before I built a well I'd ask to know what I was walling in or walling out, and to whom I was like to give offense. something there is that doesn't love a wall, that wants it down.
robert frost "mending wall"
Black-white marriage is at the crux of the black-white racial tensions. In all the other attempts to integrate, to provide for equal opportunity in education, employment, and politics, hypocrisy can still lurk in our hearts, and we can still fall short of accepting that members of the other race are people too. It is within the intimate bonds of love and marriage that the recognition of common humanity is affirmed. Ultimately the black race wants more than just their share of the goods and services of society: they want recognition as people and respect paid to the unique contribution of black culture to humanity. This is not to imply that the black community at this point is any more in favor of black-white marriage than the white community.
In talking about human relationships, it's easy to gloss over the intensity of feeling that such situations arouse. Because we lack personal contact with another race, we are easily fooled by the stereotypes in a way that would be impossible if we really knew an individual of the other race. An objective report can vivisect human beings into the sociological and psychological forces acting upon them. So, And It Is Divine asked those who are involved in black-white marriage and dating to speak for themselves.
Black-white marriage breaks the whole pattern of relationships between blacks and whites within our U.S. history. Laws against interracial marriage were on the books in the U.S. from as early as 1663; still in 1957, there were as many as 30 states that prohibited interracial marriage of one form or another. Yet black-white unions still occurred. The founding fathers of our nation could as well be called the foundling fathers. Visiting the female slaves was the right of a gentleman; indeed it was economically important because of the greater value of the lighter-skinned slave.
LARRY: Do you think that this is my natural color?
AIID: I presume so, yes.
LARRY: No, this is not my natural color. If you want to go back in history, when you see one of this color, you're not speaking of a natural color. You're speaking of a mixed color. When you see this color, somebody got in there. And what do I mean by somebody getting in there? Back in the days of slavery, you know what happened? The master was the master. And he took care of what he wanted to take care of. And he enjoyed the fruits of men … in other words, of God. He had the upper hand, and by having the upper hand, he took advantage of the black women that were there at the particular time, and this is why you have the mixture. And now we can't identify with one particular segment or another, we can't even go back to Africa and be accepted, because we're too too too mixed up. Someone else changed the color of what they might call a Negro - the natural color is black and look at me. See? (Larry is a successful black businessman in his twenties who is seriously involved with Carol, a white Jewish social worker.)
It was not until 1967 that all state laws prohibiting interracial marriage were declared unconstitutional by a decision of the Supreme Court. In contrast with the former pattern, it is now the combination of black male and white female, and the union is now legalized by marriage. This calls upon society to accept the union as one between equal persons.
Contrary to prevailing attitudes in the U.S., interracial marriages are generally accepted both legally and socially among most nations and peoples. Race mixture has been going on during the whole of recorded history. Every man, woman, and child alive today is of the same species, Homo sapiens; and within the whole of the animal kingdom, members of the same species are able to mate and produce healthy offspring. The overall unity of humanity is more fundamental than the fellowship of race.
Shirley and Charles with their eighteen month-old son, Charles, Jr. To avoid confusion, young Charles is called Chip-a real chip off the old block for sure. They are next-door neighbors to Dale on one side, and Marie and Ed on the other.
Feelings run high on this sensitive subject. One of the inherent problems of such a relationship is that within a racist society, a black-white love affair is a political as well as an emotional relationship. Both races use social sanctions against members who break the taboo.
The black community has reason to be shy of black-white marriage. "Assimilation" has in the past had the connotation of absorbing the black race into the dominant white race, leaving behind not a trace of black culture. It has naturally been resisted by the black community as a denial of the intrinsic worth of black people. As Martin Luther King said, "I want the white man as my brother, not as my brother-in-law." It may come as a surprise to some white parents that black parents share their feelings.
AIID: How did Mike's parents react to your marriage? (Mike is black.)
FLORENCE: They were not exactly favorable. It's amusing to me, though perhaps not to others, this prejudice I find in both races. Mike's mother would much prefer that he marry his own. The only thing that I find between the two families is that perhaps my husband's family ties are closer as a family than ours were, that they more or less tolerated it because they wouldn't lose him. But as far as accepting it and being joyous about it, I wouldn't say they were. His father was always good to me. He has since passed away. I've never really had any great problem with his mother as far as that goes, but she made it very plain one day when we moved in the apartment downstairs, 'Don't know why Mike didn't marry his own.' All I could say was, 'My mother doesn't know why either.'
(Florence has been happily married to Mike for twelve years.)
There are other reasons for a black person to be shy of becoming emotionally involved with a white person. A black M.I.T. student, Henry W., had quite a story to tell about a friend's experience:
"Society's pressures are a lot more subtle than iron bars and a lot more harmful because they damage the mind and not the body. All prejudice and animosity is directed toward the mind of a person and this can destroy the mind. One of my friends was getting very seriously involved with a white girl in high school when he was a junior. They went together for a whole year, and her family allowed it to go on since they thought, 'She won't stay with him too long.' His family didn't know about it - he didn't tell them. They were transcending the black-white barrier and becoming better persons for it. Then her parents decided it had been going on too long. They took away the girl's privileges and her car. She was ostracized by her friends in school. I'd see her sometimes crying in the hall. My own friend got very upset as well.
"Finally the pressure became too great and she wrote him a letter saying she couldn't see him anymore. He almost had a nervous breakdown and developed ulcers about six months after that. He totally cut himself off from society. He had fooled himself into believing that this girl dropped him because she hated his black self. I tried to explain to him that it's the society. In fact, I warned him before they got seriously involved with each other. I knew that he was going to get hurt. He used to date both black and white girls, and try to get to know the person. Now he only dates white girls and he believes
in just getting as much as he can and then dropping them. He's changed and it's obvious that he's suffering.
"I see people trying to fight the system, but for all the interracial couples, not many last to go on to marriage. But those who are not going to acknowledge anything else besides love, stay together no matter what."
Though black-white marriages make up less than one percent of the marriages in the U.S., black-white dating and marriage is on the rise. The legacy of the past is still with us. The black female is still apt to regard the attentions of the white male as an attempt to use her. The new attraction between the black male and the white female is occurring when both are in the midst of their own liberation. As a consequence, the couple is apt to run into a conflict over dominance.
DALE: Black men are really enjoying being allowed to be men for the first time. They're strutting around and if you give them any lip they're apt to turn around and put you in your place right off. White men don't really think about being a man - they've been men all along, they've never been held under, they've got bosses over them and responsibilities, they know they've got no special power. But a black man enjoys the power of just being a man, strutting around being slick and cool.
(Dale is a young divorcee with a black fiancé.)
NANCY: My husband was quick to feel that any request for help with the housework was demeaning to him as a man. At one point I let the dishes sit in the sink for a week.
(Nancy was married to a black man for a number of years before they separated.)
At other times the problems have less to do with race and different backgrounds than the ordinary problems that all couples must meet.
HENRY K.: I think the most important thing in any relationship is honesty. In a love relationship of a man and a woman, each must be capable of confronting
reality and the problems that they will face. I don't see interracial marriages as being extremely problematical when the persons involved are well adjusted. The interracial couples that I know who are the most defensive are also the ones who are not really too aware of their reactions as individuals. They focus on either their blackness or whiteness as the cause of a difficulty when it really isn't necessarily so.
(Henry K. is a social worker with two adopted interracial children.)
The black-white couple or family group is unexpected in our culture, and many times an otherwise tension-fraught situation dissolves into laughter over the mistaken assumptions through the saving grace of a sense of humor. For example, Henry and Susan K., a white couple, adopted a brown child and a black one, and have one of their own. The potential that their family grouping has for laughs requires little imagination.
HENRY: There was a postman who came to the door one day with a package for me that had some postage due. Susan had worked the night before and was asleep. Meagen was an infant and I had her in my arms feeding her as I answered the door. Matthew came running to the door too; and then Derek, who was just a little runt at the time, came and looked between my legs. The postman looked from one to the other and he smiled and said, 'Special delivery, huh?' I just smiled my reply, ' Yes.' Actually that's what it is.
Florence and Mike, the black-white couple married twelve years, have a bag full of anecdotes to tell.
FLORENCE: Remember when 1 had Laury? She was born during visiting hours; and when they brought me down from the delivery room, all these people, Mike's relatives and friends of the family, gathered around my bed talking to me. Of course the sides of the bed were up and I was lying down. I didn't know quite what was going on, but nevertheless they were all there. A girl
was in the bed in the corner of the room. Of course she couldn't see me. The next night during visiting hours I was sitting up in bed. The girl's mother had come in when some of Mike's relatives came to visit me again. The girl said to them, That's not the same girl that was in that bed last night. That's a white girl over there.' Her mother said,' Shhh! It's the same girl!' Her daughter, poor girl, had just assumed that with all those people around my bed that I couldn't be the same person. She was so embarrassed, she wanted to crawl under the bed. MIKE: We've got one thing going for us: when people look at us together they have to try to fathom the whole thing. It puts them at a disadvantage. I'll go someplace and I'll say, My wife wants such and such, ' and they'll look around for my wife. I've had it happen and I just crack up over it. ' Oh, you're by yourself!' they'll ask while Florence is standing right next to me. ' No, my wife is right here.' And I look them in the face and think, Now what are you going to say?' You really shake them up. People don't expect it. That's the big kick I get out of it.
FLORENCE: And this is why we don't have so many problems, because people do amuse us. I get a big kick out of them. I don't know what other people think about it. You expect these things to happen. It's easier that way. Really I can't say that anyone has given me a problem that has really upset me other than family, and you expect that. I don't think outside individuals can mean so much to you that they can really upset you.
Mike doesn't go looking for trouble. I've seen people walking down the street, and when somebody just looks at them, they say, 'What are you looking at?' I think it's silly to look for trouble, just watching to see what people are going to say and how they are going to look at you.
MIKE: I'm not here to prove a point; I'm here to live.
The laughter can alleviate the very real hurt, the hurt of exclusion. Being black is a matter of positive identification with the suffering and ine-
quality which the "color stigma" inflicts regardless of pigmentation. White wives take on the stigma for the sake of the love that they have for their husbands. One active little German lady, Marie, married 27 years to her black husband, Ed, is a gracious hostess and a very sensitive, warm personality.Yet she has had to bear the stereotypes that are blinding people. Here it is in her own words.
AIID: May I ask you how you met your husband?
MARIE: I went along on a date with a girlfriend when she was dating an American during the war. Her date had a black friend who could speak German. He came back to see me after that and I realized that he was a human being like anyone else. My friend and her boyfriend broke up after the war when he went back, but Ed stayed on. We married and lived in Germany for two and a half, almost three years.
He knew my people before I knew his. You love a man, not a race. You love just one individual, then you are taken out from your people and put in with an altogether different race. You have to make adjustments. The black race usually accepts you somehow. To the white race - you are trash. I think this hurts. Now that I'm older I don't pay so much attention. I never really did.
I wasn't born in this country. My husband told me some things, but I didn't realize the extent of the problem. Once when we needed some money, we tried to get a loan. When the man came in to look at the furniture so they would know that we were able to pay back the loan, he got all red, seeing the mixed marriage. Forget the loan. Somebody else gave us the loan. This was many years back.
Altogether I really didn't have it too rough, but I stayed to myself. Let's put it this way. I never was in Mrs. Wallace's house. I was never in Eliot's or in Turner's houses. When I see them on the street, I say hello and that's all. I lived my life with just close family. I hope my children don't have it harder than this. I have to think not so much of my husband, but more of our children and what they have to go through.
Some couples, like Ray and Danielle, students at Harvard, seem singularly unconcerned about social pressures.
AIID: Do you get any flak from the black community for being an 'Uncle Tom?'
RAY: Whenever it does occur, I find I don't really care about the persons involved. I'd rather have nothing to do with them. Their thoughts are their own and they'd be better off if they would keep them to themselves. If they disagree it's their prerogative. I don't agree with their way of life, or moral standards either. But I'm not going to hold any anger against them. I just don't like them.
DANIELLE: He doesn't even notice it. That's the funny part about it. We were eating at one of the dorms and all the black students were sitting at one table. We take turns taking up each other's
trays and he took up the trays that day. The whole table got upset but he didn't even see it. I think it bothers me more than it bothers him.
For those who are strong enough to face the social pressures and still love whom they love, the rewards are there. Carol, the social worker involved with Larry, whom we have already heard from. has a story to tell of the results of facing hypocrisy in friends and relatives.
"They raised me to like people of all kinds, to understand, and to care for them. When I decided to go into social work they thought that was great. I was living at Columbia Point for a while with a black family and they didn't mind that. I still feel I am what I am because of them. I may not have gotten the unconscious vibes from their thoughts: You love them, care for them, understand them and work with them, but you don't marry them.' Those vibes probably were put out but I never got them. I'm a very strong willed person. I said, 'But Mom, you never told me to go out with just Jewish guys,' and she said, 'That's because we knew when you were six months old that you weren't going to do anything that we told you to do.'
"So when it became obvious I was serious about Larry, there was a big family blow-up. The things my mother said weren't rational, like, 'How could you give your grandmother a heart attack when you're her namesake? If you don't marry a nice Jewish boy, she's going to have a heart attack, turn over and die.' That's how it was told to me. Also, the day I marry Larry, my sister is going to go out and marry the first bum that comes in off the streets, which could possibly come true because of the added pressure my parents are putting on her.
"But now since the blow-up happened communication has opened up. It has been the first time I have talked to my father about anything besides petty things. And my mother and I have actually become closer.
"I got my faith and caring, my understanding from my parents. My little brother was born paralyzed and blind according to the doctors, who told my parents that he would only be a vegetable. But they took him home anyway and cared for him and now he is learning to walk and talk; he's just a fascinating little kid, he gives so much love. How can you not have faith when your parents are capable of giving that much, of understanding that much? And while they say, 'We had this one cross to bear in our lives and now you're giving us another one,' eventually I don't think they'll believe it. I'm hoping for that.
"If it was a choice between my parents and my boyfriend, there's no question about it; I'd choose my boyfriend. I've had to face this choice, destroy my family or destroy myself. There was destruction either way. But then I thought, my mother is too rational. Sure she'll be upset for a while. But they're too rational because they care too much. If someone doesn't care, it's easy for them to say, 'I disown you.' My parents care. And no matter what they say, ultimately they want me to be happy. They may go through a year of refusing to talk to me. But ultimately they care. So I'm hoping at some time, it'll be the right time and I can bring Larry home and say, 'This is him.'
"Since I've met Larry, I've learned who my friends are. I've been forced into dealing with a different group of people. By the process of elimination, I'm left with those people who accept me as I am. Those are the people I can respect, the ones who take me for what I am, and take Larry for what he is."
Some people place the hope for the resolution of racial tensions in the children.
DANIELLE: In my hometown, all the kids get along well. It's the parents that are at each other's throats. The parents may harbor prejudices but most of the kids don't because they've grown up together. The people who are really racist now were brought up by really racist parents. And as the kids get more liberal and become parents, their children will be more liberal.
Yet children are vulnerable too and are bound to pick up on the tensions and pressures of the neighborhood.
MIKE: I've got one daughter, Terry, who is color conscious. Today she was reacting to something her sister Shelley said. Color doesn't mean anything to Shelley, whether you are brown or anything, and she was just talking about it. But Terry gets hung up on it.
FLORENCE: You know why she's hung up. It's because the others don't care and she definitely cares what she is, and she doesn't want you to tell her that she's other than what she wants to be. For instance, one of the girls at school asked her if she was tanned or if she was colored. Knowing her, I just knew what she was going to tell me before she said it. 'Ma, I just told her I was tanned.' The oldest one, it wouldn't phase her in the least. But I knew Terry was going to say that she was tanned, because she won't admit the truth. I ask her, 'Why does this bother you so much? You don't object to your father; you don't object to your grandmother or your cousins.' Somehow or other she can't discriminate. But family is family no matter what color they are. What people on the outside think she is is something else, and she can't seem to separate the two. She wants to be her Ma all over. She's the one that people all say looks most like me and she doesn't want to be different in any way from what I am. She makes things more difficult for herself.
But with adept handling, such wrinkles can be ironed out. Henry, with his one black and one brown adopted children, and his own white one, has met similar problems with gentle understanding:
HENRY: We encourage them to acknowledge this awareness of being different. Matthew went through a period of time for almost a week where he didn't want an Afro, because some little kid in the neighborhood called him 'fuzzy head.' Then he saw other black people who had Afros, and liked it.
And then the day came when he said, 'Daddy, can you comb my hair into an Afro? It's just as simple as that - he valued it at that time. Instead of getting
anxious, like, 'Oh my God, my child is not identifying with his blackness!' it was better to allow him to identify with what he valued at the time.
AIID: So, even though Matthew is being raised by white parents, he may very well identify strongly with the black culture?
HENRY: We're exposing all of our children to the culture of the black experience. Like Meagen wants an Afro and I tell her it's really very difficult to have an Afro when you have straight blond hair. Then she says at other times, 'I like my hair this way,' and I say, 'I like it that way too, because it's a nice part of you.'
Until a new generation grows up unencumbered with prejudice, the black-white couple will continue to make a conspicuous pair, as well as the white mother and her brown children. It seems to take rather independent, well-balanced personalities to deal successfully with the reactions and pressures of society, but there are those who are successful. Florence and Mike, with their four little girls, are one such family.
Mike and Florence: Looking at the world openly.
AIID: Did you have any worries about your children, what acceptance they would find?
FLORENCE: Not particularly. When I was growing up I started babysitting Jeff (a black child) when he was only two months old. Everywhere I went, he went. I just automatically took him with me. And I used to hear, 'People will think he's yours. You're taking him downtown, people will look in the carriage.' I didn't care what people thought. I knew he wasn't mine. Why should I worry about it? Things like that didn't bother me. If you know that what you are doing is right then you shouldn't worry about what other people think. And vice versa about talking: if they're talking about you, they are leaving someone else alone. It's really stuck with me and I've tried to pass the same thing on to my girls.
It's not as difficult as people on the outside looking in seem to think. They can't help but be a little curious, I suppose, always wondering, 'What happens when you do this and what do people say? I don't study people that closely. We had a neighbor couple, Linda and Bob, who lived in the back, and we were very good friends. Mike and Bob would work around together; we'd go over and play cards at their house; our families were the same age. But we knew that we didn't go out socially with Linda and Bob. They were friends here, but you don't go out there. We knew this and we never pushed it or asked them to go anywhere socially with us, and we still considered ourselves good friends, even though we knew this line existed. I don't know if they thought the line was there, or that they felt we knew the line was there, but we did. And people think sometimes that this is very odd; 'Well, how can you feel that they are your friends when you know that this is the way they feel? I just do. I try to go along with what people can accept.
Florence and Mike are able to accept a backyard friendship when they know they won't be acknowledged socially, but why should they have to accept such hypocrisy? Human beings are social creatures and need social contacts. Consider for a moment the inhumanity of such social isolation: it has broken many a weaker couple. Florence and Mike don't allow such poison to affect their relationship. They can take refuge in the warmth of their own family circle and their sense of humor. It is at this level that the individual otherwise uninvolved can reach out to those who are willing to brave society's sanctions for the sake of love, and include them in their own circle of friendship. Blacks and whites need to accept each other as people, instead of looking upon each other as being of different species. The social acceptance of black-white marriage is necessary for us. How else can individuals be able to act from the truth of their hearts without fear of repercussions in any form?