Love in Black & White

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Posted by Lilly from ? ( on Monday, July 08, 2002 at 12:02PM :

In Reply to: Kaffir Boy in America posted by Lilly from ? ( on Monday, July 08, 2002 at 11:44AM :


by Mark Mathabane


WHAT does it mean to be an interracial couple in America? For many years, decades, it has meant being analyzed, studied, categorized, labeled and collected into statistics and theories—some bizarre and others downright ridiculous—aimed at answering a question at once simple and complex: Why do human beings fall in love?

There's little doubt that of all the kinds of mixed couples in America, the black and white relationships are among the most studied, psychoanalyzed and discussed. They provoke the strongest reactions in people. They constantly are targeted by black and white opponents of "race mixing."

Sociological treatises and psychological studies abound about the problems of and the motives behind interracial relationships. They have fascinated and titillated society since the days of slavery. But despite extensive research into such relationships, there have been few human stories about why individuals from different and frequently antagonistic worlds defy formidable cultural prejudices and taboos to unite their lives in friendship and marriage.

There are about 200,000 married black-white couples in America, living in virtually every state of the union. Amazingly, many of these couples are in the South, where until 1967 such marriages were forbidden by law.

In Virginia in 1959 a white man and his black wife were convicted by an all-white grand jury for violating the state's ban on interracial marriages. The penal code stated:

If any white person intermarry with a colored person, or any colored person intermarry with a white person, he shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by confinement in the penitentiary for not less than one nor more than five years.

In his sentencing opinion, the Virginia judge stated:

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and He placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with His arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that He separated the races shows that He did not intend for the races to mix.

The couple appealed the decision, and in June 1967 the Supreme Court struck down the Virginia law, along with the anti-miscegenation laws of 15 other states, on the grounds that the freedom to marry whom one chooses is one of the "vital personal rights" protected under the Fourteenth Amendment.

But attitudes change slower than laws: 25 years after the Supreme Court ruling, stereotypes and misconceptions against mixed marriages are still rife. We have attempted, with this book, to explore and expose these attitudes.

Our book is not another "scientific" or "sociological" study of mixed couples. It is simply the story of two individuals who fell in love. From outward appearances, we could not be more dissimilar—a blond American who grew up in relative comfort in the middle-class suburbs of Ohio, Texas and Minnesota, and an African raised in segregated South Africa amid dire poverty, suffering and racism.

With the publication of Kaffir Boy and Kaffir Boy in America, our relationship came under the spotlight. It was misunderstood, criticized, praised, and subjected to all the stereotyping that America's lingering and pervasive racism could conjure up.

This book is about our odyssey as a mixed couple in America. It is about what brought and keeps us together, how we have dealt with opposition from family members, hostility from opponents of "race mixing," hate mail, the birth of our children, the threats to our careers, our own grappling with the complex requirements and emotions of interracial love.

It is also about the moving personal stories of friends and acquaintances who decided to break long silences and talk about the true nature of their interracial relationships, often revealing painful secrets about careers, friendships and families sacrificed for their undying conviction that humanity is one, that human love can and should be shared with everyone, regardless of color or creed. For years many of these courageous individuals had been prevented from telling their stories for fear of opening deep wounds, of provoking racist attacks, or worse.

We are far from assuming to speak for all mixed couples. Nor do we have all the answers for the complex process of falling in love that is as individual as our fingerprints. Nor do we expect our book to dispel all the stereotypes about mixed couples. In some cases these stereotypes may be validated. But of one thing we are certain: interracial couples should cease being simply statistics, guinea pigs for social scientists and psychoanalysts to dissect and analyze. They should become human.

Mark Mathabane and Gail Mathabane
Kernersville, North Carolina

-- Lilly
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