Thursday, December 1, 2011

Interracial Marriage Still Scares Tiny Backwoods Church Group

Why was this story at the top of the headlines for today's Blaze? My guess is that somebody on Team Beck was curious about where an audience, recruited as "conservative" by late twentieth century terms, stand on an issue that would have defined most of us as ultra "liberal" a hundred years ago...interracial marriage.

Before I divulge the personal information that may surprise a few long-term readers, let me clarify a point about the Bible. Some Christians believe that, when most of the Old Testament prophets and preachers told the ancient Israelites not to marry Canaanites or members of other Semitic tribes, they were talking about interracial marriage. On closer examination, this turns out not to be true. Two of the most undesirable tribes, Moabites and Ammonites, were recognized as close physical relatives to the Israelites. Canaanites looked and talked enough like Israelites that, according to the book of Judges, when these tribes were at war they had to use test words to guess by his accent which side a man was on. And even a Moabite, and one whose way of getting herself recognized by the clan was unconventional to say the least, was proudly claimed as an ancestor (possibly even a Queen Mother) by King David; that's what the book of Ruth is all about.

The Old Testament people who did look different from Israelites were the Ethiopians. They, too, divided themselves into "tribes" that may have looked different from one another, then as now, but the saying "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?" shows that they were conspicuous as having darker skin than ancient Israelites had. The ancient Israelites seem to have had more respect for the ancient Ethiopians than they had for most foreigners. Moses' wife, and thus the father-in-law who was his close friend and trusted counsellor even when both men were old, belonged to the Ethiopian Cushite tribe. The courtier who had enough empathy to think of padding the ropes used to haul the starving prophet Jeremiah out of the dungeon was also an Ethiopian. The first non-Jewish convert to Christianity mentioned in the New Testament was another Ethiopian. Clearly, the ancient Israelites were not what we would describe as Black, nor were they squeamish about mingling with people who were Black, nor did they consider Black people unfit for the highest positions in their social hierarchy.

What the common people found tempting and the prophets denounced was their mingling with people who were "unclean"--specifically, with members of certain specific religious cults. A taboo against showing their "gods" enough respect to utter their names caused the Old Testament writers to identify most of them as ba'al, which is also the standard Hebrew word for "lord and master" and the courtesy title used for ancient Hebrews of high status. When the practices of "the priests of Baal" are described as making whole nations unclean and untouchable, practices specifically described included a sort of gambling ritual of "making a child pass through the fire." Babies were passed through the flames, consecrated to the gods if they came out unscorched, and barbecued if they caught fire. This was the ritual Abraham opposed, even to the point of demonstrating that God would prevent him from sacrificing his son and send him an animal to sacrifice instead.

I discovered this by studying the Bible in detail when I was seventeen. Like some Blaze readers, I had believed that the Bible forbids interracial marriage. I found that it does not. This was nice to learn, considering that I'm a product of interracial marriage myself.

It was also nice to learn that nearly all the horrors people imagined to be the result of interracial marriage, a hundred years ago, were fictitious. Most of the genes that produce a "White" look are recessive, so I can understand prospective grandparents hoping their grandchildren will look White...but some of the comments I saw at The Blaze were just plain ignorant. Historically, Europe enjoyed cultural advantages over Asia and Africa when, and as, Europeans became Christians. Pagan Europeans were what the civilizations around the Mediterranean Ocean charitably called barbarians.

A reader using the screen name "Loriann12" caught my attention by listing the ethnic identities of her known ancestors. They seem to be the same mix as mine. A slight majority of my known ancestors were Irish (only one lot were gluten-intolerant, though). Others came from Great Britain, Germany, and France, and a few, far back, were Cherokee, which is why I don't look Irish. Though actually, even the ancestor who was an English aristocrat was nicknamed "The Gypsy" on account of his dark hair and complexion. And then there are a few ancestors nobody's been able to trace...

I usually describe my husband as Anglo-Canadian because that was his legal and cultural identity. My husband was, like me, a maternal-line descendant of a noteworthy British aristocrat. In fact he was distantly related to Princess Diana. He was also "part Indian," and enjoyed joking about it. The joke was that a majority of his ancestors had actually come from India, from the southern peninsula. (That's why I'm not comfortable calling Cherokees "Indians," as many people in the Cherokee Nation do.) Some of his family had complexions similar to mine. He did not. His face was the color that's called "black" in describing coffee, horses, or my hair. His hair really was black, like coal. None of his known ancestors ever lived in Ethiopia, but there were Ethiopian immigrants in our neighborhood, and he was often mistaken for one of them.

So, if an Anglo-Canadian is almost literally black, does that make him Black? My husband never minded being called Black; he may have had a few African ancestors, and his ex-wife and adopted son even had known African ancestors, although they were also West Indian, not African-American. He always seemed about as conscious of being in the tiny non-African-American minority in the D.C. school system as I was.

Years ago, for the benefit of a neighbor contemplating marriage to a recent immigrant from India, a real-world friend asked me to write something about the problems in U.S.-Indian marriages and how we'd coped. I forwarded that request to an e-friend who actually lived in India because, although we were aware of the problems with international marriages in a general way, for us they didn't really exist. My husband had grown up as an English-speaking, Protestant, British subject; when he received foreign mail it came from Canada or the British West Indies, and was written in English. Both of us had also spent time in the Seventh-Day Adventist church, which is a subculture all to itself and gave us more in common than either of us had with people who looked more like us. There were other things we had in common, like High Sensory Perceptivity, having earned high grades at tough schools, having put in more work time with the diplomats than with the federal government or the activists in Washington, and working with the D.C. public schools... all of which tend to show that broad demographics don't measure compatibility.

I still have feelings that are now considered "conservative" about interracial and international relationships in general.

No, of course it's not true that you have to be rejected by your own ethnic type before you can be attracted to someone of a different ethnic type. Duh. Not to brag, but the list of unskilled-labor jobs I did in my twenties includes acting, singing, modelling, hostessing, fund-raising, and not driving or waiting tables.

No, of course it's just plain ridiculous that you won't experience something like culture shock upon marriage, even if you manage to fall in love with the boy/girl who grew up next door to you. You experienced something like culture shock when you went to college and/or rented your own place, too. People live through culture shock. There may be cultures to which you don't want to adjust, like the ones that don't recognize women's rights of inheritance, but if you want to adjust, you probably can.

And no, this does not mean that inter-anything relationships are easy. They seem to be easier for the younger generation than they were for mine. I didn't get a great deal of that "You must have been desperate and/or pregnant" routine from White people, because most of the White people I knew were aware that I'd been popular and never had children. I did have to deal with a lot of anger about race hate and bigotry. I think that, if I had grown up in the undeclared color wars of the 1960s and married an African-American who had lived through them on the opposite side, that kind of relationship would have been much more difficult...but I don't want to support any business that has a problem with African-Americans either.

President Obama is the living embodiment of Americans' attempt to recover from our color wars. I have to admire the way he's handled the conflicts in his family. I wish he'd done half as good a job with the political conflicts he's faced as President, but I still admire him as a human being. I think progress will have been made if, no matter how much some of us hate some ideas this administration has supported, we can show enough respect for this President to let him finish his one term in peace.

My husband and I had relatives who didn't believe in remarriage after divorce, and neither of us really believed in remarriage after divorce either, which was the main reason why we never gave my relatives the wedding party they wanted. Creative Tightwaddery was a secondary reason. Worrying about the degree to which either racism or elitism would aggravate our relatives' hostility was much less important, but neither of us felt completely confident that none of the relatives was a closet bigot. I was aware that I had African-American cousins as well as other exotic varieties, but the most exotic ones didn't live in Virginia and had yet to come to an extended family gathering.

I remember trying to feel out some relatives' level of personal growth even on the less inflammatory subjects of British and Canadian people, not even mentioning what this particular Anglo-Canadian looked like. There was also a stage when we thought it was fun to meet each other's relatives just as co-workers, not mentioning that the relationship went beyond that. Actually, when the relative who'd been most vocally opposed to interracial marriage, in the past, found out whom I'd married, she sent me a belated present...but it's hard to predict these things ahead of time.

So what I'd say to teenagers who are only dating someone of a different color, or nationality, or some other demographic category, is still "Beware! Think it through! Don't rush into anything!" I'd say the same words to teenagers who are dating the boy/girl next door, but without all those exclamation marks.

What I'd say once people are married is that they've made their choice, it's too late for anyone to say anything about it, and real Christians certainly will not add any weight to their existing burdens. And people with any claim to "background" won't even ask stupid questions. If you want to know what people of a different type look like, you can always go to a big city and take a nursing course.

And if you want to know what the Bible says about people who do act bigoted and mean about the color of other people's wives or husbands, check out Numbers 12. Didn't Moses (and God) have a clever little prank to play on the sister who gave herself airs about being White?

Which is why I maintain that the young cousin who shares my legal name looks darling with her cornrows, and her whole family should only come to more of the extended family gatherings.