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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Depressing Commonalities.

I may have said this before.  My brain, were I to compare it to any appliance in my kitchen, is a bit of a crock pot.  I tend to stew things for days before being really sure what I think about them.  (This is especially ironic when compared to the way I tend to reflexively make judgments about everything.  I snap to judgment and then rue it for days.)  So in the past few weeks, I’ve been exposed to several things I’ve had to mull over.  They aren’t things that have very much in common.  The first is the Netflix series House of Cards.  The second is Paula Deen’s cheerful racism.  The third is rape.

Sigh.

I realize now that there is a common thread:  News Media.

I haven’t been able to decide if I like House of Cards.  There are a lot of brilliantly executed moments in the show, the acting is incredible, and the plot was pleasantly surprising.  It seems like the kind of show I should like; it’s darkly cynical, hard to predict, and makes you think.  So why don’t I like it?  I think it may all boil down to the fact that I don’t like the way the reporters in the show are portrayed.  No one cares about truth in the show.  Everyone cares about getting a good break and beating the competition and keeping a razor sharp edge.  But truth?  Integrity?  F*** that sh**, who has time?  Gotta meet the deadline.  Gotta break it first.

Which brings me to Paula Deen, I suppose.  Almost all of my friends, even some of the most compassionate and racially sensitive, are angry that Paula Deen is being made a whipping girl for institutionalized racism in the South.  “She doesn’t deserve this,” people keep saying, “just because she said some crap 30 years ago that she regrets now.”  First:  If Mrs. Deen hadn’t willingly turned a blind eye to (and alternately propagated herself) institutionalized racism in the South, she couldn’t very well be made a whipping girl for it, could she?  She was the CEO of a company that had racist and sexist policies.  The CEO is held accountable, because everyone beneath them acts in their name.  Her company had policies that punished employees for the color of their skin.  Her family members, who managed HER establishments, abused their employees, exposed them to sexually explicit and abusive materials, mocked and insulted minority employees (including women) and behaved in a manner that is neither legal, prudent, or even understandable.  Yes, Mrs. Deen should be punished for all of these things, if they are true.  Yes, anyone with a few neurons firing in a normal manner who is in a position to distance themselves from her company is wise to do so- including the people who co-produce her shows and publish her materials.  That doesn’t make her a whipping girl, that makes her accountable for her own freaking actions, as well she should be.

Which brings me to rape, naturally.  Because people should be held accountable for their own actions.  A friend of mine posted a story about how she had said no repeatedly to a guy, and he kept pressuring her, and she was drunk and exhausted and didn’t want to make him angry so she silently caved in.  I’d like to point out that if a woman has said no multiple times and then mutely lets you have her way with her, that is rape.

And it makes me blindingly, searingly, furiously angry to realize that we live in a culture that calls that a determined, self-made man getting his way.

I’d like to take this moment to point out that I’m not sure if it is the heat wave making it 90 degrees in my living room despite the air conditioner running full bore, or just the fact that after 30 years of being nice I’m tired of being nice to people who are absolute bastards, but I’d like to take a moment and just scream a general F*** THIS SH** to the world at large.

F*** IT.  WITH A RUSTY SPOON.  THEN DOWSE IT IN KEROSENE AND CALL IT THE FOURTH OF JULY.

Because if you live in America you live in a country where there are scads of journalists ready to pick my friend apart and tell her how she could’ve avoided getting raped, and then blather on about how it’s so unfortunate that her rapist had a moment of flawed judgment which is totally excusable because of my friends rocking bosom.  Which may have been overexposed.  (It wasn’t.)

We live in a country where Paula Deen is pitied instead of being called to account, where the discussion is about poor rich white women having to watch their tongues instead of the beaten black sous chefs that provide them with wealth and are underpaid in return.  We live in a world where a TV show about a politician f***ing his way to running the news is sadly believable, where no matter how dark and cynical Hollywood paints the story it doesn’t feel as dark and cynical as real life.

I’m effing tired of it.

So to my friend, I love you.  I wish we lived in a world that defended you and others like you, because you deserve to be upheld and not torn down.  To Paula Deen, your empire should fall.  It was built on taking advantage of others, which is the worst kind of avarice and cowardice.  And to the producers of House of Cards, eff you.  I’ll watch the next season, though, because it’s still good television.

I just wish it didn’t feel so much like real life.

Racism matters.

It looks like everyone in the blogosphere is talking about Obama’s speech from yesterday. I’ve already done the same elsewhere (link includes full transcript), so I really don’t want to repeat myself here except to say language is power, and by that measure Obama is far more powerful than people credit him.

I do want to talk about race. See, I’m white. I’m not just “Caucasian”, I’m WHITE. The vast majority of my heritage is dutch, and it shows in my pale-as-a-baby’s-bottom skin, the blond hair and blue eyes, the “wholesome beauty” of my features which will never be described as striking. I’m the daughter of a Pastor and a woman whose parents started out as Amish, so I also come from white middle-America Evangelical conservative stock. We didn’t watch the evening news. We listened to Rush Limbaugh.

I also have black cousins. Their mother married a black man in a time when that sort of thing was still rare and rather taboo. I can’t describe the oddness of going to family reunions where a good half of the people were Amish, most of the rest were conservative Mennonite, and here’s me in my punk rock jeans sitting off to the side with my black cousins. People who think that race doesn’t matter or is no longer important are people who were raised in a part of the country where race doesn’t matter. People out in the boondocks see that it does, and how do they see it? Because out here you NOTICE when someone is black. If a black man in a wifebeater with jeans around his ass walks by me, I’m shocked.

I’m shocked, and I’m always worried that my momentary startlement will be interpreted as racism.

I’ve heard lines like, “black people aren’t willing to work,” and “black people are still too full of self-pity to move forward”, and “black people are all full up with anger” from the mouths of men I wouldn’t have thought capable of racism. I’ve heard gentle, loving women say things like, “when I see a black man I cross the street, I don’t know why, I just get afraid”. So there is still this lingering issue of race. That, and there’s fear. As we lose more and more jobs and we see more and more black people and Mexicans walking around our little town, people start to wonder if they’ve got the jobs and the rest of us don’t.

I get angry when people say, “racism is outmoded” or “racism doesn’t matter anymore.” How can you say that? As long as it exists, it matters, and it STILL EXISTS. There are still parts of this country where people see black men standing on a corner and they tell their kids to lock the car doors as they drive by. It matters; it matters and it is still very real.

I have heard more than one man say that if Barack Obama becomes the President, he won’t live to run for a second term.

Oh, yes, it matters.