Politics and Interracial Mates Not a Good Mix?

kevin_maillardIn an interesting op-ed in the New York Times, Syracuse law professor, Kevin Noble Maillard, breaks down the problems inherent in bringing interracial romance to the campaign trail.

When the candidate is one race, and the spouse/partner/“friend” is another, opponents find a combustible cocktail to stir voter insecurities. Ask the ghost of Thomas Jefferson, who weathered decades of criticism about his relationship with “Dusky Sally,” his mixed-race slave who bore six mixed-race children. Consider Richard Johnson, vice president under Martin Van Buren,whom the press condemned for taking a “jet-black, thick-lipped, odiferous negro wench” as his common-law wife. Fast forward to Harold Ford Jr., who was maligned during his 2006 Senate campaign in Tennessee as a white woman-loving playboy. For these figures — just a few of many — the color line drew rings around their reputation.

It should be noted that while Maillard lumps all interracial couples together, he’s really talking about the volatile cocktail of Kahlua and Cream, rather than those involving lighter concoctions–Indians, Hispanics, and Asians are largely left out of the equation. The author also points out a few interracial “successes.”

Sometimes, interracial marriage may have political benefits. While running for Public Advocate in New York City, Bill de Blasio placed his interracial marriage at the center of his campaign. In Utah, Mia Love, who is Haitian-American and Mormon, is running for Congress as a Republican, lovingly supported by her husband Jason, who is also Mormon.

We’d add to this list the fabulous union of former Senator and Secretary of Defense William Cohen and his model/TV reporter wife, Janet Langhart Cohen. The two made People Magazine’s “Weddings of the Year” back in 1996 when they married at the U.S. Capitol on Valentine’s day.

We’ll have to read Professor Maillard’s book “Loving v. Virginia in a Post Racial World: Rethinking Race, Sex, and Marriage,” for a more thorough conclusion, but for now:

In America, where elections are often a referendum on the character of a candidate, we vote not only for individuals, but also for the entire landscapes in which they live and love. We consider their ideologies, their personality, their pasts and their relationships. Our nation has liberally appropriated the mantra that race is less important than the content of a candidate’s character. To realize its true intention without weakening its mythical force, it must also extend to the color of their company’s skin.


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