When God sent me a white husband, I braced myself for our life as an inter-racial couple to be difficult. I was ready for everyone to stare at us as we walked down the street. I was prepared for us to face the daily task of standing up against hatred and injustice for the sake of love. Before we got married, I tried to educate him in all things race, because pretty soon after we started dating, we realised that he had never really had to think about it – why would he, he's a white man? On the other hand, I thought about it constantly.
But pretty soon I realised that the stares were not going to come with the frequency with which I had braced myself. No one really cared. Why? Because we live in London in 2016, where interracial relationships are really not that big a deal. Most of the weddings I have been to in the past 12 months – my cousins and family friends – have been black people marrying white people. I'm well aware that when we visit more rural places across the UK or east Yorkshire where my husband is from, people might do a double take or say some things that are inappropriate, but even then I'm surprised at just how unremarkable we are.
I imagine things might be different in the deep south in America, however, which is where Gaye Clark lives. Gaye Clark is the self-described "recovering Pharisee" who has faced a barrage of criticism for her post on the Gospel Coalition website entitled 'When God sends your white daughter a black husband'. And not just a "black husband", but "a black husband with dreads". Lordy!
There are parts of the article – mainly the tone – that I find deeply offensive. The language used betrays an assumption that white is superior and black is not just 'different', but inferior; a black son-in-law is a disappointment but let's love him anyway. "Glenn moved from being a black man to beloved son when I saw his true identity as an image bearer of God, a brother in Christ, and a fellow heir to God's promises," she writes. Words like this remind me of those times when I've been told "I don't see you as black" or been described as a coconut. Well-intentioned, but hinting at the view that white equals good and black equals bad. While pointing towards how accepting and un-racist she is in 'accepting', her son-in-law, the writer fails to recognise her own prejudice.
And then I think about the context in which Gaye Clark is writing and I get it – she is trying to rise above the pervasive racism in the southern Christian society she is in. While her words are jarring to so many of us who live in metropolitan cities, Gaye Clark's church friends are worried about what life will be like for her poor, mixed-race future grandchildren. "They have no idea what's ahead of them!" one of her friends tells her. Looking at the wider context of American race relations and it becomes a little more understandable that she might have flinched when her daughter brought home a black man – with dreads (a dreaded black man, if you will).
There are two issues going on in the background when we look at the taboo that surrounds interracial marriages in America, particularly black men and white women – namely slavery and patriarchy. No one really ever talks about this, but I'm going to attempt to here, so bear with me.
Inherent in the depiction of the black male in American society is the stereotype that black men are physically strong, dangerous, primal and highly sexualised. Meanwhile, research shows that the sexual abuse of black female slaves by white slave owners was widespread, as well as occasions when those relationships were seen as authentic, loving ones. While sexual relationships between white females and black male slaves did take place, these were much more taboo and when uncovered, could result in the killing of the black males. "Coupled with the notion of elite white female sexual virtue was that of white female vulnerability," writes J M Allain, "the idea that plantation wives and daughters needed to be protected, defended, and sheltered. Framing women in this way served as a means of patriarchal control." When the Gospel Coalition – run by mainly white men – publishes an article about God sending your white daughter a black husband, it sadly has echoes of these times; the white woman needing to be protected from the black man – especially one with dreads.
Mixed up with these associations with interracial marriage is the wider context of patriarchy. Who is seen as having the power in a relationship between a black man and a white woman? And who is seen as having the power when a white man marries a black woman? White is powerful and black is not. Men are powerful and women are not. So when a black man marries a white woman, it disrupts the social order.