IN A RECENT Outlook article, a black Post reporter argued for the societal acceptance of interracial unions; the existence of that piece tells us as much about the times as it does about the author's courage. "Black Woman, White Man" would not have been written during the past 20 years and could not have been written earlier.
Though black women dated and married white men in the '60s and '70s, none, I think, would have publicly complained of the rage to which black men and women subjected them. Those were passionate, if terrifying, times when I married interracially in 1970: One might rail or be anguished, but the metamorphosis was too exhilarating for complaint. Prior to that time, though blacks might have disapproved, few would have been cruel in their objection.
There was a time when some liberals -- social scientists mainly -- and some blacks argued for interracial marriage. J. R. Washington, in "Marriage in Black and White," quotes Toynbee, who, when asked if he saw any solution to the racial conflict in America, replied, " . . . I think the only radical cure for racism is fusion, and the only radical way of fusing is to intermarry." But, as Washington points out, fusion was simply another term for absorption of blacks by whites, a process which would "bleed out" the black, and disperse him to the point of disappearance.
In some respects the solution was appealing. For blacks it held the possibility of achieving a still elusive quality and for whites it meant the ultimate disappearance of the detested and feared "other." But the solution was, of course, impossible, for whites would never embrace in any equitable fashion that which was detested and feared. Today, the solution is as repellent to blacks as it is to whites, not so much because whites are detested and feared, but rather because absorption would mean genocide.
Blacks do not wish to fuse, because they like what they are and, believing in themselves, believe in the validity of their continued existence. Blacks are so virulent in their opposition to interracial marriage because the integrity of the group is relatively new, and thus precious. Although economically we fall further and further behind, psychologically we are no longer inferior.
One might speculate that the increase in hatred and violence being visited upon up testifies not only to hard times, but more precisely to whites' knowledge of the change within us. The least powerful and the most damaged among them seek to show us once more where we belong. But it is too late, for what we have attained is only reinforced by attempts to subject us.
The sense of self which we have earned is the legacy of the Black Movement. Many of us believe that with the killing of our heroes, the destruction of our activist groups, that the war itself was lost. We lost an incalculable amount, but not, I think, the war. The essence of the movement was a struggle for black manhood and essentially we attained it. Black women and children were profoundly altered by the movement, of course. But if one reads the words of Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael and Eldridge Cleaver, if one acknowledges (even if reluctantly) that within all contemporary civilizations power resides in the male and that suppression of men achieves at once suppression of their group, then, as Michelle Wallace asserts, it is clear that what we had to attain was our manhood. It was through that attainment that we achieved ourselves.
There are sexist implications in our struggles and in our resolutions. Black women may be more subject to ostracism for black/white unions than are black men. But that is another issue. The point is, we became . . . we discovered a past, a past previously hidden, sometimes denied; we discovered ouselves -- our kinky hair, our blackness -- and we embraced those discoveries, taking that which was most despised, flaunting it, yelling, "That's right, this is who I am." (Indeed, I could maintain that one of the most courageous acts of the entire movement was the refusal of black women to straighten their hair.) In the psychological sense usually applied to individuals we began to think of the collective as worthy, as acceptable, of value. We became a group.
One of the foremost characteristics of any group is that it seeks its own preservation. The group's survival is sought beyond the wishes, and even at times the best interests of its constituents. Interracial marriages are opposed, then because such unions tear holes in the psychic boundaries of each group affected. The more divergent the groups, the greater is the assault experienced. Thus, both blacks and whites oppose mixed marriage. As blacks have become more certain in their valuing of blackness, they have become more adamant in their wish to preserve it. Whites may oppose such marriages for racist reasons, but they also share with blacks a wish to preserve what is familiar and similar. The history of any people makes them unique, and a very particular sense of who one is, and who one will be, through children and grandchildren, is not relinquished easily.
The crossing of racial boundaries for the purpose of marriage implies, at some level, repudiation of the group. The repudiation is neither conscious nor intended. But I suspect it is there, for whatever reasons. And so the group excludes that member by whom it feels rejected. Ultimately, families may come around, but not necessarily in time. (One should be prepared to rear grandparentless children.)
To marry outside one's racial group insures marginality. Marginality is neither immoral nor tragic; it means to be apart, on the outside, estranged. All sorts of people are marginal, for all sorts of reasons. An interracial marriage may only make that statement public. Chances are, however, that the publicity will render one -- at least for a time -- vulnerable and estranged.
It is a truism of falling in love that those similarities which bring people together often obscure their differences. If that is true for all couples, it is even more true for those of more disparate backgrounds. And being raised black in this country is very different from being raised white. There are differences in what is expected of men and what of women; differences in conceptions of children and of how they ought best be raised; differences, it turns out, in the entire fabric of life lived prior to the commitment to take a different path. Indeed, it may be that the ostracism of other pales before the task of resolving those differences, of actually making a life.
It is not an impossible life. It is at times painful; thre are losses. As a parent, the white partner gives up the possibility of cloaking their child in the safety and assurance intrinsic to the white child's existence. The black parent gives up the possibility of providing that relatively closed world of black folks who gave us a warmth and wisdom not to be found on the outside.
Is it worth it? No one can answer that for another, not even the spouse. There used to be a joke that went, "Do you know what the white woman who was married 25 years to a black man said when he died? 'Thank God that nigger is dead.'" It is a joke about the irrevocability of racism, about the futility and stupidity of black hope, about the bitterness of what I hear it, but I no longer hear it with a sinking sense of inevitability.
For an interrcial marriage is, after all, just a marriage. It is contracted right here on earth and is subject to those laws which regulate other human behaviors. It can be exciting and fulfilling and it can be dull and disagreeable. But if, at the end of long days, one can say yes, this is the compassion I sought, this the intelligence I required, this the humor I needed, this the home I wanted always, then yes, it is worth it.