A review of Interracial Intimacies: Love in Black and White got me thinking again about the next-to-impossible-to-discuss issue of race in our society. Nina Bernstein in the 26 Jan 2003 New York Times writes of Randall Kennedy's book:
Doubling and tripling back through time thematically, he manages to cover centuries of racial tragedy and sexual coercion while remaining buoyantly optimistic. Through old wills and burial arrangements, he finds evidence of interracial love blooming in the stony ground of slavery. In stories of racial passing, he sees the triumph of self-determination more than the burden of secret shame. And he showcases a six-fold increase in black-white married couples between 1960 and 2000 --- before conceding that what the statistics actually show is the persistent rarity of such unions.
"Buoyantly optimistic" is a marvelous phrase that captures what I (have to) feel, in the long run. There's hope --- in spite of millennia of bigotry, intolerance, fear, and orchestrated cruelty. As individuals, most people find it easy to transcend the tribal blindness that possesses us when we're in groups. And the trends are generally in the right direction.
But it will still take generations to heal this illness. Those who haven't experienced the weight of racism can't easily understand how destructive it is to the spirit. "Why don't they just get over it and move on?" is easy to say. (Note the they in that question.) And those who live in monochromatic countries should hesitate before patting themselves on the back and dismissing this all as somebody else's problem.
Reality, as always, is infinitely complex. My own family, white and black as it is, lives in a sub-universe --- highly intellectual, moderately well-to-do --- which shelters us from many hassles. As polyracial families become more widespread, things will be easier for all. The Gaussian distributions will grow wider, less sharply peaked; racial labels will blur.
Maybe I need to find some poems on this theme, or try to write some ...