Monday, July 7, 2008

Monday's Mixed-race Musings

I realized that when I wrote about the beginning of a mixed-race America, namely that you get here through inter-racial relationships, I didn't really talk about the politics of interracial dating/marriage/procreation.

So I thought I'd return to this topic since this blog is called "Mixed Race America" and because I suspect that a few readers are interested in these topics.

What I wrote about on July 1 was the hostility that certain gendered/raced pairs encounter by members of a majority culture and members of their own ethnic communities. There's a lot to be said about the politics of interracial dating.

First thing I'll say is that it's complicated. To try to have an in-depth and honest conversation about interracial dating requires an ability to get beyond cliches of "Love sees no color" as well as charges of selling out the race or desiring white privilege through interracial relationships (that's for those people who are a member of a racial minority dating a member of the current racial majority).

Second, I think it's rare for people to make decisions of an intimate nature on pure politics. In other words, I know that people have preferences and are motivated by political factors. But the truth is, finding someone you truly connect with is difficult. We place A LOT of demands on our life partner. And I don't just mean people who have lists--like only dating people of a certain height, income, educational level, size, car, who like dogs, who are vegetarian, etc...etc.... We expect our life partners to be our soul mates, our best friends, our financial partners, our cheerleaders, our coaches, a parent to our children, a representative and literal union of our families, and a general public face to our personal commitment. That is asking A LOT. And we haven't even gotten to any lists or deal breakers or preferences. Which is why I think it's good to be as open minded as possible about your life partner.

For instance, I had a friend in college, a white Jewish man of the Jewish conservative persuasion who was very identified with Jewish culture and who only dated Jewish women (preferably women who were also conservative, although he was open to dating reform minded women as long as they were willing to keep kosher.)

"S" and I used to talk about interracial or in his case cross-religious dating--and while he wasn't against it for others, he didn't see it in his future--the cross-religious dating/marriage. His faith and his culture were very important parts of his life, and he wanted to have a life partner that reflected his religious and cultural beliefs.

Fast forward seven years. I ran into "S" randomly in an ice cream parlor in Boston during a time when I was no longer living there and when he was visiting friends. It turns out that "S" had gotten married and was living in Chicago. His wife? She is an African American woman and a Christian. They have an interracial, interfaith marriage and will raise the children with both faiths/cultures. Although I know that this is problematic for some, I have to admit that I was happy that "S" had found a woman he loved and that he was willing to revise some of his convictions based on that love.

Are we influenced by the dominant culture? Absolutely. Do we internalize racist beliefs? Yes. Should we work against these ingrained tendencies of wanting white privilege? Well, if you want to live and practice an anti-racist lifestyle, then sure. Can you help who you fall in love with? No and yes. You probably can't help who you are attracted to and who you fall in love with, but for some, the social pressure and stigma may be too great--or your personal politics and convictions may not allow you to take envision certain life partners.

There are interracial pairs that are more accepted than others in U.S. society. In general, white men dating women of color of almost any background (but certainly I'd rank Asian women at the top of that acceptable list) are going to find less censure than white women dating men of any race (and I'd put possibly black or Asian men at the top of the taboo list). And people of color dating one another across racial lines does not seem to engender as much scrutiny by larger society, but may find quite a bit of disapproval from within their ethnic communities. A lot of this has to do with media images, power, privilege, a history of women being used as pawns in a game of ownership and control of resources, overseas wars, and some other things too long to get into in this single post. And I haven't even gotten to queer unions and same-sex couples who cross various color and religious lines.

What I want to leave you with is a single and unremarkable observation: consenting adults should be free to love and partner with whomever they choose. We can question the motivations and the history and the ingrained assumptions and beliefs behind interracial unions in general. But telling people that they are sell-outs or bananas or Uncle Toms or coconuts (why is fruit always used for these racially denigrating descriptions?) just doesn't seem productive and doesn't get to the real issues about how people meet and decide to couple.

Finally, let me leave you with the voices of two people who speak from first-hand experience and first-person perspectives about interracial unions and mixed-race matters.

CVT, a regular commenter on this blog, decided that he wanted a forum for his own musings on race and other things, so he started Chop-tensils. And in an odd coincidence, we both ended up blogging about interracial relationships on July 1. Please head over to Chop-tensils--it's worth a read for CVT's insights and observations, and I know he'd love a lively discussion, especially on the interracial dating stuff he just posted.

For a fictional look at living in a mixed-race world, let me introduce you to Jason Sublette, a mixed-race fiction writer living in "the South." Jason has an excellent short story published in an on-line journal, Green Hills Literary Lantern called "Laws of Motion." Check it out--I suspect that Jason's voice will be one we will continue to hear about (and in larger forums) in years to come.


Anonymous said...

As one who is involved in an interracial marriage, I have found few in larger society to "openly" be critical of my relationship.... This is true of our family members too.

I have long heard that the two groups most opposed to such a union are white males and and Asian men.

CVT said...

Jennifer - thanks for the plug.

Obviously, I already wrote a whole lot on this matter on my blog, so I'll keep this short. But I agree that, in the end, it's doubtful that there are a lot of people that are consciously in interracial relationships for all the "wrong reasons" that people like to bring up on a regular basis. Race and stereotypes are more subtle, of course, but it's crazy to judge people on relationships we know nothing about.

@ecarson -
Hopefully, the lack of open criticism is simply because people accept your relationship, period. Of course, I can't be sure on that one.
As far as who would be opposed to your particular combination, I can't really speak to that, not knowing the race of your partner (I followed your link to your blog, so I am aware of your background).

I think it usually falls out that whoever feels like they "lost" a possible dating choice from their own race (in your case, black women) are the most opposed, or upset about interracial relationships. So, if your wife is Asian, then Asian men may be most opposed (leaving white men less involved, or vice versa).

It gets so much more complicated, but I'll just leave it at that - you are welcome to read my "On Interracial Dating" posts if you want more . . .

Jennifer said...

ecarson--thanks for leaving a comment and sharing your personal observation about your own interracial relationship. I did want to ask for a bit of clarification--I wasn't sure what you mean when you wrote that:

"the two groups most opposed to such a union are white males and Asian men."

Opposed to which unions is my question?

I do think that Asian men, as CVT pointed out below, are more proprietary, potentially, of seeing Asian American women with men of other races--particularly white men. And as I alluded to in another post, I think part of it, deep down, has to do with anti-racist stuff--as in, feeling like Asian American women who "sell out" by dating white men are potentially turning their backs on not only culture but on an anti-racist agenda.

CVT, always a pleasure to have you comment on my blog and I do hope you get a lot of traffic on your own because I'm really enjoying your posts!

Unknown said...

I'm a product of an interracial marriage--Korean mother and German father, married in the 1960s. As you can imagine, that marriage was not met with familial excitement! I consider it a real blessing to have parents who never had a preference concerning the race of my partner.

I'm now in an interracial marriage with mixed-race kids in rural Tennessee and we haven't encountered any problems. I don't belong to any sort of Asian-American community here so of course I don't feel any pressure there. One of the unexpected benefits of growing up and living in rural areas (as a minority/outsider) is that it's clear that it's not possible to only hang out with, date, or marry from your own group.

I just finished reading Michael Thomas's "Man Gone Down." It's a fine novel and discusses interracial marriage and mixed-race children openly and honestly.