Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Power and Promise of an Ugly Word

As Barack Obama stands at the crossroads of race in America and offers himself as an agent of healing, he is a symbol of both the fears and hopes aroused by an ugly word, miscegenation.

When he was born in 1961, his parents' marriage was illegal in 17 states of the Union. It was six years later that the Supreme Court struck down a Virginia statute against racially mixed marriages as unconstitutional and ended anti-miscegenation laws in America.

Such unions have always been denounced by both black and white extremists. Louis Farrakhan, who received last year's Jeremiah Wright A. Wright Jr. Trumpeter Award as a man "who truly epitomized greatness" from Obama's church, has always opposed intermarriage and called it "unnatural." In doing so, he was echoing the classic sneer of white bigots, "Would you want your sister to marry one?"

Yet, as long ago as 1963, in a memorable article in Commentary titled "My Negro Problem--and Ours," Norman Podhoretz, confessing his "twisted" racial fears and animus, came to the judgment that "the wholesale merging of the two races is the most desirable alternative" to resolving the American dilemma.

The irony now is that Obama, who wants to transcend race, is being pressured to reconcile his heritages while subtly distancing himself from the pain of both, rejecting both his pastor's rage and his white grandmother's fears.

In an era of more and more talented biracial people like Obama, Derek Jeter, Halle Berry and so many others, it's sad to see the power of an ugly either-or still distorting the possibilities of a beautiful both.


Anonymous said...

Much to my pride, I can honestly claim to be pretty much colorblind.

When I was stationed in Germany I told the friend I was walking with that I could always spot the Americans.

I pointed to one at random and said so. My friend looked at me like I had just sprouted an extra head and arm and said, "Duh?" I asked him what the problem was. He told me to look again, "He's black."

When I looked back I realized that the man was not just a little dark skinned.

" the content of their heart, not by the color of their skin." He may have been quite the playboy, but he was a wise man.

D.R. said...

You make some good points here, primarily, I think, in regard to the ugliness of "miscegenation." I actually wrote about this very topic as well, but through a different lens. I argue last year's Pulitzer Prize winner for poems may shine some light on this incendiary word. (