I was in the eighth grade gym class when a girl told me I had "jungle fever." I didn't know what that meant. But I could tell from the tone and sly glances that I didn't need to see a doctor, but it also wasn't something I wanted to have.
I was a basketball player in middle school, and consequently, that meant I interacted with many of the African American students at my predominately white school. The girls' and boys' teams shared a schedule, and we traveled together to away games.
Naturally, friendships developed. And since were all 13ish, flirty friendships developed as well. I was friends with one of the guys on the team... who was black.
That "jungle fever" encounter is my first memory of uneasiness around race and interracial relationships. If I had heard negative messages previously, I don't recall them.
Though my pre-middle school childhood was predominately white, people of color were a part: our beloved librarian (we spent A LOT of time at the library growing up), my 3rd/4th grade teacher, family friends with whom we shared dinner occasionally. At those ages, I never thought actively about skin color or who society thought I should or shouldn't be hanging out with.
It was several years later when I saw Spike Lee's film Jungle Fever on the shelf at the video store. (Remember those?) It all clicked, and my suspicions were confirmed. Back in middle school, I was being mocked, or maybe chastised, for the skin hue of my friend.
Because of Billy's skin tone, we rarely encounter straight up racism. In fact, the main place we have experienced explicit disdain is at the airport, when we were forced to reveal mismatching passports.
Still, I wonder how many young girls are being reminded to "stick with your own." Whether by adults in their life or mean girls in the locker room. Still, I came across this infographic that actually says interracial marriages have basically doubled since I was born. Pretty amazing.
I know society is not the same as it was in 1995. Yet I also know there are still real racial struggles, prejudice, and fear. My hope is that as more interracial and multicultural couples continue to be a part of everyday life, young mixed couples will feel encouraged and supported.
What's your first memory (if you have one - and I kinda hope you don't) of being reminded to date within your own race?