Monday, August 25, 2008

Color(s) of Love

This photo is from the legal blog Philawdelphia

The Baha'i Faith encourages interracial marriages and multiracial family formation as a means of contributing to world unity:

Colors are phenomenal, but the realities of men are essence. When there exists unity of the essence what power has the phenomenal? When the light of reality is shining what power has the darkness of the unreal? If it be possible, gather together these two races, black and white, into one Assembly, and put such love into their hearts that they shall not only unite but even intermarry. Be sure that the result of this will abolish differences and disputes between black and white. Moreover, by the Will of God, may it be so. This is a great service to humanity.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Baha'i World Faith - Abdu'l-Baha Section, p. 359)

Of course loving across the color line is not just a black/white issue but involves the full spectrum of racial and ethnic individuals in the United States and beyond. A couple of pieces that I read today underscore this point nicely. The first involves relationships between Vietnamese Americans and white Americans (generally males). Here's a selection from the commentary entitled "New Generation Navigates Interracial Marriage":

When my mother first learned that I was dating my now husband, her reaction wasn’t the stereotypical hand-wringing of an Asian mother envisioning a white son-in-law. Instead, she was beaming. “Yeah, a lot of American nowadays like Vietnamese, they are interest in our culture,” she boasted.

In truth, I often have to be reminded that my husband and I are an “interracial” couple. And to me, that’s a testament to just how far both America and the Vietnamese community here has really come.

Only 40 years ago, anti-miscegenation laws could have forbidden our union. It wasn’t until 1967 that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the last of these decrees that made mixed marriages illegal in 16 states. Culturally, too, just dating someone of another race was a social taboo.

But today, not only is it legal to be in a mixed relationship, but to some degree it’s expected—especially among younger generations. More than one-fifth of all Americans have a close relative married to someone of another race, and 91 percent of Generation Y-ers say interracial dating is perfectly normal, according to a study by the Pew Research Center in March 2006. By far the most common interracial marriage in America today is one like that of my own—a white husband married to an Asian wife, making up 14 percent of all mixed unions. Interestingly, in 75 percent of Asian-white marriages, the husband is white.

Just about every Asian woman my age I know is dating or married to a white guy. And no matter how different their personalities or backgrounds, they all say the same thing—nothing against Vietnamese guys, but culturally they feel very American and therefore naturally end up dating “American” men, ie, Caucasians. “I have never dated an Asian guy, and will probably never date an Asian guy,” says my cousin Michelle Phi, a student at Texas A&M University who has been with her current boyfriend, who is white, for more than three years and says there haven’t been “any real cultural issues that have come up.”

“I’m a very Americanized Asian girl who needs a very Americanized male,” Phi says. Also, “I fear the potential acquisition of another Asian family.”

Another Vietnamese woman I know, a marketing professional in her early 30s, echoed those thoughts: “I think it is an issue of cultural assimilation. Overall, I have found Asian men too ‘Eastern’ in their thinking about women.” (Read the whole thing here)

The second piece has a more ominous tone to it, "Forbidden Love: Mixed-Race Couples Face Violence in a Pennsylvania Town":

SHENANDOAH, Pa.— They are united by their love for each other, their children and their commitment to maintain a strong family. But every day, they must contend with disapproving looks and, sometimes, insults shouted at them because they belong to different ethnic groups.

This is the story of the many couples in interracial relationships, mostly white women and Mexican men, who live in the town of Shenandoah, Pa. This summer, the town garnered national media attention when a group of white teenagers killed a Mexican man who had a white girlfriend.

Amid an environment of racial harassment, these couples also live with the uncertainty that they could one day be separated because their partner is not in the United States legally.

This is the case of Ruben*, a 39-year-old Mexican, who came to Shenandoah 10 years ago and lives with his partner of five years, 28-year-old Susan*.

Marriage is not a possibility for Ruben, who entered the country illegally and would need to return to Mexico and wait for 10 years before gaining legal status. He prefers to stay here with his three children and his girlfriend, ignoring the occasional insults shouted at him in the street by white teenagers, who call him a "dirty Mexican" or a "wetback."

Susan says she has also been the object of disapproving glances and comments for having a Mexican partner.

"It doesn't happen every day, but occasionally they've told me that I'm dirty to be with a 'dirty Mexican,'" says Susan. "I feel more welcome in the Latino community," she adds. (Read the whole thing here)

I liked these pieces of writing because in addition to expanding the issue of interracial lovin' beyond the black/white dichotomy that tends to dominate discussions of race in America, they also illuminate how race, ethnicity, nationality, culture, gender and class can all collide in challenging ways. Whether those of us involved in such relationships like it or not, "the personal is political" as feminists have taught us. I remember seeing a T-Shirt that said something like "Love Knows No Color". In fact I think it was a girl I used to date in high school who wore it. If only things were so simple.