Many families I associate with are still reeling from the fountain of negative responses from that innocuous Cheerios commercial. Many of them continue to be “shocked” that in the 21st century, people still had venom to spare for the idea of interracial families. I don’t have the space or time to get into why the very notion of “interracial” is highly problematic. Trust me, it is. What threw me off was that the venom came from many sides of the debate.
Folks objected to a Black man being with a White woman, while others objected to the notion of the daughter caring about her father’s health painting Black men as weak or infirm. Some objected that the father’s only speaking part (a single word) was uttered at the end of the commercial, after the bright yellow screen with LOVE printed on it appeared—his voice disembodied. All this aside, the heavyweight champion of all comments I read is the following: “I hate this commercial. It just shows you that the only time a Black man can be at peace is when he’s with a White woman.”
That was pure Facebook gold.
So-called interracial families are normal, and have been around for a very long time, despite them being illegal in many parts of this country up until the middle-late 20th century. The prevalence of these families is only going to increase. I’d like to take this opportunity to change the conversation a little.
Granted, we all know that the very idea of race is pure construction. It’s not a naturally occurring thing, it’s a classification system that emerged during Europe’s rampant imperialistic and colonization endeavors. The ideas of race classification were used to justify the horrors wrought by European expansionism. By viewing non-Europeans as less-than, it set up the perfect storm for willful cognitive dissonance. If the colonizers looked at the indigenous as something other than human, it was so much easier to enslave, exploit and brutalize them.
While race is a construction, it has very real-world consequences—hence the horrors of racism, colorism and Paula Deen. In the bigger scheme, color is arbitrary. What’s rarely spoken about is the idea of transcultural families.
One of my very good friends attended an HBCU from freshman year through his master’s. He came from Minneapolis, hit the South and was floored by the wealth of diversity just among Black folks. Here he was, a midwestern dude (his family was from Jamaica) trying to find his cultural footing on three different fronts: Jamaican, midwestern, and being a university student.
Just because we look the same does not mean that we are the same or need or want the same things.
His stories about how he got zero dates make me laugh today. He spoke about near constant cultural collisions. He approached women from Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, but they were not feeling how he was coming at them. They came from profoundly different backgrounds—despite similar skin tones—and this caused conflict. It took him a long while to navigate the many cultural shades of blackness he encountered. Just because we look the same does not mean that we are the same or need or want the same things.
In the 1940s, Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz named the process of cultures colliding, changing and influencing each other transculturation. In more recent times, Claude Grunitzky (founder of the now-defunct Trace magazine) and like-minded individuals took this idea and retooled it as transculturalism, arguing that this is how the world’s now coming together.
Despite this new iteration being more market- and capital-driven, this is how the world is coming together. Cultures are blending, converging and diverging all the time—color’s not even a secondary concern. The anger directed at interracial families is almost uniformly based on looks, on color—and stems from deep-seated misinformation, negative historical conditioning and ignorance.
What’s rarely discussed (by those who support, and are members of, interracial families) is the idea that they just might find more cultural similarities between people of different races than with those who resemble them.
We don’t want to engage in any colorblindness (which is actually color erasure, and just as much of a racist act as anything else), but it’s important we acknowledge that sometimes we cannot find what we need in the familiar. Admittedly, some folks use dating “outside their race” as a kind of passport out of their cultural circumstance, but for those who actually find love outside of their “race,” we need to support and accept that they love each other, and keep our ridiculous notions out of their lives. If anyone can find real love in these times, it needs to be supported.
Shawn Taylor is the author of Big Black Penis: Misadventures in Race and Masculinity, and People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his wife and daughter, and can be found sporadically on Twitter @reallovepunk.