Friday, October 16, 2009

"I try to treat everyone equally": Except When It Comes to Miscegination

I had to re-read this article from The Guardian a few times to make sure I wasn't missing something.

A Louisiana justice of the peace said he refused to issue a marriage licence to an interracial couple out of concern for any children the couple might have.

Keith Bardwell, justice of the peace in Tangipahoa parish, said it was his experience that most interracial marriages did not last long.

"I'm not a racist. I just don't believe in mixing the races that way," Bardwell said. "I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom. I treat them just like everyone else."

Bardwell said he asked everyone who called about marriage if they were a mixed race couple. If they were, he did not marry them.


"There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage. I think those children suffer and I won't help put them through it."

If he did an interracial marriage for one couple, he must do the same for all, he said.

"I try to treat everyone equally."

First, how ironic is it for Bardwell to say he "treat(s) everyone equally." How can he possibly make such a statement after he clearly rejects some couples and accepts others according to their racial composition?

But the most interesting aspects of this article are how Bardwell justifies his actions, first through his so-called evidence of non-racist attitudes and behaviors by befriending African Americans and letting them "use (his) bathroom." And then through his anecdotal "evidence" that African American and Caucasian families don't treat mixed race children well.

Bardwell is using his power to further essentialize racial differences and divisions in society. He is literally influencing peoples' behaviors without their consent by forcing them to seek marriage elsewhere and cope with the emotions of knowing those in power still generalize socially constructed groups' behaviors (e.g., African American and Caucasian families won't treat mixed-race children fairly).

Next, let's return to the issue of "prooving" one's lack of racism by having friends from the racialized group being discriminated against. The is the exact same argument Boston police officer Justin Barrett used after writing in an e-mail that Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was a "banana eating jungle monkey" -- he's not racist because he has black friends even though he writes glaringly racist statements.

Having African American friends, even marring a minority spouse in itself, proves nothing of one's supposed lack of racism. Men from majority groups frequently marry minority women specifically so they can control them. People frequently, often times unconsciously, befriend minorities based on racial stereotypes (e.g., I play basketball all the time with my black friends).

Let's not forget the grotesque case of police brutality enacted upon Haitian immigrant, Abner Louima, by four white New York police officers back in 1997. Two of the officers had intimate relationships with African American women -- Justin Volpe (who inflicted the most severe damage on Louima) and Thomas Wiese. From a 1999 article in the World Socialist Web Site before the trial was to begin:

One of the arguments that will be made by the defense in the Louima case is that branding the cops involved as racists is contradicted by the facts of their personal lives. One of the officers, Wiese, is married to an African-American woman and is the stepfather of her son. Another, Volpe, is engaged to a black woman.

As Bijan Bayne of accurately notes, racism exists along a continuum of severity, and simply because one holds espoused positive relationships with members of minority groups does not mean attitudes and acts of racism automatically dissipate. If Bardwell does not want to be labeled a racist, then he needs to do more than have African American friends over for dinner and allow them to use his bathroom. He needs to stop essentializing his attitudes about African American and Caucasian communities and stop using his position of power to steer interethnic couples away from forging their relationships.

Approaches to anti-miscegenation take new twists, turns, and justifications...

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1 comment:

  1. People like this piss me off so much. First of all Unless that man had a petition signed by every black American in the U.S. nothing will make me feel he is not racist. I hate when people use the excuse oh I have black friends. Doesn't this guy realize that not only is he being racist towards black Americans, but white Americans too. This kind of stuff is the reason humanity will never be able to leave their hatred behind.