Randall Kennedy is a Harvard Law professor who writes with courage and breathtaking honesty about some of the most important issues of our time. His book Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity, and Adoption (2003) had a hedgehog's worth of sticky-notes protruding from its pages by the time I finished reading it. The following are a few of the most memorable quotations that grabbed me along the way --- stirring enough in themselves, but far more powerful in the context of Kennedy's nuanced, solidly-reasoned arguments.

Concerning recent changes in this country:

Americans are becoming increasingly multiracial in their tastes, affections, and identities. The rates of interracial dating, marriage, and adoption are inching, and in some places rocketing, upward. This trend is, in my view, a postitive good. It signals that formal and informal racial boundaries are fading. I am not suggesting here that interracial relationships are better than intraracial ones; nor am I suggesting that the existence of an interracial relationship necessarily indicates that those involved are free of ugly racial sentiments. Malignant racial biases can and do reside in interracial liaisons. But against the tragic backdrop of American history, the flowering of multiracial intimacy is a profoundly moving and encouraging development ... (from the Introduction)

Concerning anecdotal "evidence":

In a society numbering in the millions, ten, twenty, fifty, or even a hundred anecdotes by themselves can provide little basis for determining whether the events they describe were representative or idiosyncratic. (from Chapter 4, "Race, Racism, and Sexual Coercion")

Concerning the temptation to distort or ignore truth to generate publicity for good ends:

The facts of specific cases, however, do matter. They matter even when they inconveniently complicate stories that at first seem starkly simple. (from Chapter 4, "Race, Racism, and Sexual Coercion")

Concerning gay marriage:

It is my own belief that the struggle to secure the right to marry regardless of the genders of the parties involved will be won in the not so distant future. That achievement, I am convinced, will represent a real step up in the moral elevation of American democracy --- a step facilitated, in large part, by previous struggles over race relations. (from a footnote in Chapter 6, "Fighting Antimiscegenation Laws")

Concerning racial politics:

It should be clear by now that I myself am skeptical of, if not hostile toward, claims of racial kinship, the valorization of racial roots, and politics organized around concepts of racial identity. I am a liberal individualist who yearns for a society in which race has become obsolete as a significant social marker. (from Chapter 7, "Racial Passing")

Concerning a recall election apparently driven by race:

This impulse to embrace "our own" on the merits ascribed to appearance and ancestry is venerable but stupid. (in a footnote from Chapter 7, "Racial Passing")

Concerning the real source of social improvement:

This example serves, however, as a useful reminder of why, in the long run, the transformation of public opinion is even more important than the transformation of legal formalities. The judicial system, by itself, will never satisfactorily police the conduct of decision makers whose personal aims and sentiments are in opposition to the law. More decisive than the establishment of legal doctrines pointing in the right direction is the inculcation of a public opinion that will manifest itself in the actions of judges and other decision makers prompted by their own intuition to move in that direction. (from Chapter 9, "Racial Conflict and the Parenting of Children")

Concerning race-based adoption:

Race matching is a destructive practice in all its various guises, from moderate to extreme. It ought to be replaced by a system under which children in need of homes may be assigned to the care of foster or adoptive parents as quickly as reasonably possible, regardless of perceived racial differences. Such a policy would greatly benefit vulnerable children. It would also benefit American race relations. (from Chapter 10, "The Tragedy of Race Matching in Black and White")

Concerning the use of children for larger purposes:

Some champions of race matching have charged defenders of interracial adoption with enlisting children as crusaders on behalf of "integration." There are at least two answer to this charge. The first is that many proponents of race matching are themselves only too happy to draft parentless children into their own campaign for black solidarity. The second is that society as a whole does --- and should --- "use" children as the front line in certain sorts of battles. Notable among these is the push for universal literacy, in pursuit of which society insists that children be educated, regardless of their own desires or those of their parents or guardians. Society demands that youngsters receive a specific minimal amount of education, in the belief that such a requirement is good for society as a whole as well as for those who will one day inherit it. Similarly, governments should demand that agencies place parentless children in loving homes without regard to race, as quickly as possible, because such placements will benefit both society as a whole and, even more, the children themselves. Society as a whole can only profit from the erosion of racial superstition, which forms the bedrock of race matching. And parentless children can only profit from obtaining as soon as possible the security and nurture provided by decent parents, regardless of race. (from Chapter 10, "The Tragedy of Race Matching in Black and White")

Concerning the conflict between affirmative action and race matching:

There is no getting around the fact, however, that the anti-discrimination rhetoric, ethos, and organizational support that infuse much of the attack on race matching also nourish opposition to affirmative action. As a political versus a narrowly logical matter, therefore, there does exist a dilemma for those --- and I am one --- who tend to be tolerant of affirmative action but intolerant of race matching. I am ambivalent about the continuation of racial affirmative-action programs. They have performed a great service and manifest features of American political culture in which everyone, including their opponents, can justly take pride. But they do draw racial lines, a toxic activity that should be avoided absent compelling arguments to the contrary. There are such arguments in favor of maintaining at least certain affirmative-action programs. But there are also, as we have seen, imperative reasons to obliterate race matching. If dismantling affirmative action must be part of the price of effectively doing away with race matching, it is no more than I, for one, am willing to pay. (from Chapter 10, "The Tragedy of Race Matching in Black and White")

Concerning the lack of courage by some writers re their own interracial adoption experiences:

Nothing more poignantly reflects the continuing grip of racialist superstition on American society than the myopia of Sharon Rush, Jana Wolff, and others who, despite their own fruitful experiences with interracial parenting, have conceded and continue to concede --- wrongly --- that opponents of the practice are correct in claiming that whites, because of their race, are necessarily either inadequate as caretakers of black children or inferior to black parents. A large part of the problem is the vulnerability of people such as Wolff and Rush to destructive mau-mauing. Rush in particular has evinced a pathetic inability to criticize any idea emanating from anyone whom she perceives to be authentically black. In her book, there are no bad black people, no unsound decisions made by blacks, and no questionable policies advanced by black groups. By her accounting, whites are the only ones whose behavior is in need of improvement. A long list of episodes is recited in which whites said ugly things to her or her daughter, but not one instance of a black person doing so is described. Perhaps Rush's memoir is an accurate depiction of what she and her child experienced; if so, it seems to me that they were lucky. Many interracial adoptive households have suffered all manner of ostracism at the hands of disapproving blacks --- from placards of protest in the yards of neighbors to raucous picketing, from harsh words to reproachful silence. This attendant feature of interracial adoption is all too common and well known, yet there is no mention of it in Rush's account. (from Chapter 11, "White Parents and Black Children in Adoptive Families")

Concerning what to do next:

To improve race relations in the sphere of intimate association, we need to attend to three tasks. While the first of these does not relate to intimate association specifically, it nevertheless will condition decisively the choices that people make when it comes to selecting friends, partners, and spouses. That task is to raise the shamefully low standard of living in which far too many Americans, a disproportionate number of whom are colored, now find themselves mired. The extent to which racial minorities are conspicuously encumbered by poverty, unemployment, lesser educational opportunities, and like deprivations is the minimum extent to which they will continue to be marginalized in the common market for companionship. Second, Americans should permit neither states nor the federal government to engage in routine race matching. In the eyes of the law, race should play no role in ranking families; multiracial ones must be deemed the equals of their monoracial counterparts. Third, individuals can greatly assist in improving matters by refusing to embrace unthinkingly inherited habits and by daring to put into action humane ideals. (from the Afterword)

(see also InterracialIntimacies (24 Feb 2003), RacialRelationships (10 Jan 2004), AnHourBeforeDaylight (25 May 2004), InterracialCheckmate (20 Jul 2004), ... )

TopicSociety - TopicLiterature - TopicPersonalHistory - 2004-08-06

(correlates: MoralToPhysical, DavidCopperfieldAndMissMowcher, InterracialCheckmate, ...)