It’s been three weeks since a New York Times columnist penned an op-ed arguing against interracial marriage, and I’m still waiting for the outrage. The fact that the reaction among readers—let alone the editors—has been almost non-existent makes me wonder about the future of race relations in America and how our overheated racial dialogue is going to start to affect families.
In his July 13 column, Charles Blow wrote that while it is true that Americans are increasingly marrying people of other races (about 15 percent of couples who married in 2010 are interracial), studies of online dating sites seem to show that black women are the least favored group when it comes to interracial dating.
This, Blow takes as a sign of our “aversion to darkness — particularly dark femininity — and aspiration to lightness, or even whiteness.” One could speculate all day long about these studies, but to look at any popular American magazine or clothing catalog and conclude that Americans aspire to lightness is virtually impossible. The multicultural “look” is in and it’s not going anywhere.
Nevertheless, Blow says he is “left with a nagging question” about the results of our interracial mixing: “Does this browning represent an overcoming, on some level, of anti-black racism, or a socio-evolutionary sidestepping of it?” He actually suggests that when black people marry white people it “dilutes” their blackness.
And then he concludes: “It seems to me that we as a society — nationally and globally — must find some peace with dark skin itself, to not impute value and character onto color if harmony is truly to be had. Until that is done, it often feels that we of darker bodies must resist the absorption of oppression and love ourselves defensively, as an equalizer. We must love our dark flesh as an antidote to a world that often disdains it.”
Got that? Black people must stick with themselves in order to preserve the ideal of blackness. Substitute a few words here and these sentiments could just as easily be coming from segregationists circa 1950.
So, for that matter, could a letter written to the Slate advice columnist “Dear Prudence” a few weeks ago. A lesbian couple is deciding which sperm to use in order to have a baby. One of the women explains her partner’s position: “She says, adamantly, we should try our best to use a white sperm donor. My wife isn’t racially prejudiced at all, but she makes the point that it is a known fact that in this world, especially in Texas where we live, it is a lot easier to be white. Especially if we have a son, it is factually safer to not be black. … Which one of us should relent?”
If you read enough of the high-pitched media coverage about race in this country, you might come to think that we should all stick to our own kind. Who could argue with the logic? These people tell themselves they’re not racially prejudiced. In fact, they’re so enlightened about race that they’ve decided to only marry within their own race and have children who look like them.
A recent New York Times/CBS News poll on race relations suggests that while people have a dim view about the country as a whole, “respondents tended to have much sunnier views of race relations in their own communities. For instance, while only 37 percent said they thought race relations were generally good in the United States, more than twice that share, 77 percent, thought they were good in their communities, a number that has changed little over the past 20 years.”
One reason for this gap in perceptions is that on a local level, we think of our families and friends, where interracial mixing is more common and can happen without the kind of drama that cable news would like to promote. Unfortunately, too much of the rhetoric at the top can start to influence our personal decisions.
For existing interracial families, the rhetoric offered by the news media can produce a lot of discomfort. Families who have made peace with their differences can suddenly feel as if they are living in a “divided country.” Are they traitors to their race for marrying out and “diluting” their identity?
For men and women who are considering marriage and having children, though, our overheated atmosphere can create tensions where none or few previously existed. People begin to think, "Oh sure, we get along with each other. Our families and friends have even been accepting of this other person. But we must be missing something. We don’t really understand the difficult life we are in for."
What they fail to realize is that their own extended families and communities are much more representative of the future they will have together than anything they read in the New York Times. By discouraging the kind of mixing (racial, religious, political, ethnic, class) that has been a hallmark of this country for decades, our elites are actually threatening to undo a half-century of racial progress.