I Didn't Know What True Racism Looked Like Until I Married a Black Man & Had His Children

Chelsie Dort

Chelsie Dort
Chelsie Dort

I suppose I realized things could change when I married a black man, but I didn't truly understand what it would be like. When I was in high school, I remember sitting next to a few black boys and overhearing a conversation about their lunch at a nearby restaurant. "Yeah, my order was totally fine, but when I complained about it and asked her if she did it wrong because I was black, she gave it to me for free." Then they laughed. It was called using the "race card" as I understood it, back then. And it wouldn't be until I was 23 years old that my perspective would shift. I grew up in Utah, a predominantly white community with very few minorities. I wouldn't say black people were foreign, but I didn't realize how few there really were at the time.

  • When I met my husband, I remember someone asking me, "Does it concern you your children will never look like you?"

    Chelsie Dort
    Chelsie Dort

    Someone else wondered if I was "ready" for the difficulties which come from marrying someone black, I just thought they were racist … but truly, I was just naive. I have one son from a previous marriage -- he's white and I didn't foresee the problems we would experience because of it.

  • Advertisement
  • I remember needing to drive two separate cars home from a movie theater one night.

    My son wanted to ride with my then-boyfriend, but threw a temper tantrum in the car … you know the kind, the kind makes you want to rip your ears off. Thankfully for them, they arrived home before me. Over the phone I told Bedford to just take my son inside the apartment and I would be there soon. He refused. He told me he didn't want to be seen as a black man carrying a screaming white boy through a dark parking lot. I didn't understand, not because I didn't want to, but because I guess I had never had to think about it before. I thought, "Why wouldn't you just explain he's your girlfriend's son?" Then it would just be over, people would understand, it was simple. He waited in the car for me to get there.

  • We had a few similar, scattered experiences where I tried to grasp the threat he felt, but it never seemed real to me. 

    One day we were at the zoo, OUR son, as we were now married, was screaming and I was pregnant and struggling to carry him. My husband picked him up and was walking a few paces ahead while he screamed when I saw a woman reach for her phone, point and say, "We should call someone … that's not right, something's wrong."

    It's a good thing we live in a community where there are people with good intentions who notice when a situation may be unsafe, but this is where I noticed the change. We have had three more children in the five years we've been married and many a time I've been seen walking from a room, a building, or a store with a screaming, very brown child in my arms, and no one has ever even cast me a sideways glance. Yet women have approached my son while he was at the park with my husband and said, "Honey, where is your mommy?" 

    His response, "I'm here with my Bedford (my husband's name)." 

    "Do you know him? Do you need me to help you find your mommy?"

    He's assumed to be a criminal while I'm always viewed as the saint, a woman who adopted black children out of the goodness of her heart. This is where the problem lies.

  • I'm often asked if my children are mine, and no, I don't find it offensive. 

    Chelsie Dort
    Chelsie Dort

    I understand the intent behind the question. In most situations I can respond by saying, "Their dad's family is from Haiti," and they smile, tell me it's wonderful, my family is beautiful and carry on their way. The only time it has ever struck me as offensive is when people use the phrase, "Where did you get them?" as if they are something I purchased at a store, not a child who I carried in my body for nine months and have raised each day since their birth with all of the energy I have.

  • Years ago, I wrote a piece about being in an interracial relationship.

    I received an overflowing number of comments. People from every side of the coin showed up, offering their gratitude, their disagreements, their opinions, their love, and their hate. I remember reading through the comments, tears streaming down my face as, for the first time in my life, I realized the true hate which exists from people, not just those who are black or white. I received dozens of comments like this one: 

    "God that poor kid, going to have his developing brain gaslighted by his race traitor mom, having them pretend those two 'apes' are his family."

  • Commenters called my family apes and other derogatory terms. 

    Chelsie Dort
    Chelsie Dort

    People threatening to pick my oldest son up from school so he wouldn't have to live such a nightmare. Up until a few years ago, if you googled my name you could find photoshopped photos of my family hanging from trees. It was like nothing I have ever seen.

    I also received many comments like this one:

    "Black people these days can no longer accuse the white people for their past. My ancestors did not own slaves. This is the 21st century. It's time the blacks wake up and realize they are NOT above the law. Maybe many are profiled but there are a lot of instances where they are not respectful to the police and they have a rap sheet 10 pages long. You're right on some things but not all. I believe we should marry within our own race because of these differences. It's just easier."

  • Both races have people who believe you should marry within your own race.

    Both communities have people who commented my family is mixing pure blood with dirty blood and we should stop having children.

    Until I was truly connected to a black man, I never saw the struggles which were real, I only saw the "free meal" race cards, ones who take away from true racism. I didn't see my husband handcuffed and put on the curb every time he was pulled over. I didn't see the gas station clerk following us around or the woman in the store hurrying back to cover her purse in her cart when he walked by. I didn't see those things so no, I didn't understand. It wasn't because I didn't want to, it's because I was white, young and I didn't see those kinds of things.

  • I wanted to scream, "I'M HERE NOW AND I WANT TO KNOW, WHEN IS IT GOOD ENOUGH?"

    I guess I thought trying to understand was at least a good thing, but it made me feel I had taken a step backward. They want people to see Black Lives Matter because they do, but then when you try, because you will never fully understand, you get hate in return. It is a hard pill to swallow.

    No, I will never understand what it means to be a black person in America, but certainly there is something to be said about being a wife and a mother of those who are. When you love someone as fiercely as you love your spouse and your children, you find yourself thinking of all of the possibilities their future may hold. To be honest, I am afraid sometimes for what they may encounter because I know what I've seen their dad go through in the six short years we've been together.

  • And then there's just the people who spread hate just to spread hate:

    "Did you have an ulterior motive when you got married? Do you intend to ruin his life somewhere down the line? Pity for a man who is married to a careless, closet, white supremacist."

  • People often ask how I will raise my boys differently, one black, one white … the answer is: I don't plan to.

    Chelsie Dort
    Chelsie Dort

    I know it is an unpopular answer because they believe I need to raise my black son to be aware of what he may experience in the future. My husband and I both agree we will discuss what happened in history and the possible reasons it happened when those problems arise. We both agree we want our boys to act with respect to those around them and be kind human beings, yet we understand the treatment they receive in return may differ from one another and that is when those conversations will occur.

  • Conversations about race and racism are hard.

    It's hard to know what is acceptable and what isn't, what will offend and what won't. Many times over the last five years children have asked my husband, "Why is your skin so black?" or they've asked my oldest, "Why are your siblings brown?" 

    I believe this is not where correction needs to be made. Parents tend to jump in and apologize profusely, explaining to their child, "We don't ask those kinds of questions!" I understand it can feel awkward but please, let them ask. We simply explain, some people are born with different skin. Children are very accepting and understanding and the subject should remain open and free. It's when we shut the child down and make them feel bad for asking they feel uncomfortable. It's then diversity becomes taboo and it can have lasting effects on their views in the future.

  • Being in a mixed family has been a learning experience, but we wouldn't have it any other way.

    Chelsie Dort
    Chelsie Dort

    I've learned there are still people who see my husband and my children as less than human. I've learned there are people who don't understand the value of love over skin color. I've learned children are capable of loving any person, they see everyone as human and nothing less. I've seen the trials that come from being born black, and I've come to understand the blessings of being white. 

    My eyes have been opened to what the world looks like from a view which is very different from the one I'd previously seen. I've learned the importance of educating my children and raising them to be kind and accepting of everyone. I've built relationships with others who have this same view of the world, the one where you're white, trying to understand how to raise black children in a world that doesn't always see them the way you do.

    This essay was republished with permission by Chelsie Dort of Utah. You can follow her journey on Instagram