, I was dating the same boy for a while. I remember how he used to stop by in the hallway, trying to get my attention while I was in my class, just to say hi to me or tell me to come out of class to steal a kiss from me. One day he was hiding something in the back and told me to come out. So I did…He handed me a bag and told me to take a look inside the bag. I was surprised to see a nice Seiko watch in a box. Seiko wristwatches were so popular back in 1980. I asked him why, because it was not Christmas, since it was Spring and my birthday was not until Fall. He said he got the wristwatch just because he loved me. He put it on my left wrist. I was so proud. I had to run back to my class and he had to go back to work. As soon as I sat on my chair, my friend asked me what’s up. I told her that I got a nice wristwatch. My friend, who is a person of color herself, immediately told me that black people always buy wristwatches from drug dealers because they made fake wristwatches. So my wristwatch was not a real Seiko but a fake one. I showed my friend the bag and a box with the department store on it, but she said he pretended that he had bought it from a store. I thought to myself, wow it’s really sad that people don’t like people from different races, but again I was confused because she is also a person of color. I was hurt by that, and I decided not to tell him what my friend had said. Ever since I was dating him, I can see people’s attitudes toward me were not the same. I had to be extra careful because I can be easily removed from them. I felt oppressed by that on a daily basis. I had some women talking to me about why I was dating a black man. They told me they would rather it was someone like Billy Dee Williams, who was a famous singer a long time ago. They would rather someone like him than my ex boyfriend who had very black hair. Billy Dee Williams’ hair was very soft and looked almost like white people’s hair. They were telling me many things about why they would not date black men…I felt oppressed. It was hard because people treated me differently ever since I dated my ex-boyfriend. I went through a lot and it was nothing but peer pressure. I plan to write a book about it one day soon.

My experience in a deaf community: Years and years later, I got married and have biracial children. A woman came up to me informing me that her daughter is dating a black man. I was surprised by that, because it was out of the blue that she came to me and informed me. I thought to myself, can she see that I’m married to a black man and have a biracial child with me. It was just my daughter at that time. She blurted out to me, saying that she would rather that her daughter was a lesbian than dating a black man. I was tempted to say, “What if your daughter was going with a black lesbian?” but instead,  I said to her that maybe it was because her daughter had fallen in love with him, which was her decision. She said no, then she showed me her arm and pointed at her arm. I was not sure what she meant by that, but I had to be careful because my daughter was with me and I thought about my husband, so I decided to say nothing more. So I am always careful with people around me like her. I’ve encountered so many acts of racism in my life. Now, I’m telling you from my life experience up to now. I’m so glad I live for myself and stay with who I am. I married my husband, Derik, and we have two beautiful children. My family is one of a kind and I am truly blessed to have them. I can’t worry about what people are thinking and what their opinions are. If people don’t look at me as a person but negatively focus on what I have, I keep myself away from them. But as for people who look at me as a person, Debbie, and accept what I have, that’s who I want to be around. I’ve learned to be very selective about people, for my protection, after the acts of racism I’ve experienced with some people. That goes the same with my job, because people forget that I’m married to a black man and have biracial children and they slip and demonstrate their acts of racism. So I am always careful around those people.

LOVING DAY…I am glad I have a loving family. I cherish my children and my husband. My husband and I may not have a perfect marriage but…that makes us The Colbert Family. I love you all.”

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