Since the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, the United States has been locked in a tense standoff over race. The surge of social justice protests this summer have created a public platform for Black Americans to share their experiences with racism and discrimination, prompting many white Americans to consider implicit bias and privilege in new ways. Phillip and Nancy Hunt, like many interracial couples, have been grappling with these issues for years. This is their story, as told to Tianna Faulkner.
Mr. and Ms. Hunt grew up in vastly different worlds; he on Chicago’s South Side, she in the conservative Midwest in Missouri. But their hearts found each other. They have been together for 22 years, married for seven.
“We came from different environments, but we were raised the exact same way and were both heavily influenced by our grandparents,” says Mr. Hunt. “We have the same values. I didn’t see color. We just really connected.”
They don’t have children together, but have children from previous relationships. Mr. Hunt’s ex-wife is African American and Mrs. Hunt was previously in another interracial relationship.
Growing up, both Mr. and Mrs. Hunt were both taught not to hate people who didn’t look like them. In raising their own children, discussions are more nuanced. They talk more overtly about race and Black history. The children, a black daughter and a bi-racial son, are encouraged to explore their racial identities but also to define themselves in other ways, apart from race. The children’s schools are also very diverse and have enabled them to get to know people like themselves, as well as other cultures.
Learning about each other’s families and cultures is one of the things that Mrs. Hunt has most enjoyed about being in an interracial relationship.
Outside the home, the couple is always alert to the possibility that others may not be welcoming of their family. They pick where they go carefully and try to surround themselves with like-minded people as much as possible. Fortunately, their community has been welcoming.
“De Moines, Iowa, is pretty friendly to interracial couples,” says Mrs. Hunt. “It’s a liberal city. It’s accepted here.”
But being an interracial couple also comes with its challenges, particularly when traveling.
“One time we stopped in a restaurant in a suburb of Chicago,” says Mr. Hunt. “The stares, the looks, that vibe, it was a little uncomfortable.”
When the couple was visiting Atlanta a few years ago, a baggage claim worker at the airport felt the need to point out that he didn’t see many interracial couples in the area.
Once on a trip to visit Mrs. Hunt’s parents, the couple was stopped by police in Jackson, Arkansas. The encounter made her a “little nervous.” But for her husband, the incident felt more ominous.
“Being with Phillip made me understand what privileges I had that I hadn’t even recognized in the past. I know I’m treated differently because I am white,” said Mrs. Hunt. “There are experiences that Black people have that white people don’t, even with a basic traffic stop for example. I fear for my son, husband, and daughter.”
Growing up in a small rural area, Ms Hunt didn’t know anyone Black until after she left home as a young adult. Mr. Hunt’s childhood experience was the exact opposite.
“Growing up in Chicago, everything I saw was Black,” says Mr. Hunt. “I moved to Iowa. I didn’t have any radical thinking. I didn’t set out to only date black women. I wasn’t raised to hate.”
But society hasn’t embraced the idea of their union quite as readily and the stereotypes that people have about interracial couples take a toll.
“A stereotype I can’t stand is the one where people say a Black man is with a white woman for money,” says Mr. Hunt.
“A stereotype I don’t like is that I’m considered being weak for being with a Black man,” says Mrs. Hunt.
Such stereotypes and biases can be particularly difficult to deal with when they come from family. Mr. Hunt has had to explicitly tell some of his family members, “If you are going to be a part of my life, accept it or keep it moving. Accept me and accept my wife.”
Mrs. Hunt has dealt with family members posting hurtful messages on social media. “We got into a big argument,” she says. “It was very hurtful to me, my son, and his other black cousins.”
Despite these differences, the families have been able to gather together with minimal conflict. “We don’t allow it to be a problem,” says Mr. Hunt. “I’m just not going to allow it.”
Mrs. Hunt has sent a similar message to her family.
“I tell my family to respect my husband and to keep their feelings to themselves,” she says. “Our extended family doesn’t get together too much, but our parents get along fine.”
When searching for hope, they look no further than each other. Their love is a testament to the possibility for the future. Mrs. Hunt hopes that more people can learn to see value in diversity and accept cultural differences as positives rather than negatives.
“We need to listen to each other,” says Ms. Hunt. “My hope is that we can accept and believe people when they say they experience something different.”
She hopes that others will feel as free to love whomever they want as she and her husband have.
“We’re not advocates for interracial relationships,” said Ms. Hunt. “We’re just two people who love each other.”