Things I’ve Learned Marrying Into a Black Family

Memoirs of a forty-something white guy

Steve Ellmore
3 min readSep 13, 2015

By Steve Ellmore

I’m white.

I don’t mean in the traditional Caucasian sense (although I do come from Pennsylvania Dutch lineage, which is about as white as it gets).

No, I mean I was cursed with vitiligo, which removed virtually all of the pigment from my skin. If I’m out in the sun for more than a minute, I turn as red as a bushel of Maryland crabs covered in Old Bay.

So a few years ago when my wife decided we should all wear white shirts for a family photo, our then infant son and I stood out like a couple of glaring white shadows.

Of course my son looks fine, like a little orphaned baby they found on the porch one day. But me, I look like the photographer who jumped into the picture at the last second.

Anyhow, one of the things I’m thankful for is that even before we got married, I was immediately accepted as part of the family.

Well, accept for mom.

But I eventually discovered that’s just the way some moms are, and over the course of the past decade I learned a lot of other things by marrying into a black family.

The first, of course, was don’t be afraid of mom, that’s just her being her.

Second, and most importantly, no matter how many times you’ve heard friends, cousins, auntie, or even your own spouse say it, it’s STILL not okay to use the N-word.

If you compliment Mama on her fried chicken, she’ll make it every time you come over. Even though she still don’t make it for her own grand kids unless it’s a special occasion.

Hot sauce.

Having your kid pick their own switch off the tree is bigger punishment than actually whooping them.

There are three primary dishes you’ll see at every cookout, barbecue, get together, or holiday dinner: Potato salad, mac-n-cheese and greens.

When you’re having a barbecue, cookout, or fish fry and it ain’t in you’re backyard, suddenly everybody knows somebody in your family and decides to drop in.

Regardless if everybody at the fish fry IS family, you still don’t know half of them.

And those you do know are still going to embarrass you by doing the Madison or the Mash Potato.

Did I mention hot sauce? That ‘ish is more addictive than crack. Like the bottle says, you really do put that Sh*t on everything!

Black don’t crack.

My wife won a bootie-clapping contest when we first met. Today it’s called twerking.

CP time.

A minute down the road does not mean it’s close.

You can earn props with the ladies if you’re able to point out a bad weave on other women, especially if they’re bougie.

You can earn equal points with the men if you know how to play spades or bones. Just be sure you know how to play or you’ll make enemies just as fast.

Speaking of black women, it’s all about the hair and nails.

Natural hair is way more respectable than any weave or braid.

And finally, for my curious Caucasian friends…

Black men with long hair, braids or dreads: probably theirs.

Black women with long hair, braids or dreads: probably not.



Steve Ellmore

Photographer | Filmmaker | Activist - Steve Ellmore is an American filmmaker, veteran and mental health advocate with over 30 years federal service in DoD & VA