Friday, August 20, 2010

I'm glad the woman at the center of the Dr. Laura controversy, Nita Henson, has come forward. Her story further expounds on the difficulty that interracial families have in searching for resources and advice on the complexities of "blending" in a black and white society.

If you haven't heard her talk about the incident, here's her interview on The Larry King Show:

We'll leave Dr. Laura's assessment of herself as a victim whose First Amendment rights were violated in this experience for others to debate. This isn't a political blog: it's a family one. Interracial families may espouse many different political points of views-- and many different ideas about what is racist and what isn't.

And that's exactly the point that Halima Sal Anderson (who authors the popular blog, as well as other publications about interracial and intercultural dating) and I were debating in the comments of my prior Dr. Laura blog. Halima points out that interracial couples have so many different ideologies, and deal with the perceptions of racial and gender inequality in so many different ways-- that it can be very difficult to construct a "clearinghouse" of how to handle race/gender issues like the one faced by Hanson and her hubby. Here's Halima's take:

I also have noted that when you bring interracial families together physically, some other dynamics can come into play, and you may find that one family or both have ideas and beliefs that are threatening and or are demeaning to those of the opposite combination.

One instance springs to mind and if you bring a bm-ww relationship together with a bw-wm in any sort of group interaction or purpose, you may fast discover (and I am going to give this example because I have come across it often) that because the bm-ww relationship was in some way precipitated because of racio-misogynic notions of the inferiority of bw and even the trashing of the white male identity, the interactions can be damaging to the black woman even the white man!

This is the problem I have observed when we 'bring' all interracial and intercultural groups together, you end up finding that many of the members are not as 'open minded' as an interracial relationship would suggest or has been made to indicate. How indeed can a black woman thrive under such conditions where she is reminded in a variety of ways that the reason for the founding of the other opposite relationship is because she is deemed inferior/less than.

In my view general mixed race relationship spaces [clearinghouses or communities like I suggested in my post] are not safe spaces for black women. As a bw i have come to notice this.

She's right, of course. I come from a very progressive point of view on relationships and tend to hang out with couples share that ideology. But I too have met couples whose relationships work on very different dynamics. I've met the BW-WM couple who seem to minimize blackness or femaleness. I've also met couples where the white male is the partner whose personhood is minimized. Halima's point speaks to a powerful reminder: just as there is no single definition of what it means to be a "black Person" or a "white person" there's no single way to be an interracial couple. Indeed, we can be as different as we are individually.

So, for Nita Henson, advice about how to address the frequency with which her husband's white friends brought up racial issues in her presence would differ depending on who in the community of interracial relationships was asked. Some might suggest getting angry, some might suggest, as Dr. Laura did, that Nita was being hypersensitive--and there might be hundreds of other suggestions in between.

Concerns about the "ideology behind the answer" is probably the reason that interracial couples maintain a certain level of silence about any problems in the relationship that have racial overtones. That's probably why the party line is "race doesn't matter". And from my own experiences I know it doesn't... until it does.

The truth is actually that most of us face issues-- and race plays its roles in how they appear. But revealling that fact puts interracial couples in an awkward position because fuels the arguments of those who believe that interracial relationships are a bad idea or that they can't work. Discuss such personal conflicts with the wrong advisor and you could get advice so bad that one begins to question one's own decisions and reactions. That's what Nita Henson seems to have felt after hanging up with Dr. Laura last week. Such harsh criticism makes keeping silent seem like a very good idea.

Still, if those outside the relationship can't be trusted to give good advice, at the very least, problems like the one that Nita Henson faced with her husband's friends should be discussed carefully and lovingly between the couple. If there is any universal advice to be offered it's simply this: "Have you told your husband how you feel about this? Has he offered to speak to his friends--or to help you respond to these comments and questions when they come up?" Because truly, progressive or conservative, interracial couples--like any married partners-- have to be able to communicate with each other-- and to count on each other for support.


  1. Hi again Karyn, I am glad you also expanded the concerns to include issues from same combinations who might not have based their relationships upon... shall we say more progressives ideas.

    I also agree that the fear of triggering the 'we told you so' responses can keep many interracial couples 'silent' until its too late. i think when (dare i say) racism and making race slip ups isnt looked upon as 'the ultimate sin' then many interracial couples will have a healthier atmosphere in which to pursue their relationships.

    For more progressive IR relationships, I believe that there is possibly a good baseline from which to launch one(eg no one would want to be in an relationship with a KKK member...i hope) but the rest of growing and mentally adjusting could be a journey which partner/s undertake over the course of their relationship, thats a more conforting and realistic model in my estimation.

    Below is an article by Lowri turner about her feeling towards her mixed race daughetr. She got a lot of flack for it but on second thoughts she allowed the conversation to be had around mothers(and to be specific here white mothers), feelings of alienation from their mixed race children. I can imagine a number of mothers being able to identify and possibly work around it than just see themselves as horrible people.

  2. Seems like Ms. Nita has worked out her issues with her husband according to the interview she did on Larry King and the next morning on CNN.

    I wish her all the best.