I am a half black, half white man married to a Korean American woman and this is our story on how we experienced racial reconciliation in our marriage.
I was new to the area, pursuing my master’s degree when a peer invited me to her house party. Upon entrance, I saw a cute Asian girl dancing in the corner with some friends to Spice Girls and asked my friend who she was: “Oh, that’s my roommate Michelle and she’s currently in a relationship but I don’t think it’s gonna work out.” I proceeded to write down my phone number on a piece of paper and told my friend: “Well, when Michelle’s ready for an upgrade, it’s right here” [points to self]. Turns out Michelle was ready because two weeks later, I was DJing at a nightclub in Long Beach and guess who walked in… Michelle Kim! Even though we didn’t talk much that night, I wanted to make sure she had a good time and I played plenty of 90s hits, including “Wannabe.” We hung out in group settings for several weeks before I finally mustered the courage to ask her on a proper date which landed on Good Friday 2011.
A couple of months later, she told her Korean immigrant parents about me and they were less than thrilled to find out that their daughter was dating a black (albeit half) man. They begged her to break up with me for a myriad of reasons that were essentially rooted in fear. They had hopes and dreams for their daughter that didn’t include a future with a man who looked like me.
I had experienced microaggression my entire childhood (although I didn’t have a word for it at the time) but it wasn’t until I dated Michelle that I understood the reality of being a black person in America. When Michelle’s parents initially rejected me without knowing me, that was the first time I realized that being black is not valuable. It also confirmed my personal suspicions that I had felt growing up that being black was undesirable. It didn’t matter that I was a pastor or an entrepreneur or a master’s student; all that mattered to Michelle’s parents was that their only daughter was marrying someone who was black.
Michelle decided to marry me despite her parents’ disapproval and the first few years of our marriage were harder than we could have ever imagined as our cultural differences and expectations began to clash. For example, Michelle desired a level of independence that left me feeling alienated and my overinflated need for attention and acceptance left her feeling smothered. Through regular counseling, we learned then (and still do now) how to live interdependently and pursue unity as a first step towards racial reconciliation in our home and marriage. One day I was studying The Lord’s Prayer on the topic of forgiveness which taught me to release people from the responsibility to make me feel valued because my true value comes from God alone. This practice allows me to bless those who attempt to devalue or dismiss me. I would pray every day that God would restore the relationship with my new wife and my in-laws and I knew in my heart that it would not have happened if I held on to bitterness and resentment.
Our therapist told us that time equals intimacy so as time went on, we welcomed and took advantage of any and all short, small interactions with Michelle’s parents.
Michelle checked in with her mom regularly and we intentionally extended olive branches in an effort to increase our positive interactions with her parents. After about two years into our marriage, Michelle’s parents needed help moving and we jumped at the occasion to serve because we knew that it would require all of us to be under the same roof with one mission: be productive and create a positive experience. We met a very practical need that day and to my surprise, I was welcomed with loving arms. Michelle and I chose to invest small amounts of time over time and it has made all the difference. I gave my in-laws the permission to not see me the way God sees me and it really freed me up to love them despite their prejudices.
The pain of rejection would come in waves but the more I realized that God forgives me, the more responsibility I felt to forgive my in-laws.
As a result of both parties’ willingness to grow and by the grace of God, I now have a loving relationship with my in-laws; I even got in trouble once for calling my mother-in-law by her first name because she preferred that I call her “Oma” which means “Mom” in Korean. In July of 2019, we welcomed our first child (and their first grandbaby) into the world who is half Korean, quarter black, and quarter white and is currently hanging out with his grandparents so that we can write this blog post.
Written by Kelly and Michelle McCoy
Kelly McCoy is a young adults & young professionals pastor at The Church at Rocky Peak and owner of Dlux Entertainment, a DJ/Emcee Company. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership Development from Biola University and graduated from Talbot Seminary with his Master’s in Apologetics. @kellydlux.
Michelle is a mother, actress and photographer/owner of Michelle Kim Photography. She graduated from UC Irvine with a B.A. in Literary Journalism. She’s been featured on Ray Donovan, Grey’s Anatomy and The Gifted. @michellekimmccoy.