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Nadra Kareem Nittle

Tragic Mulatto Myth: The Reason Justice Denied Marriage License to Mixed Couple

By October 19, 2009

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By now, you've likely heard about the Louisiana justice of peace who recently denied an interracial couple a marriage license. The justice's move has sparked public outcry.

After all, no matter his opinions on interracial unions, it's no longer illegal for mixed couples to marry. Therefore, Keith Bardwell, the justice of peace in question, overstepped his bounds by refusing a marriage license to Terence McKay, who is black, and Beth Humphrey, who is white. Quotes attributed to Bardwell suggest that the justice considers his refusal to grant McKay and Humphrey a marriage license to be an act of conscience.

According to MSNBC.com, Bardwell said, "I don't do interracial marriages because I don't want to put children in a situation they didn't bring on themselves. In my heart, I feel the children will later suffer."

Bardwell also commented that he feels neither blacks nor whites accept the children produced by interracial unions.

He shrunk away from the suggestion that racism motivated his actions.

"I'm not a racist," he told the Associated Press. "I just don't believe in mixing the races that way. I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom. I treat them just like everyone else."

The fact that Bardwell is patting himself on the back for allowing African Americans to use his bathroom speaks volumes. Separate bathrooms for whites and blacks, along with interracial marriage bans, are relics of the past. That Bardwell is proud of himself for allowing blacks to use his restroom suggests that he still views African Americans as inherently different from whites. Despite his claims to the contrary, his words and actions, alike, belie a racist mindset. The top excuse racists use to protest interracial marriage is the fate of mixed-race children. This reasoning is rooted in the "tragic mulatto" myth which suggests that biracial children are doomed to be tortured misfits whose black ancestry prohibits them from reaping the privileges that white people enjoy. The problem with the tragic mulatto myth is that it blames biracial people for any distress they might endure rather than racism. In reality, mixed-race individuals have emerged as leaders in American society for centuries--from abolitionist Frederick Douglass to President Barack Obama.

There's no denying that biracial people, like any oppressed group, face challenges. But by teaching mixed-race kids to embrace each of their cultures, placing them in schools that celebrate diversity and living in multicultural communities, raising biracial children who are happy and healthy isn't a problem. There's no reason the tragic mulatto myth should be perpetuated in 2009.

As for Keith Bardwell, I have one question: Do you realize that marriage isn't necessary for biracial children to be born? Interracial marriage was banned until the 1960s, yet mixed-race children have been staples of American society since colonial times. Louisiana, in particular, was one of the states where miscegenation boomed. Just read the works of Kate Chopin, who published literature in the late 1880s, to spot this trend. Her writing, much of which takes place in Louisiana, is filled with a catalogue of mixed-race characters. References to "mulattoes," "quadroons" and "octoroons" occupy her pages.


October 19, 2009 at 7:09 am
(1) the pulpit says:

Such hypocrisy! Many Negros exercise blatant discrimination – just like Bradwell. Take a look:

October 19, 2009 at 12:22 pm
(2) Holli says:

Nadra this is an important and well written blog. And the issue of this justice of the peace is absolutely pathetic!

I cannot believe there are people who get away with this in 2009!

My interracial son has no problems with either community, his self esteem, fitting in etc. He is 16 and thriving academically and socially. I’m just glad we don’t live in Mr. Bardwell’s parish!!!

October 19, 2009 at 12:23 pm
(3) KAA says:

Which century are these people living in???

There is no excuse for racism from black to white, white to black, green to yellow!

I’m mixed raced, my husband is white, my mum is black… I don’t care which races my kids other halves will be, as long as they love each other.

If you think mixed raced children will suffer, I suggest you worry about yourself.

October 19, 2009 at 1:52 pm
(4) WK says:

Unbelievable. That a person would do this and justify it with the reason he gave – and our President is from a mixed race family. Yeah, sure, their kids will have a tough time and maybe become President one day. This is not justifiable, period. It just shocks me in our world today that people can still think like this.

October 19, 2009 at 4:30 pm
(5) BufSolja says:

To “the pulpit”:

Two wrongs don’t make a white.


October 20, 2009 at 12:28 pm
(6) ladyscholar says:

it also needs to mentioned that everyone is multiracial…”biracial” is a myth

October 25, 2009 at 2:58 am
(7) lee says:

This couple was just looking for publicity. I agree with any one regardless of race or gender should be able to get married. Love is love. But, this couple knew the views of this justice of the peace…he’s been doing it for 30 years. Why not speak out earlier about what has been common practice. Instead, set the man up to say no, then like the hoax balloon family, reap all the benefits of the spotlight. This country just feeds into it. Shame on us!

October 25, 2009 at 3:55 am
(8) Nadra says:

Lee, why would this couple have known that the judge is racist beforehand? The female half of the couple said she found out about the justice’s policies during a phone conversation. No one involved in this matter has disputed this. Moreover, even if the couple did know the justice’s history of discrimination, he needed to be exposed. That’s nothing for them to be ashamed of. If you remember, Rosa Parks knew that she would be arrested for not moving to the back of the bus, but she refused anyway to make a statement and expose Jim Crow in the South. Should Rosa Parks have been ashamed because she knew bus drivers in her area were racist?

October 26, 2009 at 1:50 pm
(9) KK says:

How ridiculous is it that this mentality still exists in the south. The face of America is changing. Soon enough the generations who have held on to such unrealistic, and inhumane views will be out-numbered and overpowered.

August 9, 2011 at 10:12 pm
(10) d says:

If people are marrying, or having bi-racial children for the right reasons, then of course there is no harm- but when uneducated people get together to mix races for the wrong reasons (for the child to further their fight for equality-which happens QUITE a lot-)
then, that is not right. I see it every day.

Many bi-racial children are brought into the middle of a situation they did not ask for and do not want. Sorry to tell the un-idealistic side.

Please answer this question:

Why do so many successful black men marry white women instead of holding up their dark-skinned black women and children proudly, as equals to set better examples of dark skinned people altogether?

Also, usually over-weight white women go for black men because they are rejected by their own men for being heavy, where as they know a black man will take them because they are white and the black man can leverage better in society, or so he thinks.

Again, I see it everyday.

November 7, 2011 at 9:24 am
(11) beast says:

@d, you are the typical ignorant person bm and ww have to face, how do you know those “over weight ww go for black men because white men dont want them? thats the kinda thing ass hurt white men say, overweight ww are with wm mostly fact, alot of bm dont go for big ww, how can you go for someone because they are white? thats just dumb, but to be expected from the likes of you

majority of biracial chldren are fine, very few face problems,

“successful” bm marry ww maybe because of his gorup he is in? enviroment plays a part in who someone dates, you,re the kinda person who would break down if they saw a bm with a good looking ww, no doubt you would scagtter to that comfort zone and cook something up to pass it off as

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