“Several months ago I got engaged to a wonderful, warm, kindhearted, generous man who is an identical twin and happens to be white. I’m black. We were told that his twin brother’s wife did not approve of interracial dating and that she would not be in the same house (his parents’ for dinner) I was in.
“The night of the proposal, his twin called him and said many nasty things about me and the relationship that put a damper on the night when we should have been celebrating. Since then, his twin has forbidden me from coming to family events that the parents host, and he says that he and his wife will not attend if we’re there. Their parents know about his feelings toward me and insist that they don’t agree (I don’t know if they know about the ‘forbidding’ part).
“The puzzler to me is that the twins grew up with a black best friend whose sister they both gave away at her wedding. I never would have taken my fiance’s brother for a racist. I don’t know why this causes me so much pain.
“Do I invite him to the wedding? Do I attend family events in spite of the hostility? Please help; the stamps are almost on the ‘save the date’ cards. —Wedding Worries
You don’t know why it causes you so much pain? I have an idea. Because someone close to you both hates and antagonizes you because of your race and is trying to interfere with your life as a result, and that’s awful. No mystery there. You’re not weird for being upset by this seemingly out-of-nowhere display of hostility from your husband’s brother. (We’ll just call him Racist Twin to keep things straight.)
The first thing I want to clear up is whether your husband finds this as painful as you do. I hope so. You didn’t mention his feelings, but if you told me he took a “no big deal” stance toward Racist Twin’s antics, I’d tell you to question whether he was the type of person you wanted to marry. After all, you want to make sure you’re signing up for a life with someone who’s on the same page as you and supports you, since this probably won’t be the last time someone takes issue with your relationship.
While fewer people than ever waste time worrying about the color palette of marriages that they’re not in (explaining why all of us who haven’t been in comas since 1950 scoffed when Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen recently proclaimed, “People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York—a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children”), there are still plenty of Americans who are behind the times, uninformed, backward and bigoted. (I’d choose those four descriptors over “conventional.” You probably would, too.)
But assuming that your fiance is no more at peace with his newly bigoted brother (and his wife) than you are, then, yes, you should still marry him. It would be a tragedy to let two bad relatives deprive you of a lifetime of happiness. More than that—I don’t really like the idea of their winning this whole thing by tearing your relationship apart.
But I think your fiance needs to be more than just supportive of you in this situation. I think it’s up to him to speak to both his brother and his parents.
To Racist Twin: “I don’t know why you’ve suddenly became racist and intolerant. That’s not the way we were raised, it’s backward and unacceptable, and my fiancee and I don’t want to hear about it and don’t want anything to do with you until you come to your senses.”
To his parents: “Have you heard what Racist Twin and Racist Twin’s wife are saying? You should know that they’ve attempted to forbidden us from attending family events at your house. Just thought you should know the full extent of how crazy your son has become and understand why we’re uncomfortable around him.”
Should you go to family events? Absolutely. Yes. Every. Single. One. Because you deserve to, and because you should get to know the decent people in your new circle. Added bonus: Maybe, by refusing to attend because of your presence and being isolated at home, your fiance’s brother and his wife will have some time to reflect on how isolating and boring it is to insist on being jerks.
Should you invite Racist Twin and Racist Twin’s wife to your wedding? Nope. There’s no better reason to exclude people from a celebration of your marriage than the fact that they are openly disgusted by said marriage. And possibly also by you as a human being. Because they’ve been openly rude and threatening along with that disapproval, I don’t think there’s a case here for politeness or for being the bigger person.
However, if you decide, for reasons of tradition or etiquette, to throw an invitation their way (knowing they’ll most likely skip the event in protest anyway), I have an idea: Use a Zora Neale Hurston quote, printed in a lovely font, on a “save the date” card designed especially for their household:
Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.
The Root’s staff writer, Jenée Desmond-Harris, covers the intersection of race with news, politics and culture. She wants to talk about the complicated ways in which ethnicity, color and identity arise in your personal life—and provide perspective on the ethics and etiquette surrounding race in a changing America. Follow her on Twitter.
Need race-related advice? Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously in Race Manners: “Black Friend Paranoid About Racism? No, You Shouldn’t Tell Him”