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No, interracial love is not “saving America”

This year is the 50th anniversary of Loving vs. Virginia, the famous Supreme Court case that officially overturned state laws.... Predictably, this has been accompanied by a flurry of events, films, articles, and even songs celebrating this moment as a milestone in the history of America’s journey toward racial equality.

At a mixed race conference, I recently attended, larger-than-life photographs of Richard and Mildred Loving, the white man and black woman whose relationship inspired the court case in 1965, adorned the walls. There and elsewhere, the Lovings were portrayed as “heroes” whose love valiantly overcame the racism of their time.

Just today, the New York Times proclaimed that interracial love was “saving America.”

Statistics show that interracial marriages in the U.S. are on the rise, and this undoubtedly reflects a shift in attitudes toward race in the American population overall. However, there are several reasons why using interracial marriage as proof of racial progress in our society is not only misleading but harmful.

First, state recognition of partnership often functions as a superficial symbol of progress, obscuring deeper issues of violence and inequality for the most marginalized members of a community. For example, when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in 2015, many heralded this as proof that queer people had finally been accepted into mainstream society.

By Lisa Hofmann-Kuroda* for WearYourVoice Mag, AFROPUNK contributor

But even after the legalization of gay marriage, trans women of color, particularly Black trans women, continue to be murdered at disproportional rates relative to the rest of the queer community. Queer and trans youth experience higher rates of homelessness than their peers, trans people, and trans women of color in particular, struggle to obtain basic health care, and undocumented LGBT people, particularly trans people, face disproportionately high rates of abuse in detention centers.

It’s clear that legalizing gay marriage has done very little to address any of these issues, which are central to the continued oppression of queer people in our society. Similarly, legalizing interracial marriage has not substantially lowered social barriers for people of color in the United States. If anything, racial inequality and segregation have substantially worsened simultaneously with the rise of interracial marriage.

Second, upholding interracial marriage as proof that we have overcome racism reinforces the idea that racism is primarily about individual acts of prejudice, rather than about systemic (and collective) vulnerability to state violence. Ending racism is not just about changing the way that individual people think and feel; it’s about dismantling a police system that uses disproportionate amounts of violence against Black people, abolishing a prison-industrial complex that houses more inmates (primarily Black and Brown people) than any other country in the world, and ending a historical legacy that continues to build its wealth on centuries of stolen land and labor from Black and Indigenous people.

Interracial marriage will not on its own solve any of these issues. Third, narratives around interracial marriage necessarily center certain kinds of interracial relationships – those involving a white person – while obscuring others: namely, interracial marriages between different groups of people of color. Historically in the U.S., different racial groups married each other for very different reasons, and under very different circumstances, and it’s important to keep those distinctions in mind when we talk about interraciality.

For example, interracial unions between Indigenous people and Black people historically took place within the context of genocide and slavery. Runaway slaves formed independent enclaves called maroon societies .... Meanwhile, interracial unions between Chinese laborers (typically men) and Bla..., which limited the number of Chinese women who could immigrate to the U.S. The history of these relationships contain important and radical legacies for people of color who sometimes intermarried with each other as a means of survival.

Most notably, “inter-racial” was legally defined for most of U.S. history as a marital relationship between a white person and a black person, and later, between a white person and any person legally considered non-white (a definition that shifted over time). This means that anti-miscegenation laws were not so much about outlawing all interracial relationships as such. After all, there has historically been plenty of racial mixing between Black people and ..., as well as between Black people and Asian immigrants. Rather, the goal of outlawing interracial marriage was explicitly aimed at protecting the “purity of the white race.

It makes sense, then, why narratives of interracial marriage that center a white person and a person of color would continue to dominate current discussions of interraciality. It is because historically, it has mattered little to white people whether or not different groups of people of color intermarried with each other–except when it posed a threat to the hegemony of whiteness.

By continuing to center stories of white people marrying people of color in our narratives around interracial marriage, we are celebrating and upholding marriage between white people and people of color as brave, triumphant, or ground-breaking, while erasing the histories of non-white interracial couples, which were equally if not more radical–albeit for very different reasons–because they were often based on strategies of survival.

Finally, far from overcoming racism, interracial marriage (or any kind of interracial relationship) can, in fact, perpetuate racism, either through fetishization and/or anti-Blackness. If the horrifying statistics generated by contemporary dating websites such as OkCupid are any indication, we know that the prospect of interracial marriage does not bode especially well for Black women or Asian men. For example, 82% of non-black men on OkCupid show some bias against black women. Within the gay male community as well, racism continues to be a huge problem. The recent blockbuster hit film, Get Out, provides a much-needed perspective on the darker sides of interracial relationships–particularly between white women and Black men. It is notable that this film, which highlights the violence that has historically come out of relationships between white women and Black men, would debut on the 50th anniversary of Loving v Virginia. The coincidence points to a deep contradiction in the American psyche about the possibilities and limitations of interraciality and miscegenation overall.

This is not an argument against interracial marriage as such. No one deserves to have their love unfairly policed, of course. However, it is a call to critically examine the history of interracial marriage and to recognize that it is not inherently good or bad, progressive or regressive. It is a call to recognize that loving each other across racial difference will not in itself dismantle the system of racial capitalism that continues to oppress us.

Photo of Mildred and Richard Loving via WYV Mag.


*This post was published in partnership with WearYourVoice Mag.

**Lisa Hofmann-Kuroda is a queer, mixed-race writer, teacher and political organizer living between Berkeley, California, and Tokyo, Japan. She is currently completing her Ph.D. in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at UC Berkeley. In her writing and activism, she thinks broadly about queer alternatives to institutionalized forms of belonging.

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Comment by Donnie Corbett on June 28, 2017 at 6:10am

Philip I totally agree with all of your comments below you are right on point  thank you brother for you insight on these matters.

Comment by Philip Harding on June 28, 2017 at 12:59am

@Donnie C re Chronicles 7:14. Yes! Wonderful. This CAN happen, because it can happen in you, and in me, and even in the most brutal and callous among us. Heaven has no boundaries or tolls. If heaven had a toll it would be to give a single grain to gain a ton. 

Anyway dialogue is helpful and good. While I also see white supremacy as the greatest enemy not only for the black community, who obviously suffer and have suffered the worse under it as well, but for anyone living in a racist society. Because to learn to live in a racist society is to learn to navigate through hell. Apartheid and caste are systems that are diseased- they enslave, fester with class hatred and greed, kill their young in senseless wars-- there's a big picture to a totalitarian enslaving culture, and their is not a flicker of joy for anyone who buys into such a system.

I cannot see 'interracial marriage' and 'interracial love' (if that be true love without motive beyond) as contributing to or exacerbating racism. As a matter of fact, in a more enlightened future, we peoples of this world will not have our attention drawn to race, we will not have 'race.' I defy anyone to define race to me in any way that makes any sense at all beyond myth. You can point out surface culture differences and norms- but race is a mythology. And that's what make racists the stupidest people of all; corrupt, dumb and full of self-hatred. Racism is the ultimate in cruel and despicable, period.

Comment by Philip Harding on June 27, 2017 at 10:01am

'Interracial' is a non-issue to me. If people want to make race an issue they can only do so through fear, intimidation, and promoting the 'us' and 'them' paradigm. And that is the only reason I am forced to look at the ugly barnyard issue of race.

I could care less about your partner's race but cultural differences can be intriguing. Anyway, with a 50% divorce rate overall in marriages, I don't think marriage in any form is 'saving' our country. The only thing that is going to save our communities is equal treatment and TRUE justice; not the pledge allegiance to the flag justice that was never anything but a HUGE LIE. 

Comment by Donnie Corbett on June 27, 2017 at 9:25am

The only thing that are going to save America and the world is 2 Chronicles 7:14 read it for yourself.

Comment by Donnie Corbett on June 27, 2017 at 9:21am

Believe me racism and white supremacy is still the main problem for people of color here in America, I'm the kind of black that don't indulge or believe in interracial relationships to each is own nor do I believe in same sex marriages period, just my little two cent worth I love myself some BLACK QUEENS!!!!

Comment by Veronica Alleyne on June 26, 2017 at 7:04pm

first of all, thee is only one race of human beings on the planet, Cro Magnon, Neanderthal, Australopithicus & others have long since vanished, the idea of separating people into diverse races based on ethnicity, cultural variations & skin color is an antiquated hold over from slavery which is still doing what it was intended to do & that is divide people into groups to justify & excuse white ownership of black bodies, an idea which is taken erroneously as fact when such differences remain unsupported by scientific research


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