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The Race Project invites Miami Valley residents to talk about their life experiences through the prism of skin color. The conversations are honest, frank yet civil.

The Race Project: Anthony and Abbey Pettiford

James Fields IV

In this edition of The Race Project, a conversation between Anthony and Abbey Pettiford, who are in an interracial marriage.

Transcript (edited lightly for length and clarity):

Anthony Pettiford: My name is Anthony Pettiford, I am 30 years old, I am multiracial, I am an artist. I live in Dayton, Ohio.

Abbey Pettiford: I'm Abbey Pettiford. I am white and I have lived in downtown Dayton for the last ten years.

Anthony Pettiford: To my knowledge that we are the youngest people to be on this program, and I would say that we both fall into the millennial category Abby, we have been married for almost two years in September. When we went on our first date, one of the songs playing was Earth, Wind and Fire. And I remember looking at you and saying, wouldn't it be cool if we got married on September 21st? And your response to me was, this is the first date, chill out.

Abbey Pettiford: No, I said we can get married on September 21st if it's on a Saturday.

Anthony Pettiford: And it was the best night of my life.

Abbey Pettiford: Oh, that's very cute. We met online and I don't think that Anthony knew my race until we sat down for our first date. For me, race was not at the forefront. I knew based on Anthony's picture online that he was mixed of some sort.

Anthony Pettiford: Abby, what's the worst experience you've had with your skin color?

Abbey Pettiford: I used to work on the west side of Dayton and that was before I knew that Dayton was fairly segregated. And a lot of questions about you're a white girl. They're like, what made you want to work here with these kids? Well, I needed a job. And kids are kids and they need help. I suggested that we have a family event and that we have a chili cook off. And one of the teachers is like, I'm going to help you out here and say that maybe we should, you know, grill out or something like that. And I was like, OK, thank you so much for helping guide me into the way that that will best reach families. So I was willing to take a lot of feedback and learn and listen. And I think that really changed the dynamics for me. Anthony, tell us about your most optimistic experience about race relations, personal or cultural?

Anthony Pettiford: One of my best friends had a son, but I've been around his son since he was born. And, you know, when they refer to me, they say, oh, there's Uncle Anthony, but not as a joke. Like it's something that he just says. And this little boy, little white boy, looks at me as if, you know, I'm family to him. And we've been out places where he's been shy before, but he's never shy around us. We went out to get food and, you know, he fell asleep on my shoulder like he - I'm going to cry - is as much as my nephew as anyone could be. It proves that racism isn't something that is you're born with. It's something that's learned because he doesn't know the difference between us. It doesn't mean anything.

Abbey Pettiford: I knew that there was white privilege. I knew that that was a thing, I acknowledged it. But until I was with you and experienced racism happening to you, I didn't realize how much white privilege I had. You have to acknowledge that it exists. And then how can you use it to be a better advocate? How can you use it to change things? How can you use it to challenge things? How can you use your voice to make things better and the world a little bit more equal?

Anthony Pettiford: Well, when we went to a certain festival in a small town, and we stopped at a bar and we stood in line. And I'll never forget, the woman reached over and said next and ignored us completely. And you said, I'm sorry, we're next. And me, whose experienced this, you know, several times I thought, I'll just walk out of here. I'm not going to give this much thought. But you are the one who said, this isn't right. And you made a big deal about it and you pointed it out because for me, what was I going to do? I wasn't going to call it out. And then I was afraid of being, you know, the Black guy who's freaking out. But you brought attention to it. You made it a big deal, and then we stormed out.

Abbey Pettiford: Yeah.

Anthony Pettiford: But and that's happened before where people don't think I belong in a certain space. And so I'm aware of that. You know, I look in the mirror every day and, you know, I see my skin color.

Abbey Pettiford: I was a little nervous that I would learn something new that I didn't know about you and I didn't. So all the questions led me to things that I already knew, which is kind of exciting for me because I was like we've been married for a little over a year and that's good.

Anthony Pettiford: Awesome.

Additional production support from Maddy Stephenson

The Race Project is produced at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.