Loving: Interracial Intimacy in America and the Threat to White Supremacy
By Sheryll Cashin
Utilizing the case of Robert and Mildred Loving (the interracial Virginia couple that were run out of that state in the 1960s for daring to violate antiquated miscegenation laws) as a jumping-off point, Sheryll Cashin proceeds to dive deeply into the history of American racism and white supremacy that continues — in the words of Ta Nehisi Coats — “ to haunt our nation like bad credit.”
While the film Loving (timed for release earlier this year to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Supreme Court decision) detailed highlights of that ugly era — primarily from a courtroom and dramatic perspective — Cashin, a law professor at Georgetown University, gives readers the back story, the tales of unmitigated greed that caused colonizers and the planter class to construct walls of separation and hatred between peoples of different skin colors, a construct that clouds our past, cripples our present, and threatens our future if we fail to come to terms with who we actually were (and to a large degree still are) as a people.
Condoleezza Rice once accurately stated that America was “born with a birth defect: slavery,” and this pernicious institution didn’t just do harm to black folks, it damaged the psyche of whites as well since everything you own, to one degree or another, owns you. And Cashin posits that a new class of “culturally dexterous” Americans — who are more tolerant of the “other” than previous generations — has to emerge if we are to be saved from our hoary past.
And that saving can’t happen none too soon, since indeed the entirety of our present (in terms of race relations, which still dominates virtually everything in this country) is predicated on that past — from the first interracial relationships, such as the marriage of John Rolfe to Pocahontas, to the present day coupling of Kanye and Kim — we still are hung up on skin color like no other nation on Earth because in this country, bigotry has been invested with a form of power.
The myth of “white supremacy” (a term coined by Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren in his opinion in the Loving case) had to first be created in this country to prevent white indentured servants from comingling with black slaves out of fear that the two disenfranchised groups would rise up in unison and throw off the yolks of their servitude. Landless whites were made to feel that “we may be trash, but at least we ain’t black” and this gave them a sense of power over the “other.” Cashin adroitly explains how humans are transmuted into the “other” and her explanation enlightens us to how this process is being used today to sow seeds of xenophobic nativism into our political climate.
However, as Cashin points out in a variety of ways, the purposeful creation of an entrenched pigmentocracy gave the lie to our fledgling democracy. The white ruling class had to engage in tremendous mental gymnastics in an effort (failed, to this very day) to juxtapose the two facets of the American experience, especially after the Declaration of Independence was written. Did the Founding Fathers really mean “all” men?
Since stealing this land from its original inhabitants, our plutocracy has continued to lie about who we are and what we stand for — and this has tremendous psychic consequences, even if the negative effects are not evidenced for centuries. The “arc of the moral universe” is indeed long and bad juju eventually catches up.
The inescapable truth lies in the darker-hued progeny of the planters: If blacks and whites were not suppose to comingle, to engage in interracial sex, then where were all of those “high-yeller” babies coming from? And these slaveholders were so diabolical, indeed so greedy, they would sell their own flesh and blood into lives of bondage.
The fear that for centuries propagated the notion of white supremacy was this: That one day that big black buck would do to their women what that white ruling class had being doing to their wives and daughters for centuries. This, then, is the root of American white angst, fear, and the notion of supremacy.
Times change … at least in the legal sense. It’s no longer against the law for blacks and whites to engage in sex and even marry. And, as Cashin points out with her detailed research, a majority of Americans — both white and black — no longer hold the view that the “mixing of races” is wrong and deserving of our opprobrium. But culture — as Trump’s elevation to the highest office of the land proves — is slow to catch up to legal niceties.
Even as TV ads now feature interracial couples — parents to beautiful, seemingly well-adjusted tan children — we still struggle to shake off the vestiges of the past. Nonetheless, Professor Cashin closes out her incisive, moving and enlightening romp through history on a high note of promise … an abiding faith that we can overcome the pettiness — actually silliness — of our racial past via the inauguration of a new class of culturally dexterous Americans.
And while I tend to agree, I’ve also seen racism morph into other shapes and adopt other guises over my seven decades on the planet, so I just think that it will be hundreds of additional years before America finally gives up the ghost of her despicably degenerate past.
From CoolCleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier mansfieldfATgmail.com. Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author at http://NeighborhoodSolutionsInc.com