Tag Archives: interracial

finding the white folks in First Lady Michelle Obama’s family tree

The word ‘rape’ appears four times in the recent NYT article, Meet your Cousin, The First Lady. Even before reading it, my first instinct was to count. Second instinct: get mad. No way a mainstream paper wasn’t going to pretty up sexual encounters between a female slave and her master for their majority white readers; the Times was already pushing it by introducing dark-skinned Michelle–whose image sometimes appears online as a monkey–as a cousin. And higher and faster I laid those bricks for a defensive wall all before even reading the article. I’m making the point of describing my initial reaction because after, I had to check myself.

First, stop expecting (demanding?) that white folks write and feel about slavery (or Jim Crow or the post Civil Rights period for that matter) in exactly the same way as you. That’s impossible given the historic gulf between black and white lives. And second, allow white folks to have their own conversations about race without me stupes-ing from the corner. (A caveat before I proceed,the audience for an article about white folks in a dark-skinned woman’s family tree is white folks. For blacks, that’s as much news as the sky is blue.)

All that to say, despite the criticism, read journalist Rachel Swarns’ article based on American Tapestry, her new book about the dark-skinned Obama-née-Robinson’s ancestors. If the book is like the article, it may help to open up a self-critical conversation about your own prejudices or assumptions. More important than the search for white folks in Obama’s family tree is our modern day reaction to that fact.

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writer Kate McGovern responds to my outtakes post

I love the Internets. Kate McGovern’s Modern Love column about self-identity after an interracial relationship inspired an outtakes post. She replied:

…thank you for getting what I was trying to say and for getting me.

 You are exactly right: I’ve been “working on it,” so to speak, for years, long before I met Daniel; our shared impulse to think and talk critically about race was part of our mutual attraction right from first meeting.  The years I spent working in the Harlem Children’s Zone were particularly formative, I suppose…it’s such a singular place, and I had many experiences there relative to “seeing” race and my whiteness that I think most white Americans are not privy to (or perhaps not interested in). I learned a lot from talking with my middle schoolers about race. (if only we were all as honest and frank about this stuff as middle schoolers!)
And you’re so right, too, that interracial relationships and families can’t be our only “plan” for making progress. That’s why, ultimately, regardless of the demographics of my eventual family, these are conversations I will be having with my children.
Anyway, I appreciate your close reading and your thoughtful response. Look forward to reading more of your blog in the future.
Very cool.

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