Authentically Black

In response to my recent blog celebrating the unveiling of Dr. King's monument on Sunday, August 28, some readers questioned how I could express genuine concern for the interests of black people when I am married to a white man. In other words, because I jumped the broom across the color threshold, I surrendered my membership to the race. To follow this logic, Bill Cohen having fallen in love with a black woman is no longer white. But more on this in a moment.

While attending a lecture delivered at Georgetown University by Professor Michael Eric Dyson, a woman sitting directly behind me expressed, in a-not-so sotto voce her admiration for Michelle Obama because she was an authentic black woman. I too admire the First Lady for her intelligence, strength, and commitment to our servicemen and women and their families, but the implicit suggestion contained in the woman's comment raised several interesting questions.

Is Michelle Obama authentically black because:

(a) She has dark skin?

(b) She married within her race?

(c) Her life experiences as a black person in a racist society qualifies her to identify with the economically and socially disadvantaged?

If the answer is:

(a) Then untold millions of blacks have been rendered inauthentic ever since Thomas Jefferson brought Sally Hemings into his household and his bed

(b) Since Barack Obama is the product of an inter-racial marriage, he is half white, and therefore, Michelle is only half authentic

(c) Then I am a more authentic member of the race than Mrs. Obama since I was raised by a single parent mother who worked and lived as a domestic in the homes of white people before "graduating" to a small apartment in a government project.

My husband's racial identity raises some intriguing issues as well. Bill's story is well-known to many. His Jewish father married a woman of Irish Protestant descent. Although as a young boy, Bill attended and excelled in Hebrew School, he was denied entry into manhood with a bar mitzvah ceremony because his mother refused to surrender her religious convictions. Interestingly, he is usually referred to as being half Jewish rather than half Irish. In either case, having crossed the color line to marry me, he no longer is authentically white.

All of which points to the bigotry and narrow-mindedness of those, be they black or white, who take umbrage at the mixing of races-- the miscegenation that so many states fought to prohibit until the Supreme Court declared their discriminatory laws unconstitutional in the 1967 landmark case, Loving vs. Virginia.

I am a proud black woman who has championed the cause of justice and equality for all of God's children, not only in words but in deeds as well. In the 1970s, I openly challenged the Catholic Church in Boston for failing to stop its members from stoning the buses carrying black children during court ordered busing. I helped secure the passage of the United States Senate's Resolution apologizing for its failure to adopt anti-lynching legislation and testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in favor of expanding the scope of hate crimes to include orientation.

To paraphrase Dr. King, don't judge the content of my character by the color of my husband's skin.