Listen, My Children...

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Tuesday, July 15, 2003

On Race


It's been a long time since I've written about interracial relationships. Guess I haven't come across any antagonism lately. Or other things drawing my focus to it -- well, except for the feeling of panic I get whenever my mother mentions her intent to have Bob's parents over for dinner.

Anyhow, I return from my jaunt to Austin, current home of an engagingly charming and extremely entertaining (and hiatusing) Texan, to find that my mother's rented "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner."

I suppose I should find it a good sign that my father cuts out white/brown marriage announcements from the Chronicle for me and my mother rents movies about successful interracial relationships. I'd rather it just be seen as no different from any other guy I'd bring home, the way I feel with Bob most of the time -- usually among people my own age. But, if it must be pointed out, I'd much rather it be emphasized positively (even if it seems a bit too much effort is going into it) than negatively. And, I suppose this is the best one can expect from their generation; my mother dated a black guy in college, not very seriously, and a grudging acceptance of that would have been the best she could expect from her parents' generation.

The movie, Spencer Tracy's last, is excellent. Rich white daughter of civil rights activists brings home a very accomplished black doctor as a fiancee. The movie shows everything perfectly, and so delicately, with perfect acting on all parts. It shows pretty much all sides of the issue -- the idealist kid who thinks it'll all be peaches and chocolate sauce; the more realistic optimist who thinks it'll be tough, but they can make it work; the mothers who are shaken, but just want what will make their children happy; the black woman who does not want any intermixing of races ("Civil rights are one thing. But this!"), or people getting above their station in life (and who cusses out the doctor, addressed by her as "boy" and "nigger"); the white woman who is shocked and pities the woman whose daughter would let her down that way; the white liberal activist who has a hard time applying his stated principles to his own life; the black father who just can't get it to fit in with his view of the world; the young friends who treat them just like people, not like a novelty; and the priest, also a liberal activist, who sees in them the success of what he's fought for.

That priest's sentiment is one that seems to be considered the most evil by many people today. "Subtle racism," or whatever it is they're calling it these days -- it's pervasive, invidious, and much much worse than any overt racism. Any white person who's happy there are black people in the Cabinet, on the Supreme Court, etc., must needs be patronizing. And anyone happy at the union of a white person with a non-white person is necessarily just as racist as the person pleased at the prince's wedding to the peasant girl has to be classist. (Laut "Sabrina" -- the prince marries the peasant girl and all the people ooh and ahh over how diplomatic it is; no peasant girl was ever called "diplomatic" for marrying a prince.) While I understand the "why won't you just leave us alone -- sure we're two lesbians kissing, and you may be thrilled to be able to watch us in this free society we're grateful to you for helping to create, but STOP WATCHING US!" feeling, I figure -- it's a dang sight better having people be overly and clingily happy than having them want to kill you. I'd take fifty of him over one of the antagonistic women in the movie.

This movie was made at a time when the ideal (at least in the moviemakers' mind) was a mixed-race couple who loved each other as people, not as racial types (content of character, not color of skin). Looking beyond race to the people within, determinedly, and stubbornly getting beyond whatever opposition there may be from outside. As Sidney Poitier says to his father, "You think of yourself as a colored man. I think of myself as a man."

I wonder what it would be like made today. Perhaps they would get married as a statement -- what many people seem to think (and are pleased) that I'm making. You can't fall for someone, it is thought by many today, without making your choice of person based largely on their skin color (but you gotta be the right assortment of two people, or your skin color choice will be racist -- don't go for asians if you're not one). And rather than being called down for getting above his station, the black guy would be called down for letting down his race, for betraying it by giving into whitey (well, maybe only if it's written by Boondocks -- unless that's an opinion held by more people than just a cartoon, as much of what I've read leads me to think is true). Being colorblind would not be the ideal, not in today's California.

(Then again, with their ongoing drive to get the state to stop classifying people -- and sorting and dividing people -- based on race, maybe yes in today's California. Ok, not at Harvard or anywhere in the progressive but vastly majority white northeast.)

I'm glad the movie was made then and not now.

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