Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Lovers In A Dangerous Time

One of my favorite songs by the late, great Lucky Dube is about a couple in South Africa during apartheid. The man is black and the woman is white, and Dube sings about them being "lovers in a dangerous time".

Unfortunately, Dube was murdered around this time last year, but his powerful lyrics will always remain.

Few of us living now remember a time that loving someone outside of your race could result in the deaths of one or both of you. But I am aware of several interracial pairings that were considered scandalous--and even resulted in tragedy for their participants.

For one, Swedish American actress Inger Stevens who was found dead in her home in 1970 of an overdose was secretly married to an African American actor named Ike Jones. Their marriage was a secret because Stevens had a Hollywood career and was well known for the TV show, The Farmer's Daughter, that she starred in through 1966. Whether the overdose was intentional was never made clear, but one can imagine the stress of having to keep a relationship as intimate as marriage under cover.

Another famous name was Sammy Davis, Jr., a very talented performer who happened to be "colored" as we were called back then. Davis married a Swede named May Britt in 1960. Their marriage was considered so taboo that Davis was dis-invited from the White House where he was supposed to have performed for John Kennedy. Apparently, he was so upset that he befriended Kennedy's Republican opponent, Richard Nixon. A lot of so-called liberal people were appalled to see Davis hanging out with Nixon, but who could blame him when they learned the story behind his decision? Davis and Britt ended up divorcing, and Davis later married an African American dancer. Who knows how much racism influenced his decision to split from his white wife and marry a black woman.

Then, there was the beautifully sensitive Jean Seberg, another actress of Swedish ancestry. During the height of her career, she openly supported the Black Panther Party which set off FBI head J. Edgar Hoover. He went after her with a vengeance, tapping her phone and spreading a rumor that she was pregnant with a half black child fathered by a Panther Party member. Seberg was seven months along at the time--1970. She claimed to have become so traumatized that she went into premature labor and two days after her daughter was born, the baby died. Although Seberg married mostly Caucasian men and an Algerian, she died in 1979 at age 41 of suicide. How much did the pain and drama caused by intertwining her life with people of color play in her killing herself?

As you see, some of us have lived through some dangerous times. If you're free to love whomever you want to these days, count yourself fortunate and thank those who came before you who took the full brunt of having an interracial relationship.

Your Hip Hapa,

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