The Lives of Interracial Couples

Jun 16, 2009

We add some new voices to our Project Milwaukee series: Black & White, as we continue examining race relations in the city.

WUWM’s Susan Bence talked with several interracial couples to learn about their lives and some of the challenges they face.

Shar and Pete Borg say when they were kids, neither dreamed about being married, let alone to someone of a different race. But when they met in Boston after finishing college, Shar says it didn’t take long to recognize they would marry.

“Here’s this white guy, grew up in a wealthy suburb of Chicago, he has no reason whatsoever to care about black Americans and yet he does,” Borg says.

Shar, who grew up in Baltimore says her family had no problem accepting a white son-in-law.

“I lived in a very integrated steel mill kind of neighborhood. So it was nothing to my family. And his parents have told me that they were really deliberate about living in Evanston because it’s so integrated. That was a big deal to them,” Shar says.

The Borgs moved to Milwaukee when Shar landed a job in television. They thought of it as a stepping stone. But four children later this is home. Pete says they would have been comfortable anywhere in the area, but being parents changed their perspective.

“We weren’t going to raise little tan children in the lily white North Shore,” Pete says.

They’re sitting in their comfortable living room in the Sherman Park neighborhood. The Borgs say they love the racial mix of white and black families and the fact their kids play happily and safely on the street. Neighbors watch out for one another here.

“The vast majority of the families we know, parents are college educated. Their kids mostly go to private school or choice schools within MPS,” Pete says.

The Borgs call Sherman Park a great place to raise their family, but Shar acknowledges just a couple of blocks from here, crime and violence are more commonplace.

“Our oldest was being really disrespectful so Pete really had to handle it. Peter said to me after it was done, Shar I am raising a brown male and he’s got to know that he has to respect authority because he can’t be the guy who gets pulled over by the cops and is disrespectful and ends up another statistic,” Shar says.

But, the Borgs are steadfast in their commitment to raise their kids here.

“We could leave like everybody else, we could go. But why shouldn’t we just make this a place that everybody wants to live,” Shar says.

Down the street is the Thompson’s house. Kiki, who’s white and Corey who’s black, met in middle school. Corey says the greatest gift his parents gave him was to grow up in a diverse neighborhood. But when it came to Kiki and Corey having kids, family members got nervous.

“You would hear, oh, what about the kids and I think they’re just fine, so I think we sort of debunked that myth,” Corey says.

Corey, who’s a college professor, says education is key to helping people work through misunderstandings.

“I mean I think most interracial couples experience, unfortunately, within their own families degrees of prejudicial remarks or racism. I would say that’s been true for us on both sides,” Corey says.

Keith Holt & Jennifer Buchholz

I leave Sherman Park and go to meet Jennifer Buchholz and her partner Keith Holt.

Jennifer grew up in a small town north of Milwaukee, where white residents rarely saw a person of color. But life changed dramatically when she met Keith Holt, who grew up on the south side of Chicago.

“In the 1960s and 70s, we were in the South Shore at that time, so I went from a grammar school that was, you, know, 50/50 to by third or fourth grade was all black,” Keith says.

Jennifer says over the five years she and Keith have been together, her family and friends have gradually accepted him.

“I’d say hardest part was my dad. He knew that I had been seeing someone in Chicago for I bet maybe almost two years in before I had them meet,” Jennifer says.

Keith was still working in Chicago when they started looking for a house in Milwaukee. He worried about what she would face talking with realtors and prospective sellers. He urged Jennifer to be upfront about being a interracial couple.

“We don’t really want to be in someone’s place if they don’t want us there. I don’t care what the law says, you know, we don’t want to live there if they don’t want us there,” Keith says.

The couple did tell the realtor and found a house. Keith says it’s a great one.

“Quiet and just family and just, there’s no excitement. It’s boring in a good way,” Keith says.

The couple is making contacts and developing friendships in Milwaukee. Holt, an avid bicyclist, is starting a club; he hopes blacks and whites will join.

“Milwaukee is capable of being a great city, but it needs to be open to the opportunity that race brings, working and living together with people who are not like you, yes, yes, yes,” Keith says.

Jennifer says based on her experience it takes an open mind and a willingness to listen and think.