Webster University photojournalism students are creating a photo series on this St. Louis hotspot. The…
“We don’t see color, we just see the person”
Jonathan Trogler’s mother was always particular about who he dated. She would try to introduce him to her friend’s daughters, generally Hispanic women, even while he was in a relationship. Trogler said when he or his two younger siblings dated people of other races it caused his mother to be uncomfortable. Still, all three have been in relationships with people of other colors. The concern from his mother is just one of the ways Trogler has been scrutinized for being in an interracial relationship.
“She’s okay with who I date now, but it took a long time,” Trogler said. “She always said things like we wouldn’t last, wouldn’t get married.”
Trogler is hispanic and his girlfriend Mershauna Clay is black. They met their freshman year at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School and began dating a few years later. By the time the two came to Webster University (she studied dance, he studied animation), they had been dating for a few years, and are still together today.
Trogler and Clay said they’ve noticed stares while out in public, but they brush it off for the most part. A few times, people have even commented on their relationship. The comments bothered Trogler—enough to ruin his mood completely—and Clay would have to calm him down. But certain comments have bothered her as well, particularly when black men comment on their relationship.
“There have been things that have happened that wouldn’t necessarily happen if I were dating within my race,” Clay said. “The most aggressive thing I’ve experienced is that black guys will make comments on the fact that we’re dating, saying things like ‘you wouldn’t know how to handle a girl like that.’ The fact that they think it’s okay to even comment that we’re in an interracial relationship is extremely disrespectful.”
A new attitude
Cultural Diversity in the Media Professor Bernie Hayes believes interracial couples know the hardships and what negatives might come with dating someone of another race; but today those couples don’t care about the negatives.
Clay thinks the people who make negative comments about interracial couples do so out of insecurity. She feels a lot of self-hatred projected onto her when she hears comments about who she dates. But for both Clay and Trogler, dating people with a different skin color has been a positive experience, and they have learned much about acceptance, diversity and awareness of issues that people of other races face.
“Everyone loves their culture,” Hayes said. “There are so many people who are accepting of other cultures now and so many people who want to immerse themselves in another culture.”
Cydnie Deed-King and Alex King met and began dating when they attended Webster. Now married, the two live in Ohio and frequently travel back to St. Louis to visit family. Deed-King said being in an interracial relationship has not come up as an issue for her, but occasionally might notice a stare from an older adult.
“It’s kind of like opposites attract, you really get to know somebody,” Deed-King said. “The longer you’re with someone, you just don’t see the color anymore. We don’t see the color, we just see the person. We don’t see that he’s white and I’m black.”
Especially at Webster, Deed-King never noticed any judgment toward her relationship. She believed this was due to Webster’s reputation as a diverse and accepting university.
Facilitating a discussion
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’ current production, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” centers on the story of an interracial couple, a controversial topic in 1967 when the story was first adapted as a movie. During select performances, the director of the Repertory Theatre’s production, Seth Gordon, sits down with the cast and audience to discuss the issues that come up in the play.
“At our most recent matinee show, there was a lot of discussion about St. Louis and how the show relates to what’s going on here,” Gordon said. “People said it’s good that we’re doing the play in order to engender discussion about it.”
A wall depicting interracial couples in the Webster Groves community will stand in the lobby of the Loretto-Hilton center for the duration of the show. The Repertory Theatre staff, with help from Diversity Awareness Partnership St. Louis, chose this decoration as a way to show the difference in attitudes about interracial relationships today as opposed to 1967.
“It is a romantic comedy with a lot of very strong political and racial implications,” Gordon said. “And I thought we should just do a very good production of the play, and the implications would speak for themselves; and that appears to be what’s happening.”
By marrying someone of a different race, Deed-King learned a lot about accepting differences—a sentiment that Trogler and Clay also share. Trogler likened it to culture shock; attending different churches, eating different foods, throwing different parties and speaking to their families in different ways.
“For example, I like to eat certain foods,” Trogler said. “My girlfriend fought really hard to get me to try different foods and things like that. I feel like my palate is diverse now; and that’s not just with food, it’s with everything.”
And aside from the simplicities that Trogler and Clay share with each other, they share ideas too. Clay said one of the biggest impacts on her life from dating someone of another race was learning about the issues that other people face as well. That swapping of issues and experiences, she said, is what it’s all about. But she sums it up easily, in just one word: perspective.