LOVE, ALONE, WILL NOT DISMANTLE RACISM
For the last four years I have traveled across the globe presenting my one-woman show, One Drop of Love. The first two words of the play’s title refer to the one-drop rule. The one-drop rule was created to determine the amount of Sub-Saharan African blood necessary (‘one drop’) to justify enslaving and otherwise stripping away the rights of a person. These words in my title symbolize the historical and systemic racism inherent in the United States. I end the title and the play with the word love - for the hope I carry that we, collectively, will commit ourselves to dismantling this system. However, after the show, some audience members cling to the last word - love - while seemingly ignoring the first two.
Love, alone, will not dismantle racism.
While love may be helpful in change-making, there is necessary work to do before expecting people disenfranchised by racism to love their way to change - we must insist on truth and justice first.
Many point to interracial marriage to illustrate how love can dismantle racism. A recent popular example is celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia. This 1967 landmark decision legalized interracial marriage throughout the U.S. And while the the defendants, Richard and Mildred Loving, played an integral role in changing these laws, there were many pairings of Europeans with Africans, Native and Asian people in the U.S. before them. Some of these were through forced sexual violence - and this ugly truth has yet to be fully acknowledged. Others were out of a genuine, shared love - yet the couples’ names are not widely known. Here’s a useful timeline to help us begin to round-out the history of those who came before the Lovings: Thought.Co’s Interracial Marriage Laws History and Timeline. Interracial couples have existed since races began to be named -- far longer than 50 years ago -- yet racism is still here. This love has not saved us from White nationalists threatening and killing activists and other innocent people, the enduring racial wealth gap or continued school segregation. Before we rely on culturally diverse people loving each other, let’s tell the full truth about what led us to believe we are so different in the first place. Let’s seek truth before expecting love to be the solution.
The children of interracial marriages (mixed, biracial, multiracial people) are often held up as examples of how love will lead to change. Mixed people, according to some, are now the ‘fastest growing demographic in the U.S.’ As a woman who identifies in part as mixed (my father is Jamaican and my mother is White) - and is always identified as such by others - I am confronted with the irony of these notions daily.
First, as with interracial unions, we have existed since races were originally constructed - we just didn’t have the agency to name ourselves. Second, identifying ourselves with the terms created to instill systemic racism (biracial and multiracial) may only perpetuate a racial hierarchy. Perhaps this is what led Leo Felton -- born to a Black father and a White mother -- to become a criminal White supremacist. Being born to parents of so-called different races didn’t prevent anti-blackness from embedding itself into his thoughts and beliefs. An interracial pairing and mixed heritage were no match for the ideology of White supremacy in his case.
Well-meaning mixed people can also perpetuate the ideology of White supremacy. In 2007, I co-created a podcast exploring mixed identity. Each week, we discussed our and our guests’ responses to the ‘what are you’ question, and other common experiences of mixedness. We had a decent following and published episodes weekly. Then, a dear friend told me that a loyal fan had stopped listening. When I asked why, my friend’s response floored me: “You don’t address Whiteness.” My immediate reaction was defensive: What do you mean!? I acknowledge my mother is White and I’m half White all the time! After researching and reflecting on Whiteness, I better understood the critique. Our approach to mixedness ignored the fact that mixed racial identity wouldn’t exist without a racial hierarchy. The majority of our episodes featured mixed identified people with a White parent - so here we were centering Whiteness without actually naming and critiquing it. We rarely shared experiences of people who identified as mixed without a White parent (some refer to this as ‘dual minority mixedness’). We never discussed the fact that being asked ‘What are you?’ in some ways privileges us. It says “I’m going to allow you to tell me what you are, instead of just looking at you and deciding how to treat you.” Fortunately this skewed focus is changing with creative projects like Blasian Narratives and in papers and panels presented at the annual Critical Mixed Race Studies conference. I also started a group with dear friends to reclaim the agency to name ourselves via arts and storytelling: MixedRootsStories.org. Before love we need truth, reflection and to be open to evolving.
Finally, thinking love will dismantle racism presumes it can be dismantled by individuals alone. Racism is structural, systemic and institutionalized. Its power exists far beyond our interpersonal relationships. An interracial couple may love each other to the ends of the Earth -- but that does not protect at least one of the partners -- and likely them as a couple -- from consistently experiencing racism. In order for real change to happen, we need to equate love with justice. Let’s make love structural, systemic and institutionalized. What does systemic love look like? Reparations. Support for Affirmative Action especially from a racial justice perspective. Integrated schools and neighborhoods where People of Color are at the highest levels of leadership. White people insisting they not be the only ones in positions of power in government, and school and work administration.
When an audience member says to me after my show: “I get it, all we need is love,” I correct them with this: Love is important - but before that, we need truth and justice. Always in that order: Truth first, then justice - then and ONLY then: LOVE.
post image credit: getty images