Loving: Interracial Intimacy - an Interesting Book

 

Sheryll Cashin’s – LOVING: Interracial Intimacy in American and the Threat to White Supremacy has some excellent parts, as well as some weaknesses.   It gives us an incredibly good introduction into the history of “whiteness” and slavery.   

Cashing describes most clearly the plight of indentured (white) servants.  Her detailed description of how “whiteness” was created by the wealthy landowners of 17th Century Virginia and surrounding territories is wonderful!    

Cashin ably points out how classism and sexism intersected and continue to intersect with racism.   She is very clear in showing how the wealthy elites’ manipulation of the rest of white America has succeeded with white Americans.   The divisions from Black and other BIPOC people eliminates the likelihood of lessoning the power of the elites.   This hurts white people, while totally victimizing non-white Americans.

Cashin also greatly humanizes Mildred and Richard Loving!   She clearly shows the hypocrisy of those who opposed their life as a married couple in Virginia.   The pressures that were put on both of them were clearly unbelievably strong, yet they remained humbly, but assertively supporting their human rights.

Cashin introduces the concept of “racial dexterity” – an openness and welcoming of diversity, avoiding in part a simple: “racism” / “anti-racism” binary.   This is a useful concept!   Racial dexterity helps people (in this case white people) empathize and relate to what BIPOC People go through as a result of not being white.

Cashin (inaccurately) anticipated that white Americans would largely reject the blatant racism of Donald Trump, and react  moving forward towards ending racism.   She did recognize that this process would take time.   

Cashin did not anticipate the huge divisions that have arisen during and after The Trump presidency.  She didn’t see how Republicans / The Right would unite with a core of white people, significantly Evangelical Christians, creating a powerful anti-democratic force in 2021-2022.  

She talked of divisions between urban and rural areas.   She did not seemingly see how electoral power resides in a combination of southern and less urban states, and politicians and white people in those areas would be effective at resisting the forces towards positive, systemic change.

Some quotes from the book follow below.

Before 1662, Virginia statutes did not penalize people for choosing partners of a different race, although loves did face the Anglican Church’s rules against fornication.  … White workers did not see themselves as superior to darker people, because whiteness as a unifying concept had not yet been invented. … In Virginia, masters created something much harsher than what servants had known in England.   From the inception of the colony, a small cadre of planter elite acquired large swaths of land through a system known as “headrights”.  The master was compensated for transporting indentured servants across the Atlantic at the rate of fifty acres per servant, which concentrated land and profit in a relative few patriarchs (2) (p.27-8)

For the next three hundred years, until the Lovings brought their successful case before the Supreme Court, Virginia legislators would maintain some form of penalty or ban on interracial intimacy.  The only class perpetually exempted from these prohibitions was slave owners who had sex with their property.  Virgini’s restrictions on love or lust between pale and dark people originated not from any innate antipathy to interracial sex but from a capitalist desire to promote Black chattel slavery. (p.40)

The legal rights given white servants greatly improved white master-servant relations and created a sense of racial affinity between these classes.  The color line had its intended effect of quieting resistance by white servants. (p.48)

In Pace v. Alabama, 1883, the court dispensed with the case in three short paragraphs.  It reasoned that blacks and whites were treated equally under the law because both races suffered the same penalty if they engaged in interracial sex (78)   Although the state’s penalty on interracial marriage was not at issue in this case, the court’s formal equality logic would easily apply to that provision, and all antimiscegenation laws escaped scrutiny by the court until the Loving case in 1967. (p.90)

But Bill distinguishes carefully between liking black and being black.  He is around black people daily in his work and social life, and his cultural references are now quite similar to that of many African Americans.  Because his dexterity has become highly attuned, there are days when he finds it easier to relate to a black person than to a white person. …

“The thing bout antiracism is that it takes work,” Bill concludes.  “You don’t get to declare yourself unprejudiced.  You have to unlearn.  And that is true with black people too.”  He is speaking of the pervasive messaging that values some people, devalues others, and can lead to self-hatred.  The ultimate payoff from doing the work Bill alludes to is trust, a space in which two people – Bill and I, for example – can talk about the hard things and there is no white guilt on his part and no filtering on mine. (p.125-6)

In 2007, when advocates for marriage equality asked Mildred Loving to support their cause, the reluctant agitator allowed this statement to be read on her behalf on Loving Day 2007, the fortieth anniversary of Loving:

I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation should have the same freedom to marry.  Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others… I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness and the family that so many people… seek in life.  I support the freedom to marry for all.   That’s what Loving and loving are all about. (24) (p.131)

In one episode, a softball coach surreptitiously held Mary back at the start of a footrace against a white teammates and invited the child to quit the team when she challenged him on why he did it.  A white woman in an airport waiting area accused Mary, then age six, of stealing her purse when the woman had left it with the ticketing agent.  (p.150-1 – re: white parent with a Black child)

An important issue, not addressed in this book is why intimacy, including sexual relations, brings up such strong feelings of fear, and is tied to domination of others in the United States.   Why are Black Men – seen as “beasts” with extraordinary sexual prowess and Black Women as “temptresses”?   Obviously, such images say much more about us white people, and how we don’t deal significantly with our own issues.

Cashin focuses towards the end of the book upon how our increasing racial/ethnic diversity, including increased multi-racial partner and parenting relationships, is and will lead us to “racial dexterity”.    The jury is still out on this.   It seems that there is a strong white backlash against BIPOC and white people who support diversity.   It also seems that relatively few white people are doing the work, both of self-educating themselves as well as seriously reaching out to others – working on racism and diversity.   The forces of the Right – through Fear – seem much more motivated and wielding power related to this.

This is an important book!   I only wish that the author had had a lot that many of us have learned since 2016-2017.  Perhaps her book would have been much more spot on.

 

 

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