E. T. WALSH
dering are peppered with Marilyn’s emphasis her ladylike, po-
lite behavior. It apparently did not occur to her to step out of the
expectations for a “lady” to solve her marital problem. Notice
how Marilyn uses gendered notions of whiteness to explain her
inability to conf ront her husband on his extramarital affairs:
I didn’t challenge him, it was such a hassle to confront him
on stuff that I just looked the other way. I mean, he could just
beat the shit out of me with words, so I just caved in and didn’t
ask about (the infidelities).
He was so good with words. He knew all those ways of
fighting I didn’t. I didn’t do well. So do I think it was because
he was black? Well I think part of it was (ETW: What part?).
That part they didn’t teach us and nice white girls don’t do
well in that. We just get eaten up alive. We won’t just call
somebody a liar. We won’t call them on it. Just like that. We
don’t do that. We weren’t socialized that way. That’s really it.
It was to my detriment. But I’m a lot smarter now.
Marilyn Waters, 38, divorced her black husband after 18
Marilyn not only relies on an image of “nice white girls” to
explain her lack of assertiveness, she implicates me in her circle
of white femininity with use of “us” and “we” to describe the
hyper-politeness associated with “rarified southern white la-
dies” (Moon, 1998) She uses her innocence associated with
whiteness and femininity to excuse her inability to take a stand.
Then, Marilyn engages in essentialist discourse while noting,
“they hear everything, they see everything”. While it is unclear
whether she attributing this extra sensory perception only to
black men or to all blacks, it is clear that she draws upon essen-
tial thinking about both gender and race in her description of
her ex-husband’s alleged omnipotence. When she invokes the
metaphor of “being eaten up alive”, Marilyn relies on a familiar
cultural representation, with a long history, which portrays
black men, in general, and black sexuality, specifically, as
predatory and all-consuming.
Dianne Kennedy, a walnut-color with freckles across her
nose, has her hair pulled lightly to a bun at her neck. Wearing a
white sweater draped over her shoulders, she looked right
through me with coffee color eyes as she discussed her strategy
for countering the stereotypes of black women, married across
the color line, by describing her considerations when out in
public with her white husband of twenty years:
One, you got to be more on your P’s and Q’s. You got to be
careful how you act. I would never go out with Michael looking
like a tramp. I would not. And I think that’s from childhood
growing up in the South. You think of a black man with a white
woman she’d be all fat and nasty. A black woman with a white
guy—that wouldn’t look good. Where I come from, she’s
probably a working girl, if you know what I mean.
The awareness of stories that circulate and impressions oth-
ers might have of an interracial couple works as a social control
mechanism for Dianne who continues after twenty years to
consider how strangers might misinterpret her for a prostitute.
Dianne was not alone with this concern; two other black
women interviewed also made pointed comments about being
concerned about their appearance in public with their white
husbands and their assumption that black women in the com-
pany of white men might be mistaken for prostitutes.
Masculinity and Class on the Color Line
Both black and white men who married across the color line
expressed a common theme seldom articulated by the women I
interviewed: their sense of male entitlement to resist social
judgments about them. As summed up by one participant: “I
don’t pay attention to people who don’t approve of me or Mar-
sha. If they can’t accept us, I don’t want to know them”. Of
course, most of the interviews revealed experiences that contra-
dicted their imperviousness to social criticism. Floyd Barring-
ton, for instance, recalled his first reaction to falling in love
with his secretary years earlier, he said:
At the time, I told her, “No” I said, “I can’t do this. I really
can’t do this. She didn’t understand. I tol her, from where I’ve
been, who I am, I couldn’t possibly possibly get involved with
you. Not with a white woman. No.” I had been steeped in the
“blacker than thou” mindset. Black men taking up with white
women were suspicious and not to be trusted in the revolution.
Floyd Barrington, 52 years old at interview, married his
white secretary in 1982.
Marty McVeigh, a police officer, is slightly built, with crew
cut dark hair, brown eyes. He uses his whiteness as a claim of
entitlement to date and marry his black wife. Recalling how he
was attracted to her at t he ir workplace:
So one day, I thought, (raises his voic e to a higher pitc h and
cocks his head to indicate a voice in his head) Well, why not?
Yeah. Who cares? I don’t care. I can ask her out. Why not? It’s
a free country. I’m 21, free and white. Marty McVeigh, age 36
at interview. Married a black police officer in 1996.
Notice how Maurice Holland’s beliefs about gender cannot
be disentangled from his racial notions:
Umm I don’t know about my baby, but my older two picked
black people to marry. Whether she will or not I don’t know. I
don’t know. (ETW: Will it matter to you?) Oh yeah (Talk about
that to me).
Kris. Umm I hope she doesn’t. I mean, I don’t like white
men. In general I don’t. It would be hard. Yeah I would not be
in favor of that. I couldn’t know his white family’s outlook, see,
about racial things. And it could impact her. How would he
raise kids? Ya know? I would be very, very upset if that were
the case, a white man. I would actively discourage it. (ETW:
What if your son married a white girl. Would you feel the same
(ETW: Tell me about that) Because generally the wife adapts
to and enters into the husband’s world. I’d say that essentially
is what it is. Ya know? And um, if my son married white, she’d
come into his world. And I would imagine if my daughter mar-
ried white, her life would be in his world. Just the way it is.
Maurice married his white wi fe in 1967.
Ron Darby, a beefy redheaded salesman for a tile company
greeted me at his wholesale warehouse dressed in a navy sports
coat, white shirt, dark slacks and tasseled loafers. Ron lives
with his black schoolteacher wife and two children in a middle
class, neighborhood where the median home price is $390,000.
His parents “had no problems with Carla” and had always
treated her brother, George, as “an honorary member” of the
Darby family. Ron complains, however, that his parents favor
his daughter over his son and he feels their increasing disinter-
est in his son is “racially” motivated.
It is so obvious. Mom thinks Molly is just like my sister.
Always pointing out how Molly looks just like (my sister) Car-
rie but “with a tan”. (As he tilted his head alternatively from ear
to shoulder syncopating with a whiney tone to indicate a voice
not his own) “How cute Molly is. (Tilt) How smart. (Tilts head
other directions) What a Darby she is”. (Tilts head back again
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