Looking back or looking forward? A white Jewish guy thinks out loud on Jill Scott’s interracial reticence.
By Mendy Hecht
It very well may not be my place, as a guy and a white (and a Jewish one at that), to comment on an article written by a black woman about interracial marriage.
In a recent article on Essence.com, linked to by Drudge and Rush, she laments black men who marry white women. As a white person, of course, my first impulse was, “What a blatant white-hating racist!”
But upon reading the article thoroughly, the Jew should notice striking similarities to the traditional Jewish ban on marrying outside the faith.
While blacks who frown on blacks marrying non-blacks and Jews who frown upon Jews marrying non-Jews do so for very different reasons (one is a social/cultural/ethnic/racial thing and the other is a religious/spiritual thing), they both have one thing in common: identity–i.e., “Never forget who you are and who and where you come from.” A more careful reading of Scott’s literary freestyling (and it reads flowingly well) reveals not “I hate whites!” but “I identify strongly with being black and our history of suffering at the hands of white people, and seeing a black guy married to a white woman just kicks up strong feelings.”
But consider: Wasn’t integration the ultimate goal of desegregation? Wasn’t the idea to create a world where the black man could do and have whatever the white man could do and have? Wasn’t the vision a world in which people were just people?
Desegregation and the civil rights movement not only tore down the walls that barred blacks from the front of the bus, but also the glass windows against which blacks could only press their faces and hands as they watched whites going to the best colleges, living in the best neighborhoods, getting the best jobs and climbing the highest rungs of industry and government.
But black people have all of that now. From the White House on down.
The future has arrived. And we’re in it. Whether we realize it or not, or whether we’re living it or not.
So as a member of this country’s white majority, I say to (black) people: If you want to have what (white) people have today, go out and get it. If you really want that job, that house, that car, that spouse, go out and get it. Because the world your parents and grandparents could only dream of is here. Now you’re not just standing where the glass window used to be looking to the other side at those people–you are those people.
This white Jew gets Ms. Scott’s sentiment that now that the world has changed and it is the (formerly oppressed) black woman who can be put on the pedestal and fawned over and worshiped and treated like a real woman–and that therefore, black men should honor their past and put black women, not white women, on that formerly-forbidden pedestal.
I get exactly why she feels “betrayed” at beholding successful black men taking white wives: What about us? Do we deserve you less? Sisters need brothers like you!
But that’s all about the past. What about the future? What of the fact that black people and indeed, all of us, have arrived?
If one wants to rectify the injustices of the past and advocate for same-race marriages among blacks, fine and good. (We Jews could tell you a thing or two about ancient grudges.)
But unlike Jewish religious law that forbids intermarriage with non-Jews, it seems that the only obstacle for blacks to marry whites is nothing more than an emotional hang-up.
So if blacks feel the “wince” Ms. Scott writes of upon whites and blacks marrying each other, it’s completely understandable. If they insist on bringing back today’s amazing gifts of social justice and opportunity to their own community rather than melting into the world beyond, that’s cool.
But I daresay let them also see it from the white point of view–from the point of view of people who see them not as black people but as people, and let them celebrate it for the most significant thing it represents: a symbol of how far the world has come and how faded racism has become.
About the Author: Mendy Hecht is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer. He is a journalist who writes on Orthodox Jewish issues from around the world and in Crown Heights.