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That Time They Told Me I Had "Jungle Fever"


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? 


6 comments

  1. ekstein1110:39 AM

    I've been told by multiple people to date within my race. I've been told I'm "limiting myself" for wanting to date someone who is not white (because only dating white people isn't limiting?). I've been told that I'll be a single mom if I date outside of my race (because white men always stick around?). When people not in my family tell me this, it makes me annoyed. When my family tells me this, it makes me angry, and honestly stresses me out. Will I be able to "bring home" my significant other if he is "other" than white? Will he be accepted and given the same status? If I marry a pharmacist (as my brother and mother are), will he be seen equal to them? These are very real struggles. God has to continuously teach me new ways to trust Him...it's easy to become discouraged.

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  2. I go that comment about dating people of my own skin color only once from a relative, Sarah. Where I grew up interracial dating was fairly common. There are people still who get bent out of shape about it though.

    Living in a marriage like this might be easier here where I live in Northern California, but I understand there are some parts of the country where we'd have a hard time. The first blog post I ever wrote was on the subject of interracial marriage:

    They Want To Ruin My Marriage.

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  3. Thanks for sharing, Tim. I am thankful that this experience in middle school is pretty much the only negative conversation I've had about the topic. My hope is that more and more people are becoming accustomed to such relationships. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your post!

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  4. I'm sorry that you've had so many painful conversations. I have often noticed that hypothetical conversations about people that are different can turn ugly more quickly than honest discussions about a real live person that everyone knows. I hope that if you do end up bringing home someone of a different race, your experience with your family is more positive. And if you do end up marrying someone who's white, I hope everyone can adjust to him as well. :)

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  5. I don't think I ever really thought about it, where there were a lot of Hispanic kids in my high school I never dated anyone. The only time the concept of an interracial relationship came up that I really had to think about it was after I was married and my sister-in-law was dating a black man from Nigeria (I think). She was living in DC at the time and working back and forth in Africa as was he. Her grandfather was never told that they were dating. That was crazy to me as he himself was native american. I wondered what would have happened had the relationship gotten completely serious...

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  6. Thanks for sharing, Krista. I'm glad that things were pretty peaceful in your family, though aware that things may have changed if a more serious relationship was at hand.

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