The latest New York Magazine featured an Intelligencer column called “151 minutes with J.C. Davies.” Maybe I’ve been a little tuned out from the race dialogue because I’ve been plowing full speed ahead into my novel and the startup I’ve been helping to launch, because I’ve never heard of her. But I simply had to take five minutes out of my morning to read this article on the author of a new interracial dating book called “I Got the Fever.” The spread featured a centered photo of a classy looking white lady, who is apparently an ex-Wall Street analyst. I was too curious as to what this woman had to say not to delve into the article.
For those of you who may not know, the issue of interracial dating is an on-point topic for me, and one that can sometimes be sensitive. As a mixed race person, it is virtually impossible for me to date within my “race,” unless of course I happen to stumble on another half Puerto Rican, half African American guy. I grew up in a very white town in New England, to boot, and much to my mother’s confusion, I have a tendency to date white middle-class males. Dating is hard enough, but when you add in the elements of racial identities and the potential for your attractiveness to a potential mate to be hindered by how “ethnic” you look, it boosts the difficulty level up a notch.
For me, dating really puts a spotlight on my feelings of not belonging to any one race or ethnic group and the pain that has cause me in my life. A huge part of becoming comfortable with my own “in-between”-type ethnicity can be attributed to realizing that while negative racial stereotypes exist, they are born more from a place of ignorance than maliciousness. The gift that comes with being multi-racial is being able to have insight into so many different mindsets and ways of thinking when it comes to race in America. So when I opened up this magazine and saw a white woman wrote a book about interracial dating, I wanted to hear what she had to say.
By the time I got a paragraph into the article, I was done wanting to hear what she had to say. My first impression of her was off putting. I felt as though I happened to cross paths at a writer’s networking event with a benign looking but well-dressed white lady at the hors d’oeuvres table with a well-dressed white lady, complimenting her on her expensive looking scarf, and then feeling my face melt into a puddle of horror as I try to digest her racist and classist reply. She might say something like “I wanted to wear my Hermés for this event, but my house keeper ironed the wrong one. I really have to consider hiring someone else who can habla ingles!” And then I would try for a smile and nod and slowly slink away before I could slap her in the face.
“I love pork,” Davies says at the beginning of the article. “Every time I’m not eating with a Jew I try to get some pork in.” The author of the article, Jessica Pressler, goes on to describe Davies and her new book “Most highly educated Americans of indeterminate European origin would avoid dropping terms like ‘the Koreans’ and ‘Jew’ into a first-time conversation, never mind delineating what people of these ethnic groups do or do not do. Not Davies, a 42-year-old former Goldman Sachs analyst, whose new book on interracial dating, I Got the Fever, is a treasure trove of sweeping generalizations and alleged cultural truisms. Among them: ‘Most Latinos are undeniably great dancers’ and ‘overall, sex is one thing—apart from accounting—at which Jewish men really excel.’”
If you’re like me, you sat back in your chair and sighed along with the collective “Woah,” of everyone else reading those lines. I gave her the benefit of the doubt and read on, albeit, gritting my teeth. “Stereotypes, racist – all those words do is shut down the conversation…They make people afraid. We can never talk about race because anything to do with race is wrong.”
Ok, this is a little bit more digestible. I can see where she’s coming from. With my Bachelor’s degree in American Studies, I feel like I can say to you with a semi-professional degree of authority that race is a highly inflammatory topic in the U.S., perhaps more so than in any other country. It makes sense when you consider how many ethnic groups have had to try and coexist over a relatively short span of time in this nation of immigrants. Every time a new immigrant group has migrated to our shores, some of the people who are already living here always have something not so nice to say about the new outsiders, who they react to instinctively as a threat. Over time, when everyone has cooled their jets and realizes they have to peacefully coexist, Americans have learned that it’s just safer to avoid talking about race, ethnicity or country of origin, lest you offend someone unintentionally.
It would be really great if we could one day, as a country, all be so comfortable with our national multiracial identity that we could playfully joke around the way we do with other, less taboo, identification points. It would be nice if mentioning someone’s race could be playfully brought into the conversation, just as we might tease each other about the state we come from. “Hey, you’re from Massachusetts, you must be an awful driver,” someone might say to me in jest. “Hey, you’re one to talk, JERSEY,” I respond. Maybe one day, race won’t be such a hot button issue, and we’ll all feel comfortable joking about who we are and where we come from.
I’ve had conversations with some of my white friends about how hard it is to even bring up the issue of race when you’re white. White males have told me that they hate feeling like they are always in the wrong when they bring any kind of racial commentary to the table. I understand where Davies is coming from, and I do agree that the conversation about race in America could benefit if we all took a step back from the seriously sharp knife edge it balances on. But I think that has to be done with a fair amount of finesse, to say the least.
It’s unwise to barrel into the racial discourse with no regard for the pain and suffering that lies on the other side of those stereotypes, erected like walls to protect one ethnic group from another and keep intact a sense of self and identity. I really have no interest in buying a book written by a person who wants to make brash accusations about the behavior of other races without first wanting to listen and observe with an open-minded curiosity, and learn something about the cultural values and nuances that lie behind actions and ways of being that may seem different or strange to you based on where, and who, you come from.
As a writer, I often consider how much I need to insert my racial identity into my art and my work. I have to be extra careful when I create a character who identifies as one or more races, aware of how that is going to change the scope of the story and the perception of my message to my reader. It’s frustrating to me that I can’t just write, “See Jane, see Jane run, oh and by the way Jane is African American, but that’s just a detail I’m including to give you a visual and it really doesn’t have a lot to do with the story I’m trying to tell so please don’t assume you can or can’t relate to my main character based on your own race.” It’s a delicate line to navigate, but I’d rather navigate it delicately, and thoughtfully. I really have a hard time sympathizing with anyone who wants to write about interracial relationships just as a means to siphon the attention of the public towards them, whether they turn your way in sympathy or disgust. I would much rather read a heartfelt narrative about the adventures of interracial dating by someone who I trust is open to empathizing with people who have suffered from the racial attitudes that continue to permeate through and pollute our culture.
Click here to read: “151 Minutes with J.C. Davies“