To President Spencer W. Kimball came the burden of teaching a practice that was bound to be seen in retrospect by many as racist. He, and the brethren of the day following him, taught that inter-racial marriage was not a good idea–not that it was sinful, but that it should be discouraged. I just got done reading Franz Fanon’s Black Skin: White Masks, and several of his points have convinced me that only a mix of our Jane Austin inspired notion of romance’s primacy and current political expediency have brought so many to see this as an issue of racism.
I’ll start with a passage from Pres. Kimball
Cultural differences pose dangers for marriage. When I said you must teach your people to overcome their prejudices and accept the Indians, I did not mean that you would encourage intermarriage. I mean that they should be brothers, to worship together and to work together and to play together; but we must discourage intermarriage, not because it is sin. I would like to make this very emphatic. A couple has not committed sin if an Indian boy and a white girl are married, or vice versa. It isn’t a transgression like the transgressions of which many are guilty. But it is not expedient. Marriage statistics and our general experience convince us that marriage is not easy. It is difficult when all factors are favorable. The divorces increase constantly, even where the spouses have the same general background of race, religion, finances, education, and otherwise. (58-08)
The interrace marriage problem is not one of inferiority or superiority. It may be that your son is better educated and may be superior in his culture, and yet it may be on the other hand that she is superior to him. It is a matter of backgrounds. The difficulties and hazards of marriage are greatly increased where backgrounds are different. For a wealthy person to marry a pauper promises difficulties. For an ignoramus to marry one with a doctor’s degree promises difficulties, heartaches, misunderstandings, and broken marriages.
When one considers marriage, it should be an unselfish thing, but there is not much selflessness when two people of different races plan marriage. They must be thinking selfishly of themselves. They certainly are not considering the problems that will beset each other and that will beset their children.
If your son thinks he loves this girl, he would not want to inflict upon her loneliness and unhappiness; and if he thinks that his affection for her will solve all her problems, he should do some more mature thinking.
We are unanimous, all of the Brethren, in feeling and recommending that Indians marry Indians, and Mexicans marry Mexicans; the Chinese marry Chinese and the Japanese marry Japanese; that the Caucasians marry the Caucasians, and the Arabs marry Arabs. (0/0/59)
(Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, edited by Edward L. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], 303.)
Now, keeping in mind that I know some great inter-racial couples, and that I really believe that some people can make it work, I’d like to mention a few of Fanon’s points. His main premise is that relationships between the races (generally, not just in romantic relationships) are distorted by cutural myth to the point of disease. He speaks of the ways this enters relationships between men and women in two ways. First, black women see marriage to a white man as both a way to “lighten the race” and to enter the white world. Speaking of the memoirs of Mayotte Capecia, he writes:
Mayotte loves a white man to whom she submits in everything. He is her lord. She asks nothing, demands nothing, except a bit of whiteness in her life. When she tries to determine in her own mind whether the man is handsome or ugly, she writes, ‘all I know is that he had blue eyes, blond hair, and a light skin, and that I loved him.’ It is not difficult to see that a rearrangement of these elements in their proper heirarchy would produce something of this order: ‘I loved him because he had blue eyes, blod hair, and a light skin.’
Second, black men see marriage to a white woman as both a way of legitimating their humanity and of getting revenge. “By loving me,” he writes, “she proves that I am worthy of white love. I am loved like a white man.”
My point here is not that any particular person married for the wrong reasons. As I said, I know many inter-racial couples that married for all the right reasons. But when you look at all of the possible wrong reasons, especially when pres. Kimball made these remarks, it is clear, if we believe people like Fanon (and others, by the way that have pointed out the lure of the exotic and other really bad reasons to want specifically to marry someone of another race) that there were lots of inter-racial marriages for the wrong reasons that it was quite right of the brethren to discourage. Pres Kimball makes the same point about marriage where financial situations are different, and we could speculate that such would be justified to the extent that marrying someone poorer or richer could be the result of distorted images of the person one was to marry.
As a final caveat, Fanon is not against inter-racial marriage and neither am I. My purpose is mainly to defend Pres.Kimbal in this. Fanon’s point is that inter-racial marriage/sexuality in itself solves nothing. The cure for what he views as a disease is to root out the false consciousness of racial identity. Then, it becomes possible to marry inter-racially for reasons that have nothing to do with race. I, frankly, think that there have been great strides in breaking down such distorted views of the relationships between races even in my lifetime (Fanon’s book is copywright 1967), making inter-racial marriage less inadvisable, though I think there is sometimes still risk, and people should be more aware than they are of that risk–not to encourage racial purity, or anything of the sort, but precisely so that we can eliminate the sorts of thinking that makes inter-racial marriage an issue at all.