Why Interracial Dating Might Be A Matter of Public Health
Confused. Messed up mentally. Not natural. A crime against God. As the child of an Caribbean (Black) and a British (White) union, these were just a few of the familiarly contemptuous rebukes made against the interracial relationships and it’s progeny (i.e. me). And, try as I might to stuff my fingers in my ears and sing an endless chorus of “la la la la la, I can’t heeeeeeeeeear you,” over the years, some of that garbage still slipped through the cracks and into my cranium, not really changing how I felt about being of mixed race, so much as just really annoying the hell outta me. But, honestly, what irked my nerves more than anything was that I never really had a good comeback.
Like I said, as far as being biracial? I was mad cool with it, always. The truth of my own existence simultaneously set me free and insulated me, Teflon-coating style, from the misinformed and sometimes hurtful comments of the tolerance-challenged. You see, I had the recurring and validating gift of my own intensely enriching experiences from two vastly different cultures to make me see the “Oh no, it messes up the kids” argument was all so much hooey. Take family dinnertime, for example. Curried goat and roti on Monday, Fish n‘ Chips on Tuesday. That wasn‘t confusing, people, it was delicious.
Time and again, the cultural/racial mash-up that was my parentage proved to be nothing short of a ethnological jackpot, giving me access into varied and stimulating life experiences, nuanced understandings of the social construct we call “race”, and a deep appreciation for the essential thread of humanity that lies beyond it all. Gravy, right?
The problem, especially when I was a wee one, was that all these wonderful experiences amounted to emotional arguments in favor of race-mixing, and were very difficult to try to communicate and condense for the sake of a heated exchanged with another smart-mouthed 7-year-old who might want to start sh*t with me. So, when kids threw the obligatory, “What ARE you?” at me, the best I could come up with was “A frog. What are YOU?” and keep it movin’ in the sandbox.
Even as I matured, and there was more space and opportunity for meaningful dialogue and complex explanations of why biracial heritage was so much more a blessing than a curse, I continued to argue from an emotional and spiritual vantage point. What I never had, what I always kind of wished for, was just a short, practical rebuttal to the suggestion that interracial couples getting together and reproducing was abnormal or just plain “messed up.” Then , a few weeks ago, the perfect comeback fell right into my lap… do it “FOR THE KIDS,” y‘all.
So, I went to a PCN (Perinatal Care Network) meeting or what is commonly referred to as a total snooze-fest. I’m not a nurse, but as part of the work I do for a non-profit organization focused on health issues, I often attend meetings surrounding issues of public wellness, particularly that of babies and infants. So, I found myself at this meeting where, it just so happened that a young genetics counselor was there to drone on (and on and on) about genetic abnormalities. We’re talking nuchal translucency screenings, biochemical markers and aneuploidy risk assessments, people. Pass me a Sugar Free Red Bull and put an extra shot in my hazelnut latte, right? I sank into my metal chair and got ready to hunker down for the mind-numbing duration.
But, surprise-surprise, when dude started talking, especially about “Ethnic Based Carrier Screenings,” it was actually kind of interesting. He said that there are literally thousands of genetic tests and screenings available these days which can be done in early pregnancy. So many diseases and genetic abnormalities out there to be on the look-out for, that it’s impossible (cost and time prohibitive) to do them all. As a result, doctors have to pick and choose and use their “best guess” to narrow down which screenings and diagnostic tests to run on expectant mothers. And, the most common and useful “narrowing down” tool has proven to be testing based on the ethnicity of one or both parents. Here’s why….
So, statistically speaking, we’re are all carriers of about 6-8 recessive diseases, right? But, in order for those diseases to “come out and play” in our progeny, we need to pair up genetically with someone else who has the same recessive marker (on some, “Hey baby, I got Cystic Fibrosis, what you got?” tip.) And, diseases and their recessive carriers tend to cluster by ethnicity. That’s why you see so much Sickle Cell and other hemoglobinopathies amongst Black folk, while Jews and French Canadians are disproportionately hit by Tay Sachs. Are your synapses firing yet?
If mating within our race dramatically increases the likelihood of pairing up with another recessive “carrier” with your disease marker, then it would stand to reason that mixing it up a little (i.e. getting preggers by a partner of another ethnic/ “racial” group) dramatically decreases the odds of having a baby afflicted with any particular disease (Tay Sachs, Sickle Cell, Canavan, Dysautonomia, Thalassemia, etc.) EUR-freakin’-REKA!!! If you could have seen some of the slides I saw – babies suffering from seizures, blindness, the kind of inhuman pain you wouldn‘t wish on your worst enemy, dying in the first year of life – you’d understand why ANYTHING that could potentially alleviate this kind of suffering in the world would seem like a pretty damned good idea to me. Swirl it up!!
I’m not suggesting that everyone run out and find them a Samoan, Italian, Jewish, Asian or Caucasian boyfriend (but, if there is a run on “white boys” after this article, I have dibs on Daniel Craig). Loving is too difficult these days, period. So, if you fall in love with someone within your tribe/ethnicity? Cheers! Do you.
However, if you happen to be dating or engaged to someone “outside your race” and getting a lot of flack from friends or family or the general public about “sticking to your own kind,“ or about how “wrong” and “unnatural” it is to mix races, about how “horrible” it’s gonna be for the kids – just tell them to check the numbers. Numerical probabilities just might shut some of those haters up. Maybe it won’t cure cancer overnight, but being “down with ‘The Swirl‘” just might be helping to build us all a stronger, healthier world.