“The whites and their hatreds are the problem and not us.” — bell hooks, Bone Black
When the U.S. State Department’s former Secretary Dean Rusk’s daughter married a Black man, the Department received a few hundred nasty letters and calls. “An American Nazi Party captain in El Monte, Calif. declared: “I’d probably kill any of my children before I’d let them do such a thing.”
His reaction was echoed by a respectable businessman lunching at the Westmoreland Country Club in Glenview, Ill.: ‘If I were Rusk, I’d be inclined to shoot the guy.’ A grande dame at the Orlando Country Club in Florida gloated: ‘It will serve the old goat right to have ni**er grandbabies.’
Many others, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preferred to view the match as a personal affair. “Individuals marry,” said King, “not races.” (source: Time Magazine)
Here in St. Paul, the anniversary of the Loving vs. Virginia Supreme Court decision allowing Blacks and Whites to marry was commemorated, but “For those who still don’t believe it,” Amiri Baraka’s White wife wrote, “race disappears in the house — in the bathroom, under the covers, in the bedbugs in your common mattress, in the morning sleep in your eyes.”(source: How I Became Hettie Jones)
However, when Jones asked to accompany Baraka to his play Dutchman, “I can’t take you,” he said. “I don’t want to.” She wrote, “I could feel it coming like an awful tide. I said, ‘Why?’ and then there it was: ‘Because you’re white.’”
In her book Bulletproof Diva: Tales of Race, Sex and Hair (N.Y.: Doubleday, 1994), Lisa Jones dubbed the proliferation of Black and White couples in Minneapolis/St Paul, “Sam and Debbie.” A Black woman asked, “Is she overweight? Or low self-esteem?” when she heard of a White woman (bleached-blonde?) dating a Black man. (source: Bruce Jacobs, Race Manners) Dwight Hobbes quoted comedian Chris Rock in his appearance in Minneapolis asking, “Wha’? Do they hand out White women [here] with your drivers’ license?”
“My mother-in-law says, ‘What makes you think you know how to take care of a Black man?’” Kate Green wrote in “Estalee” in the collection If the world is running out. (Holy Cow! Press). It is claimed that only 12 percent of White people will have significant interaction with Blacks while growing up. (source: When Race Becomes Real)
In his book The Color of Water, James McBride explained his mother’s Black and White dilemma. “See, most interracial marriages,” she told him, “did not last. That’s what Dennis would say when we argued. I’d say, ‘I’m leaving,’ and he’d say, ‘Go ahead. Go ahead. That’s what people want us to do. That’s what they expect.’ And he was right.”
Frederick Douglass’ second wife Lena Home, Pearl Bailey, Paul Robeson, Eartha Kitt, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Alice Walker, the late James Farmer, CORE former chief, and the late Sammy Davis Jr., were all in Black-White marriages. “I think they each had a right to live their own life in the way they chose,” June Marie Jones said of her children.
This could be applied even when that means dating or marrying outside the Black culture; however, “Whites didn‘t like [his dating White girls] and people of color wanted me to be more attentive to my own kind so they could be ‘proud’ of me, the late NBA star Wilt Chamberlain wrote. Former NFLer Jim Brown said driving a red car or dating White girls was considered flaunting.
WWI Black soldiers serving in France dating French women would cause Whites in the U.S. to “become greatly incensed at any public expression of intimacy between white [French] women and black men.” (source: Harlem Stomp!)
In April 1991, while he was married to a White woman, a man approached Charles Barkley’s wife real friendly-like in Philadelphia asking how was her husband? Her baby? Then he spit in her face. “Philadelphia,” Barkley said, “is one of the most racist cities I’ve ever seen.”
The late Walter White, executive secretary of the NAACP, wrote, “There is magic in a white skin; there is tragedy, loneliness, exile, in a black skin.” White had a Black-White marriage. Vernon Jordan, former NAACP field director and former Urban League head was shot with a .30-06 hunting rifle in Ft. Wayne, Indiana on May 29, 1980 for being seen with a White woman.
A “sweetback” was a man who lived off a woman’s money, and then there was always the danger of being accused of rape. In revenge for having lost a fist fight to Blacks aboard a train, the Whites aboard that train flagged down police at the next whistle stop in Scottsboro, Alabama later the same day to claim that a rape of two White women was committed by those Blacks, who were then arrested, tried and imprisoned on death row.
There were/are allies. “In 1940, Jack Benny refused to perform, or board, in segregated establishments.” (source: Gary Giddens, On Jack Benny)
Question: “What’s the largest organ of our body?” Answer: “The skin.”
“You don’t know what a man is going to do unless he tells you. People keep things to themselves. All of a sudden they do something, and that was the best part of them all the time.” (source: Scottsboro Boy)
Elizabeth Ellis is the mother of three grown children, a college graduate, a 10-year veteran of the Foreign Service and a native of the Twin Cities. She welcomes reader responses to [email protected].