The award-winning 2008 film "Rachel Getting Married" features not one, but two interracial couples. Yet, the subject of race never surfaces. Everyone in their Connecticut town simply embraces the mixed-race unions. But is such a portrayal realistic? According to the film's screenwriter Jenny Lumet:
"People don't sit around talking about, we're black people and we're going to talk about the nature of blackness. Or, we're Asian and going to talk about the nature of Asian-ness," she told the Wall Street Journal. "That's just a lie and a myth. Also, I think that it's dishonest to assume that it's always an issue."
But Eric Deggans, a black man married to a white woman for two decades, would disagree with Lumet's assessment. A TV and media critic for the St. Petersburg Times, Deggans recently penned a piece for National Public Radio criticizing how mixed-race couples on TV shows very rarely discuss race or face adversity. These portrayals suggest that we've moved into a post-racial society, when all one has to do is drop by a conservative rally and take in the hateful comments about President Obama to know that race remains a thorny issue in America. So, by featuring interracial couples who don't get stared at in public or have disapproving parents, Deggans posits that network television avoids the subject of race. He uses Crosby and Jasmine, a couple featured on NBC's "Parenthood" made up of a white man and a black woman, as a case in point.
"Crosby and Jasmine don't discuss their racial and cultural differences," Deggans writes. "They go to an awkward premarital counseling session at Jasmine's mom's church that leads to a blowout fight when they get home. We never learn if the church is a black church, or whether Crosby feels uncomfortable there."
Of course, interracial couples discuss their differences. That's a given, especially if one person in the couple has family members who aren't fluent in English or practice customs largely unfamiliar to the other. And in the case of a mixed black-white couple, the subject of hair is likely to come up, as the white partner may have little idea how to style and care for their children's hair.
While racial and cultural differences do come up among interracial couples, just as they do among friends of different races, I disagree that they're at the forefront of such relationships. That's because two people in love likely aren't viewing each other through a constant racial lens. They view each other as individuals--not as "my Jewish girlfriend" or "my Chinese husband," so it makes sense to me that race would play a secondary role in the lives of mixed couples on television. And if such couples have disapproving family members or get strange looks from people on the street on occasion, they don't spend all their time discussing these slights.
Deggans has been in an interracial marriage for almost 20 years, but during that time the number of interracial couples has grown. Today, about 1 in 6 marriages are interracial, the New York Times reports. Perhaps the world is a bit kinder to mixed couples than it was when Deggans wed his white wife. After all, Deggans wonders if Jasmine and Crosby attend a black church or a white church. Did it ever occur to him that they attend a multiethnic church? Such churches have been on the rise since the 1990s, so maybe race really wasn't an issue for the couple during that scene.
I'm not dismissing Deggans entirely. He does have a point. Television shows and movies often portray interracial couples using extremes. Either race is the focal point of a mixed couple's existence or not a factor at all. The reality is somewhere in-between, and it would be nice if popular culture illustrated this from time to time. Why not show a white dad struggling to comb his biracial black daughter's hair or a Latino-Asian couple arguing over the best way to prepare a meal? Race isn't always a scary subject.