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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Love and Marriage and Race

The month of June is always a special time for my husband and I because it was it was on June 12, 1967 that the Supreme Court made the landmark decision that would make interracial marriage legal. The couple at the center of the case was a white man named Richard Loving and his black wife, Mildred Loving. Many celebrate Loving Day every June 12 in honor of this brave couple who paved the way for that "post racial" society every poet has longed for, and in 2011, in a country whose President is the product of a black and white union, and where blended celebrity couples like Heidi Klum and Seal or Ice-T and Coco, regularly strut the red carpet, it would seem that our country's come a long way from its segregationist past. But I have to say, "not so fast!"

The reality is that for every Kardashian sister crossing the color line, there are still vast sections of the American public who aren't as race-neutral as they think they are when it comes to dating and romance. While surveys, such as the Pew Research Center's study that showed an 83% approval rate for interracial dating in the U.S., have been trotted out in recent years to show how far we've come, mainstream dating website eHarmony vigorously defended its policies against interracial matches. It seems there's a disconnect between what we say and what we do.

Even among my own friends and family, there is a wide gap between theory and practice. While they have been nothing but supportive of my marriage, they've never entertained the thought of crossing the color line. For my parents and their generation, it simply wasn't done. But for my contemporaries, who, like me, grew up watching Tom and Helen Willis hold their own against George Jefferson every week on CBS, race and dating is a complicated affair. No one wants to think that they harbor racist thoughts, but I do wonder if the foul-mouthed puppets of "Avenue Q" were right when they sang, "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist", well, at least when it comes to dating.

We tend to date who we know and people with whom we share common ties - music, favorite films, and other cultural references. These same rules often apply to our friendships, too. So take a look at your friends and your friends' friends - what do you see? Is it more United Colors of Benetton or the runways of Fashion Week Milan??  Is it more NBA or PGA and less FIFA??  Have you ever asked your friends of different races if they'd ever considered dating someone who's your race?

I must admit that I've asked that question, with varying degrees of success. One former black friend gave me a scathing rebuke for daring to become a "checkerboard chick" given this country's history of slavery, and one former white friend said there was no way he could bring a black woman home to his family. The reactions of both of these people really hurt me, truth be told, because the one challenged my blackness and the other rejected my blackness. And yes, I used the word rejected because if you can be friends with someone of a different race, why wouldn't you be open to dating or marrying someone of that different race? If you're lucky enough to find someone who loves you and wants to spend their life with you, then why should their race be the reason to reject them? From what I've seen, religion seems more divisive than race.

Love in a post-Loving world is an interesting and strange thing, and my hope is that once we really open ourselves to the depths of each other, that the strange won't seem so strange at all. I'm just saying:)

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