Yesterday's news from Louisiana -- about the denial of a marriage license to an interracial couple -- reminds me of a scenario that I've encountered several times in real life, and also many times in movies and TV shows (but I can't remember any particular example of the latter -- can you?).
A black and white couple want to get married, but the parents and others object. Especially the white parents. But of course, they won't admit to the racism that's motivating their objection. Maybe not even to themselves.
So instead of saying something like, "I just don't want you marrying someone who's black," they often say instead, "But, but . . . what about the children? They'll have so much trouble, feeling, you know, accepted and all."
I'm guessing that by now, most readers of this blog have already heard about Keith Bardwell, justice of the peace for Tangipahoa Parish's 8th Ward, in Louisiania. Bardwell is entrusted by the people of his parish with the official task of issuing marriage licenses; when Beth Humphrey (who's white) and Terence McKay (who's black) approached him for one, he refused. And, of course, like just about every other white person these days who commits an act of blatant racism, Bardwell said he's not a racist -- he has higher concerns in mind:
I'm not a racist. I do ceremonies for black couples right here in my house. My main concern is for the children.
Bardwell has thought about these things, you see -- long. And hard. (And deep. Repeatedly, in and out, in and out -- I hope you catch the um, thrust, of what I think he's also thinking about.)
Bardwell said he asks everyone who calls about marriage if they are a mixed race couple. If they are, he does not marry them, he said.
Bardwell said he has discussed the topic with blacks and whites, along with witnessing some interracial marriages. He came to the conclusion that most of black society does not readily accept offspring of such relationships, and neither does white society, he said.
"There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage," Bardwell said. "I think those children suffer and I won't help put them through it."
Well, how thoroughly magnanimous of you, Justice Bardwell. Not to mention, intrusively paternalistic.
Speaking of Bardwell's house, which I'm sure is just overrun with joyous hordes of black and white children carousing together, he also had this to say:
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.
Ah yes, black friends too, piles of them. Right there, in his bathroom!
Bardwell's incredibly retrograde actions, and his obviously diversionary concern for the children, have already lit up the Internet -- seems like every blog and news site I read is excited about it. My favorite response so far comes from blackgirlinmaine:
[All] the news accounts I have read about Bardwell state that he is not a racist, hell he even lets Negroes use his toilet. Nice to know should I ever darken his doorstep with a hot case of the runs, he will let a sista use his can . . . mighty nice of him. I wonder if I could drink from his cups too?
Mighty white of him too, I'd say.
And to think that Bardwell could express such doubts about the future acceptance of the children produced by interracial unions right when the preeminent counterexample, President Barack Obama, was addressing a town hall meeting in the same state, Louisiana. Oh, the sad, bitter ironies wrought by blinkered white oblivion!
I think it's easy enough to mock and dismiss Bardwell's Jim Crow-era sentiments (and actions -- he says he's turned away other interracial couples as well), as those of a mere, isolated individual. But then, as I wrote above, isn't his camouflaging concern for the children of such unions -- a concern that probably masks his more genuine distaste for what happens in the private lives of such couples, and for the supposed dangers of "race-mixing" -- aren't all those "concerns" still fairly common? Maybe the ongoing familiarity of Bardwell's diversionary attention to hypothetical children is one reason his actions still strike a collective nerve.
Anyway, I think someone should sit Keith Bardwell down in front of a TV and watch an old movie with him. In fact, I'm pretty tempted to watch it again myself, and to make it my weekend movie rec. Here's a brief review of that movie by Jonathan Kim, posted at YouTube right after Obama's inauguration:
[For anyone who can't watch the review, here's the movie you should watch. My thanks to the many swpd readers who sent me alarmed and aghast emails about this racist travesty.]
UPDATE: Keith Bardwell explains himself, and adds that he doesn't "see what the problem is," now that the couple in question has married with someone else's help: