Letters

The interracial marriage debate continues. Plus: Readers respond to Suzy Hansen's interview with Betsy Lerner.


Salon Staff
February 25, 2003 1:06AM (UTC)

[Read "Eyes on the Prize," by Joan Walsh, and the follow-up e-mail debate between Joan Walsh and Audrey Edwards.]

Thanks to Salon for providing a space for Audrey and Joan to have their gentle debate over this dilemma. It's refreshing to hear this very hot and sensitive topic being discussed so intelligently. And, by the way, I am biracial, and found my self nodding and going "mm-mmm" to both articles.

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-- Rhiannon G.

Joan Walsh makes a common mistake when she states that Jews "get a pass" when they decide against interfaith marriages. The comparison between interfaith and interracial marriage is that of apples and oranges. Race is not a choice (although how you define yourself and others may very well be a matter of semantics and social constructs), but religion is. Do we condemn Democrats who refuse to date Republicans? Or what about all those prejudiced dog lovers who refuse to marry girls with cats? Religion is a belief system and one that can change and grow over time; it is not the same as reducing a person down to some notion of a biological stereotype. But then matters of the heart are always complicated, and if they weren't, why would we even bother?

-- Marcy Lewis

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Can I agree with everyone, yet try not to be wishy-washy? I completely empathize with Ms. Edwards' desire for her son to marry a person of his own race. I'm Jewish and know I'd prefer it if my kids married Jewish people. It's easier, it's more comfortable, it furthers our communities. Would I go to any lengths to ensure that? Would I shame and threaten my children if they didn't agree with me? Never. My husband is not Jewish. Do I regret that? No. But I do have some insight on the repercussions of that decision.

A good parent can make their own values and opinions known to their kids without trying to run their lives.

--Paula Sjogerman

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The debate between Joan Walsh and Audrey Edwards was intriguing, but since Jewish ethnocentricity was mentioned in their exchange, as a Jew I have something to say.

My father came from a German Protestant family and my mother is Jewish, so I am myself the product of miscegenation. I continued the family tradition and married a Japanese woman, who did, however, undergo an Orthodox conversion. Our sons were raised Orthodox and remain so today. One of them just got married to a Jewish woman, also Orthodox. I fully expect my other sons to follow suit.

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This, however, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with race. While working in Japan, one of my sons had a Japanese girlfriend whom I fully expected him to marry. However, she could not bring herself to convert, and so he broke it off. Had she converted properly, I would have had no objection whatsoever to the match.

Most people don't know this, but the Orthodox community is rife with converts of all colors and ethnicities. The issue for religious Jews is not the color of one's skin, but the content of one's character. Religious Jews object to Jews marrying out not for racial reasons but because it inevitably leads the children away from the observance of commandments.

No sincerely religious Jew has ever questioned the Jewishness of my family (or their "Jewpaneseness," if you prefer). Since my children would not look out of place in Japan, where we lived for 10 years, there is some natural curiosity, of course, but nothing more. The only people I have met who can't deal with it are precisely those "cultural" Jews for whom Jewishness is an ethnicity and nothing more, the kind of Jews who have sex with gentiles but don't bring them home to mama. Such people are, indeed, bigots. I would object strongly if one of my sons married a secular girl who cared nothing about proper observance, no matter how "Jewish" she was. One righteous convert is worth ten Jews like that.

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-- Earl Hartman

"... I have to marry a Jew."

Ah, I remember those words well. Those words were spoken to me on the third date I had with a beautiful young woman. I am a child of a Lutheran household, the kind where my parents and grandparents could hear a sermon in German at the rural Iowa church they grew up with, the kind where they were warned not to play with those Catholic children. My father was president and elder at the church in my hometown. Our family does not take our faith lightly.

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In tracing my recent family bloodlines, I could count myself as being partly of German origin. That means I have distant German relatives who were undoubtedly active participants in atrocities, if not Nazi Party members themselves. I have no doubts that members of my family actively participated in the slaughter of this woman's family just 60 years ago.

Judging from Audrey Edwards' thoughts, it would have been a moral outrage for myself, a non-Jew with a family history of German Nazi's, to come together. Our two origin communities should have shunned us as being traitors to our respective origins.

Well, we've been happily married for nearly four years now. While I chose (after much research and deliberation) to convert to Judaism, that did not affect who I was or where I came from. My family can now include in its ranks a link to a people they knew about only through reading their Old Testament. They have a stake in Israel different from their New Testament teachings. Her family has a link to the great conquering peoples of Europe, both the Norwegian Norsemen who first found North America and the ancient Germanic tribes who kicked the Romans' asses (take that for destroying our Temple!).

Dating and marriage across cultures is something that both defines and binds a great portion of our people -- Americans. Keeping true to your "tribe" makes you a throwback to times and places that a great many people try to escape by coming to America.

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We have a word for people like Audrey Edwards, for those New Yorkers who never venture outside their neighborhood, and for those people in the Iowa countryside that my parents moved away from -- people who choose to stay closed to the wider cultures around them, who fear that they will lose something if they allow The Other in.

We call them "hicks."

-- Paul Prunty

I'm South Asian Indian. I don't date black men. The reason I don't date black men is that I spent junior high getting beat up by black girls for "going with" a black boy. Beat up. Yup, not that beating me up counted as "racist" because, hello, suddenly I'm white. Of course the whites didn't always think so, but hey, I wasn't black, so I had to be white, so therefore...

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Now, I admit, that was kind of junior high. But I find it hard to accept the whole "don't date whites" thing as anything but racist. Same goes for the "don't date non-Jews thing" and (my favorite) don't "date non-Indians" thing. The lady from Essence is right to equate them, but wrong to defend them on that basis. It's all racist.

You can't dictate or propagandize who one is attracted to. The heart simply doesn't work that way. (I've even dated British boys, fer heaven's sake!) In my experience, whites are less hung up on the whole interracial dating thing than most of the rest of us "ethnics" and "minorities" are.

-- Angeli Primlani

Perhaps a minor point, but I think not: In Joan Walsh's first response, she claims that we are "350 years removed" from the crimes of slavery. In fact, it's only been 138 years since the end of the Civil War abolished slavery nationwide, and only 40 since the March on Washington and the beginning of the end of Jim Crow.

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In general, I probably favor Ms. Walsh's side in this debate; but the mere possibility of entertaining this discussion on anything even approaching an equal footing only began two generations ago. We've got to keep that in mind.

(And by the way, I definitely agree that Jews get more of a break on this matter. But I married a Gentile even so.)

-- Ruth Hoffmann

Thank you so very much for the follow-up to the "Bring Me Home a Black Girl" debate between Audrey Edwards and Joan Walsh. I feel as though news junkies such as myself have been, especially over the last few months, deluged with a style of debate in the media that manages to be both mindless and cold. These two strikingly intelligent women faced off on an issue that they were both clearly very passionate about and engaged each other in a manner that was intelligent, honest, actually constructive and even warm. It made me a bit more hopeful about the world and strangely prouder of being a woman.

Salon editors: Please do your best to encourage this style of discussion on other subjects, particularly politics. Present a forum for argument between people of such opposite views that we, your readers, can truly respect.

-- Rajashree Datta

[Read "Bingeing and Learning," by Suzy Hansen.]

As a bipolar member of Overeaters Anonymous, I was initially wary about reading "Food and Loathing." But Lerner has written a necessary book, hopefully one that will open some serious examination of the connections between food and mood disorders. She should be applauded for showing readers the impact mental illness has on families and how it can take away years of someone's life.

Lerner's experiences with callous psychiatrists resonated with me, but in contrast, I'm very grateful that the wonderful people I have met through Overeaters Anonymous have been so generous in their support, nonjudgmental and infinitely tolerant.

O.A. has changed since Lerner's days with the organization. I constantly encounter members in the fellowship who have been touched by the additional conditions of alcoholism, substance abuse, anorexia, bulima, depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.

O.A. no longer has a one-size-fits-all attitude about abstinence or food plans. We are free of the exploitation of diets and weigh-ins. There are no dues or fees. The only requirement for membership is the desire to stop eating compulsively.

For years I neglected my bipolar disorder, taking the lowest doses possible so I could get away with drinking and bingeing. Life was nothing but a series of diminishing returns to see what I could get away with. But as I began to participate in my recovery from compulsive overeating, my life came into focus. I found the physical, emotional and spiritual strength to address all areas of my life that needed dire attention and repair. Not only for myself, but for the people in my life that I love.

-- Name withheld

While I appreciate Betsy Lerner's candor and the courage it must have taken to write about her experiences with manic depression and lithium, I am concerned that her experience with O.A. might unduly influence someone who could really benefit from the 12-step program for compulsive overeating. I am a 30-year-old female who has been in O.A. since 1997. O.A. has completely changed my life. I binged, grazed, purged and compulsively exercised through my late teens and 20s. I was suicidal. I put my life on hold until I lost that magical 30-40-50 pounds (at which time, I fantasized, everything would fall into place: I'd win an Oscar though I don't act, Brad Pitt would show up on my doorstep, etc.).

Finding O.A. changed my life. For the first time, I experienced relief from food obsession, from debilitating depression -- and, yes, I lost weight. Regarding depression: I did end up taking an antidepressant; I'm convinced that whatever serotonin inherent in my body was used up in various extremely stressful situations in my life (this is strictly a layperson's opinion, no letters please). In my experience, O.A. and antidepressants are not mutually exclusive. In fact, my health is promoted by a balance of O.A., antidepressants and therapy. And it's a great life.

I have many friends in O.A., people with 5-, 10-, 20-plus years of abstinence who are experiencing so-called normal lives today, whereas they were living in food-addicted hell for most of their lives. Some of them, I know, are on antidepressants. Some are bipolar.

I appreciate that Lerner was able to meet the needs of her depression through lithium. I wholeheartedly support anyone's journey to wellness. I just wanted to offer my O.A. story (which, by the way, is just mine; I do not speak for O.A. as a whole) to those who are suffering from the devastation of food addiction and are considering O.A. or perhaps feel they have nowhere left to turn.

-- Heidi Blank


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