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February 14, 2010

Reading Update

If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson

Meh. It's a somewhat charming interracial love story, but the book is essentially the first quarter of a love story with a sudden ending tacked upon the end. I can't get involved in a love story in which the star-crossed teens have only known each other for 2 or 3 months and haven't even met each others' families yet. The "problems" they have with race are fairly superficial: they get stared at, little old ladies ask the white girl if "she's okay" when she's walking with her black boyfriend, her (gay) sister reacts badly to the news, etc.

It's all surface stuff, not the real problems of interracial relationships, which also can start immediately, but go much deeper. Stuff like differing family cultures and trying to figure out if your families are just different kinds of families or if the differences have to do with race and ethnicity, and when each one applies and when it's a combination of both. Stuff like differing values based upon your differing (racially based) experiences of the world, and when you're creating a united front as a couple, which set of values do you apply -- which is appropriate? What are your new, combined values? When and how to start and stop talking about race when it's just the two of you alone. What roles each of you takes when racial incidents occur with family, friends, and strangers. The heartbreak of when some of your closest friends and/or family members simply can't become comfortable with your partner and you suspect it's primarily about race. How to negotiate not just a gender power differential (when you're talking about het relationships) but then to add in a (sometimes shifting) racial power differential. What language/s to use (be this issue about dialects or about different national languages in international relationships) and how not to use language as a power play. Etc. etc.

This is the stuff that makes interracial relationships interesting in narrative ... or would make them interesting in narrative if we ever got to see it. I don't understand this ... trend? Common mistake? Just like Flygirl, which I read in January, it's a well-written, promising story that ends right before things get interesting. Why?


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And in the category of "deeper stuff" - the race and power dynamics of intimacy. Because our society is riddled with stereotypes of sexuality layered onto race and ethnicity, and none of us is free of them. What happens in the space of sex, both between partners and in their own heads, is one of the most interesting "conversations" in an interracial relationship. And one of the hardest to write in a way that doesn't reinforce cliche and stereotype.

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