Friday, August 31, 2012

Interracial Quandary

Opinions are strong and dissenting on the subject of interracial relationships.



I recently became part of a somewhat heated discussion on this subject on a social networking site. I learned that there still exists, those people that truly believe that each should keep to their own kind, and that relationships involving differing cultures, races, or ethinicities are still taboo, or in the case of a sexual relationship, fetish.

Should one consider the written expression of a relationship between people of differing backgrounds taboo, or fetish? I think that would depend on the context in which the story of the relationship is written. I believe that, in America and throughout the world, there still exists an element of taboo in such a relationship. But should it? I personally do not understand how some have come to a point in their thinking that they might believe that interracial relationships are akin to bestiality. Yes, there are those that believe this, even today.

First, a little background.

Quite possibly, this attitude is left over from a time (I believe this thinking fell out of favor in medieval times) when peoples commonly subscribed to the practice of endogamy in marriage. This is when a community practices marriage among those within their own community. Communities prescribed to this practice in an effort to preserve the purity of their race, community, or culture. This practice was especially common among royalty.

It did not take long for people to begin to realize the ill-affects of inbreeding. Oddly enough, as much as many think that those of African descent are somehow less advanced than those of Anglo-European, communities within Africa discovered these problems long before Europeans and prescribed to the practice of exogamy or outbreeding. Villagers would sometimes travel for days to forge relationships and arrange marriages among those of another village.

Why all the hate?

Interracial relationships have always been considered out of the norm, or taboo. This belief permeates all cultures, ethnicities, and races. As our world moved more toward a global community, the occurrence of this type of relationship became more prevalent, but not commonplace. Relationships between those of differing backgrounds was normally one-sided, being a product of purchase, or even kidnapping.

During the colonization and increased exploration of America, new farms and a fledgling economy brought with it a voracious appetite for labor. The most cost-effective form of labor at the time was slavery. There existed some Anglo-European slaves and indentured servants in the country but the slave trade took off like a rocket with the discovery and transport of people from Africa. These new slaves were easily identifiable, inexpensive, and would not demand their freedom after their term of indentured servitude. The concept of rounding up entire tribes, sometimes against their will, and shipping them across an ocean in disease-laden conditions was made easier to swallow with the falsely perpetrated belief that these people were somehow less than human by those that might wish to purchase them.

Of course, many female slaves ended up pregnant by their masters. This was the beginning of ill-feelings toward relationships between those of differing skin color. Now, don't get me wrong, it wasn't just African slaves that brought about this belief . It was perpetuated by those of all backgrounds. Many also demonized relationships between Whites and Indians, or Whites and Chinese during the Westward expansion.

In America, our strange beliefs revolve mostly between those of African descent and those of Anglo-European descent, or Blacks and Whites.

Even after slavery was abolished, there remained a deep-seated hatred of blacks from whites and an equally deep-seated distrust of whites from blacks. I will use the term "whites" and "blacks" from this point only for ease of distinction, although I personally find the term crude and misleading. More than any other race, ethnicity, or immigrant, those of African descent continued to suffer prejudicial treatment until, some would argue, today.

For a white man to have a relationship with a black woman was considered taboo. It was frowned upon. But for a black man to enter into a relationship with a white woman, could be deadly. In fact, in America and other countries, lawmakers commissioned anti-miscegenation laws. The very name of these laws expresses the long-standing misunderstanding of nature, and more specifically, the human race. The term "miscegenation" refers to breeding outside of a genus. This strikes me as odd since all of human race (emphasis on race) falls within the same genus.

On a more personal note, I find it difficult to understand how people can actually think that relationships between different cultures and ethnicities can be so wrong. After all, if we were really all so very different, one might think that nature would have accounted for our vast differences by making us incompatible.

For those of a religious background, I offer this. If God had not intended for us as humans, as diverse as we seem, to join together, then I would think that we would have been made incompatible. The fact that when those of differing "races" have sex they produce viable offspring, proves that we are compatible. So, in my belief, that is what God intended.

For those believing in evolution, I would say the same thing. We are an adaptable species and we know that, over time, many species have had to adapt in order to survive. This being the case, it is still true that the union of a cat with a dog cannot produce viable offspring. On the contrary, the union between humans of all backgrounds produce viable offspring. With this fact, I must surmise that all humans are close enough in their genetic make-up to be compatible. Therefore, the union is natural.

Although it is a well known fact that people of all backgrounds produce viable offspring, social fears remit a response quite different than one might think logical. In America, relationships between those of differing backgrounds was so frowned upon that laws were passed in an attempt to discourage people of different races to marry. The laws served only to strengthen the resolve of those in legitimate relationships and fuel the taboo and exoticism of sex with someone "different."

Yes, we actually had "anti-miscegenation" laws forbidding the marriage between whites and those of other backgrounds such as: African, Chinese (or any Mongolian or Asian) Indian, and even Mexican. These laws continued to exist, at least in Southern states, until June 1967 when Richard and Mildred Loving persevered in having the law rescinded after being married and discriminated against since their marriage in 1958.


Is it taboo? Fetish?

Yes and no for both. Taboo is based on community or societal norms, while fetishism is something more personal. But is reading about interracial relationships titillating? Again, the answer is yes and no. Some writers specifically put interracial relationships into their stories for the benefit of their readers. They do this because they are catering to the group of readers that enjoy reading about those of differing backgrounds engaged in sexual acts. Some focus specifically on physical differences to gain the arousal of their readers. But is that necessarily a bad thing?

I might ask, should we think it bad to think about, or dare I say, fantasize about having sex with someone different from ourselves? Why should it be shameful or prejudicial to think of such things? How many of you can honestly say that you've never had the slightest fantasy about someone different from yourself, and the fantasy revolved around, and was perpetuated by those differences? Again, I don't understand the problem in this.

I have an erotic story on the market right now called Pleasure Doing Business involving a three-way relationship between a white man, a black woman, and a Hispanic woman. They are the best of friends and astute business professionals. They join together to help their friend expand her fledgling business and their old feelings boil up until they must express them in a most physical way.  Did I put these three people together on purpose? In the case of this story, the answer would be no. These are just the personalities that came out of my head as I wrote the story. Is is possible that it was my own fantasies fueling the creation of these characters? Of course, and I would hope that it would be something readers would fantasize about as well.

Anyway, not more that two months after the publication of this story, I received a review accusing me of being "racial" in naming my one of my characters Reshonda. I think the reviewer wrote something to the affect of "using the name Reshonda reeks of prejudicial beliefs." Well, just in case you're wondering, Reshonda may be considered a stereotypical, even racial name elsewhere, but down here in the South, it's fairly common. And by the way, there are plenty of white girls named Reshonda too.

While I like to use diverse characters in my stories, I also like to write them in as if the relationship, whether it be only sexual or long-term loving, happens in the natural course of of their lives. I try to be honest and have my characters make the same considerations as they would in any relationship.

In Lexi's Run my lead character Joseph, a black man, meets his future leading lady, a white woman. The original manuscript contained a small section where Joseph considered his budding relationship with Alexis. He actually had some self dialogue about about how his mother would be turning in her grave if she knew he was falling in love with a white woman. It may seem bold, but people of color have these issues about interracial relationships too. White folks do not have a monopoly on prejudice. After harsh prompting, I removed all references of his consideration as more than one beta reader stated their concern that some readers would not understand his actions.

But, is the relationship between Joseph and Alexis fetishism? Does their coupling explore something considered taboo? I would hope that I wrote the story in a fashion that the reader will hardly notice their "racial" differences. That is not to say Joseph is completely free from prejudicial treatment. He is still considered a "feral" by the rest of Alexis' werewolf community.

The question remains with Joseph and Alexis, are they a contrived relationship, put into the story for the purpose of satiating reader's desire for an interracial relationship? Well, kinda.

Joseph and Alexis originally appeared in my novel Lovestruck Succubus. They had to work and live in close quarters for great lengths of time while hunting down rogues. Even though they are recently married or "mated" they bicker and then make up like an old married couple. This provided an avenue of dichotomy for me--a kind of yin and yang within their characterization. I wanted others to see this dichotomy so I took it a step further making Joseph a very dark-skinned black man with a bald head, while in contrast, Alexis was very pale-skinned and of obvious Eastern European descent. Yes, they have sex in this novel but it was written as erotica, what else would one expect?

Now, was their sexual encounter derivative of their differences? No, and any thought that I planned it that way is only in the reader's mind. While I like to show diversity within my stories, I also like to make these relationships seem natural. Does that mean it is not alright to write or read material that glorifies a person because of their background? Of course not. I believe it is perfectly okay, normal even, to show loving relationships between people of different "races" and think is is just as natural if we want to go a step further and celebrate, or even provide taboo or fetish titillation for someone different from ourselves.

Why not celebrate and relish our diversity rather than discourage such openness? What are your thoughts on interracial relationships, whether they be in a story or in real life. Certainly we've made advances in our civilization in order to understand that this is natural--something that should be accepted as a natural fact. It is the perceived prohibition of such a relationship that makes it into a subject of taboo and fetish, and that is something I would hope that we as humans could certainly rise above.

9 comments:

  1. Here here well said ellison! I dont think i could expand upon that your right on so many levels!

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  2. Thank you for your comment, Nikesha. I thank you for having to courage to speak out. As you see by the lack of comments, not many will have the courage and conviction to participate in an honest conversation about this controversial (although it should not be) subject.

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  3. Thank you for your tempered response...I'm not that cool headed when it comes to this topic and that makes it harder for me to be objective. I appreciate what you've said and how you were political in your nature and not biased. Coming to the same conclusion as I did in the blog I chose not to post, but as a objective observer and not a screaming child.

    Very well written Ellison.

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  4. I agree whole-heartedly. I'll admit to having some pride over having pure German heritage on both sides of the family (considering how many people have mixed heritage, ie English, French, etc), but I don't think that totally counts, because it's all "White" European.
    Anyway, I stil believe that it doesn't matter the colour of your skin as to the beating of your heart for another. Mixed "race", interracial etc are all terms we should start abolishing; it only keeps the prejudice alive. Unfortunately, if those terms weren't used for books at least to let readers know, there would be those who would chuck a fuss, demanding there be a "warning" attached to the book for those who don't want to read something so "unnatural". This kind of behaviour makes me shake my head in disgust that we can call our selves such "advanced" countries (UK, US, Australia etc) yet we still have these backwards beliefs about people being different.
    Ok, I think I've said more than enough on the topic. Sufficed to say that I agree, Ellison.

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  5. Thanks for your comments Samantha and Phoenix. I agree that it is okay for you to be proud of your pure heritage. There is nothing wrong with that. I think it is no different than being proud of any other European, African, or any other heritage. I just think that some people take it too far and try to push their personal beliefs on others. Our beauty as a people truly comes from our diversity, and the ability to create an even more unique person through our diverse pairings. You are so right. While our eyes may allow us to see the world and make distinctions on the differences of others, our hearts are not burdened with this handicap, allowing us to experience another in a way our eyes cannot.

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  6. While I haven't crossed that barrier in my erotica writing, I have crossed it in my sci-fi. I have characters from different species having relationships--the main character is half-human/ half-Satiren- talk about a mix up! I even bring a human into a new galaxy where he hooks up with an alien female.

    I don't have a problem with writing gay, lesbian, bi, menage, or orgy erotica, so I suppose I'm rather open-minded about interracial. I just haven't covered that aspect yet. I let the characters define themselves, and let the story roll.

    Great post.

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  7. I guess it shows how lost I was in my own (white) world that it wasn't until the African-American romance lines came out that I realized all characters in the Harlequin novels I read were all white. I was clueless. Then I read a comment from a gay man who enjoyed reading romance novels. He wanted to know why weren't there any stories about gay couples, even putting them in the typical romance plots like boss / assistant, cowboy / city dweller or even a secret baby story line, and my eyes were opened again. This was before the indie movement and I had no idea that there were gay themed romance novels in the ebook world. I knew some erotica writers were writing interracial novels, I guess I never realized that there was a big taboo against them either.

    I have to agree with you. The race of the characters shouldn't matter. One day, hopefully, we won't have to qualify anything that we write when it comes to the race or sexual preference / identity of our characters.

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  8. Being someone that is a product of an interracial relationship subjects like this are close to my heart. I find in my writing I make that extra effort to break down those barriers to put different cultures or races togethers in hopes that people will see that these relationships are no different then any other. In truth the world is steadly browning everyone is mixed with something now. I find it amazing how many people still find issue with mixing races and cultures. In this day and age it's just close-minded.

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  9. Thanks for your comments K. Rowe, Tiffany, and Joie.
    I never knew there was a specific market for interracial stories either. But, I think such stories should serve to enlighten others that these relationships exist well within the boundaries of normalcy, and should not be considered taboo. I believe the best story should concentrate on the love of two people. Race should not be the primary focus of the story, moreso, the focus should be on how two people overcome cultural differences and public stigma and allow their relationship to grow.
    Joie, I understand what you mean. I like to allow my fictional characters to form themselves. They should be as diverse as our real world-even more since I'm writing a fictional world and it can be more perfect than the real thing.

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Thank you. Your comments are valued.