(NNPA)—After creating an imbroglio because he refused to perform a marriage ceremony for a White woman and a Black man, Louisiana Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell resigned under pressure. However, his stated reason for denying the couple a marriage license is still perplexing: “There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage,” he told the Associated Press. “I think those children suffer, and I won’t help put them through it.”
Let’s see, interracial children could suffer so much that one might become mayor of Washington, D.C. Another multiracial child might grow up to become CEO of the NAACP. One poor kid could develop into another Tiger Woods. And one, heaven forbid, might even become president of the United States. Each person holding those positions is biracial and they have “suffered” all the way to the top.
What Bardwell did not say is that in the South in particular, White men have sexually exploited African-American women for years, dating back to the days of slavery. It’s the liaison between Black men and White women that troubles died-in-the wool racists such as Bardwell.
His home state of Louisiana passed Jim Crow laws requiring separate facilities for African-Americans and Whites on railroads and streetcars, ordering racially segregated schools, banning interracial marriage and cohabitation, outlawing dancing between members of different races at social functions and making it illegal for Black and White families to live in the same dwellings. The 1896 Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson, upholding the constitutionality of racial segregation, originated in Louisiana.
In the landmark study “American Dilemma,” Gunnar Myrdal wrote in 1944 about the South’s “fixation on the purity of White womanhood.” Myrdal observed, “The South has an obsession with sex, which helps to make this region quite irrational in dealing with Negroes generally…”
That irrationality is still deep inside such diehards as Bardwell. He is the poster boy for those who argue that even with the election of a Black president, the U.S. is not close to being a post-racial country.
St. Louis License Collector Michael McMillan, a rising political star, learned about Bardwell while watching CNN.
“At first, I thought it was a hoax,” said McMillan, the product of a biracial union. “It was so ridiculous that I thought it couldn’t be true.”
But it was. McMillan added, “Unfortunately, a lot of people hold those views.”
Misgenation laws forbidding interracial unions were enforced in the 13 colonies. They were in effect in 16 states until the Supreme Court overturned them in 1967 as a result and of a White man and his Black wife challenging Virginia law. In Loving v. Virginia, the court ruled, “Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not to marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.”
Over the years, Americans have developed more tolerant attitudes toward interracial marriages. This may be, in part, because 22 percent of Americans report having a close relative who is married to someone of a different race, according to a 2006 Pew Research Center report titled, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” For African-Americans, the figure is even higher—37 percent.
In 1987, a Pew Research Center report showed that 48 percent of respondents agreed that it is “all right for Blacks and Whites to date each other.” By 2003, that figure had risen to 77 percent.
Many high profile public figures have interracial mates, including Tiger Woods, Halle Berry, Kobe Bryant, Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., Diana Ross, Julian Bond, Charles Barkley and Clarence Thomas.
African-Americans and Hispanics are more accepting of interracial dating than Whites. Ninety-one percent of Blacks, 90 percent of Hispanics and 71 percent of Whites approve of interracial dating.
There is also a major generational divide on this issue. According to the study, 91 percent of those born after 1976 said such dating is acceptable; only 50 percent of those who reached adulthood during World War II agreed.
In 1970, fewer than 1 percent of all married couples were made up of spouses of a different race. By 2000, that figure had grown to 5 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The most common type of interracial couple in 2000 was the White husband and Asian wife, representing 14 percent of all interracial couples. Black husbands and White wives accounted for 8 percent of all interracial couples. In Black-White marriages, 73 percent of the husbands are Black. In 75 percent of Asian-White marriages, the husband is White.
Michael McMillan of St. Louis says because of his complexion, he is frequently mistaken for being White.
“I’ve had people say things to me that were racist and ignorant,” he said. “I’ve heard them call Black people the N-word and say how lazy and stupid they were. I’ve had to tell them that I’m African-American and that I take issue with everything they’ve said. A lot of them turn from pale or pink to bright red in embarrassment.”
(George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator and media coach. He can be reached through his website, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at twitter.com/currygeorge.)