Thursday, July 23, 2015

One From Column A...

Back in the day, my skip-level boss was a man who really enjoyed handing out restaurant gift certificates for a job well done. Upon earning just such an "attaboy," I found myself in possession of enough credit to buy way more food than I could eat at one sitting. Being of the opinion that gift certificates were always intended to be used in their entirety, I invited one of my housemates to share a (mostly) free meal with me. She accepted, so we drove up to the restaurant one Friday evening after work to shoot the breeze and try out some new foods.

It was fairly conventional restaurant experience. After a brief wait, the fairly conventional hostess seated us at a nice table and left menus, the fairly conventional server appeared and introduced themselves and rattled off the fairly conventional specials for that evening, we ordered fairly conventional stuff, yadda, yadda, yadda. Nothing out the ordinary happened. Until my housemate excused herself to go to the bathroom.

While she was away from the table, I busied myself with examining the room around me, and I noticed a middle-aged Black couple seated a couple of booths away. He was sitting with his back to me, but his companion was facing me, and, as we used to say, she was looking me dead in my face. And her expression said it all, loudly and clearly.

"What are you doing here with that White woman?"

Now, I fancy myself to be a fairly literate person, but I've never been able to read minds, so in my thoughtful moments, I avoid making attributions of thought or intent unless someone has specifically told me what they were thinking or intending. But this was an expression that I had seen before, and one that had been explained to me, so I have a fair amount of confidence in my reading of it.

I tell this story, because recently, Houstonia magazine ran an advertisement featuring a mixed-race couple and their children, and a couple of their readers started giving them flack for it. Houstonia rather publicly (without actually naming them) called them out on it, and cancelled one of their subscriptions, to the applause of most of their readership.

Good for them. I don't have a problem with people (grand)standing up for what they believe in. But it's also important to understand that when we consider the set of people who take exception to interracial couples, especially when he's Black and she's White, we're not just dealing with the stereotypical (if somewhat stuffed with straw) older White male who lives deep in a Red state, limits their media intake to nothing other than Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, thinks that we should deport all the illegals (except those that clean the Wal-Mart) and is somehow convinced that the most scrutinized man on the planet is also the world's most successful Undercover Moslem. Because when we forget that, it's easy to become smug and secure in our own moral and ethical superiority.

Granted, the Black people I have met who have issues with mixed couples don't view the problem in the same light as some White people who do. The ideas of racial superiority, and therefore necessary racial purity, are absent. In the conversations that I have had with people (and I've had more than I've ever wanted to) among the overall concerns raised were ones of "fraternizing with the enemy," buying into a narrative that other Black people were unattractive and/or lower status and therefore less desirable as partners, that dating White women was needlessly risking the dangerous wrath of White men or simply the difficulty (or impossibility) of forging a lasting intimate relationship with someone effectively socially predisposed to hate you. In my experience, however, as a Black male, the most common reason given for why I should have limited my assumed romantic life exclusively to Black women was the idea that so many "Sisters" were having trouble finding a Good Man. As someone with a college education and a job and without a criminal record of any sort, I qualified, and so, in the minds of many, if I were seeing ANYONE (which, ironically, I never was during one of these conversations) it should be one of the myriad Black women who were having trouble marrying at or above their own level of achievement. There were times when I seriously considered buying a t-shirt with "Property of the African-American Community" on it, just out of the sheer absurdity of it all.

This isn't to say that the people with whom I had such conversations harbored the sort of open desire for racial and ethic cleanliness that might, for instance, lead someone to refer to the magazine ad as "disgusting" or the willfully sanitized understanding of American history required to think that there is something actually wrong if "children [...] see the ad and 'get it into their heads that this is okay'." But it is to say that a sense of propriety that is conservative enough that it seeks to control whom other people associate with (or sees existential threats in the violation of what appear to be bizarre sexual property rights) is not limited to open bigots, and so while it might be emotionally satisfying to cast any disagreement as the rantings of an extremist, it's more accurate to see them as the expressions of the merely insecure. And mere insecurity is not limited by race, color or creed.

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