Othello and Sophomore English

“So dad, we’re going to be reading Othello in English and I thought it would be a good idea if you wrote something for me about being married to mom.”

“Oh, let me see if I get ‘why’ you might think that’s a good idea…First did you get an assignment to write or say something about interracial marriages? Do you think I’m going to murder your mother…”

“Okay, thanks for the spoiler alert. Will you write something or not? We just got the assignment that we’re going to read it and discuss it. I think it might be a good thing to know what your thinking is, and was, about marrying a white woman since you’re so militantly black!”

“(Wordless expression to denote how impressed I can be by my daughter’s thinking processes…Meanwhile she just chuckles and rubs a bald spot on my head…)

*

That day’s Washington Post Style section has a book review of the latest Hogarth Shakespeare project, “New Boy” by Tracy Chevalier, which takes the Bard’s examination of race, envy, mind manipulation, and patriarchy onto a sixth grade playground. While I cannot remember how long it’s been since I last read Othello, and it has been over three decades since Sheila and I have started our journey together I do feel I have a perfect subject for my latest essay. At least one that will keep my attention long enough to finish a decent draft.

The book review looks somewhat compelling, however I’ve dug out my Norton Shakespeare so I can, should I choose, read the original.

Sigh…yet another tome in the wobbly pile of ‘to read later’ books, periodicals, and newspaper clippings…so little time…

*

The white girl I married came home from a week’s training session in Chicago with an interesting story. Sheila exercises every morning and one day while there after her morning workout she stopped in a store to buy some snacks and other sundries. The clerk, a young black woman was somewhat distracted from paying attention to full involvement with the transaction and forgot to offer a small plastic bag. As the clerk was ringing up the next customer my wife reached over for a bag and the clerk snapped at her that ‘there’s a charge for that bag!’

The customer being rung up, who had been in line behind Sheila then began to harshly address her as being a white, over privileged, person trying to steal a seven cent bag. She told me that she turned to fully face him and told him she was married to a black man and had two black children and that he had made some inaccurate assumptions about her based on the color of her skin. She pointed out that perhaps he should consider that just maybe he had no real idea who she was or what kind of person she was or what life experiences she has had.

He immediately apologized, after repeating the old cliche about what happens when you assume…

Sheila gave the clerk, who seemed to realize she might have perhaps fallen down a bit in her responsibility to provide complete customer service, a dime to cover the cost of the bag. She walked out the store, bagging her items. Even today as we talked about that experience and the list of indignities POC suffer in this society, I wonder how we; Sheila and I, our children, our friends (black and white/liberal and conservative), are ever going to have the dialogues we need to have in order to approach any sustainability in our society. Two steps forward, three steps back, same as it ever was.

The following is what I wrote for our daughter.

*

Esther,

You asked me to write something about being married to a white woman…I suspect you might have anticipated a very long letter/email.

It’s not a new story, a white woman and a black man being married. But even today it still presents potential issues, and for some a bit more than social awkwardness. But when your mom and I started dating it was way more of a big deal. I’m old enough to remember when any inter-racial friendships caused real problems for people. Let’s start there, just white and black people hanging out, not dating.

You know my first real friend, your Uncle Thom, and I used to get into fights because a lot of other kids weren’t happy that we hung out every day. This was a really long time ago, in the 50’s. He once punched an older kid in the face because the older kid kept using the n-word in our presence…one of the fastest runs we ever had getting away from that angry, and bigger, kid.

I don’t think anyone has ever been called the n-word in anger more than me growing up because I was the only black boy in my elementary school. The other white friend I had actually used to call me that every day in seventh grade. We got to be friends in high school in spite of our separate groups of friends not liking the idea.

I can say that between school in Philadelphia and four years at a HBCU taught me a lot about the bad AND good sides of white people. I’ve talked to you before about the segregated county I went to college in, about the KKK burning a cross on our campus twice, about how the Eastern Shore white kids marched with us in the 60’s. I haven’t told you about the discrimination and racism I’ve faced as an adult but suffice to say here that I always gave any person, white or black, a fair shot to show me what kind of person they were.

When I met your mom, all I could see was one of the most special people I could ever hope to meet. I mean, yeah, I could see that she was white but that didn’t matter. All that mattered was making sure I wouldn’t say anything stupid when I introduced myself. Long story short, she and I clicked and soon enough we were living together and having all sorts of great adventures.

There have been many times it was clear that people in public didn’t like seeing us together. Most of the time they were moments that we just let slip by. There’s no account for the ugly in the world. A few times I wasn’t about to let anyone disrespect our relationship. One man got me so angry in the grocery store where we shopped that the manager was called. As soon as he saw it was me confronting the ’gentleman’ he told the other guy to leave the store. Sadly, I’ve had confrontations with black people about being with a white woman too.

Most people will not tell you if they have a problem with inter-racial relationships anymore. In my life I’ve seen laws that outlawed marriage between different races over turned (the Loving Case was decided the year I turned twenty) but I know for sure that there are places I would never want our family to live. There are scores of millions of our fellow country people who recently voted for a candidate who regularly gave voice to exceedingly racists views. Because of that, as well as other reasons, many people feel free to espouse blatantly racist views openly. The only good thing I can see about that is it lets us all know how far we have yet to go before we can say we have a just society.

It’s easier, in my view, for our family to live here, where we are now than it would have been a short time after the Loving case was decided. I don’t know if there are less or more people that are comfortable with white and black people marrying and having children. I do know that your mother has been my life since I met her and that she, and you and your brother, mean the world to me.

If any person, of any race, could look at us and have a problem all I know is it would be their issue, not ours. Racial bigotry hurts not only the people being biased against, but it hurts our society. It hurts the children of bigots deeply for they don’t grow up with a complete understanding of what the world is.

The best thing to ever happen to me was meeting your mom. I rarely ever think of us being in an inter-racial marriage. There are times I realize how profoundly different we are because of the conditioning this society allocates via race. But then mom and I have both individually and collectively worked against that social conditioning, for ourselves and for you and your brother.

Hmmm, maybe I should say that the best thing to happen to me was not only meeting your mom, but having a family with her. You and your brother are the results of this marriage. I’m so very proud of both of you and how you’ve both found a way to be unapologetically yourselves in a world that tries its best to shape you in the images it prefers.

Love you,

Dad

*

Esther’s had her face buried in her copy of Othello. She seems to read it more than the youtube viewing she engages in. I haven’t heard anything about a class discussion of the play yet.

But I’m betting it’ll get interesting.

 

Cuyjet 1

 

 

 

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