by Guest Contributor Ope Bukola, originally published at Zora & Alice
Some of you may have read/heard the latest episode in racist rants that inexplicably affect our “post-racial” society. For those who haven’t, it happened last week when Dr. Laura Schlessinger took a call from a listener. The listener, a black woman married to a white man, called to express her frustration with racist comments made by her husband’s friend and family, and in the particular with her husband’s ignoring the comments.
Basically, Dr.Laura asks her for an example of an offensive situation then tells the call to stop being uptight. The doc then goes to prove to the caller how “down” she is with black folks by using the n-word multiple times. Of course, like any “non-racist” with black friends to prove it, Dr.Laura has since “apologized” both on her radio show and her blog. While some folks argue over whether Dr.Laura’s comments were racist or just in poor taste, I’m more interested in the caller’s initial dilemma.
Alicia Keys loves drama – and no, I am not referring to her current lovelife (you’ll have to read a different kind of blog to get that gossip, unfortch), I’m referring to her music videos. When it comes to star-crossed histrionics, both Keys’ music and videos always deliver the goods. Which I kind of like, most of the time; woman’s got a good set of lungs and a nice scrunchy crying-for-the-camera face.
But her latest video just gets on my nerves. “Unthinkable” stars Chad Michael Murray as Keys’ white lover, and shows reincarnations of the same interracial couple across several different decades, suggesting that from the 40’s up to today interracial relationships still face prejudice.
While I appreciate the way Keys uses time to show parallels between the racism of the past and the racism of the present, there are a few things about this video that strike me as deeply dishonest. Broken down for your reading convenience, here are my issues:
1. Only black people hate interracial relationships!
Okay Ms Keys, why do you only have black people showing prejudice in this video? From the 50’s to 70’s to the 80’s to the 00’s, all we see are black faces looking on at the Murray/Keys pairing with fury and even violence. Oh no wait, we get a split second of a white cashier looking at black/white flirtation with disgust…and then it’s back to black folks.
A video doesn’t just pop out organically from the brain of its creator: someone makes very specific choices and then very specific casting calls to mark race in a video. So why did Keys and her team choose to only show black people getting mad about the interracial love in this video?
This seems particularly problematic and dishonest in the “50’s” section of the video, where the optics, if you really look at them, are disquieting: a group of angry, bloodthirsty black men circle a defenseless white man with a puppy dog face.
So not only do we get a very racist portrayal of black people as aggressive and irrational in contrast to a lover-not-a-fighter white man, we get a profoundly skewed version of history. Anyone with a 101 knowledge of Black History Month knows that in the 50’s it was black men, not white men, whose lives were in danger if they so much as looked at white women. For some of our readers this will be well-trod ground, but let’s do a refresher just in case: Emmet Till was a 14 year-old black boy who was tortured and murdered for allegedly flirting with a white woman. And his story was not an anomaly; this happened to many black men. So much so that an all-white jury took all of 67 minutes to acquit both Till’s accused murderers. This didn’t happen in 1897, it happened in 1955.
Neo-soul singer and actress Jill Scott is taking some undeserved heat (IMHO) for her opinion piece on interracial marriage that appears in the current issue of Essence. Now, let me state for the record. I have NO PROBLEM with interracial relationships. We would all do better to evaluate people based on our shared values and interests rather than skin color. Back in my single days, I was an equal opportunity dater. Despite arguments to the contrary, I’m not so sure Jill Scott is opposed to interracial dating either.
In this month’s Essence, Scott writes an opinion piece attempting to explain the outrage expressed by some Essence readers when Reggie Bush appeared on the magazine’s cover. At the time, some black women were offended that Bush, who is dating a white woman (Kim Kardashian), would be lauded on the cover of a magazine for black women. While I don’t agree with this sentiment, I understand where it is coming from. And so does Scott. She writes about “wincing” when a new friend–an accomplished black man–revealed that he is married to a white woman:
Was I jealous? Did the reality of his relationship somehow diminish his soul’s credibility? The answer is not simple. One could easily dispel the wince as racist or separatist, but that’s not how I was brought up. I was reared in a Jehovah’s Witness household. I was taught that every man should be judged by his deeds and not his color, and I firmly stand where my grandmother left me. African people worldwide are known to be welcoming and open-minded. We share our culture sometimes to our own peril and most of us love the very notion of love. My position is that for women of color, this very common “wince” has solely to do with the African story in America.
When our people were enslaved, “Massa” placed his Caucasian woman on a pedestal. She was spoiled, revered and angelic, while the Black slave woman was overworked, beaten, raped and farmed out like cattle to be mated. She was nothing and neither was our Black man. As slavery died for the greater good of America, and the movement for equality sputtered to life, the White woman was on the cover of every American magazine. She was the dazzling jewel on every movie screen, the glory of every commercial and television show. She was unequivocally the standard of beauty for this country, firmly unattainable to anyone not of her race. We daughters of the dust were seen as ugly, nappy mammies, good for day work and unwanted children, while our men were thought to be thieving, sex-hungry animals with limited brain capacity. Read more…
Yes, the days of slavery are long past, but this view of black women as less desirable, less beautiful, less feminine and less valuable than white women persists. It is illustrated by the women who are featured on mainstream magazine covers…and those who are not (Vanity Fair anyone?). It is confirmed by the missing and exploited women that are covered 24/7 on cable news…and those who are not. It is underscored by statistics that reveal who is likely to marry…and who is not.
Black men are not immune to the message that black women are “less than.” Black women know this. We know this because we live it.
I was going to wait on posting this very important story, “Black + White = Heartbreak!” from Girls’ Love Stories #163 (November 1971) until a later date, but fellow romance comic blogger KB did a post yesterday at Out of This World that has encouraged me to post this story now instead of later.
The story KB covered, “Full Hands Empty Heart!” from Young Romance #194 (July/August 1973) tells the story of the love between a young African-American nurse and a white doctor. At the end of his post, KB posed the question:
Were there any earlier inter-racial kisses, romances, or relationships, especially between an African American and a Caucasian, anywhere in comics before this?
To that I can say a resounding yes! Though I do not know if “Black + White = Heartbreak!” is the first interracial relationship in the entirety of the comics medium, it does predate “Full Hands Empty Heart!”
In this Girls’ Love Stories feature, we meet the fathers of our two main characters Chuck and Margo. After working together during World War Two, the two men decide to continue their relationship as civilians by starting an auto dealership together.
Not only are the two men business partners, but friends that share the most joyous of life’s occasions.
As their two small children grew up into good looking teenagers, and then into thoughtful young adults, it was only natural for handsome Chuck and beautiful Margo to fall in love. Their life-long friendship blossomed into romance and the only thing that kept them apart was their attendance at different colleges. When reunited during summer vacation however, they make their love known to the world.
But the world wasn’t understanding. At first it was merely strangers that would ridicule and shun Chuck and Margo.
We got a request from reader Nafis to cover the Essence magazine controversy that is heating up the black blogosphere. But the comments included with the tip made me laugh a bit. Nafis writes:
i know it might go against parts of the racialicious agenda, but i feel like you should talk about the ”cycle of ignorance” that leads to racism. The comments that the author highlights are very derogatory, and it speaks a lot about the situation within the black female community.
Our agenda is to fairly clear – to provide an anti-racist perspective on pop culture. And regular readers know that we are a feminist-minded site, and generally work to incorporate other anti-oppression principles into what we do. So talking about “the situation within the black female community” isn’t really what we do since most of those perceptions are based in stereotypes about black women. However, what is compelling about the whole situation is how conversations about interracial dating play upon stereotypes and deeply held convictions, that tend to drown out any other type of commentary.
When Essence editors chose to put Reggie Bush on the cover of their February 2010 “Black Men, Love & Relationships” issue, I’m sure they thought they were just giving their readers a little dose of sexual chocolate eye candy (those abs!), but instead all hell broke loose!
The Essence.com boards are flooded with seething comments from people who can’t understand why a magazine geared towards Black women would make the NFL player who is dating a non-Black woman, Kim Kardashian, the cover choice for an issue that celebrates Black love.
A lot of hateful comments were posted to the Essence boards, some even saying that Bush was a “white supremacist” and anger that a magazine dedicated to celebrating black women would put a man dating a non-black woman on the cover.
Nadra and Andrea are still working on their response/conversation about the Princess & the Frog, but we have received requests for a conversation. Consider this open thread a place holder.
Some things of note:
Jeff Yang and I had a long (think two hours) conversation about the Princess and the Frog, the nature of Princess, media versus non black media, and all kinds of other topics. A few snippets of the discussion made it into Jeff’s Asian Pop column for the San Francisco Chronicle. But what stood out to Jeff the most upon viewing the film wasn’t racial politics. It was conservatism, which he writes about a bit on his blog:
During the five-year runup to the movie’s ultimate release, conservative critics have regularly lambasted the project as an exercise in political correctness and knee-jerk, quota-driven multiculturalism. Well, the film’s here—and as much as I enjoyed watching it, I have a sneaking suspicion that far from being rejected by the Right, the movie’s going to end up as a GOP cause celebre.
I don’t want to give away any spoilers, because this is a film that really should be watched through eyes sparkling with innocent wonder. But the way the movie’s key themes and plot points map out to Republican talking points is really pretty stunning.
Tiana is a bootstrapping entrepreneur who refuses to ask for charity, preferring to work two jobs to make her small-business dreams come true.
She castigates those who rely on others for welfare, and only changes her ruggedly individualist outlook when she’s pointedly reminded of the importance of having a family—and finding a suitable partner in life.
I grew up in a country where despite the fact that the vast majority of people there are black folks, there are serious limitations to interactions between people from different ethnic groups.
These differences are particularly pronounced when it comes to who you decide to pair with (dating or marriage). As the product of one of those forbidden marriages, I grew up not paying any attention to who I could or could not date (obviously believing that the person should respect both my heritages and my family.) I pretty much stuck to that mantra when I moved to the U.S. So I am often surprised when I find myself pulled into conversations like the one I with a friend of my cousin’s….
Cousin [interjecting out of nowhere]: You know he’s dated white women?
Friend: What is it with these brothers with dread locks chasing after white women?