When God Sends Your Black Friends White Paternalism

So there’s this post going around, “When God Sends Your White Daughter A Black Husband.”  I would like to take some time to do a close reading of the language in it and talk a little bit about how, as white people, we can do horribly wrong things in our attempts to be helpful when it comes to confronting racial bias.  If you have not read the post, it is a letter that a white mother has written to other white mothers whose daughters may be choosing interracial marriage.  And while it is meant to encourage other white people to embrace their children’s choices, it goes too far in whitewashing very complex racial issues and ignoring the consequences that white attitudes have for people of color.

I’m going to go through that post now, copying the harshest of the language and deconstructing what may be read as implied meanings.

The story starts out with the writer explaining how she’d had a wish list that she prayed for her daughter’s future husband to be, and jokes that God “called [her] bluff” by sending “an African American with dreads named Glenn.”  What is unstated here is that she’d always assumed the man that she was praying for would be white, and it turns out that if she’d thought about it, she may have prayed for a white husband.  But given the title of the post I suppose that’s not surprising.

The writer then goes on to say that interracial marriage used to be taboo and even illegal, but isn’t anymore, and states that “though I never shared this prejudice, I never expected the issue to enter my life.”  Again, she’d always assumed her daughter would marry someone white, even though she claims she isn’t prejudiced.  So if she wasn’t prejudiced, why did she assume that her daughter would marry someone white and why did she say that God sending her daughter a black husband was “calling her bluff?”  Despite the author positioning herself as being openminded and accepting, her mere writing of the article gives tell to the lie- it had never occurred to her that her daughter may date someone black.  There is a very real, subtle but real, prejudice at play there.

“Glenn moved from being a black man to beloved son when I saw his true identity as an image bearer of God, a brother in Christ, and a fellow heir to God’s promises.”  The structure and language here are very interesting.  First, Glenn was a black man.  Then, as he proved he had certain good qualities, he also became something else: a beloved son.  This implies that being a beloved son and a black man are somehow contradictory or disconnected ideas.  Also, it states that his “true identity” is as an image bearer of God.  Is that also separate from his identity as a black man?

Then there is the anecdote about a fellow Christian’s worry over the possible future children of this union, “It’s just . . . their future children. They have no idea what’s ahead of them!”  This confession shows that there was an acknowledgement that having interracial children could be difficult.  What is interesting is that the writer brushes this off as a shrug- no one knows what is ahead of them!  No one picks the trials they face!  But that admits that the author believes having interracial children would be a trial.  That race affects one’s life is both tacitly acknowledged and painfully ignored simultaneously, in the way that only a white person can manage.

Then the author gives this problematic advice:  “Calling Uncle Fred a bigot because he doesn’t want your daughter in an interracial marriage dehumanizes him and doesn’t help your daughter either.”  Oh.  Okay.  The author encourages people to simply ignore “naysayers” as long as people aren’t “undermining the marriage.”  I think it’s worth mentioning here that experiencing bigotry does undermine marriages.  Relatives objecting to the marriage based solely off of the color of one person’s sin does undermine the marriage.  Encouraging people to just lovingly ignore racism helps no-one, other than tacitly racist people who don’t like confrontation.

The post continues on, talking about building relationships and trusting God.  It’s all very saccharine and generally good advice to anyone whose child is marrying anyone.  What bothers me, though, is that the issue of prejudice and racism is never confronted head-on.  If anything, prejudice and racism are swept under the carpet.  The author never delves into why she may have never assumed or wanted her daughter to marry a black man.  While she does lather on her son-in-law’s positive qualities rather thickly, she never discusses why those qualities may have surprised her in a black man with dreads.  She never talks about why other people might object to the marriage.

She does the opposite.  She ignores the issue of racism as if it weren’t important or even central to the necessity to write about her experiences.  She ignores the impact of race on the experience of of her daughter and son-in-law.  I have to wonder if her daughter and son-in-law feel that the proper approach to relatives who objected to their union was just to ignore the racism and pray?  I wonder if they felt that such objection undermined their relationship?

Instead, the issue of race was treated as a merely cosmetic issue.  I could imagine a similar missive being written about when God sends your tall daughter a short husband, or your athletic daughter a chubby man.

The impact of race on people’s lives is manifold, especially so for people of African heritage, even more-more-so for people who are known descendants of slaves, and I imagine that impact is even greater in the South (where the writer lives.)  What bothers me the most is the lack of introspection on the part of the writer, and the lack of repentance, and the lack of a call to introspection or repentance.  Without understanding how racism works in our own hearts we cannot repent of it or work against it.  We cannot ignore it as a cosmetic or inconsequential concern and simply shrug it away as if it doesn’t matter.  Rather than being a much-needed confessional of how entrenched and dangerous racism is, how badly we need to confront and defeat it, the writer instead gave us a rather prim 8-step tutorial on how to smile and pretend nothing is wrong.

All the while, what is really wrong is clearly printed between the lines.

 

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If you’re going to be angry, do it right.

Indiana didn’t just pass a law that makes gay marriage punishable by jail time.

This didn’t just happen.  No, really. I know your gay friends (like mine) are probably linking to posts about that and everyone is angry about being dragged back into the dark ages.  And I understand being angry and feeling like recent victories are pissed on when things like this happen.  I mean, I wanted to be angry too.

Only that didn’t actually happen.

Indiana has had laws for many years that say falsifying information on a marriage application is illegal and punishable by a fine or jail time, and they’ve had a law saying that officiants who sign falsified marriage certificates can also be punished.  This seems, to me, like a perfectly rational law.

Fact number two, gay marriage isn’t legal in Indiana and never has been.

Fact three, when updating their application process Indiana made the boxes for the applicant’s names say “male” and “female” instead of “applicant one” and “applicant two”.

Is that, perhaps, rubbing a poo-covered stick in the eye of the gay rights activists who have been giving their sweat and tears to try to get gay marriage recognized in Indiana?  Absolutely, it’s a crap move.

But…  Gay marriage isn’t legal in Indiana.  So there aren’t going to be any gay couples trying to apply for licenses in the current hetero-based application system, so nobody is going to be falsifying documentation claiming they are a gender they aren’t in order to apply for a marriage license, so no officiants are going to be signing off on falsified certificates, so nobody is going to jail.

And if tomorrow gay marriage was legal in Indiana, a few lines of code could fix the whole problem.

So we shouldn’t be angry about the Indiana government’s dick move.  No, really, friends, we shouldn’t be angry about that.

We should be angry about all of the reactionist bloggers getting us to waste our venom on something that is, at the end of the day, relatively meaningless.   This is like letting the bully goad you with the poo covered stick and bum-rushing him and getting it all over yourself, when instead you should be looking at all your classmates as they sit idly by and either do nothing or point and laugh.  The problem isn’t that Indiana did a dick move, the problem isn’t that gay couples are going to be thrown in jail, the problem is that the fact that Indiana is digging it’s heels in on an archaic definition of marriage and aside from a few reactionary bloggers, nobody cares.

When the bully sticks the poo in your eye, psychology tells us that getting angry at him won’t help you.  If you are in trouble, and there are bystanders around who are doing nothing, what you are supposed to do is call them out. Hey, guy in the blue shirt, I’m in trouble!  Get help!  Hey, girl with the curly hair, can you give me a hand?  Hey, big guy over there, do something!

The same is true of if you are in a car accident, or if you suddenly feel pain, or if you see someone fall into a river and other people keep walking by.  Our natural tendency is to tune out disaster and assume someone better fit to deal with things will deal with things- or to assume that because everyone else is doing nothing that such is the appropriate course of action.  The best move for anyone is to start calling people out, in order to demonstrate that silence is not okay.

So don’t jump on the evil Indiana bandwagon.  Start a conversation. Start calling people out.  “Hey, don’t you want to see the marriage application process change?”  “Hey, look at how entrenched the language is, what are better words to use?”  “Hey, why do you think everyone got so angry so quickly?”  “You over there, why do you think people weren’t more honest about what happened?  Who started this firestorm anyway?”

Cause, hey, the tempest in a teapot doesn’t happen just because.

But let’s not waste all of our energy yelling at bully who only wants to see us angry.  (Because, honestly, isn’t that what some of the other side of the argument really is?  Doesn’t it serve their interest to keep gay couples as angry foaming-at-the-mouth activists ready to tear the jugular out of society?)

There is still a productive conversation to be had, one about the perceptions of society and how long it takes to make the language change, and with it expectations.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be angry.

They should, but they shouldn’t self destruct.

They need to be purposefully angry, pointedly angry.

Properly, productively angry.

They should show empathy to those who profit from their anger, and righteous rage at the ones who can be won by it.