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March 20, 2009

Interracial/Anti-social Implications of Dating

A student of mine who knows I teach a class called “Romance, Sex, Love, and Marriage, recently called me to ask me some of my thoughts about interracial relationships. I started first by making sure that he recognized how one dimensional the conceptualization of interracial relationships actually is. What comes to mind when you think about interracial relationships? Be honest, did your thoughts actually gravitate towards a relationship between a Black and White person? If so, why would that have been your thoughts?

In America our fixation with interracial relationships may hinge somewhat upon our painful history of slavery and its resulting legacy. When we see a Black man and White woman romantically involved are we looking at them curiously because of the courage they are exhibiting at transcending the judgments of their parents and peers? Perhaps we look at these couples and wonder about their motivations. Is that Black man dating that White woman because he subconsciously devalues Black women and has perhaps subconsciously bought into the myth that the symbol of beauty in America is the White woman. Perhaps that Black man is dating that White woman because at one time in America she was basically likened to the forbidden fruit that tempted Adam in the Garden of Eden, perhaps worthy of a taste but unsure if worth the ensuing consequences. The film Birth of a Nation (critically acclaimed as the Star Wars of its day) exacerbated the problematic dimensions of the Black man-White woman relationship by portraying that potential relationship as being an obsession for Black men. The result of this fixation by Black men to possess a White woman resulted in the suicide by the White woman in that film and ushered in a continuation of the lynching of Black men in society at that time (as well as the decimations of townships like Rosewood, and Tulsa’s Black Wall Street).

What of the White man and Black woman interracial relationship? Does it carry a sordid history as well? There are those out there who look at the White man-Black woman relationship and wonder why he married beneath his class standing (since she may have originated from a history of slavery). Others wonder how that Black woman could date/marry someone who, under the auspices of slavery, once had somewhat sanctioned, unimpeded, uninhibited access to her body. James Loewen articulates in his best selling book “Lies My Teacher Told Me, that most Americans are painfully ignorant of certain aspects of American history, our racial narrative being just one of the gross omissions. Is this true, or did you already know why you might hold a dysfunctional preoccupation with interracial dating? Even if an ignorance of America’s racial history isn’t true for you, is it perhaps true for the world that you live in?

Where does love come into the equation? Just as a woman who is 5’10 and a man who is 5’7 must really love one another to transcend the scrutiny they will endure because of the unwritten assumption that men should be taller than the women they are involved with, an Asian woman and Latino man who love one another will be put under racial-cultural critique. We already know that we are a judgmental society, correct? Isn’t it hard for us to observe that 60 year old woman dating that 40 year old man without prejudging them. That seemingly healthy woman with the paraplegic man must have something sinister up her sleeve because she just couldn’t truly love him, right? It was in Plattsburgh, NY that I witnessed a half dozen men rise and exit the theater as the love scene from Brokeback Mountain unfolded. It is possible that the 50 year old man dating that 30 year old woman just might actually be two individuals who simply fell in love. So why are you whispering, nudging, snickering, pointing, or gossiping about relationships that might be much more healthy, or grounded in reality than any you’ve ever participated in.

Why can’t people just love one another, regardless of our race or differences? Films like Snow Falling on Cedars, A Patch of Blue, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Joy Luck Club, Save the Last Dance, Mississippi Masala, Coming Home, Children of a Lesser God, and Jungle Fever all portray various dimensions and problems that result from this type of daring dating. Films like To Kill a Mockingbird and Rosewood reveal the hegemonic culture’s and/or society’s historical reaction to even alleged interracial interludes. If you’ve seen any of these movies, what was the problematic moment for you within the film that framed our inability to accept differences? Are there any other films that come to mind for you where people just couldn’t get past their preconceived notions or succumbed to their socialization?

Does the history of interracial relationships change now that the President of the United States, Barack Obama, has publicly proclaimed that he is the offspring of an interracial relationship? Does President Barack’s bi-racial status or any Black person’s for that matter, even matter when they look Black? And if President Obama is Bi-racial and should technically not be considered Black, then wouldn’t his marriage to First Lady Michelle itself be considered Bi-racial as well?


March 2, 2009

Making Statements: A Personal Epiphany on not Hating Haters

Recently previous SUNY Plattsburgh student body president, commencement speaker, Chancellor Award winner, and current CDPI graduate assistant Angel Acosta (quite the accomplished young man, isn’t he) and I had the pleasure of addressing Plattsburgh High School’s student body. I was quite flattered when approached by teacher Tony Perez and asked to engage their student body on the possibility of a visit this week from an infamous hate monger and/or his hate harassing crew, hate mongers who also have plans on visiting SUNY Plattsburgh as well. I asked Angel to join me in engaging the students because of how quick witted and creative he is, and how passionate he is about social justice. Also, since it was the day before Black History Month ended, I thought his now rather large afro might assist the audience in pausing for that cause, a reaction that my shaved head doesn’t appear to generate. I mean growing an afro is a statement in itself, though people shouldn’t think that all afros make the same statement. When I had mine, back in the day, it was about Black pride, style, and making me taller.

Hate mongers attempt to make statements as well, though they often make more statements about themselves than they may consciously realize. The hate mongers scheduled to visit our community do this often, and have attempted to generate a reaction from the Plattsburgh community before when a few years back they came to town to antagonize our previous mayor because of their disagreement with his identity.Whether these hate mongers are authentic in their overt disdain for people who have an identity that they don’t agree with is quite intriguing to consider. If it is true, as an internet site claims, that the leader of the hate mongers once was a successful, award winning civil rights attorney (http://www.cjonline.com/webindepth/phelps/stories/080394_phelps17.shtml), then it is even more intriguing to consider the possibilities of his actions and our response(s) to them. Yes, people do change their perspectives in significant ways at certain points in their lives. Saul, a persecutor of Christians, traveling along the road to Damascus where once he arrived at his destination was going to put a hurting on more Christians, had an epiphany and converted to Christianity, symbolically changing his name to Paul. Our soon to be visiting hate monger appears to have had a similar epiphany, except he has gone from defending the underrepresented to hating them.

It is conceivable that some significant event in his life may have motivated a shift in his ideology, perhaps out of self preservation. Considering he was disbarred from legally practicing law in Kansas, and subsequently from practicing law at the federal level as well, it is difficult to not view his hate mongering as a pathetic way to pay the bills. Another possibility is that his Civil Rights efforts were actually about paying his bills and he really could care less about the people he was defending. One last possibility that comes to mind for me is that he is simply a very sick person who has been sick for sometime, yet is lucid enough to articulate a position to others that is attractive enough for them to come on board and assist him in promoting hate. Do you have any theories/thoughts on his actions?

Whatever may be the case for his motivation, one thing is for sure, people have choices on how they see this hate monger and how they respond to him. I often tell the story of a personal epiphany I once had when speaking to my African American Culture course at SUNY Plattsburgh. I was engaging my students on the legacy of lynching that so-called Negroes had to endure for decades in this country and entered into the contemporary tale of James Byrd, the Black man who was dragged from the back of a pick-up truck by three white supremacists in Jasper, Texas. In the middle of telling this tale it occurred to me that the anger I had always had difficulty managing when speaking about this type of hateful action, anger aimed at the perpetrators, was misguided. Yes, they needed to be apprehended. Yes, they needed to be incarcerated, perhaps for life, perhaps even executed to ensure that they could never perpetrate such a crime again, unless of course they could somehow transcend recidivism, which necessarily could be guaranteed, which is probably not possible. One could even make an argument that their families should pay for the trauma they brought on the Byrd family and that community with their heinous crime. But my anger at the three murderers, an anger that flirted with becoming hatred, was as misguided as our anger/hatred for the hate mongers who are poised to enter our community with their venomous mission to ridicule and demonize people whose identities they don’t agree with. My anger wasn’t serving me well when I aimed it at these three men who were so filled with hatred that they demonstrated their hate by brutally ending the life of another. My anger needed to be aimed at the educational system that contributed in creating them. It isn't far fetched to entertain the thought that if we had conversations with our children at young ages that helped them to see the differences that exist between us many of the hate crimes that take place might not!

Angel and I challenged the Plattsburgh High School students and staff to be wary of hating the haters. More so, we challenged our PHS audience to make a statement about their sophisticated way of seeing. They have the ability to recognize that none of these haters emerged from the womb during their birth hating this world and its inhabitants. They were either taught to hate or are somehow sick enough to not have the ability to love. In either case, what statement is made about us, what does it reveal about us if we lose our perspectives and begin to hate the hater? Our hating the hater is not far removed from being angry at an infant who is incessantly crying. It makes no sense. When the hate mongers arrive what we really should be doing is staying away from them, far away. They are undoubtedly either quite sick, or deviously calculating. Either way, they don’t deserve a moment of our time. And more than anything else, while we are earnestly trying to not succumb to hating the hater, we should also be conscious of the statements we make about ourselves when we do succumb to hating someone who is obviously quite sick.

The PHS students impressed us with their energy, maturity, and wisdom on this subject. Angel and I left their auditorium feeling quite pleased with the conversation we had with them. At SUNY Plattsburgh we are also preparing for various discussions along similar lines. The Center for Diversity, Pluralism and Inclusion is hosting this Wednesday at 4:00 in Hawkins Hall’s Krinovitz Recital Hall, our spring semester Faculty Panel Discussion on the topic “Inflammatory Rhetoric: Building an Ethical Community Response,” in anticipation of their visit. It will feature University Police Chief Arlene Sabo, Anthropologist Dr. Richard Robbins, CDPI Asst. Director Deb Light, Communications Dr. Justin Gustainis, Political Scientist Dr. Daniel Lake, and will be moderated by Dr. Thomas Moran. Aside from the fact that you just witnessed one of the most shameless plugs for an event, on some bizarre level, we owe the hate mongers thanks for serving as the catalyst for community conversations.

What are the statements that come to mind when you think about hating haters? What are your thoughts?