In the summer of 1991 I remember taking my seat at the Union City movie theaters to take in the latest Spike Lee Joint, Jungle Fever. For months I had anxiously awaited this film that explores the intricacies of interracial relationships, not because I was a Spike Lee fan, but because I was doing my own bit of exploration.
The film dives head first in the heart rending tale of an African American family that is on the brink of destruction. Depending on one’s worldview Flipper, the lead character, finds himself in the amorphous position of protagonist/antagonist. He has not only committed the sin of adultery, but to the ire of his black wife and her girlfriends (along with the millions of black women who took in the movie) has done so with a white woman. At the same time his brother is addicted to another “white substance”- crack cocaine, and will stop at nothing to get his latest fix, even dancing for his mother, to the complete disgust of his father who ultimately shoots and kills him.
Spike Lee’s juxtaposition of these two brothers- one an upwardly mobile architect, the other comprising the lowest rung of African American life- is masterful and heartbreaking all at once. Leaving the theater it was impossible to not see them both as equal accomplices to the crime of murdering the black family. It was their addiction to the “white substances” of society that decimated the Black family unit. This maybe reading too much into it, but how can one not see that Spike is not for interracial relationships?
I was eighteen when I saw Jungle Fever. Just days before I had graduated high school where I wrestled with my own sense of identity. As a man I was growing in my fascination with the opposite sex, and had experienced the sheer joy and disappointment of dating. In that oh so tender age of life, my esteem was tied into how many women I went out with and beyond.
As a black man, the issues of identity in a southern diverse high school went much deeper. I soon caught on that it wasn’t just good enough to date, but that the varsity side of the manhood team were those black men who were “savvy and substantial” enough to score not just black women but white women as well. We at Creekside High had bought into the lie that those with the most “game” could bypass black women and fell a “much bigger prize”- white women.
So off I went. The first white girlfriend (if you call it that) I had was my freshman year. Under clandestine circumstances we would rendezvous at the local theater where we wouldn’t get caught in the light of day. When her father finally found out, he promptly called my home and called me a “black son of a bitch,” and forced his daughter to move hundreds of miles away to Savannah, Georgia to live with her mother. I was devastated, but I continued the hunt. After all, not being secure in who I was as a black man, much more as a follower of Jesus, I was unaware that my pursuit was not really after a white woman, but validation, significance and esteem.
Two months after Jungle Fever I found myself settling into my dorm there at college. Shortly thereafter I was wounded by evangelical racism- being called a nigger by one of my classmates who was preparing for a life of gospel ministry. My failure to forgive stored up the flood waters of bitterness, and unleashed in me a pro-black bitterness that sought to now find identity not in the cross of Jesus Christ, but in the color of my skin. I was a black nationalist of the Stokley Carmichael variety. No more white women for me. Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud.
After graduation I was determined to no longer be around whites, and so I settled into life at a large, all black church in southern California where I continued to exclusively date my Nubian queens. They were black and beautiful (still are). I soon discovered that my prominent position, along with the scarcity of other Jesus loving black men in my context swung the pendulum favorably in my direction, which lead me to constantly seek to upgrade along the way. I wasn’t a dog, but I could be beyond choosy, a privilege I soon discovered many black women did not have then, nor now.
Then she walked in. I first laid eyes on the woman who is now my wife on a Sunday morning at church. Her olive skin and finely textured black hair made me pause and forget all of the familiar worship songs we sung that day. I would later discover that Korie is half Irish and half Mexican, and soon I was a goner, totally intoxicated with her. It’s here where I was faced with a dilemma. I was in love with her, at church, but in a sea of black women I knew that the better part of wisdom demanded that we keep our relationship a secret. I intuitively felt what Dr. Ralph Richard Banks said when he wrote, “Almost two-thirds of black women felt upset when black men married or dated white women. They felt unappreciated, inadequate, unwanted. As one twenty-nine year old black woman in Los Angeles says in another Ebony article, ‘Every time I turn around and I see a fine Brother dating outside his race, I just feel disgusted. I feel like, what’s wrong with us? Why do you choose her over me?’” (From the book, Is Marriage for White People). So just as I had arranged secret dates with my first girlfriend, Korie and I would steal away to such places as the Santa Monica Pier to get to know each other.
You know the saints can’t hold water, so when our relationship began to ease into the light, people, and mainly the Sistah’s, weren’t happy. What’s wrong with us? Why is it that all the successful Black men have to go outside their own race? These questions and more cut me deeply, not only because I felt as if there was some legitimacy to their questions, but more so because they were coming from my spiritual family who claimed to worship the Great Reconciler. Doesn’t my identity in Christ trump ethnic loyalties?
Korie and I made an agreement. We decided that our ethnicities would not be ignored, and at the same time would not become the ultimate focus of our relationship. If we were out somewhere and we saw people staring, giving us the evil side eye and whispering about us, we were just going to assume that we had spilled some ketchup or something on our shirts. Looking for racism under every rock, and assuming the worst in people is just a miserable way to live.
Now some fifteen years and three kids later, we have a strong and vibrant relationship both in light of and in spite of our ethnic differences, and these truths have helped us to navigate our interracial relationship to the glory of God:
1. What does the Word say? Korie and I want to build our marriage and family on the Word of God. And nowhere in the Bible is God against interracial relationships. In I Samuel 11, God’s concern with Solomon and all of his women (many of whom were of a different ethnicity) had nothing to do with the differences in culture or ethnicity, but everything to do with these foreign women leading him astray from his commitment to God and into idolatry. In fact, God was so ticked off at the racism of Moses’ contemporaries that he struck them with leprosy when they sought to castigate him for his Black wife.
2. We must fight daily to keep our identity in Christ. Korie and I have experienced some hurtful things because of our interracial marriage. Jack and Jill, a popular African American social club, denied us entrance, because Korie is not African American. This club has its historical roots in desiring to keep prominent African American’s in close social standing with each other (Lawrence Graham, Our Kind of People). My wife has at times mourned the fact that relationships with Black women have become arduous because of her not being Black. On and on we can go, yet we must keep coming back to the essential truth that we don’t hang our ultimate joys or disappointments on the color of our skin, or the ignorance of others. Our lives are hidden in Christ.
3. Intentional exposure. Our three boys are half African American, a quarter Irish, and a quarter Mexican. They are beginning to wrestle with their own sense of identity, and it’s scary and fun to watch all at the same time. Each has their natural leanings. One child clearly identifies more with African American’s. If he walks into a room and there’s one Black child in a room of fifty that’s who he’s going to kick it with. Another son leans more towards Whites, even saying that he finds White girls more attractive. And our other son is just a love everybody person. Korie and I sit back and listen to them, only butting in when their perspective needs to be aligned to the cross.
But more than that, we feel it is our joyful obligation to ensure that they are exposed to all of their ethnicities. No, we can’t pick their friends, but we do ensure that between their activities, schools and church that they are constantly in touch with people from all walks of life. As I write these words, two of my sons have friends over- one Black, one White and the other Indian. I’m encouraged.
4. Resolve. People will say and do ignorant things. Okay. Big deal. Not the end of the world. I’m not getting punched in the face, spit upon, or being bitten by German Shepherds in the streets of Birmingham, 1963. That was my parents generation. They were tough. They had resolve. And I need this same Christ-exalting toughness to not only keep moving when ignorance happens, but to love those who “mistreat you”.
5. Shut-up. Forgive the bluntness of it, but I’m in love with my wife. I want to be sensitive to you and your feelings, but I will not allow anyone and their aversion to interracial relationships to keep me from enjoying life with my bride. If you’re bothered by our presence get over it. Recently, I had one Black woman confess that she had severe reservations of joining our church because of Korie, not thinking that I was a real brother. Whatever that means. She’s joined. Glad she’s grown up. Outside of Jesus, no one is allowed to hi-jack my life.
At the end of Jungle Fever, Flippers’ wife forgives him, and he returns home to his Black wife, and his immediate family is restored. The message is deafeningly loud: Black men need to come back home to their Nubian queens if they want healthy families. Well I’ve got my queen, and by God’s grace I ain’t leaving. She just so happens not to be Nubian.