Matthew Hunter: Love in black and white

BY MATTHEW HUNTER

Published March 26, 2009

As black men who spent nine months in a white woman's womb, Obama and I have something in common. We are the beautiful progeny of interracial relationships, a part of a growing trend. Multiracial couples are simultaneously loved by Americans who dream of a day when race discrimination ceases to exist and resented by people who reject the prospect of becoming romantically involved with another to whom they cannot culturally relate.

According to Time Magazine, interracial marriages have increased almost 1,000 percent between the ban of anti-miscegenation laws in 1967 and 2003 (Color-Blind Love, 5/12/2003). "Mmixing of the races” is inevitable. Considerations about maintaining racial loyalty when searching for one's mate might be more productively discussed in the context of negotiating complexities involved with interracial relationships.

Interracial couples cannot escape the scrutiny of outspoken intra-breeders. Among the most prominent, and perhaps the most legitimate, of those who oppose some form of interracial dating are black women. In a 2006 essence.com survey, 53 percent of readers disapproved of seeing a black man with a white woman.

To strengthen their case, black women cite the statistics of “ineligible” black men. According to the University’s 2008 enrollment statistics, black women make up 60 percent of the African American student population. Combine that with the 201,000 black male-white female marriages, as determined by the U.S. Census Bureau, gays and the incarcerated, and hopes for an eligible black man understandably decrease. All of these factors account for the increase of black female-white male relationships.

Similarly, black men seem to usually prefer black women. But in social spaces dominated by whites, the number of white women far outweighs that of black women. The most likely candidate for a significant other is then usually a white woman. It is a rare man who, during his free time, struggles to search far and wide for the ideal black woman for the sake of “staying loyal” to one’s race.

Given that black men and women who date outside of their race are a growing minority group, practical questions arise. How can blacks negotiate the issue of finding the ideal white man or woman? How can whites better understand why they are usually not the first choice? If they are the first choice, what cultural negotiations might be made to satisfy critics' questions? What sacrifices might whites make to experience the gain of one's black partner?

The Time Magazine article also discussed the case of Chip, a white man who was raised to be racist. He fell in love with a black co-worker, Yvette. Chip's father hasn't talked to him since, and Chip's daughter said that it was confusing when her dad was the only white man at family gatherings. But a child's confusion can transform into wisdom. As their 13-year-old daughter said, “I feel special because I can see the world through black and white eyes both.”

I have a few suggestions for interracial couples. First, no one should ignore race. Discussions of race and politics should be on the front lines of communication. Conversations about identity, slavery, racism and race education for children are essential discourse. Second, each person must attempt to better understand the other’s families. Having both white and black families, I know that they can be equally crazy but also equally loving.

To black men: understand why the sisters can be frustrated with you. To black women: black men should be with whomever they choose, so be easy.

To whites; there are a few racial issues that can easily create tension. One such issue is the stereotypes of white women being sexually overwhelmed by black men. In a 2005 New York Press article entitled “A White Woman Explains why she Prefers Black Men,” Susan Bakos claims that she will never go back to white men because, “that phrase, 'Once you go black, you never go back' is all about the feeling of the skin.” She continues, “I want black men. They want me. We look at one another and exchange a visible frisson of sexual energy in the lingering glances. And our attraction is based first on race.”

Lastly, white men should be careful not to treat a black partner as their “ethnic prize.” This subtle objectification reminds many blacks of Josephine Baker and of white men with a long history of emphasizing the “unique sexuality” of black women.

There is much to be gained from dating outside one's race. But because racial stereotypes and tensions are still so prominent, we must tread carefully so as not to let society determine the fate of interracial relationships. Limitation to one race is not only sometimes impractical, but also often restrictive of one's own ability to share and learn from deep relationships with others. I think our openness to view the racial boundaries of relationships on a continuum of great possibility rather than binary opposites will make this long transition into a nation of multiracial babies much easier.

Matthew Hunter can be reached at majjam@umich.edu.