Saturday, June 10, 2006

A Black And White Experience

The daughter of a friend of mine lives with a black man and they had two children. His mother and sister are both pastors of a woman-run church in Louisiana; my friend and his daughter are from Santa Barbara. Conventionally, many would say that there is quite a difference between the two families.

In Louisiana, there are nine siblings including one that was involved in a police shootout that has incapacitated him permanently; in Santa Barbara, the daughter is the lead sales person at a thriving woman-run design firm and her family is equally large (12 children).

Both families are big and close and both are content within their own situation.

Recently I visited the Louisiana family and their church. I met them all and enjoyed their company. I came away with the opposite opinion of the way that I grew up: I thought it was a wonderful thing to intermarry. It made everything work. It bred away all of the petty differences. And, in this case at least, it strengthened the families, the individuals and the close circle of friends and family of each participant. Everyone is getting along nicely.

Also recently, the Aspen Institute recently sent me a public policy booklet with a suggestion to start a radio station in the Israel/Palistine area broadcast in three languages with topics such as this one (interracial marriage). Aspen and The Annenberg Schools of Communication at USC and U of Penn are planning on funding the project.

Thus my question: are there studies that attest to my observations? That intermarriage -- not just between black and white, but across the board -- brings disparate families together, minimizes differences, and spreads the beneficial effects outward?

Maybe I'm naive in thinking that this is the case. But I would like it to be so because then the solution is evident and simple.

When I grew up you had to marry within one's own race AND religion. The latter broke down before I hit my teens and the former seems to be breaking down these days.

Insights and actualities about the process are being discovered globally. In the 1800s, before Darwinian evolution was popularized, most people, when talking about ‘races,’ would be referring to such groups as the ‘English race,’ the ‘Irish race,’ and so on. This all changed in 1859, when Charles Darwin published his book On the Origin of Species teaching that different groups or ‘races’ of people evolved at different times and rates, so some groups are more like their ape-like ancestors than others. The Australian Aborigines, for instance, were considered the missing links between the ape-like ancestor and the rest of mankind. This resulted in terrible prejudices and injustices towards the Australian Aborigines.

It can be seen through court records in the case of a white farm owner who died on his farm leaving his wife, two half-white children and many slaves. The wife, who was black, was jailed with the rest of the slaves; thus the court case to straighten things out:

In the case’s earliest depositions and transcripts, Nancy was referred to as a “black woman” and only by her first name. When her own lawyers arrived in court (contacted by her determined thirteen-year-old daughter), the documents began to refer to her by surname and as a “colored woman”, no longer “Black.” Once her own witnesses arrived in town to testify, the court reporter began to see her as a “colored lady”, no longer a mere “woman.” Finally, by the time that a politically powerful family friend and businessman arrived in the colonial capital to testify that the family were personal friends, and that the husband had left his last will and testament with the company for safekeeping, she had become “Milady Nancy” in court documents, and subsequent records make no mention of her skin tone.

This case exemplifies social attitudes 100 years ago and illuminates more than the bleaching effects of wealth. It also reveals how daily language is used to hurt, remind and control.

The U.S. Census reports that interracial marriages more than doubled between 1980 and 1995. Black/White marriages increased an estimated 96% overall, with marriages between Black women and White men increasing 171%. Blacks with other races increased a whopping 124% during the same period.

Naturally there are competing discoveries and theories and the general issue is much more complex than I am presenting. Here are a few examples:
  • Relegion is the biggest deterrent to the establishment of the Aspen-sponsored radio station, much less the actual process of intermarriage in the Middle East

  • In a massive interracial program in South America, even after years of modulation, the projection of a preferred skin color (white versus creamy) still causes serious prejudice.

  • Many Muslim countries prescribe intermarriage to the 1st and 2nd cousin level. This is/was the case in Iraq. From reports I've read it appears to have had no beneficial effect except to instill on the participants an extra-large family of trustworthy allies.

What do you think?

And can you refer me to any studies?