Letters

Readers respond to "Eyes on the Prize" and Anne Lamott's most recent column.


Salon Staff
February 7, 2003 5:35AM (UTC)

[Read "Eyes on the Prize," by Joan Walsh.]

An interesting article, well interesting enough for me to pause from the daily grind ... and despite Joan Walsh's relief and embarrassment about learning the race of Mr. Kennedy's wife, I would like to experience the same. It was important enough to mention who she dated and what race Mrs. Kennedy is, but we never learn what race Joan Walsh is, or is not. Certainly, there are hints, but never the direct straightforward statement necessary for consistency. I do appreciate that Joan Walsh is of Native American ancestry and that it may increase the cynicism of some, but it would not bother me.

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-- Steve Carter

Thank you for Joan Walsh's insightful piece on interracial marriage.

People like Audrey Edwards are fighting a losing battle against intermarriage. It is true that the erosion of racial barriers to intermarriage and the growing acceptance of interracial unions have benefited some people more than others. In particular, men, and white and Asian women, have been the beneficiaries, and black women have lost out. This is unfortunate. Combine this with the sex-ratio imbalance in the African-American population and you have a recipe for racially based resentment.

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But the answer to this is not some kind of "marital affirmative action" proposed by Edwards and her ilk. Instead of shaming or forcing black men into "staying with their own," the economic situation of poor, minority men needs to be addressed. Far more black men are removed from the marriage arena by homicide or imprisonment than are siphoned off by white women. Edwards and other do-gooders should focus their efforts on keeping poor men of color out of jail and in school, so they can get decent jobs and thus become more marriageable, rather than squawk "Stick with your own kind!"

White women "stealing" men of color are not the problem. Prison, substance addiction and murder, those are the problems.

-- Crystal Di'Anno

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In general, I found Joan Walsh's article on interracial romance quite interesting, but it repeats one dreadful canard that is highly frustrating to me, as a religious Jew: the comparison of racist opposition to interracial marriage to religious opposition to inter-religious marriage. This is bothersome for two reasons.

First, in any discussion of opposition to interracial romance, we frequently hear comparisons to the Jewish opposition to religious intermarriage. While the vast majority of religious Christians would never dream of marrying a non-Christian, this is never discussed or compared to opposition to interracial marriage; only Judaism is singled out for this comparison.

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Second, Judaism is not in any way opposed to interracial marriage. There are white Jews, black Jews, Asian Jews, Jews of all colors, races, backgrounds, and nationalities. Judaism as a religion does not care about race; it simply insists that one's spouse must also be a Jew.

I am a white Ashkenazi Jewish man, married to a Chinese Jewish woman. The only comments that I have heard concerning the race of my wife come from non-Jews who believe that Judaism doesn't accept interracial relationships. Other Jews have never had a problem.

-- Mark Chu-Carroll

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As an African-American woman in her 30s, I must say I found your article very offensive in its assumptions and conclusions.

First, you seem to think that interracial dating and marriage can somehow solve or alleviate problems caused by racial inequalities. You allude briefly to Brazil as a country that has a lot of mixed race people but still great inequality between the races with blacks being at the bottom and whites at the top. This division is greater in Brazil than it is in the United States because Brazil lacks the basic civil rights laws and remedies instituted in the U.S. by the civil rights movements. It is only the existence and strict enforcement of these laws and the commitment to equal opportunity for all people that will eliminate inequalities between the races.

Second, the research showing a connection between the elevation in social status and increased "social networks" by black people marrying whites just shows how racist this society still is and how the cards are stacked against blacks. Why should it matter what color your spouse is when it comes to opportunities? This is an irrelevant fact that has nothing to do with qualifications or abilities. There are many successful nonwhite minority communities (Asian-Americans) whose success has nothing to do with their intermarriage rates. Black people would do better emulating the qualities that make these communities successful than focusing on some attempts to increase their intermarriage rates with white people.

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Third, and most offensively, you have put the onus on black women for opposing interracial dating and marriage. You must know that some of the most intractable problems facing the black community have to do with the lack of decent and responsible men in these communities. Out-of-wedlock births, single-parent households, men not supporting and raising their children, poor educational performance of black children, and high crime rates directly stem from the same problem -- lack of responsible males. Let me assure you that most black women are dealing with these problems and not out looking to ostracize some white chick dallying with a black guy who probably already has kids he's not taking care of.

Finally, the racial problems in this country will be solved only when the majority of people in this country stop classifying people hierarchically by race with the white people at the top, blacks at the bottom and everyone else in between. Because it is this kind of thinking that leads to judging the skin color vs. the individual.

-- Laemicia Porter

Thank you for a very involving article. It's a shame that such a balanced view is often so hard to come by in the traditional African-American media. As an African-American woman who is happily married to an Indian-American man, I have often been taken aback by the degree to which I have felt ostracized from mainstream black magazines that I used to enjoy and feel a part of when I was single and dated black men. Now I can barely even skim through them from time to time, looking for beauty tips and the like (since I, the reader, am still black, after all, though my spouse isn't) with their constant emphasis on finding, holding on to, understanding and satisfying a "brother" (the word "brother" is used interchangeably with "man" or "mate" in these magazines quite frequently, as if eliminating the possibility that "man" and "black man" aren't necessarily synonymous) at all costs, despite how incompatible your backgrounds and interests might be or, quite simply, where your heart might actually lie, and propaganda about avoiding long-term, non-fling relationships with non-black men because it will inevitably end in pain and rejection by the non-black man and/or his racist family. Of course, I should just go ahead and say "white" instead of "non-black" because, as in this Salon article, the two terms are pretty much used interchangeably -- one of my biggest frustrations is that the media only acknowledges in a vague, passing way the possibility that a black person might marry outside of the race and have a spouse that is not white. That seems to be a real head-scratcher.

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On the street, the looks that my husband and I get from blacks are generally more puzzled than hostile, because mainstream black society doesn't quite know what to make of a couple like us politically yet ("Maybe he's just a very fair-skinned brother?" some seem to muse. One confused person actually went the other way, and asked me if I was Indian -- and I look like the average, dark-skinned black woman with short hair so, clearly, the questioner simply couldn't believe his eyes).

So far, my more militant black friends and relatives, the ones who don't want to ostracize me or my husband, have reconciled the situation in their own minds by deciding that my marriage is not interracial after all, since my husband is still "colored" and not white. Whew! Glad we worked THAT out!

It's harder for most black people to work up righteous indignation over someone marrying out and, maybe, um, "sideways," as opposed to out and, clearly, "up," I suppose -- and as long as we are all still downtrodden minorities together and not "The Man" ... And, of course, every person of every race that my husband and I meet must exclaim about how adorable and exotic our future children will likely be (Maybe the "good hair" that I'm often told my daughters will inherit is my sneaky way of trading up for the next generation?).

For the most part, my husband and I mostly just laugh at all of this. We can't blame most people for their generally non-malicious confusion, as we sometimes are amazed that we are together ourselves. Until we met and fell in love four years ago, we had each only really dated or contemplated dating in our own race and, of course, white people, so the "otherness" of our particular interracial pairing is striking to us, too.

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For my part, I am ashamed of the extent to which I had once viewed this country strictly in terms of black and white before this relationship. A new kind of racial discrimination post Sept. 11 that has clearly been directed at my husband instead of me (by both blacks and whites) because of the way he looks has been a big eye opener. And it's not the kind of benign "nerd racism" that I used to tease him about pre-9/11; that people always assumed he's Ghandi-like, hardworking and good at math. Now it's that he's violent, lazy and stupid the way some view blacks -- what a hardship!.

And as much as I can't help that it used to (and still does, a little) make me feel ugly and rejected a bit when I saw black men with white women, I am not a hypocrite, and I recognize that everyone must be free to love -- or befriend, or simply have sex with, as the case may be -- whomever s/he wants, for good reason, bad reason or no reason at all.

That's freedom of choice. That's a true "melting pot." That should be the true America. And, not to put too fine a point on it, it eventually will be, like it or not).

-- Sonya Som

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Well, didn't Warren Beatty sum it up best in "Bulworth"?

"All we need is a voluntary, free-spirited, open-ended program of procreative racial deconstruction. Everybody just gotta keep fuckin' everybody 'til they're all the same color."

-- Melisande Noe

[Read "O Noraht, Noraht," by Anne Lamott.]

Like the author, I struggled for years trying to forgive my parents because all the books, shrinks and spiritual leaders insisted that I could never be happy until I had forgiven them. When I gave up trying to forgive them is when I finally found happiness. Trying to forgive the unforgivable caused too much turmoil and frustration. Unlike the author there was physical abuse along with emotional abuse and the chaos of a dysfunctional family that filled my life until Dad disappeared and committed suicide 12 years ago and Mom died four years ago. Once they were dead, I could give up hoping that they would see the light and admit their mistakes -- I could hold on to the possibility of having a real parent.

People think it's strange that my brothers and I celebrate their death days each year -- since they have died, all of our lives have improved enormously.

-- Zelda McKay

I applaud Anne Lamott for annihilating the unspoken, unchallenged sanctity of motherhood. After my mother's suicide I was raised by my maternal grandparents. My grandmother, to the public, told her valiant, selfless version of martyrdom and self-sacrifice to raise my half brother, half sister and myself. What we endured was endless irrational screaming, beatings, outbursts and constant accusations that our behavior was endangering our grandmother's volatile blood pressure -- even though she was morbidly obese from lack of exercise and poor nutrition. Her righteousness was validated by her devotion to Catholicism and the big fucking favor she was doing us.

I was liberated when I was 25 and she finally died.

I am 34 now, as the psychiatrist writes out the prescription for the Klonopin for the panic attacks, the Lamictil for the mood swings and the Effexor for the depression. He comments on how the long history of trauma still needs to be addressed. My grandmother, I still hear her screaming.

People die, but they do not go away. Just because a woman is a mother does not mean she knows anything. Just because a woman is put in charge of a child does not make her a parent. Most of the rampant misogyny (particularly among women), in our culture is fostered by the fascist cult of motherhood. Women like Anne Lamott's mother, women like my grandmother, women who think they know it all.

-- Nona Howard

At first, I was excited that you would again be featuring Anne Lamott.

But I've read "Operating Lessons" and "Traveling Mercies." Her weekly columns are just more of the same.

I've had about as much of the "let me analyze myself to death and write it on paper because my life is so interesting that everyone is going to want to read about me. Oh, and I'll throw in a dig at George Bush, each week too" prose as I can stand.

Yeah, I know. "Well, don't read her column," you're thinking.

Good thinking.

-- Harper Wood

Bravo, Annie. My mother died this past July and you have captured the excruciating mix of grief and rage that accompanies the poignant, complex relationship with a mother whose best was pretty damn shitty. My own spiritual inclinations lead me to seek The Great Mother, and it is in that seeking that I really come to feel and know the wounds that were inflicted ... how difficult it is to imagine being accepted and loved for who I am, how great the yearning is to be held and comforted and guided, how competency became the coverup for need. Thank you again for daring to name the difficult.

-- Nancy London


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