The Color of Love in a Black-and-White World
by Nadine Tomlinson
Sarah Connor bemoans racial discrimination in her song, “Love is Color Blind”. Like her, other artists, storytellers, and creatives have been challenging the status quo through their art, especially on the subject of interracial relationships. More and more films and shows are featuring couples from different races and ethnicities. In the premiere of “Still Star-Crossed”, an imaginative sequel that follows the aftermath of Romeo’s and Juliet’s suicides, Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers have fashioned a world in which interracial love is the norm. I wonder, though, what The Bard would say if he could see a black Romeo kissing a white Juliet.
While it is heartening to watch “swirl love” thriving on the screen, real life often resembles the closed-minded, black-and-white world of “Pleasantville”. Some, if not most, interracial couples still experience disapproval and outright racism. For those who are newly dating someone outside of their race, it can be a daunting experience. Perhaps you want to introduce your significant other to your family and friends but you are dreading their reaction. Before making any announcements or introductions, a first step would be to arm yourself with certain knowledge before preparing your loved ones, especially if you expect opposition. You can gain some insight from a famous film that explores this controversial topic.
The 1967 American film, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”, creates an opening for dialogue on the topic of interracial relationships. Six months prior to its release, interracial marriage was still illegal in 17 states, mostly the Southern ones. Through the characters, both black and white, who expressed disapproval of the relationship, the film exposes the prejudices of that era. Fifty years later, even after the legalization of interracial marriage, those biases still prevail, especially among certain races and ethnicities that maintain rigid traditions.In the movie, the interracial couple faces these biases, which can either make or break their relationship.Use their experience as a guide on mistakes to avoid and ways to ease your family and friends into accepting your new “swirl love”.
THE DRAYTONS AND PRENTICES
Joanna Drayton and John Prentice, the interracial couple in the film, both make a mistake that anyone in such a relationship should avoid. Joanna assumes that her parents will approve of her choice because they are proponents of racial equality, so she does not inform them beforehand that she has a black fiancé. Despite their freethinking ways, her parents, especially her father, are unsettled by her choice and the engagement. Later, after John’s parents arrive at the Drayton’s home for the dinner party, he reveals that he has not informed them of his plans to wed a white woman. Needless to say, one can imagine the confusion that ensued.
Avoid dropping such bombshells about your relationship on your parents, as Joanna and John did. Inform them from the outset that you are in an interracial relationship if you know that they have die-hard views against such unions. Prepare for opposition. Stand your ground, but speak from a position of love and respect. Impress on them how much you want them to meet and accept your significant other. If they refuse, give them time and perhaps, some space, to come to grips with your decision before broaching the subject again.
In the film, the mothers were more sympathetic than the fathers. Mothers are loathe to sever the close ties they have with their children and tend to be supportive, even if it means standing against their husbands. You will need every ally in your corner and your mom is your first. If your initial attempt went south, ask her for help when you are ready to make another go at it. Consider using a lunch or dinner party as a unifying force. The latter forms the backdrop in the film, for good reason. Food is a common element in any culture. It has a bonding influence. Use the occasion to highlight similarities in your family’s culture and that of your significant other. “Breaking bread” together may just break the ice.
TILLIE AND HILARY
Both Tillie, the Drayton’s black maid, and Hilary, Mrs. Drayton’s white employee, express their strong disapproval of the interracial relationship. Tillie thinks that John Prentice, played by Sidney Poitier, is trying to elevate his status by marrying a white woman. Never mind that he is a doctor. She is outraged.
Her reaction reminds me of a similar perspective in Jamaican society. While we are a predominantly black nation, our ethnic makeup consists of other races that immigrated to Jamaica decades ago, hence, our motto, “Out of Many, One People”. Yet, there was a time when a black woman would get side-eyed, disapproving looks if she was in the company of a white man, especially if it was obvious that they were more than friends. The collective assumption, like Tillie’s, was that a black woman in an interracial relationship was being an opportunist. From my own experience in a past interracial relationship, I did not experience such negativity. However, I did feel uncomfortable when onlookers stared at us. Even with our inclusive motto, colorism is a problematic issue in Jamaica. On the upside, liberal Jamaicans of all ages have embraced interracial love.
Tillie and Hilary represent the opposing voice of public opinion on interracial marriage.The “Tillies” and “Hilarys” in your life will appear in the forms of your extended family members, friends, and acquaintances. If, like Hilary, they resolutely oppose your relationship because of their biases and you find their racism offensive, then you may need to “fire” them, as Mrs. Drayton did with Hilary. Surround yourself with those who truly love and support you, above beliefs and traditions.
MONSIGNOR MIKE RYAN
The Catholic priest is the only character who is thrilled when he learns of the couple’s nuptials. However, he declines to give his blessing on the union because he fears that Joanna and John are opening themselves up to a lifetime of constant racism.
If you and your significant other are religious, your spiritual leader will be a key figure in your relationship, especially if you plan on tying the knot in the future. Be open to their advice, especially if your family maintains strict traditions. Your spiritual leader may be one of the few positive voices on the controversial topic and can act as a mediator, if necessary. He or she can also help to steer you through any storms that may assail your relationship.
In the end, the film wraps things up nicely with a satisfying ending in which everyone accepts the couple’s relationship and their plans to wed. Mr. Drayton concludes that the only thing that matters is that Joanna and John love each other. Even Mrs. Prentice, in an earlier conversation with Mr. Drayton, says that love is greater than any racial issue.
Perhaps your family members and loved ones will arrive at this same conclusion. Maybe that will not be the case. Whatever the outcome, do not let anyone deter you from experiencing all that love has to offer. Love is color blind. Your relationship may become a great love story that shows everyone viewing it that love trumps hate every time.
Nadine Tomlinson is a Jamaican writer. Storytelling has been her passion and a creative outlet since childhood. She is a JCDC Creative Writing Awardee. Her short story collection, “The Guardians”, was published in the JCDC Gold Anthology. She is working on her first novel. You can connect with her on her website, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr.
I loved that analogy and the movie too. Thanks Nadine! Come back at 2:00 as Mike Lackey joins us.