As of late, it seems that interracial couples are all over the television. And as a black girl who has been in interracial relationships, I’m full of mixed feelings.
WARNING: SPOILERS GALORE FOR MOST SHOWS ON TELEVISION RIGHT NOW
By Gethsemane Herron
Like many a college student, the first weeks of summer are the blissful utopia where school has ended, the new job hasn’t started yet, your parents are spoiling you rotten because they miss you and responsibility is a good three weeks away. You can read what you want to read. It’s incredible. It’s a sloth’s Shangri-la.
I don’t own a television in my box of an apartment and I am too cheap to spend money on Hulu or Netflix; that’s a happy hour or an expensive turkey burger. But oh, let the summer enter its infancy and I risk my laptop dying a viral death by streaming all the TV and movies I can.
While I sat there in my birthday suit surrounded by take -out (HEAVEN GUYS) , I notice a pattern. Since when did all these interracial couples pop up on TV? Specifically, when did all these black women/ white men interracial couples pop up on TV? There was the family filled, Berkeley existence of Crosby and Jasmine Braverman (Dax Shepard and Joy Bryant on NBC’s Parenthood), to the power-filled dynamics of Olivia Pope and President Grant (Kerry Washington and Tony Goldwyn on ABC’s Scandal) to the steamy of Hank and Kali (David Duchovny and Megan Goode on Showtime’s Californication) they seemed to be everywhere. My first thoughts were those of appreciation of the authenticity and variety of the relationships demonstrated. There was the friend with benefits pining for her partner ( Yaya DaCosta and Mark Ruffalo in 2010’s The Kids Are All Right), to- the- too- scared and scarred- to- make- it- work (Rutina Wesley and Sam Trammel in HBO’s first season of True Blood) to the complexity of explaining ethnicity to a mixed race child (Parenthood). My first thought, oddly, was of the empire of Tyra Banks.
Banks, if you are unaware, is a model turned media mogul. She was well known from transitioning into high fashion to becoming the first black woman on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in 1996. She then became a Victoria’s Secret Angel for eight years before starting Bankable Productions and becoming a talk show host (The Tyra Banks Show) and a reality television mogul. In short, with hard work and a marketable beauty, she has become, what some refer to as, a young Oprah.
Though I am not always a fan of Banks, I appreciate the way she has spoken about how black women are often perceived in this country. Banks stated “Black women have always been these vixens, these animalistic erotic women. Why can’t we just be the sexy American girl next door?”
As a black girl who has been in interracial relationships, I watched these shows with mixed feelings. As I watched the various TV couples argue, writhe, have babies, and form families on the small screen of my laptop, Banks’s quotation hit me hard. Part of me thought that finally, perhaps we were being seen as more than these animalistic vixens Banks referenced. Here were completely different women from all walks of life, presented in many different ways; they were career focused and accomplished, artistic, free-spirited, damaged, sexy. I felt that for once we finally being portrayed as full people, not as angry society blamers, sexless mammies, or sexed up Jezebels. Free to feel, to be sexy girls next door.
But on closer examination the Jezebel seemed to never be that far away. After all, Olivia Pope from Scandal is a high profile mistress, Kali (from Californication) was the philandering girlfriend of a rap star, Jasmine was engaged to a black doctor before she cheated on him and heads back to Crosby. It seemed that part of allure, our place on television, was that self-same eroticism that has always been a part of our narrative in this country.
Part of me thought of male entitlement to a female body, a black female body. My friend Murktarrat and I once spoke of what it was like being black girls on predominantly white campuses. My braids or afro or fade turned the head of many a white male on this campus, claiming they “liked my style”. I was called a “Nubian Queen” or followed blocks by drunk white men hoping to get me to spend time with them at a bar. On a different coast, my friend was dealing with the same thing. “It’s like they feel entitled to every woman’s body, like they want to have all of us”.
Is this surge in interracial relationships the result of a grown-up white male entitlement? Sexual attraction of white men to black women and vice versa is nothing new in this country. In his 2003 book “Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity, and Adoption , Randall Kennedy explores the long history of persecution for interracial relationships, including a Virginia man sentenced to death in the 1600s for sleeping with a black person.
Sexual and emotional abuse on black women from white men was no secret, but actual relationships and marriages were illegal and possibly dangerous. As race relations change in the country, the stigma associated with interracial attractions varies. As a teenager I grew up in a mostly privileged, multicultural liberal DC, interracial relationships were no big deal. They were everywhere. Sure, there was the occasional person who was uncomfortable with it, but they were obviously parroting someone else.
That was until the recent uproar over a Cheerios Commerical helped demonstrate how poor race relations still are in this country and how insulated my environment was in DC. In case you haven’t seen the commercial, it features a little biracial girl who consults her white mom out of concern for her dad’s heart health. Please check out the link attached the article. While there was a bevy of supporters for the adv, there were several blatant ignorant posts such as “Why are we celebrating race traitors and ugly monkey children?” How cheerful, how inclusive.
A multiracial friend one described the self same idiocy he dealt with every day, such as being called a mulatto by white girls in pizza places, being approached on the street because his fro was too curly and his eyes too blue. His existence was genuinely confusing to others on an everyday basis.
I wondered what a commercial like that meant to him and other mixed kids. To finally see yourself in your own image, a family like yours being acknowledged and accepted on television. I thought about my own struggles with interracial love–with my first white boyfriend asking me if I was ashamed of him or the black girl on my floor stating “I knew when I met you that you were an interracial dater.” It was said in the tone that implied I was on the level of a pedophile . But she later backtracked; it was only because I was dating a white man that made me so low; the next man I had feelings for was Mexican. That was ok. That was still brown, still a minority. I became a traitor when I dared to love a white man.
That’s not how it should be. I am still full of mixed feelings but I am glad that people who are more brave than I was can choose to love who they love. Form families with whom they choose. In the 46 years since Loving vs. Virginia ruled it legal for white and non whites to marry, things for these couples have changed. I can still be a black girl, as sexy or unsexy as I want to be. We can love who we love, and it’d be our choice. We can eat cereal in the mornings with our families. In the words of Mildred Loving, the black woman who fought for her rights to marry the love of her life,
“ I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.”
Perhaps the writers of television shows are still eroticizing black women. Perhaps we are women, who make mistakes and are as strong as we are weak, as gentle or as fierce as we want to be- and as erotic. Though our portrayal on television is still charged with this eroticism, what I am seeing is black women being portrayed as individuals. Forming bonds with the partners we wish, even if they don’t look like us. There is indescribable power and validation from seeing your own image in a country that is so good at othering. So kudos to these couples, and their families for putting a face to the millions of families who fit no clear racial box.