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On Love and Mixed Marriages

Let’s talk about love. Here’s a story for you:

I couldn’t have been more than nine, and I was enjoying a rare night out with my parents at Frank’s Restaurant on 125th Street, in Harlem. We tended to keep a low profile as a mixed-race family in the 1960s. We always got a lot of attention and it made my father very nervous. But that night, attention found us.

While we were eating, some white police officers burst in and grabbed a black man – no idea whether they’d chased him in, or whether he was eating there – and began wrestling him past the tank of live lobsters and through the dining room towards the door. Somehow the scuffle stalled out next to our table, with cops pointing wildly, unsure where to go next. In the awkward moments that followed, the man, calm and in handcuffs, smiled at me and leaned over to whisper in my ear. Flattered by the attention and disarmed by his poise, I did what he said to do. “Daddy,” I said a little too brightly, “take me back to Africa.” My white mother’s eyes grew wide and my black father’s face melted into a familiar anger. The handcuffed man winked and laughed, then was gone.

So, I knew early on that mixed-race marriages could be tough.

I was reminded of this story when a new report from Pew Research Center hit my inbox today, examining the rates of mixed-race marriages in the U.S. The Africa episode would have occurred just a few years after Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court decision that made interracial marriage legal. Back then, only about 3% of newlyweds were married to someone of a different race. But Pew’s new analysis of U.S. Census data shows that some 17% of newlyweds in 2015 were married to someone of a different race or ethnicity, a five-fold increase.

But digging into the numbers shows profound, local variances that can’t always be explained by homogeneity, or lack thereof. The metropolitan areas most likely to have mixed-race newlyweds are Honolulu, HI at 42%, Las Vegas, NV with 31% and Santa Barbara, CA, at 30%. According to Pew, “[t]hese areas are all relatively diverse in terms of race and ethnicity, and this diversity likely contributes to the high intermarriage rates by creating a diverse pool of potential spouses.” These areas also tend to have higher AAPI and non-black Hispanic populations rounding out the mix.

On the other end, low rates found in majority white places like Asheville, NC and Youngstown, OH make some sort of sense, at just 3% and 4% respectively. But there is no easy answer for places like Jackson, MS, (3%) and Birmingham, AL (8%), two areas rich with racial diversity but also long, specific histories of deep racial tension, much of it now codified into law and custom. (My former colleague Roy Johnson has just published an important column that touches on many of ongoing race-based issues in Alabama.)

It’s hard to believe that love blooms easily in places that are still fighting over Civil War monuments. But check out Pew’s interactive map here, and see how race-crossed lovers are faring in your zip code.

Pew finds that attitudes make a difference. “Some 13% of adults in the South say that more interracial marriage is a bad thing for society, and 11% of those living in the Midwest, where Youngstown is located, say the same.” That’s roughly three times as many people than is found in the West and Northeast.

I didn’t think that my family was a bad thing for society when I made my bold request to be taken back to the motherland, though I always understood that other people often did. And still do. But I did like to think that I’d had a young brush with Black Pride greatness that night at Frank’s. And that the man was really Huey Newton come to town, or that James Baldwin was outside the restaurant documenting a righteous melee that had spilled inside. But now I think he was probably just an ordinary man, unable or unwilling to find his way in a world that was prepared to think the worst of him and had organized itself accordingly. He wasn’t going down without a little lip. Or maybe he just wanted to be seen.

After a year of doing this work with all of you, I have developed a profound belief that societies can only improve with the best, everyday efforts of ordinary people who are prepared to think differently about themselves and each other, and then reorganize their communities, companies, and even families, accordingly. And for that, a little bit of love can go a long way.

And for anyone getting married this spring, a million mazels your way.

On Point

Travis Kalanick doesn’t think he’s an assholeThis is one of the delightful tidbits I gleaned from reading the excerpt from Adam Lashinky’s new book Wild Ride, Inside Uber’s Quest for World Domination. The admission came during one of those long, introspective walks that journalists love to have with profile subjects, and this one did not disappoint. Kalanick called the now famous video of him arguing with an Uber driver as part of a pattern of “little moments of arrogance when I say something provocative.” But mostly, it sounds like he’s wrestling with his own version of theory of mind, at least when it comes to being an asshole. “Understanding whether it’s real or not, like do I trigger something in certain people that’s related to something I didn’t do? Or am I an asshole? I’d love to know… I don’t think I’m an asshole. I’m pretty sure I’m not.” Click below for the excerpt – which is also the cover of the Fortune’s June issue. Lashinsky has a filmed a short video that digs in a little deeper into the Kalanick mindset, which is also worth your time.Fortune

Reid Hoffman interviews Tristan Walker
LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman’s new podcast series, Masters of Scale, is uniformly terrific, but absolutely check out his most recent episode with one of my favorite entrepreneurs, Tristan Walker. He’s the founder of the health and beauty brand for people of color, Walker & Co , currently most famous for the Bevel razor. His life, on paper, is pure inspiration, an unlikely tale of a kid from the projects who became a Stanford/Silicon Valley insider. But listening to Walker makes it clear why he conquered tech so quickly: His principled prescience and persistent curiosity. In this episode, he shares how he discovered the inherent racism in the shaving industry left a gaping opportunity on the table, and the how the blind spots of white venture capitalists prevented them from seeing the next great idea. “[I]t wasn’t that it was a bad idea, or not as important—it’s just that that person was unwilling to acquire the context necessary to understand what we’re working on,” he said. Come for the venture talk, stay for the tantalizing insights into how Walker thinks, does research and creates momentum. My takeaway? Always invest in Tristan Walker.
Masters of Scale podcast

China: More working women don’t want children
Despite Beijing’s decision to eliminate the country’s famous one-child policy, a new survey shows that Chinese working women are increasingly opting for the child-free life. According to a new survey by recruiting site, some 40% of working women without children don’t want them, and two-thirds of women with one child don’t want any more. Bloomberg frames the issue as a ticking time bomb: “More than three decades of a one-child policy has left the nation with too few young people to support an expanding elderly population, which is eroding competitiveness and weighing on the social welfare system.”

Jordan Peele has announced his next move: HBO
And it sounds really good: Peele has signed on to be the executive producer behind ‘Lovecraft Country,’ a drama series based on a novel of the same name by Matt Ruff. The 2016 work is described as “a novel of Jim Crow America that melds historical fiction, pulp noir, and Lovecraftian horror and fantasy.” Right? Perfect for Peele’s unique aesthetic. The story begins in Chicago, 1954, as a 22-year-old Army veteran named Atticus Turner embarks on a cross-country road trip to find his missing father. Also on board is Underground co-creator Misha Green and in a supporting role, J.J. Abrams. Peele’s first film, “Get Out,” has made more than $200 million at the box office, and he’s also signed a deal with Universal Pictures for more feature work. And now, a serious question. Has anyone checked on Key? How’s he holding up? Sending good vibes to you, Keegan-Michael.
Huffington Post

Another day, another politician forced to apologize for a racist e-mail
Yesterday, Alabama state legislator Rep. Lynn Greer forwarded an email to all of her Republican colleagues sharing what purported to be details from a research experiment involving four chimpanzees in a cage, one banana, and a hose… do I even need to finish? The gist of the “lesson” was that the apes fought for the banana without knowing why. The email ended with this kicker:“This is how today’s House and Senate operates (sic), and why from time to time, ALL of the monkeys need to be REPLACED AT THE SAME TIME!” Needless to say, many of her colleagues were horrified. Columnist Roy Johnson ticks through the entire mess then pivots to the more pressing issues of race and reconciliation in the state, now worsened by the Trump administration. Don’t get distracted by an email, says Johnson. “Not when, right here in Alabama, decades of racist gerrymander maneuvers in nine House and Senate districts must be undone, as ordered by the federal court.”

Controversial Sheriff David A. Clarke may or may not be working for Homeland Security
Clarke announced his new “senior” role on a Milwaukee radio station. “I’m both honored and humbled to be appointed to this position, working for the Trump administration.” But the Homeland Security Department, in an emailed statement, said that “such senior positions are announced by the department when made official by the secretary. No such announcement with regard to the Office of Public Engagement has been made.” Either way, Clarke is a profoundly disturbing character. He called Ferguson protestors, “vultures on a roadside carcass.” A grand jury recently recommended criminal charges against staffers at one of his jails after an inmate died of dehydration. The “appointment” has roiled many in and out of criminal justice. California Senator Kamala Harris, who sits on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, tweeted: “Sheriff David Clarke’s unconscionable record makes him unfit to serve. This appointment is a disgrace.”
New York Times

The Woke Leader

Margaret Cho set to produce and star in a pilot for TNT
Highland is based on Cho’s personal history with addiction, and will center around two extended Korean American families who share the same patriarch and must “come together after some tragedy strikes.” The most functional member of the group? The one who just got out of rehab. Sounds very Cho-like, and will be co-written and produced by Liz Sarnoff of Lost fame. “I’m so thrilled to once again bring an Asian-American family to television!” Cho tweeted. Get ready to get your Cho on with this great New York profile, which digs into some of her history of addiction, with a strong side of opinionated humor.
New York Magazine

When father will never know best
In a poignant essay, writer Lilian Min explores the new divide felt by so many first generation Americans. How do you manage when the person who raised you, and raised you well, offends your notions of social equity, race, gender roles, and justice? Raised in a middle-class family, within an “East Asian diaspora bubble in Central New Jersey,” she feels herself growing away from her family and wonders how to navigate the often difficult patriarchy of a family that oppresses as much as it protects.
The Establishment

On being a responsible storyteller
As a documentary filmmaker, Saeed Taji Farouky has filmed the war in Afghanistan and the refugee crisis and stays close to the themes – human rights, colonialism, and occupation – that informed his life as a child of Palestinian refugees. “One of the challenges I have to face in all of the stories I tell are not only the issues themselves, but how those issues are portrayed,”  he says in this moving TEDx talk. At issue with the media today, he says, is the imbalance between who the stories are about and who controls the creation and distribution of them. “What happens when we don’t have a role to play in the telling of our own stories?” In the best case scenario, the stories are simply terrible. In the worst case, they do real harm.


The clash of cultures in the classroom is essentially a class war, a socio-economic and racial warfare being waged on the battleground of our schools, with middle-class aspirating teachers provided with a powerful arsenal of half-truths, prejudices and rationalisations, arrayed against hopelessly outclassed working-class youngsters. This is an uneven balance, particularly since, like most battles, it comes under the guise of righteousness.
—Huey Newton