Last week was the 42nd anniversary of the legalization of interracial relationships in the US. The landmark Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia pit an interracial couple, Richard Loving, who was white, and his wife, Mildred, who was black, against the state of Virginia, which ruled that their marriage was a violation of the state’s Racial Integrity Act. This might seem shocking today, but in 1967 there were laws on the books of more than a dozen states supporting the idea famously stated by a Virginia judge that, “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. … The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”
I was thinking about this issue this week partly because of Aliza Hausman’s awesome blogging on exactly this issue in the Jewish community (she has some fantastic coverage of the Jewish Multiracial Network retreat, and also was featured in a story about interracial couples in the NY Daily News) and partly because of my own romantic history with guys who are not white.
Until as recently as the early sixties, marriage of an Ashkenazi Jew and a Sephardi Jew was unheard of in a lot of places. There’s a famous Israeli musical, Kazablan, about a Sephardi/Ashkenazi couple who want to get married and whose families are disturbed by the idea (kind of a Jewish Romeo and Juliet, but with more racism). I was talking about the musical with my dad, and he started singing the famous song from Kazablan, Kulanu Yehudim, ‘We’re all Jews.’ In theory it’s a great song about how all Jews are connected, no matter where they come from (It’s a Small World After All-esque) but in watching the video below I was a little freaked out to find a line that maintains we’re all “100% Jewish, even the shvartze and the vuzvuz [a derogatory word for Ashkenazim, akin to ‘whitey’]. (It’s at about 1:10 in the video below). Whoah. That’s the equivalent of the hearing the n-word in the middle of Free to be You and Me.
These days, there are still some communities where Ashkenazi/Sephardi dating is rare, but for the most part, dating a Jew is dating a Jew, and people are much more welcoming of each other’s Jewish heritage. But then, when you involve converts of other backgrounds, people tend to ask obnoxious questions and just generally air their racist tendencies in a way that’s pretty shocking. Even beyond that, I’ve often felt that there’s some kind of horrible stigma associated with dating someone who’s not white and not Jewish, well above and beyond what might be the normal reaction to interdating. On top of whatever issues people have with interdating, there’s a level of intense racism. Dating a non-Jew who happens to be black seems much more offensive to some people than dating a WASP. But, why? Halakhically I can’t think of a reason there would be any more of a problem with an interracial intermarried couple as with white intermarried couple.
I think it’s perfectly legit to make it known to your family how you feel about interdating, but there’s something really repugnant about adding any level of racism to that and claiming that it’s in any way justified. Blech.
Pronounced: AHSH-ken-AH-zee, Origin: Hebrew, Jews of Central and Eastern European origin.