The recently unveiled Strom Thurmond + Carrie Butler "affair", like the centuries-earlier Thomas Jefferson + Sally Hemings "affair", shines a bright light on a multidimensional fractal landscape of tribalism in human culture. Emotions are strong and reactions are instinctive for many people on all sides of the situation. Focus now on one Thurmond relative, who told a reporter, "For the first time in my life, I felt shame." (New York Times, 20 Dec 2003, "Thurmond Family Struggles With Difficult Truth" by Jeffrey Gettleman)
Shame? Pride would perhaps be more appropriate. To be bluntly practical: in the long run, interracial relationships are one of the best hopes for societal health. They blur boundaries. They defy categorization. They demonstrate, publicly and undeniably, the humanity of everyone involved. Look at the worst conflicts in the world today, the clashes that have persisted longest and that have destroyed the most lives. Tribal warfare, writ huge in blood and horror.
Shame? There are those who might disagree. The Statistical Abstract of the United States (2002 edition, Section "Population", Table 47 "Married Couples of Same or Mixed Races and Origins, 1980-2000") reveals steady progress over the decades. As of the latest census the array of marriages between various data bins shows an increasing amount of proudly off-diagonal mixing. With husbands on the rows and wives in the columns, for instance:
|M \ F||white||black|
The remaining ~5% involve other races and show similar hopeful signs. And marriages are only the officially-recognized iceberg-tip of a wider web of connections. (Full disclosure: the Dickerson Zimmermann family is a member of that most exotic upper-right cell of the matrix --- although we happen to have chosen not to answer the racial identification questions on the 2000 US census survey form.)
Shame? Henry Fielding makes a wise observation in The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, in Book XIV, Chapter v ("A short account of the history of Mrs Miller.") where he discusses his protagonist's own socially-unsanctioned circumstance:
... You need not be ashamed, sir, of what you are; I promise you no good person will esteem you the less on that account. No, Mr Jones, the words 'dishonourable birth' are nonsense, as my dear, dear husband used to say, unless the word 'dishonourable' be applied to the parents; for the children can derive no real dishonour from an act of which they are entirely innocent.
Shame? Only in hiding the truth. There's pure honor in cleaving to one's true love, openly and proudly, in the face of tribal pressures. Future generations will salute in gratitude.
(see also OnTheSubjectionOf (21 Aug 1999), WorthRemembering2 (31 Dec 2000), UnclosetedSkeletons (11 May 2001), BarrettAndBrowning (11 Nov 2001), InterracialIntimacies (24 Feb 2003), HolyMatwimony (13 Dec 2003), ... )