REQUIEM FOR AN AFRICAN PATRIOT
“I have always regarded myself, in the first place, as an African Patriot.”
Nelson Mandela, April 20, 1964
(Umkhonto we Sizwe—the Spear of the Nation)
…we felt that without violence there would be no way open to the African people to succeed in their struggle against the principle of white supremacy. All lawful modes of expressing opposition to this principle had been closed by legislation, and we were placed in a position in which we had either to accept a permanent state of inferiority, or to defy the Government. We chose to defy the law.”
Nelson Mandela, April 20, 1964
For choosing to defy the law,
Rather than accept a permanent state of inferiority
Thank you, for enduring 27 years of imprisonment
Now they come from their Babylonian nation-states,
to sing songs of praise,
while conducting covert wars in brown and black lands,
their drones drop bombs to drown out the sorrows of motherless children
they judge you for being a friend of Fidel,
Fidel was a friend to you when their congresses and parliaments
were condemning you as a terrorist,
Cuba’s soldiers willingly shed their blood in Angola
while they tried to pacify the continent with Coca-Cola
What did Europe care of the killing of Xhosa, Ndebele and Zulu…
they are all “niggers” to us; bring us the diamonds, minerals and metals
White Supremacy is Europe’s child,
and Thatcher defended it till dementia took her mind
Apartheid is not a crime
Its communism, communism, communism
Its terrorism, terrorism, terrorism
Reagan’s America was of the same mind
They will try to mummify you as a gentle pacifist,
to suit their revisionist history, but you will always remain a revolutionary
they redact the CIA delivering you to your oppressors,
“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand”
They fail to understand how “the last shall be first, and the first last.”
Stop and Frisk Now, Stop and Frisk Tomorrow, Stop and Frisk Forever/Segregation Now, Segregation Tomorrow, Segregation Forever
Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.
― Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”
An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal.
― Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”
The morning after a federal judge ruled that “Stop, Question and Frisk (SQF)” as it was being practiced by the New York City police department was unconstitutional, I found myself watching the MSNBC television program Morning Joe hosted by former Congressman Joe Scarborough and journalist Mika Brzezinski. The topic of discussion was the ruling. The guest panelists were advertising executive Donny Deutsch, former New York State Governor George Pataki, journalist Mike Barnicle and Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson. Robinson the lone person of color on the panel was not physically located in studio, but was offering commentary from a live video feed. Robinson’s physical absence was rather symbolic, it was clear that Deutsch, Barnicle and Pataki, all white males over the age of 50 were nicely insulated in their bubble of white male privilege, in which an appropriate space for black Eugene Robinson did not exist. The reality is that neither Deutsch, Barnicle, Pataki, or Scarborough have ever or will ever be the victims of racial profiling or any form of SQF. Their children and nephews will never be victims of ‘stop, question and frisk.’ It was quite clear that an empathy gap existed, where they simply could not put themselves in the shoes of a black or Latino male, to imagine the indignity and unfairness of being constantly stopped and frisked. Rather than argue against the inhumanity of the process they saw it as a necessary evil.
W.E.B DuBois in his landmark work The Souls of Black Folk, wrote about the double-consciousness of black Americans. It has occurred to me while black Americans may possess double-consciousness, and in my case being black, female, Haitian and American, I sometimes feel that I possess quadruple-consciousness. In my view some white Americans posses a singular-consciousness, which renders them incapable of perceiving, imagining and empathizing with the viewpoints, concerns and suffering of non-whites. It may be possible that no one in New York City posses a more singular-consciousness than its current mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg. Bloomberg is racially tone-deaf and insensitive and filled with zealous self-righteousness. Watching Bloomberg’s defiant post-ruling press conference, I saw shades of George Wallace 1963. On January 14, 1963, George Wallace as the newly elected governor of Alabama delivered an inaugural address, written by a known Ku Klux Klansman, Asa Carter, which has lived in infamy. Mr. Wallace declared “I draw the line in the dust at the feet of tyranny, segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Wallace assured white Alabamans that they were going to let Washington know that were not going to abide by federal decisions against segregation in the south. In the same manner Bloomberg accompanied by police commissioner Ray Kelly, let white New Yorkers know that were not going to abide by the ruling of the federal judge, its goings to be, stop and frisk today, stop and frisk tomorrow, stop and frisk forever.
Bloomberg’s message was intended for white New Yorkers. He was was not addressing his comments to the black and Hispanic communities who together make-up about 50% of New York City’s population, but account for almost 83% of the people who are stopped and frisked. The black and Hispanic men of New York City do not want to be constantly stopped and frisked. Black and Hispanic mothers and fathers do not want their sons to constantly be the subject of police scrutiny. Black and Hispanic women do not want their brothers, husbands, uncles and nephews to be constantly stopped and frisked. If Bloomberg or Kelly ever took the time to ask the black and Hispanic community how they wanted issues like crime addressed in their neighborhoods, instead of paternalistically assuming that they know what is best for these communities, they would discover that black and Hispanic communities in New York are wholeheartedly against Stop and Frisk.
In his press conference denouncing the judge’s ruling Bloomberg stated “I worry for my kids and I worry for your kids”, really Mike? You are worried about Emma and Georgina Bloomberg? Are you worried that some random black or Hispanic man is going to try to steal equestrian Georgina’s horse? In George Wallace’s day among the rationale for the indiscriminate lynching of black men was the need to protect the virtue of white women. Bloomberg evoking concern about his two white daughters, who are living a life of privilege, far removed from the poor black and Hispanic communities where young black and Hispanic men have to deal with police harassment everyday is ludicrous. Bloomberg showed he had no concern whatsoever for black and Hispanic children when he appointed his thoroughly unqualified friend Cathleen P. Black to be the chancellor of New York City’s Public Schools. To Bloomberg’s assertion that he is concerned about minority children, I think black mothers would say to him, Mr. Bloomberg, your blues ain’t like ours. If you want to know about the ‘blues’ of black mothers, go speak with Patrick Dorismond’s mother, go speak with Amadou Diallo’s mother, or go speak with Abner Louima’s mother.
Writing in the New York Times Michael Powell described Bloomberg and Kelly this way in their Monday press conference
They are the aging Dead End twins, the billionaire mayor with his Hamptons-by-way-of-Bermuda tan and the square-jawed, crew-cut commissioner. Again and again, they displayed a fossil-like rigidity, refusing to concede even a jot of a point to the federal judge who imposed a monitor on the Police Department, or to the many critics who warned so often that a once-reasonable stop-and-frisk program had metastasized.
The panelists on Morning Joe, all accepted Kelly and Bloomberg’s argument that Stop and Frisk is an effective crime prevention tactic (“evidence…suggest that stop and frisk is, at best, ineffective, and, at worst, actively alienates communities with whom the police need to engage”) but it was never about the effectiveness of stop and frisk as a crime prevention tactic, it was about whether or not targeting a specific group of New York’s population (aka racial profiling) was constitutional, the judge ruled that it was not. On Page 2 of her opinion, Judge Scheindlin writes,
“I emphasize at the outset, as I have throughout the litigation, that this case is not about the effectiveness of stop and frisk in deterring or combating crime. This Court’s mandate is solely to judge the constitutionality of police behavior, not its effectiveness as a law enforcement tool. Many police practices may be useful for fighting crime—preventive detention or coerced confessions, for example—but because they are unconstitutional they cannot be used, no matter how effective.
Bloomberg and his ilk understand that the constitution is the supreme law of the land, maybe the confusion for them is whether the constitution applies to black and brown folk. After all, the United States Constitution originally counted black persons as three-fifths of a man. “We the People,” originally referred to white property owning males like Michael Bloomberg, and today in 2013 it is still being debated whether the constitution’s protection extends to non-whites.
Black People, Black People
the verdict will never be in your favor
no more marches
no more petitions
no more sit-ins
America is just not that into you.
You shall not overcome
let hope die a merciful death
You thought that was love?
Ask yourself, are you better off in 2013,
than you were in 2008?
America never has and never will love you.
America is happy to let you entertain her,
Run Nigga Run
Dunk Nigga Dunk
Sing Nigga Sing
Dance Nigga Dance
Is Stop and Frisk Love?
Does America love you?
Go ask Emmit Till
Go ask Trayvon Martin.
You think America loves you,
because you get to stand in Paris
Rapping about Niggas in Paris,
while Gywneth bobs her blond head on stage?
You think America is post-racial,
You think Hip-Hop has changed the world.
From the sixteenth to the twenty-first century,
America has enslaved you, lynched you, segregated you,
incarcerated you, divided and conquered you.
America will never love you.
Take your talents, some place further than South Beach,
the American dream was never meant for you.
Always separate, never equal.
Borrowed mother’s voice,
To pay tribute.
My aria ricochets.
Have the dark clouds been banished?
Are you dreaming of delicious blackberries?
Has my song ransomed me?
A dutiful daughter,
I am a parody of an echo.
These legacy chains bind me,
silken sisterly knots,
stirring soup in cast iron pots
to feed the ‘strongmen, as they keep coming.’
Merely, a ‘mule of the world’
constructed by colonial circumstance
laboring, loving, enduring and dreaming.
Copyright by Sherley Jean-Pierre
Autobiography of a Goddess
from the head of a god?
fully formed from the sea?
from a Cap-Haïtien mango tree
a suckling, nourishing on sugarcane.
same hemisphere, new city.
an undocumented body
in the elementary factory
weaving tales like Scheherazade
not to defer death
but to invent myself.
Divine, gifted and black
through a metropolitan labyrinth
searching for my matrilineal lineage.
from the fruitless, quixotic attempts
to distill segments of my soul
to bottle the darkness.
Have you ever seen a goddess weep?
Jackie O shades, Conceal.
Even a goddess’s heart can be broken.
Of all my powers
to conceive, to nurture, to weep
to think, to love, to forgive
to be detached—self-actualized
to accept being both the sheep
and the wolf.
Determined, gifted and black
there is a room for me
in the ivory tower.
is my constant companion.
Awaiting the classic end.
copyright by Sherley Jean-Pierre
“A fetish is a story masquerading as an object.”
For over four hundred years in the United States, a combination of law, social restriction and cultural taboo has discouraged interracial marriages from taking place. Up until 1967, most states had laws prohibiting interracial marriages. In 1967 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia that all such laws were unconstitutional. As a recent USA Today article notes:
Since that landmark Loving v. Virginia ruling, the number of interracial marriages has soared; for example, black-white marriages increased from 65,000 in 1970 to 422,000 in 2005, according to Census Bureau figures. Factoring in all racial combinations, Stanford University sociologist Michael Rosenfeld calculates that more than 7% of America’s 59 million married couples in 2005 were interracial, compared to less than 2% in 1970. (Crary, 2007)
The level of attention and debate directed at interracial marriages seems disproportionate to the actual occurrence of interracial marriages. The ongoing debate on interracial marriage is sharp, passionate and critical, taking place on radio programs and Internet blogs, in academic circles, books, beauty salons and barbershops. A quick search of Amazon.com on the topic will bring up several books with provocative titles such as: Why Black Men Love White Women, by Rajen Persaud; Black Men in Interracial Relationships: What’s Love Got To Do With It? by psychologist Kellina Craig-Henderson, Ph.D.; and It Ain’t All Good: Why Black Men Should Not Date White Women, by John Johnson. The focus is not just on interracial relationships, but interracial relationships between black men and white women. Sexual and romantic unions between black males and white females provoke strong visceral and critical reactions from many, but particularly from black women.
Black men are marrying outside their race at nearly triple the rate of black women. In addition, it is the most eligible black men—educated, affluent, high profile and professionally successful—who are disproportionally marrying white women. This is significant because statistical evidence indicates that the pool of eligible, educated and professionally successful black men is very small. The ABC Television news program Nightline reported in a December 23, 2009 broadcast that black women outnumber black men by 1.8 million. Nightline estimated that if one began with a group of 100 black men, and then subtracted men without high school diplomas, unemployed men, and incarcerated black men between the ages of 25 to 34, there would be only 54 eligible black men left. Nightline did not account for the portion of the 100 black men who may be gay, which would further reduce the pool. Forty-two percent of black women have never been married, double the percent of white women who have never been married (Davis & Karar, 2009). The following additional statistics further illustrate how small the pool of eligible educated black men is, especially in comparison to the pool of eligible educated black women:
- High mortality and incarceration rates exist among black men (Crowder & Tolnay, 2000)
- Black women make up 24 percent of the professional-managerial class vs. 17 percent of black men (Cose, 2003).
- Thirty-five percent of black women are enrolled in college vs. 25 percent of black men (Cose, 2003).
- Black men have lower earnings and lower levels of education relative to whites (Crowder &Tolnay, 2000).
Interracial marriage is not limited to black men and white women, as white men are marrying Asian women at a rapid rate. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times (2002) notes that “[a]bout 40 percent of Asian-Americans and 6 percent of blacks have married whites in recent years.” Journalist and blogger Steve Sailer (2003) analyzed the 2000 U.S. Census data and concluded that “18 percent of Asian wives have white husbands.” The black male/white female and white male/Asian female pairings are the subjects of diverse and loaded critical theories that seek to explain the across-racial-line attraction:
Some say the most common black-white pairing—a black man married to a white woman—may be more frequent because of shared feelings of powerlessness. “They both occupy an incongruent status in society,” said Prof. Charles Willie, a black sociologist at Harvard University, who is himself married to a white woman. “They both should be dominant, he because he is male, she because she is white. But because of racism and sexism, they are not respected as dominant.” (Wilkerson, 1991)
The suggestion is that these relationships are not born from genuine “mutual affection” but from other, more powerful economic and socio-psychological influences. Black men are accused of subscribing to Eurocentric beauty standards, of rejecting their own race and of trying to culturally assimilate when they date and marry white women. The central criticism leveled at white men involved with Asian women is that these white men are inspired by fetish fantasies. Black men are also accused of having fetish impulses towards white women. The fetish theory proposes that white and Asian women become fantasy objects regarded with awe, eliciting unquestioning reverence, provoking desire, sparking curiosity and embodying the ideals of beauty (“Fetish,” 2010).
When we examine the similarities in black male/white female and white male/Asian female relationships, we will discover evidence that these marriages speak to the ongoing presence of patriarchy and of race and class divisions in the U.S. They also speak to America’s ongoing valuing of a Eurocentric aesthetic as superior, and its devaluation, relegation to the exotic category, or non-recognition of what does not fit the Eurocentric aesthetic model. When media mogul Rupert Murdoch married his third wife, Chinese-born Wendi Deng, he conferred a higher social status on her; when Tiger Woods married white, Swedish-born Elin Nordegren, he engaged in bargaining for the privileged status of her whiteness. Aaron Gullickson (2006) explains this as the theory of “status exchange”: “Unions are …formed through an exchange relationship in which both white and black partners benefit by trading status characteristics. (p 673)” Black women’s anger towards black men who marry white women is situated in their belief that black men are rejecting educated professional black women for less educated non-professional white women whose chief social capital is their “whiteness.” A high-profile example is Woods, whose wife is not a college graduate, although she did attend college for a few semesters. In private conversations black women often point out that Nordegren was working as a nanny for a Swedish golfer when she caught Woods’ attention. They wonder about the odds of a successful professional white golfer noticing a black nanny and considering her as a potential mate.
Journalist Ying Chu (2009) writes that for white males, the Asian wife is usually the second or third wife. This pattern does not seem to follow suit for the black male/white female pairing: for black males, the white wife can be the first wife or the second wife, possibly after a divorce from a black spouse. The list of prominent black men with white wives who also happen to be their first spouses include: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, former NBA player Charles Barkley, Citigroup Board Chair Richard “Dick” Parsons, actor Taye Diggs, and singer Seal. Actor Harry Belafonte, television journalist Bryant Gumbel and sportscaster Ahmad Rashad have all divorced black wives and subsequently married white women. It seems as if the white female is the first choice, the Asian the second choice, and the black female the least desired.
Modern interracial marriages are a manifestation of the historical narratives of race, gender, capitalism and patriarchy in America. In a patriarchal and capitalist society, males desire and attempt to pursue wealth, status and power. When such a society is also racially stratified, there are limitations on which males are able to acquire wealth and power. In American society, white males have been able to secure the lion’s share of wealth and power. However, a few black males have been able to acquire wealth, if not power. The most visible of these black males are the professional athletes and entertainers. One of the rewards of wealth and power for a male is being able to acquire the most desirable females as mistresses and wives. The term “trophy wife” indicates that a wife not only provides love, companionship and offspring, but also validates the husband as a winner. A trophy is defined as “evidence of victory or achievement” (“Trophy,” 2010). The passionate anger that high-profile black men marrying white women incites in black women is rooted in the conviction that when these men marry white they are affirming that black women cannot be trophy wives. Black women cannot endow a male with status; therefore, they are not worthy objects of desire.
In a recent broadcast, National Public Radio (NPR) discussed the subject of successful black women remaining unmarried. According to NPR (2009), “research from Yale University suggests that highly educated black women are twice as likely to have never been married by age 45 as white women with similar education.” Black women face the paradox of being penalized for their success. NPR also points out that “[b]lack men are more likely to marry outside of their race.” Niambi Carter, an unmarried black woman with a Ph.D., states “[b]lack women are not seen as marriageable by those outside of their race…we are not seen as adding status” (NPR, 2009).
Is it true that a black wife does not contribute status to a marriage and may in fact diminish her spouse’s status? We can test the validity of this idea by looking at the marriages of men in corporate America and American politics. Historically in the U.S., wives of political candidates are heavily scrutinized and become an essential part of their husbands’ political image. Journalist Jodi Wilgoren (2004) writes, “[p]olitical experts say spouses often help humanize the candidates they are married to. A spouse, the person presumably closest to the candidate, also provides a window into a politician’s character…and acts, as a kind of validator.” The more the political wife represents the traditional ideals of femininity, the more she will be accepted; the more she contradicts those ideals, the more challenging it will be for her to be accepted. Hence, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis—young, beautiful, glamorous—is celebrated as an ideal first lady, and Hillary Rodham Clinton
—who declared during the 1992 presidential campaign, about choosing career over domesticity, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies” (cited in Toner, 1992)—becomes a victim of “antifeminist hazing” (Stanley, 2008). Wives in the corporate arena also contribute to their husband’s image and reputation and, like political wives, contribute to their husbands’ professional possibilities.
Under this system of spousal validation, how would a black man seeking to become president of the United States meet the requirement of having a spouse who embodied the American ideals of feminine beauty, virtue and respectability? These characteristics translate into status for the husband. It has been suggested repeatedly that black women do not represent the feminine ideal and are incapable of endowing a man with status. In 2007, Barack Obama announced his candidacy for the presidency of the U.S. with his black wife Michelle Obama by his side. Did Obama’s choice of a black mate have any impact, negative or positive, on his presidential prospects?
Early in his political career in Illinois, Obama faced questions about his racial authenticity and commitment to the black community. In 2007 journalist Michael A. Fletcher wrote in the Washington Post:
Despite his record of grass-roots work, questions about Obama’s racial credentials formed a critical subplot for his ill-fated primary challenge of Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) in 2000. Rush, a former Black Panther, appeared politically wounded after failing badly in his campaign to unseat Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley the year before. But Rush trounced Obama 2 to 1. …Rush won in part by depicting Obama as a Harvard elitist who was out of touch with the concerns of workaday African Americans.
In pursuit of the presidency, Obama encountered the same challenges to his authenticity that he faced during the 2000 Congressional campaign. Somehow, he was able to meet the authenticity challenge and win the confidence of black voters. A subsequent Washington Post article discovered that:
Clinton’s and Obama’s support among white voters changed little since December, but the shifts among black Democrats were dramatic. In December and January Post-ABC News polls, Clinton led Obama among African Americans by 60 percent to 20 percent. In the new poll, Obama held a narrow advantage among blacks, 44 percent to 33 percent. The shift came despite four in five blacks having a favorable impression of the New York senator. (Balz & Cohen, 2007)
How did Barack Obama manage to wrestle away black support from Hillary Clinton, whose husband, former president Bill Clinton, had acquired so much political capital in the black community during and after his presidency? Obama’s early caucus and primary victories—especially in Iowa, a predominantly white state—started to persuade black voters that white voters would vote for him, which meant that he had a legitimate chance of victory (Brazille, 2008). Barack Obama’s background—being the biracial child of a white mother and a black African father, growing up in Indonesia and Hawaii—made him seem different and exotic in the eyes of many inside and outside the black community. Journalist David Samuels (2009) writes: “Barack Obama alone would make us uncomfortable. Michelle neutralizes our response to her husband’s existential estrangement by sharing our discomfort while still being in love with him” (p. 30).
Obama’s marriage to Michelle unquestionably won him the support of black women. In its December 1, 2008 issue, Newsweek published an article titled, “What Michelle Means to Us,” which examined the affinity and pride black women felt towards Michelle Obama:
“When I see Michelle Obama on the cover of magazines and on TV shows, I think, Wow, look at her and her brown skin,” said Charisse Hollands, a 30-year old mail carrier from Inglewood, Calif., with flawless ebony skin. “And I don’t mean any disrespect to my sisters who aren’t dark brown, but gee it’s nice to see a brown girl get some attention, be called beautiful by the world. That just doesn’t happen a lot, and our little girls need to see that—my little girl needs to see it. (A. Samuels)
Outside of the black community, Michelle Obama did not immediately win such praise. During the 2008 presidential campaign Mrs. Obama, a Harvard law graduate, had to overcome the stereotype of “the angry black woman”: “Conservative columnists accuse her of being unpatriotic and say she simmers with undigested racial anger…Fox News called her ‘Obama’s baby mama,’ a derogatory term for an unwed mother…National Review presented her as a scowling ‘Mrs. Grievance’” (Powell & Kantor, 2008). In the midst of these accusations towards Mrs. Obama, many questioned whether she was a political liability or an asset to her husband. Did some wonder if Obama’s chances for becoming president would have been more viable if he had a different wife, perhaps a white wife?
That Barack Obama succeeded in his quest to become president of the United States with a black woman by his side is something meaningful for black women; they see in it the possibility for future change in black relationships and in the public perception of black women. Kimberly C. Ellis, scholar of American and Africana Studies, who is 36 and single, tells Ebony: “That Barack loves her so much demonstrates that black men can…love black women who are intelligent, strong, witty, cultured and centered….Further, that he lovingly embraces her in both form and fashion, calling her ‘the rock of our family and the love of my life’ is astounding.” (Cole, 2009). Journalist Margo Jefferson (2009) writes in New York,“[Michelle’s] gone from upstart to feminine role model. After all, ‘First Lady’ isn’t a job; it’s a cornerstone of the feminine mystique. And since pre-Emancipation, black ‘females’ have had to fight for the whites-only privilege of being deemed ‘ladies’: cultured, educated, sexually desirable in a socially respectable way” (p. 29).
President Obama is not the first man to achieve incredible success while married to a black woman. Many prominent black men have been able to achieve unprecedented success while married to black women. Gen. Colin Powell was able to become the first black chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the first black Secretary of State with his black wife, Alma, by his side. Eric Holder, the current and first black Attorney General of the United States is married to Dr. Sharon Malone, M.D., a black woman. Deval Patrick, the first black governor of Massachusetts, is married to fellow attorney Diane Patrick. American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault is married to Kathryn Cassell, an attorney. In the field of entertainment, box office superstar Will Smith is married to actress Jada Pinkett Smith; rapper and entrepreneur Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter is married to pop music superstar Beyoncé. These black men have reached the highest levels in their respective fields—the military, government, corporate America, and entertainment—with black wives either by their side when they started or whom they married after they succeeded. Prominent white men are also married to black women, like William Cohen, former Secretary of Defense under Bill Clinton, Paul Krugman, Nobel laureate economist, and Peter Norton, creator of Norton ant-virus software, who is currently married to his second black wife. These public couples challenge the notion that a black woman cannot be a partner in a marriage that is a visible, influential, high-status partnership.
Why do some black men continue to believe that a white wife is necessary to help them gain acceptance into and navigate within the most powerful social circles? Why do so many black women decline to pursue relationships with white, Asian, Hispanic or other men in the absence of relationship opportunities with black men? Rajen Persaud (2004) provides an argument in his mass-market book, Why Black Men Love White Women. He suggests that these black men and black women are being driven by the psycho-social legacy of slavery in their choices. During slavery, white men had unlimited sexual access to black women’s bodies, and raped black women with impunity. The remembrance of this history of sexual coercion fosters unwillingness among black women towards intimacy with white men.
The slave trade and the system of slavery established a racial hierarchy in the United States that places whiteness at the top and blackness at the bottom. By marrying white women, black men are aspiring to place themselves closer to the top of the racial hierarchy and to acquire all the privileges that come with whiteness in American society:
In all racialized social systems the placement of actors in racial categories involves some form of hierarchy that produces definite social relations among races. The race placed in the superior position tends to receive greater economic remuneration and access to better occupations and prospects in the labor market, occupies a primary position in the political system, is granted higher social estimation (e.g., is viewed as “smarter” or “better looking”)… (Bonilla-Silva, 2001, p. 46)
Blacks, because of the visible marker of their pigmentation and the “one-drop rule,” which states that anyone with even a drop of black blood is black, have been unable to become “white” in the manner that formerly ostracized ethnic groups like Italians and Irish have. By marrying whites, some blacks are attempting to become white by proxy. But black writer Garry Pierre-Pierre (2001) refutes the multitude of accusations leveled at black men who marry white women. He writes:
Some black women…seem to feel that my marrying a white woman is downright pathological. I must hate my mother or maybe myself, right? Wrong. I’m not ashamed or sorry or the least bit uncomfortable with my mother, myself, or my marriage….I’m nobody’s traitor; I simply followed my heart…(p. 95)
…if the sight of a black-and-white couple…offends you, it’s your problem. We’re busy leading our lives and rearing our children and keeping our love alive(p. 100)
With all due respect to Mr. Pierre-Pierre’s arguments of the unpremeditated nature of his personal choice, sociological and ideological constructs of race and gender can and do influence a person’s choice of a spouse. “Scientists who study the human genome say that race is mostly a bogus distinction reflecting very little genetic difference, perhaps one-hundredth of 1 percent of our DNA” (Kristof, 2002). Race therefore is not a biological reality but a social construction. Race is a social reality that permeates American society, while engaging in an intimate relationship with class. Many would like to see the divisive fiction of race discarded as a method of human classification. Discarding a symbol is not the same as neutralizing the real power system that the symbol represents, however. Race is an institutionalized and psychologically entrenched part of American society. While we may also believe and accept that the gender-specific behaviors and roles played by men and women are natural and biological, Nancy Bonvillian (2007) writes that they are the products of “…ideological constructs that sustain, legitimate, and reinforce gender-linked behavior. (p. 24)”
Persaud (2004) writes that among the reasons that black men offer for choosing white women over black women are white women’s alleged prowess at fellatio, that “white women [are] more controllable,” or that they don’t have an “attitude” like black women.( p. 143, 163, 164) These statements by black men support the assertion that black men are fetishizing white women and viewing them as the fantasy counterpart to black women. They are also paying homage to a particular “ideological construct” of gender that defines femininity as soft, submissive and dedicated to pleasing men. This idea of femininity may be working against professional black women; the attributes and achievements that these women are proud of—bachelors and masters degrees, managerial positions, and home ownership—do not necessarily make these women more attractive to black men. Their self-sufficiency repels rather than attracts black men to them.
Interracial relationship patterns expose the objectification of all women. All the women in this dynamic, whether they are chosen or rejected, are objectified. An object is acted upon, does not possess power and does not act. To be an object, even an object of desire, is an impotent position. Why do women vie to be chosen, and become angry if they are rejected in this patriarchal system? The system turns female beauty, sexuality and ethnicity into commodities that can be transformed into real wealth for women who possess the physical attributes the market values and desires.
Interracial relationships also expose the interplay of race and class. Marriage is not solely about companionship, the production of offspring, or the satisfaction of sexual desire. Marriage is also about the maintenance or advancement of class position and the attainment and preservation of wealth. The following theory presented by Friedrich Engels in the nineteenth century can be applied to understanding the socio-economic influences behind the marriage decisions being made today:
…[I]n the modern world monogamy and prostitution, though antitheses, are inseparable and poles of the same social condition….Hence the full freedom of marriage can become general only after all…economic considerations, that still exert such a powerful influence on the choice of a mate for life, have been removed by the abolition of capitalistic production and of the property relations created by it. Then no other motive will remain but mutual fondness. (cited in Agonito, 1977, p. 286-287)
The comparison between monogamy and prostitution is being made because in marriage, a woman is bartering her sexuality/reproductive ability for the economic protection provided by one man, while the prostitute is exchanging the sexual use of her body for financial compensation from multiple men. They are both operating in a patriarchial-capitalist sphere where the female body is a commodity. Rosemary Agonito (1977), in analyzing the Marx-Engel communist interpratation of marriage, writes, “…the first class struggle [is in] the antogonism between the sexes—in the family, man is bourgeois and woman is proletarian(p 272).” This first class struggle is the pursuit of patriarchial power. The pursuit of patriarchial power can be seen in the dynamics of interracial relationships. Men are far more willing than women to pursue non-homogeneous romantic partners. They will date and marry women of different racial categories, younger women and seek women internationally; all to assure that they find the right “trophy wife.”
There was a trend not too long ago of white males acquiring Russian mail order brides: “Over the last five years, tens of thousands of American men unable to find their ideal mates at home have resorted to international matrimonial agencies. There are more than 40 in Moscow alone…” (Stanley, 1997). Since there was no shortage of marriageable white women in America in the late 1990s, it can be theorized that these white men were looking for “traditional” wives: women who had not fallen under the influence of the women’s liberation movement. Influential, wealthy and powerful white males like Rupert Murdoch and George Soros are not just choosing to marry Asian women, but Asian women who are fifteen to twenty (or even more) years younger than they are. Their wealth allows them to compete successfully against men who are younger and may possess all the desired attributes associated with youth: health, virility, and beauty.
In his book Persaud (2004) talks about the “phantom power” of black males. An underlying narrative of interacial relationships is the story of authentic power versus phantom power. The authentic power of white male patriarchy is supported by hegemonic control of the culture and control of industry. The white male owns the team, while the black man plays for the team. The sexual power of a woman, regardless of her ethnicity, is phantom power. As a woman ages she loses her reproductive ability and the physical attributes that make her an object of desire. The pattern of Asian wives, being second and third wives, supports the theory of the real power of the white male patriarch and the phantom power of the white woman cast aside to be replaced by the Asian woman. It was the white male who placed her on a pedestal as the ideal of feminine beauty and virtue and he alone can remove her from that pedestal and replace her with another.
Imagine a century as a book of ten chapters. The first chapter of the 21st century has been a narative of crisis and chaos, but mainly because of the election of Barack Obama, the rise of interracial relationships and the presence of a significant population of interracial children many see the prologue to a “post-racial” America (Hsu, 2009). Harvard law professor and author Randall Kennedy states that “against the tragic backdrop of American history, the flowering of multicultural intimacy is a profoundly moving and encouraging development” (cited in Crary, 2007).
This said, the psychologist and current president of Spelman College, Beverly Daniel Tatum, is quoted in a 2000 New York Times article as offering one definition of racism as “an intricate web of individual attitudes, cultural messages and institutional practices that systematically advantage whites and disadvantage people of color” (“Conversation”). Clearly, the patterns established by the statistical data on interracial relationships indicate that people of color, especially black women and Asian men, are devalued in the marriage market. This is not post-racial. Let us examine the intricacies of interracial marriages and see if they indicate progress or a continuation of the old systems of race, class and privilege.
In the modern American marriage market, the white male is the one with the first right of choice. He has the most presumed class status and mate options. His marriage options include marrying a white female and staying within his racial group and most likely within his socioeconomic and education status. According to Census data, 95 percent of white males choose this homogenous route (U.S. Census Bureau, 2003). He can also choose to marry any of the other racial and ethnic groups that reside in America. He likely will chose to marry an Asian woman if he does not marry a white woman; according to the 2000 Census the largest interracial marriage group is white men and Asian women (U.S. Census Bureau, 2003).
The white female has the choice of marrying a white male of equal status or, in light of the fact that women makeup of 57 percent of all college students and are earning more bachelor’s and master’s degrees than American men (Gibbs, 2009), she may marry a white male of lesser economic or educational status. If she is a white woman of lesser educational and socioeconomic status, she may make a “status exchange” marriage by marrying a black male with a higher income or educational status. Aaron Gullickson (2006) writes, “whiteness is a valued resource on the marriage market….whites are able to acquire black spouses of higher education than the black spouses of fellow blacks (p. 675).”
The Asian woman has the choice of marrying an Asian man, which the majority of Asian women choose to do. According to the 2000 Census, less than one percent of Asian women are married to black or Hispanic men (U.S. Census Bureau, 2003).
The black man, especially if he is among the elite pool of black men who are educated, with professional prestige and wealth, can choose from the entire pool of eligible black women. He can also choose from a small pool of white women who are not already married to white men and who are willing to date black men. From this pool the black man can choose a white mate and possibly engage in a “status exchange” marriage. At the bottom of this marriage market pyramid are black women and Asian men. The online dating site okcupid.com, by analyzing the message data of their subscribers, identified evidence of racial preferences in dating. They claimed to have analyzed “the message habits of over a million people.” They concluded that:
• White women prefer white men to the exclusion of everyone else—and Asian and Hispanic women prefer them even more exclusively.
• Black women reply the most (to messages), yet get by far the fewest replies. Essentially every race—including other blacks—singles them out for the cold shoulder.
• White males receive more responses from every ethnic group. (“How Your Race,” 2009)
Eighteen percent of Asian wives have white husbands but only nine percent of Asian husbands have non-Asian wives, according to 2000 Census data (U.S. Census Bureau, 2003). Asian men, like black women, have an image problem. A 2000 article in Newsweek describes the stereotypical image of Asian males as “weak, sexless and unable to offer the status and security that white men could. Marlon Villa, a Filipino…whose wife is white, says that the old idea was ‘black guys are studs, white guys have all the power and Asian guys are the nerdy little wimps that women won’t glance at’” (Pan).
Chu writes that colonial stereotypes of Asian women as “submissive, domestic, hypersexual” are still in operation. Chu uses the term “yellow fever ” to describe white men’s presumed fixation with Asian women. The term “jungle fever” is often used to describe romantic relationships between blacks and whites. A fever is “an abnormal condition of the body” (“Fever,” 2010). The use of the word “fever” suggests that the people involved in these relationships are engaged in some kind of abnormality. Is it an abnormality of the mind? In the case of the black-white relationships, the use of the word “jungle” suggests a descent into barbarianism. The use of these terms characterizes interracial relationships as the product of base sexual curiosity and not as a rational choice made from the human heart or intellect. These terms are insulting because they suggest that some kind of mental impairment is necessary for people to be willing to engage in sexual intimacy outside of their race.
Examination of interracial marriage patterns, therefore, reveals that they represent a continuation of white privilege for white men and white women. There is also male privilege for white men and black men, but not for Asian men. The late novelist Bebe Moore Campbell summarized the feelings of black women in this manner: “For sisters, the message that we don’t measure up is the nightmare side of integration” (cited in Childs, 2005, p. 555). Randall Kennedy conceded that interracial marriage would not necessarily result in a post-racial America: “Various peoples of color—Latinos, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, and light-skinned African-Americans—could well intermarry with whites in increasingly large numbers and join with them in a de facto alliance against darker-skinned blacks, who might remain racial outcasts even in a more racially mixed society” (2002). Ellis Cose writes that “[i]n a more perfect world, more people would refuse to see others as stereotypes. Unfortunately, the politics of gender and the politics of race have made it much harder for any of us to be simply human beings” (1995).
Race and class have both concrete and symbolic meaning in America. Whenever there is interaction between individuals of different racial groups in a racially stratified society, subjective meaning is always assigned. The politics of race and gender in America have made it hard for many people to be simply human. They have made the process of human actualization uniquely challenging for black women, and this essay has addressed this challenge in regard to black women’s dating and marriage opportunities. In conclusion, the challenge to marry is not rooted in any innate deficiency or cultural or physical characteristics of black women, but in the myriad racial and gender inequalities of America.
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