ëTill Color Do Us Part
My younger sister, Annie, informed us she has met a great man, Thomas, and that he was the one she would spend the rest of her life with. She is smart, beautiful, and funny with a Masters Degree in Deaf Education. He is a graduate of Galludet University, deaf, funny, with a good job, and a black man. I didnít care what color he was as long as loved and cared for my sister. He proposed to her at a Suns basketball game using the score board, she said yes, and I was there to witness this exciting event.
I was so intrigued by this relationship that I wrote a letter to The Learning Channelís, A Wedding Story, told their story, and encouraged the show to come and meet Annie and Thomas, and they soon called with their decision to film their wedding. I donít believe there had ever been an episode with a deaf person and an interracial couple. The wedding was beautiful; to present the mass they had both a hearing priest and a deaf priest who flew in from California. One year later, my sister received a call from the producer of the Oprah Winfrey show and told Annie that they had seen her wedding on TLC and wanted to feature them on the segment ìRemembering your spiritî. The show came to Arizona, filmed Annie and Thomas in their home, the couple said all these sentimental things about each other, and three days later, Oprah was announcing their names on national television. It was so especially exciting for me because I instigated TLCís show which put them on Oprah.
Thomas being deaf and black introduced me to two different cultures. I feel so strongly about learning about any culture. I would be invited to social functions for the deaf community and felt somewhat helpless because I was unable to communicate. I had been trying to learn how to sign a little but Annie continually had to interpret for me. Thomas expected any person that walked into his house to know how to sign and if they didnít try, he thought it to be disrespectful. Perhaps he instituted such a rule because his own family had never learned sign language his whole life.
I remember loving to watch Annie use her Sign Language. Seeing them communicate was so interesting because sometimes they would use two hands then only one when holding a cup or something. Facial expressions are so important when signing and Annie is so articulate, graceful, and does a remarkable job. Along with the signing I also recall the annoying flashing lights that are a necessity for the Deaf community because they canít hear a doorbell or a ringing phone. Instead the lights in the house are wired to flash when someone is at the door or calling on the TTY. When I moved from Tucson to Phoenix, I lived with Annie and Thomas for a few months. His friends would call and come over at all hours and it was frustrating to be awakened by the lights. Sight is vital when one loses their hearing so although I would be aggravated, I would then be grateful for still having both. What would that be like?
ìWalking home from the store in D.C., I could not hear the bullets racing from a passing car. Suddenly, a bullet pierced my leg. Even though I was only ten, I made a conscious decision that despite my deafness, I would be successful in my life. After my college graduation, I pursued a life in Arizona, met a hearing woman, Annie, and felt I had met my soul mate. Annieís family was very accepting of our relationship and tried to sign to me, which meant a lot because my mother and sister only used exaggerated speech movements and increase their volume with me. At least I have them to thank for my lip reading skills.î
Because Annie was a white woman, she was always faced with adversity from the black community and I am certain that Thomas also had similar experiences. People would stare and I wondered if it was because they were mesmerized by the sign language or because he was black and she was white? They had overcome so many obstacles in their relationship and soon learned not to allow others to interfere with their connectedness. Annie confided in me about their concerns of starting a family and raising a bi-racial child. I could only tell her that it should not matter what color a child is if there is enough love in the home. But soon after that talk, new issues arose and I saw a completely different Thomas.
ìMy priority soon began to shift towards my black culture and I was convinced that Annieís family was racist and abused their white privilege. I needed to be with my own kind and abruptly told Annie I wanted a divorce. She thought I was kidding but I was dissatisfied with my life and believed that in order to change it, I would need to leave her. I told her that I wanted...ìto be with my own kind.î I also believed that her family and friends had never accepted the fact that I was African-American and I thought them all to be racists. I could read lips but most of the time I chose not to socialize with Annieís friends. I was not certain that I should have married outside my race. I thought the people that I worked with were conspiring against me. I wanted to go to law school but they probably wouldnít let in a deaf, black man. I wanted to start my own business that evolved around the deaf community because there is nothing specialized just for them. I also wanted to run for Congress, I had many other things to worry about than my marriage.î
Annie cried every day for months and just kept telling me that she did not understand. We encouraged Annie to initiate the divorce proceedings; Thomas signed the agreement to give Annie the house, and pay for the brand new truck he bought without Annieís knowledge. It seemed like a nightmare that would never end. Crossing out the days on the calendar and praying that each day would end to get closer to not dealing with his absurd behavior. He acted as though he didnít do anything wrong. It was extremely difficult for me because I could not do anything for Annie. She was inconsolable because her dream was to meet Mr. Right, fall in love, get married, have children, and her dream was shattered. These memorable events became blurred by her husbandís shocking realization that as an African American, he should be married to someone of the same race. Our familyís motto was to follow the Golden Rule and we treated each other with the utmost respect. I watched this couple conquer so many obstacles, societyís scrutiny of an interracial couple, Annie being accepted into the Deaf community, and the communication gap. Unfortunately, the pride obtained from overcoming these issues faded and resentment set in. Thomas became jealous and angry towards Annie because she was hearing and argued that she had so many more privileges than he did because she was white.
In order to attempt to assess the situation as an outsider, it could be portrayed as a loving and brave relationship. As a close observer, I would describe it as two people who were in love in the beginning but discovered that Thomas was only going through the motions. My sister was desperate to make the marriage work. For me, it is difficult not to take sides in this matter because of the hard time my sister went through but also because a person I believed in and respected took those feelings away from me as well as Annie.
Answering the question why it happened has positive
and negative aspects. They were both part of the incredible experience
of the wedding, two TV shows, and exposure to two different cultures.
The downside was a tremendous amount of pain for Annie, the cautious shield
she has over her heart, and a reminder that race will continue to be an
issue in our society. It truly affected me because I know that Thomas
does not represent all black men and the whole deaf community. I
trust that his thoughts and feelings about race were influenced by another
person and Annie was at the receiving end of his crusade.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for the deaf community and the work Annie does every day. I also commend others who have been exposed to societyís cultural opinions about race and gender preferences. Can we believe that all things happen for a reason? Yes, there is a plan for each of us which will hopefully consist of more joy than pain but the plan exists. I was part of this whole experience which involved some joy, anger, and frustration that I could not do anything to help my sisterís pain or understand Thomasí reasoning about race. I felt disgusted by the way he labeled our family as racists when we are the farthest from it. I made so many efforts to put myself in his shoes and appreciate the fact that I could hear. But, I should never feel as if I should apologize for who I am. Our family followed that golden rule; treat others as you would expect to be treated regardless of race, gender, or class. I also have learned not to judge a person by their appearance but learn who they are.
ìWell, it is over and I am free to explore all my other options. I want to believe that I learned something from this experience; things arenít always as they appear. I am sure I will find my way because I am a strong person that has overcome a disability.î
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