How to Pick a Lover

A poet may praise many whom he would be afraid to marry.
—Samuel Johnson, Lives of the Poets

In recent weeks, the media has given much play to interracial dating – particularly CNN – which  has motivated me to weigh in on the topic.

The sexual revolution, and the revolution in the status of women, are supposed to have occurred in tandem with concurrent revolutions in other forms of inequality, especially with the changes in the inequality of blacks and whites. One result has been an increased possibility of equality across racial and ethnic lines and, with that, an increased possibility of friendship and, ultimately, of romantic attachments.

A lover from a different racial or ethnic background is considered by many to be exotic. Apart from his other qualities, he may be of special interest because his worldview and his experiences are so different from your own. Often, the very fact of difference is an important element in the development of a significant attraction and in the growth of a love relationship.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Photo credit: Wikipedia

“Miscegenation” is a technical term used to describe the mixing of different races. It refers to marrying, cohabitating, having sexual relations, or procreating with a partner from outside an individual’s racially or ethnically defined social group. The term is now out of favor and is considered offensive by many. As recently as 1965, there were twenty-five states in the United States that had anti-miscegenation laws that banned “race mixing.” The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled antimiscegenation laws unconstitutional in 1967. Changing the law, however, did not necessarily change the attitudes of many people. It is in the area of sexual relations and family formation where the race issue is most sensitive. The pervasiveness of conservative attitudes about sexuality coexisting with liberal attitudes about other things is well illustrated in a declaration which has now become a cliché: “I believe in equality for blacks, but I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one.” Or my sister. Or my granddaughter. Many who hold this opinion are likely to maintain that their opposition to interracial marriage is not born of bigotry but of concern for the children born of these unions. They argue that the children will be discriminated against by those in society who are not as accepting as they are. The children per se, however, are not the real problem. The real problem is their belief that such children are unacceptable to society, and by inference, to them, making it a tautological argument. If the children of interracial unions are unacceptable, then interracial marriage is unacceptable. If interracial marriage is unacceptable, then the children of such marriages are unacceptable. Beware. People who use children as their reason for objecting to interracial unions may good upstanding citizens, but they are bigots dressed in sheep’s clothing.

Even Martin Luther King Jr. had reservations about intermarriage. One of his most widely quoted statements was his affirmation: “I want to be the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law.”

Although the number of mixed marriages are at an all time high, it has been gradual but slow increase over the past two decades and the incidence is still relatively low outside of large cities. Of all couples, only about eight of every hundred consist of a husband and wife from different racial backgrounds. Outside of marriage, cross-racial friendships and love affairs are presumably much more common although many of them remain clandestine.

In some social circles, a racially mixed couple may be readily accepted. In many instances, however, a lover from another racial group is going to mean trouble for both of them. A white woman who is involved with a black man may find that he is considered “unpresentable” to her associates as she is to his. A black woman who is involved with a white man may well be considered by her peers to have sold out to Whitey, and she may find that his associates greet her with, at best, stony silence. These realities of contemporary social life do not necessarily mean that you should avoid such relationships, but it does mean that you should be aware of the possible consequences.

The kind of mixed couple which seems most threatening to the greatest number of people is the stereotypic one of a white woman with a black lover. If you enter into such a liaison, you must be prepared for the unpleasant fact that many people who are sexually liberal and tolerant, and who seem to be racially liberal and tolerant, will not necessarily tolerate miscegenation and will sometimes go out of their way to make life difficult for you. Being part of a mixed race couple, or in some places a mixed Jewish-Christian couple, can be seen as a political act.

To sort out your romantic motivations from your political ones, ask yourself this question: If the exotic trait of your lover were to be magically  removed, would he still be as interesting? If the answer is yes, then you are probably responding to the man and not the social category he happens to belong to.

Taking a lover because he is black and you are white reflects as much prejudice, albeit in a different way, as rejecting a potential lover because he is black and you are white. Both alternatives deny the person the right to be assessed in terms of his own personal traits.

Comments on: "Lovers of a Different Color: Flaunting Racial Taboos" (4)

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