By Heidi Stevens Chicago Tribune
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Author Cheryl Judice hopes readers are ready to hear the varied stories of black women dating white men. Judice says the book is not intended to dismiss black men as loving, suitable partners.
Cheryl Judice knew her book would be met with some skepticism.
She wrote it anyway.
"Interracial Relationships Between Black Women and White Men" tells the stories of black women who are dating, married to or divorced from white men.
She interviewed 60 women and men about their relationships, the highs, the lows, whether and when race factored into those highs and lows, what led them to date outside their race, how their families received their partners, how they were received by their partners' families.
It's an academic approach, but with a clearly stated mission at heart.
"It is my hope," Judice, a sociology professor at Northwestern University, writes, "that presenting their stories will cause more black women to intentionally seek to broaden their idea of suitable dating and marriage partners."
That conversation, she said, is long overdue and not easy to have.
"What I'm bringing up, for many people, is very sensitive," Judice told me. "They're like, 'Why are you putting that out there?' Because I'm tired of people being so miserable, that's why."
Miserable, she said, meaning single when they'd prefer to be partnered. Discussions with her black female friends, black female students on campus, black female audience members at various panels often turned to the women's difficulty finding love.
The book, Judice said, is not intended to dismiss black men as loving, suitable partners. Although she's certainly heard that criticism.
"I say, 'I have no intentions to diminish African-American men,' " Judice said. " 'There simply are not enough of you.' "
Black females begin to outnumber black males by age 16, Judice writes, partly as a result of high mortality and incarceration rates that Judice said result from systematic discrimination against black males.
Black men are also twice as likely as black women to marry outside their race, she writes. Black women are, in fact, the least likely group of women to marry outside their race.
Judice first became interested in the topic after spending time with black families around her in Evanston, Ill., and nearby North Shore communities.
As children and teens, the girls and the boys often hung out with groups that were racially and ethnically diverse.
After their teen years ended, she observed, their social experiences took dramatically different turns.
By their late 20s and early 30s, she writes, most of them had graduated from college and started their careers. Many were dating.
"But it was only the black males who were engaged or had married," she writes. "Their black female counterparts were single, an often-voiced concern and the subject of conversation, particularly among their mothers.
"Many of the black mothers," she writes, "expressed their frustration about the dating and marriage prospects of their daughters, while the black mothers with sons noted that the males were pursued by women from various racial/ethnic groups."
Conversations with middle-class black families in other parts of the country, she writes, matched her Chicago-area observations.
Several of the women Judice interviewed for the book, however, tell stories of being pursued by white men. "I just went out with who asked me out because I am traditional enough to not ask a guy out first," a woman called Cathy (all names were changed for the book) told Judice. In college, Cathy said, those guys tended to be white. Judice hopes the stories in her book inspire more black women and white men to do the same.
"If we don't talk about it, it's always going to be the elephant in the room," she said. "I'm looking at a core issue of how people really think. I'm not blaming anybody for anything. I'm not casting anybody as a victim. I'm just saying, 'Let's look at a life where people are free from some of the things that have shackled us for so long.'"
Free from them, but not ignorant of them. She discusses, in the book, the history of white men exploiting and abusing black women and explores whether that history weaves its way into her interviewees' dating choices and experiences.
The historical and modern-day power differential is, in fact, what led her to limit the book to black women and white men, rather than black women and all nonblack men (Latino men, Asian men, etc.)
"As a sociologist, it was interesting for me to discover how and why relationships between the group highest in the social hierarchy, white men, and the group lowest in the social hierarchy, black women, occurred," she writes.
Judice is African-American, and she's married to an African-American husband (Hecky Powell, owner of Hecky's Barbecue). Her family, though, is filled with marriages across racial and ethnic lines. Her five siblings all married outside their race, and she can trace the first interracial marriage in her family to 1930.
Her grandmother's nephew, Louis, fell in love with Angeline, an Italian woman he met at an integrated church in St. Paul, Minn. The congregation was divided, Judice said, upon the news of Louis and Angeline's romance, and relatives encouraged Louis to get out of town.
He moved to Chicago to live with his aunt, Judice's grandmother, and Angeline followed him.
"My grandmother said to her, 'Angeline, right now you think you're so in love, but how are you going to feel if you have little brown-skinned children running around calling you Mama?' " Judice said. "And Angeline, with her feisty self, looked at my grandmother and said, 'Aunt Cannie, I don't care about that. And the darker they are, the better I'll love them.' They got married a few weeks later, in my grandmother's living room at 51st and Wabash."
Judice hopes readers are ready to hear her message, and the stories of the women and men she interviewed. We just swooned, after all, over a royal wedding between a black woman and a white prince.
"Prince Harry was born the day my husband and I got married," Judice said. "Meghan Markle, in addition to the Northwestern connection, grew up and went to the same high school as my California cousins." (Markle graduated from Northwestern University in 2003.)
"I thought, 'If I'm ever going to finish this book, let me do it now, while there's public interest in interracial relationships.'
"I can only hope the book is received in the manner it was intended," she said, "and that it will start a different conversation, one that we haven't really had."