Any stranger who takes a look at Ashley Graham and husband Justin Ervin would probably agree that they're a smoking hot pair who seem to be super in love. But in an excerpt from the model's first book A New Model: What Confidence, Beauty, and Power Really Look Like, published on Glamour, she reveals that her family wasn't always too keen about her man.
Their reason? His race.
"I didn’t grow up around many black people," Graham wrote when reflecting on her upbringing in Nebraska. "The sum total of what I learned about African American culture in school was Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and the Underground Railroad. This was more than my mom knew; she didn’t even see a black person in real life until she was 18-years-old.
"I never told Justin any of this, and I never told my grandparents that the man I was bringing home was black," she continues. "I naively hoped everyone would be colour blind — which is not what happened. When my grandparents met Justin, my grandmother was cordial but cold. She greeted him and immediately walked away. When it came time for them to leave, my grandparents didn’t even acknowledge him. Instead my grandmother looked me in the eye, with Justin standing behind me, and said, 'Tell that guy I said goodbye.'"
"[My mom] didn’t even see a black person in real life until she was 18-years-old." —Ashley Graham
After the encounter, the 29-year-old said she was shocked by their behaviour, and later took Ervin out for a drive to clear the air. While in the car, he said, "Racism is never surprising but always disappointing.” It's a moment Graham says she will "never forget."
And while this situation isn't ideal, it's definitely not uncommon.
In an article published last year by Attn, most interracial couples should be prepared for this type of scrutiny.
"Race issues create a lot of stress and anxiety in, and bring baggage to, interracial relationships," freelance journalist Adeshina Emmanuel wrote. "Love is strong, but it takes more than love to overcome the obstacles that can stand in an interracial couple’s way."
As for the solution? He said the couple has to be able to address "the weirdness head on," and can't wait for it to magically go away.
Thankfully, it seems as though Ervin was prepared, and he wasn't about to let ignorance stand in the way of him being with his soulmate. So instead of approaching the situation with anger, he tried compassion instead — which comes as no surprise, as the author has revealed in the past that his faith plays a huge role in his life.
"Justin made me understand that someone like my grandma only saw black men depicted on television in situations involving guns, rape, and violence — situations that perpetuate racist stereotypes against black people in general and black men in particular," Graham says. "She had probably never looked a black man in the face, let alone had a conversation with him, and now one was in her daughter’s home, dating her granddaughter."
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He even called grandma on her 60th wedding anniversary. After that conversation, she told the Sports Illustrated star she loved him.
The two tied the knot in 2010, and seem to still be in wedded bliss.
Love may not conquer all, but it definitely can help break down barriers.
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