About the couple
By Justin and Nidhi Barber
Nidhi: Tell us about the cultural context in which you grew up.
Dylan: I grew up in very, very rural Pennsylvania. We lived on 125 acres of woods and there were 200 people in our town – there were more cows than people. And it was really white.
My family visited New York when my oldest brother was four or five, and he thought the first Black person he saw there was LeVar Burton from Reading Rainbow because that was the only Black person he was aware of. My mom didn’t think much of it until it happened again when he saw another Black person, and then she was like oh, no...we’re too far out in the woods, we need to culture our kids.
But yeah, most of the people that were in my town were very conservative farmer types. A lot of dairy, a lot of apple trees. We had a tree farm so we sold hardwood, but my dad was an eye doctor and my mom was an art teacher.
Chloe: My mom is technically Czech and Serbian, and my dad is African-American from Texas. We did the DNA report – he’s mostly from Nigeria but also from this Black Native American tribe from North and South Carolina.
I was born and raised in Fresno, which is big in agriculture. My parents moved there from San Francisco – where my dad’s family was – before I was born. So I grew up with my mom's white family and all the white kids in the white neighborhoods.
But I enjoyed being raised in Fresno. We were on a cul de sac with a bunch of other kids – we’d play games together, walk to school together – it was a really nice suburban upbringing.
Chloe: Yeah. My eldest brother and I always tested into the honors programs and we’d always be the only ones in those classes. It wasn't until I got to high school when I decided to take the regular classes that I started seeing other people that looked like me, which was pretty neat.
I didn’t think about being the only one until there'd be racist comments – or they'd forget I'm Black. Like all the girls would go to the tanning bed after school and ask if I wanted to come, I’d be like, no, I'm fine...
Chloe: I remember one of my good friends came up to me in the third grade and said, “my dad says I can't be your friend anymore because you're Black.” I didn’t even know what that meant. Like what the hell? I was so confused by that.
And then my dad would get pulled over all the time for no reason. After a while I got used to hearing those stories or being in the car with him when it happened.
Dylan: I was in boarding school in Pennsylvania so a lot of my friends were Indian or Black – my best friend there, Godsman, was Belizean but grew up in New York. When I was 19 or 20 I came back to visit from college so he and I went to a bar together. And a waitress told us “I'm going to have to ask you guys to leave, some of the patrons are uncomfortable.” I was pissed – because being white I'm allowed to be pissed – so I said “why? Uncomfortable about what?” But Godsman was saying “just leave it, let’s leave.”
So we go outside and I’m like, what the fuck? All he said was, “don’t worry about it.” And that’s when I started to process what happened and realized he’s my friend, he's Black, and we're going to have to be cautious because of that.
Chloe: We’re a dating app success story! His first message to me was “are we the same person?” I was like, what?
Dylan: Our profiles had like a 93% match rate.
Chloe: Even on our first date there were so many oh my gosh, me too moments.
Dylan: And dating in the Bay Area had just been bad date after bad date for me.
Chloe: For me too! I was going to turn off the app because I was so burned out. I was so done. My mom came to the city and I told her, “you know what? I'm going to be single for a while, there's not much for me here. Maybe I’ll meet someone when I'm abroad or something but I'm okay being single for awhile.” But I had this date lined up and was like well, I gotta finish this out.
Dylan: I'd gotten catfished the day before our date and went on a diatribe to my best friend about how I was done dating. So literally both of us were going into the date like –
Chloe: this was our last time.
Dylan: But I forgot about our date! So I had to move it closer to where I was instead of meeting halfway.
Chloe: He messaged me “oh, are we still meeting? Where? What time?” And I was pissed. Just scroll up in the thread!
Chloe: So I didn’t get dressed up for him or do anything special – I came straight from work.
Dylan: I see her walk into the bar and think wow, she's gorgeous. So I go to order drinks – which I rarely do because of the money dynamic it creates – but it’s cash only and the ATM is broken. I had to go back to our table and tell her…”I don't have cash. I’m sorry for ordering us drinks.”
Chloe: He was so nervous about not having cash, but I’d looked it up before so I had plenty of cash. He asked if I could pay and I said “of course!” It wasn’t a big deal.
Dylan: And then it was date after date after date.
Chloe: After six months I convinced him to come to Burning Man with me and afterwards we decided to move in together. But we didn’t want to be stupid about it, so we only got a six month lease to see how things would go. And then three months later we quit our jobs together and traveled around America for a year and a half.
Chloe: One of the funniest things I remember was this music festival in Detroit. Dylan knows so much about hip-hop and rap but I know nothing – I love country music, my dad loves country music.
Anyway this guy comes up to us and he keeps asking me questions about different hip-hop artists. I don’t know any of them but Dylan – and our friend Jane who’s Korean and a DJ – would both respond to him.
Dylan: I felt like I was in the back of the classroom like oh, oh, I know! I get it!
Chloe: But then he’d still direct all of his questions back to me! Finally by the fourth or fifth question he finally stopped looking at me and talked to them directly because I couldn’t answer any of his questions.
Dylan: The racism down South is much easier to confront because some people know that they're racist, so you can hash it out and talk to them about it. But if you’re up North and tell someone “you’re racist towards Black people” they’ll respond, “I’m absolutely not racist, I have Black friends!” They believe they’re not racist – which is worse – because then you can’t have a conversation. They’re not outwardly racist but a lot of things they do are racist.
But we got scared in, where was it – Alabama? Arkansas?
Chloe: We’d passed a lot of Confederate flags and Baptist churches on our way to some open space where we could camp for free. It was uncomfortable.
Dylan: We didn’t sleep the entire night. A ranger came the next morning – they just come through camps or whatever – but I woke up immediately and was scared. It was fine but being down South there was a lot more attention on us.
Chloe: In Nashville we went out dancing and it was obvious I wasn’t “Black enough.” Like the way I dress and carry myself is very California mixed girl –
Nidhi: Which is what you are...
Chloe: And there were these Black girls who were staying on the edge of the dance floor giving me negative vibes. All of a sudden one of them came and flipped my dress up! And then she goes back to her friends and they all laugh. We had fun but after that I wanted to leave.
Dylan: Yeah, we don’t know if that was racist or –
Chloe: I was wearing my natural, curly hair while they were all pressed and permed and wearing wigs. And I was with you, the only white guy in the room.
Dylan: Yeah, that’s true.
Chloe: I just feel like I’m never really in the white culture or Black culture. I don’t identify with Black culture necessarily but I can relate to aspects of it. I’m trying to embrace and understand more of it because that’s a part of where I come from. But I also identify with some aspects of my mom’s culture.
Like I went to meet my family in Serbia and Croatia, and they were so welcoming and loving and warm. They didn’t care about what I looked like. They were just like, “you are my blood. We’re from the same heritage so we love you regardless.” There was no hesitation and I had never felt that before. After that experience I decided I’m going to be happy and not care about what other people think I am or not.
Dylan: I think Chloe and I have both gone through how do I fit in? Oh, I don’t really fit in, I’m just going to do my own thing. Obviously very, very differently, but we’ve bonded a lot over that.
Chloe: This is what I'm used to seeing – my grandpa and his second wife are Filipino, my dad and my mom are an interracial couple, I have some cousins who are Blasian, others who are Mexican and Filipino and others who are Mexican/Czech/Serbian – we’re all mixed up. I grew up in California where it's normal to see interracial couples so it’s normal to me. But I liked it on our trip because I felt like we were good ambassadors. We were nice to everyone we encountered – like if we can do it, you can do it too!
Nidhi: Like a vision for the future! That’s amazing.
Dylan: Yeah! The only way that it's gonna change is when people are too confused to actually have opinions about one group versus another group. It’s going to take generations, but when people are like “wait, I don’t like Indians but now I’m not sure if you’re Indian or Mexican or Black...” then all of a sudden they have to question all these assumptions and actually get to know the person instead of making judgments at face value.