My former sister-in-law is Caucasian, originating from the trenches of the low-income Russian slums. Her blonde tresses, piercing blue pupils and pale—almost tanned, but not quite—complexion signify her Whiteness when she enters the room. The pompousness of Whiteness is the looming shadow behind her slim hips. But my Black American brother sidestepped the privileges and the centuries of oppression and put a ring on it.
Their union was blissful and two children were bore from their happiness, until her Whiteness rose without warning or provocation. Purchasing a home out-of-their price range and enduring the subsequent financial turmoil was the catalyst for her arrogance. In a simple exchange between man and wife, she told my brother that the crumbs he was delivering to the kitchen table weren’t enough.
Her exact words were, “You need a better job,” as if the fortune of her White brothers and father would be bestowed on him. My sibling has existed as a Black man for almost three decades. He knows the strife attached to his being, and until that moment, he thought his wife did as well.
This exchange was followed with a verbal onslaught about oppression as a forgotten past without a current imprint. She told him his blackness wasn’t a deterrent and that she was “tired of Black people using slavery as an excuse for not progressing in their lives.”
Their marriage ended soon after and so did the cordial rapport she built with her in-laws, including me. Her White privilege – moving through the world without considering the burden of race – prevented her from seeing my brother’s plight.
Their dilemma and divorce doesn’t differ much from other white folks who believe their interracial relationships preclude them from harboring prejudice or sanctioning racism. In fact, my brother’s clash with his former wife sounds similar to the recent comments of U.S. Senate candidate Scott Schaben, a Republican from Iowa.
In an interview with the Carroll Daily Times Herald about his impending 2014 bid, Schaben claimed his marriage to Latoja Schaben, Iowa State University’s assistant basketball coach, will usher diversity into the Grand Old Party. He said his opponent won’t be able to depict him as a racist since he’s married to a woman of color.
“Let’s see Bruce Braley paint me as a racist with a black wife,” Schaben said.
“Republicans are getting painted as these old, rich, white racists. I’m not old – I’m under 40. I’m not rich – I don’t have a million dollars in the bank. And I am not racist. … That’s one angle that you’re not going be able to take on me.”
Sorry Scott Schaben, sharing a bed with a woman of color doesn’t eliminate bias or racism, especially among Republicans. Dating and wedding interracially doesn’t mean you’re not a racist.
There is little doubt that Republicans have a vested interest in oppressing people of color through social policies that place barriers to citizenship. Republican senators in several states are proposing restrictive voter ID laws that most impact people of color. Clinics that serve women of color and their reproductive needs are being assaulted through regressive legislation. Schools in metropolises with large populations of people of color are underfunded, under-resourced and overcrowded.
Schaben exists within a tradition that uses legislation to oppress. His marriage to a woman of color will not prevent him from supporting or authoring laws that are racist in origin and intent.
My sister-in-law is also a tool of White supremacy, even as she raises two biracial daughters. Though I have little doubt that she loved her husband, I also know that love for one individual didn’t shield her from developing preconceived biases of what Blackness is and how it is performed. She may not view men of color through the lens of George Zimmerman. However, just because she was married to a Black man doesn’t mean she’s immune to her cultural conditioning.
She won’t think twice before clutching her purse or locking her car doors when a group of men of color convene in an area. Her love for one black man will never negate her connecting of Blackness with danger, harm and savagery.
Supporters of colorblind ideologies assert that the rising number of interracial marriages prove race is no longer a determining factor in life’s outcomes. The overturning of anti-miscegenation laws has allowed interracial unions to enter our public consciousness, which is beautiful progress. However, infused within integration is a continually-replicated history that never fades, especially for women of color in Black bodies.
We can date and wed men and women from a myriad of cultures and ethnicities, but can never forget how white men raped our bodies without regard for our rights, emotions and sexual autonomy. These historical narratives matter as we navigate a Barack Obama-led nation where interracial couples are as accepted as apple pie and baseball.
But even in the time of Google and JStor, White folks dating and marrying people of color can never fully grasp the impact oppression had and continues to inflict on our lives. Your spouse may be black, but that isn’t a ticket to the land of understanding.
Much time has elapsed since the Loving v. Virginia ruling, which provided an avenue for interracial couples to wed without legal prosecution and cultural persecution. However, four decades later, we’re still too far from equality, and dating and marrying interracially will never be a solution to these persisting issues.