The Newnan Times-Herald


Starks: ‘We’re an American family’

  • By Sarah Fay Campbell
  • |
  • Sep. 25, 2016 - 7:31 AM

Starks: ‘We’re an American family’

Photo courtesy Janet Starks

Nate and Janet Starks have three children: Justice, Nathan and Jayden.

As a white woman married to a black man with three interracial children, Coweta resident Janet Starks said she has always liked to talk to people about what her life is like.

“There are people who just don’t understand. A lot of them have assumptions that are not legit,” said Starks, who has been with her husband, Nate, 18 years.

“People assume we have issues, and we don’t,” she said. People will say “How do you deal with… ?”

“I’m like, what am I dealing with? I’m living my life.”

“I don’t think people see people like my family. I don’t think they notice how we’re happy, we love each other, we have friends.”

Starks has a friend whose husband is Asian, another whose husband is Mexican.

“To me, we’re an American family. We are the picture of living free and being who we are,” she said.

“I think there is so much stigma, and I don’t embrace that.”

Starks has heard people ask if she notices that people are looking at her.

She doesn’t much care, though the reactions of others do sometimes surprise her. Like when she’s talking to someone she knows and that person says “I didn’t know your husband was black.”

“I said, ‘I’ve been talking to you, too. I didn’t ask, “Is your husband white, is your husband Asian?”’ I just know his name and that you love him.’”

Her husband hears the same thing: “I didn’t know your wife was white.”

Starks will occasionally get into conversations with strangers and acquaintances, and, when they find out that her husband is of a different race, they’ll make strange comments.

“I met someone who told me about my kids, ‘Oh, you dress them so nicely.’ Of course I do.”

Sometimes people will say “‘Oh, well, your husband is not really black,’” Starks said. Her husband’s friends have said things like, “You know your wife is black, right? She’s not really white.”

When people say things like that, Janet and Nate ask them what makes them feel that way.

People will say “‘Oh, it’s the way he talks. He’s got a good job,’ or ‘She’s so laid back, I can talk to her.’”

There haven’t been many negative experiences with prejudice. But there have been a few.

Starks recalled being at a cookout with her husband’s family. There was one guest who was a friend of the family. She, Starks, and several others were playing cards.

And out of the blue, for no reason anyone could fathom, the woman said, “You know they took down the Confederate flag.”

Starks looked at her husband, and his eyes got wide.

Starks looked at the woman and said, “I don’t know how that has anything to do with me. I was raised up north.”

Years before, when she and Nate lived in East Newnan, her car got broken into in the driveway. Stark’s boss at a local restaurant told her, “That’s what you get, messing with a thug.”

“The definition of the word ‘thug’ and my husband are completely incompatible,” Starks said. “I think ‘thug,’ I think a criminal. A criminal broke into my car and stole the stuff that I worked really hard for and my husband worked really hard for,” she said.

When her boss said that, she felt both insulted and hurt.

There was another time, just after Starks’ daughter, Justice, was born. She and her sister, whose son was also a baby, were shopping at a local store. They were pushing each other’s carts. Starks went through the line first, with her nephew.

The clerk was friendly. Then it was her sister’s turn. As soon as the woman saw Justice, her demeanor changed. She turned the cash register display to show the total “instead of talking to her anymore,” Starks said.

Starks didn’t notice. But her sister definitely did, and she was taken aback.

“I was just like – that’s stupid. What an idiot. Keep moving,” Starks said.

“I just feel like some people are just going to be asses. It doesn’t matter if you’re the most perfect person living the most perfect life.”

“I don’t really care because I’m living the life I want to live,” she said. “We’re just normal people. We have different skin colors and our kids have these beautiful tans built in. That’s it.”

Starks didn’t vote for Barack Obama for president and said that someone she didn’t really know told her she was racist, and that she should have voted for him because her children are biracial.

Her children appreciate that President Obama is biracial, just like them.

Starks feels like Obama really missed an opportunity to embrace and talk about being biracial. She talks about that with her kids.

People often think Justice is Latina. People have come up to her and started speaking Spanish.

The first time her parents showed up at a cheerleading practice, some friends said, “Oh, we didn’t know you were mixed.”

“She’s like, ‘Does it matter?’” Starks said.

Starks grew up in Wisconsin, moved to Florida when she was 15, graduated from Fayette County High School, and then her family moved to Newnan. That’s where she met Nate, working at Ryan’s Steakhouse. She was a waitress, and he was washing dishes. They hit it off immediately but were friends for quite a while before they started dating. They recently celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary. As a teenager, she had friends and boyfriends of all colors and nationalities.

When they were about to move to Florida, her dad told her that things might be different down South, and people might not be as accepting there. Her attitude hasn’t changed much since then.

“I said, ‘You know what? If they’re going to accept me, they’re going to accept me.’”