Inter-racial Intermarriage: What’s Taboo and What’s Not

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There’s a fascinating back-and-forth over at The Atlantic between Jeffrey Goldberg and Ta-Nehisi about exoticism and intermarriage in the black community, and in the Jewish community. It’s a short enough exchange that you can easily read the whole thing, but here are a couple of interesting highlights:

JG: The more time I spent in Israel, the more I came to believe that dating “in” was the responsible thing to do, from a future-of-my-people perspective.  But weirdly, and maybe you could analyze this for me, Dr. Coates, I didn’t get pissed off at Jewish women who dated out, only Jewish men. In retrospect, I guess I felt sorry for the Jewish women who intermarried, because I sensed that they tried, and failed, to convince Jewish men that they weren’t, in fact, their mothers, that they were intelligent and sexy and all the rest.  Jewish men who go outside, I think – and this is not everyone, obviously – are looking beyond the tribe not because they really think they’re going to end up marrying their mothers if they find a Jewish woman, but because they’re scared of Jewish women, especially the intense sort my friends and I all seemed to marry.  (“Intense” is a compliment, by the way, because intense keeps things interesting.) They’re scared that these women will see right through them, among other things.african_singles.jpg

There are upsides, of course, to marrying out – all those new and exciting genes, for one thing, and the opportunity to bring someone new into the fold.  And you allude, of course, to the ultimate promise of real integration.  Anyway, it’s complicated, and I’m getting the sense you believe, as I do, that blacks and Jews have a lot more in common than lactose intolerance and hard-to-manage hair.

TC: Heh, you just made the textbook black argument against interracial dating.  I basically wrote a piece saying exactly this a few years back.  I argued that black men should not date out, but that black women should do whatever.  My sentiments were much like yours – there really is no doubt, that in most cases, black women are looking out after having at least given the neighborhood a shot.  The same couldn’t be said of the dudes, however.

Now, I think that long-term relationships are really, really hard, and should not be subject to ideology.  It just seems like, in my experience, relationships rise and fall over dumb practical shit.  A lot of black folks worry about disappearing.  Not disappearing, I think, in the manner that Jews worry.  But like, that we’ll basically slaughter each other and those of us that are left will go to jail.  So when you have the chance to build a stable black family, the idea is you’ve got to do it.

There’s something else – despite liberalism, I do take some undeserved pride in being partnered with a black woman.  And to make it even more perverse, I take pride in being partnered with a very dark skin black woman.  There is the notion of black writers living kind of apart from their community.  Now there are very good reasons for why that would be the case.  Still, I never wanted any part of that.  I always wanted to be of it.  And I thought the most obvious way to be off it, was in who you choose to spend your life with.  Limited and passe, but that’s me.

JG: You know, nowadays, in liberal Jewish circles, it’s considered a little odiferous to mention that you’d rather have people stay in than go out.  I can’t imagine it’s the same in liberal black circles, but is it?  Do you get pushback when you talk about the importance of this kind of solidarity?

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Posted on December 17, 2008

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