This is a project created by Kathleen McCarthy for ENG 238 African American Literature, Pre-1945 at Elon University (Spring 2015), taught by Dr. Crystal Anderson. It is a conversation between two African American writers who discuss a contemporary issue. This dialogue gives students an opportunity to engage in close reading and relate literary texts to contemporary ideas.
Why my authors were chosen: I chose Ms. Cooper and Mr. Delany as the authors to discuss this contemporary topic due to their unique backgrounds. I feel Anna Julia Cooper would be in support of interracial marriages today. Not only was she the daughter of an interracial marriage, but her life’s works strived to elevate the status of black women through higher education, thus influencing the progress of the world. Opposite to Ms. Cooper, I feel Mr. Martin Delany could have been opposed to interracial marriage due to his traditional views on women, his concerns on African American authenticity and the high level of importance he placed on gender expectations.
To preface this discussion, I would just like to stress that this topic is very much still present today, as seen in the video below:
Setting: A busy Starbucks in NYC, sharing discussion over lattes and croissants.
Cooper: Isn’t it the perfect weather for a lovely outdoor wedding? My friend is so lucky to have chosen April to say her vows. It will be a truly wonderful ceremony! However, I wish it were taking place under better circumstances… You see, the groom’s family is not very pleased with their soon-to-be daughter in law’s skin color. Isn’t that preposterous? It is 2015, where we can send men to the moon, clone animals, and discover scientific breakthroughs daily, yet such archaic ideas still exist. It’s a shame.
Delany: Archaic? That’s a bit of an over dramatization, Anna. I don’t think it is preposterous in the least to wish to preserve the authenticity of one’s race. Our ancestors worked tirelessly and even died for us to be where we are today. Why would we want to throw that all away by wanting to mix with the race that oppressed our people for so long? Regardless, it will only lead to problems down the road for the couple. It is a wife’s duty to succeed in motherhood and an interracial marriage could put unnecessary stress on the children. They could fall subject to harassment, bullying and ill feeling that may cause discrimination. I, for one, would never subject my unborn children to such belittling treatment.
Cooper: Mr. Delany! I am shocked you would say such horrid things. Why must a woman not be allowed to marry for love, regardless of race? Women have just as much right to do as they wish as men do. They are just as strong and influential. If you recall, in my essay, “Womanhood a Vital Element in the Regeneration and Progress of a Race” I speak extensively on women and the influence they have. Your Medieval ideas of gender expectations parallel my arguments exactly: “Respect for woman, the much lauded chivalry of the Middle Ages, meant what I fear is still means to some men in our own day – respect for the elect few among whom they expect to consort.” I do not understand why men cannot respect all women, and not just those they deem needed for their conquests. I think this is exactly why you cannot accept interracial marriage. You don’t think women are intelligent enough to decide for themselves and to marry for love! You think their duty is not to be happy, but to simply bear and raise children.
Delany: Well, I cannot argue with your evaluation of my beliefs. It is true. I think a woman’s main job should be to produce and raise the best children she is able as they are the future of our race! And the future of our race means maintaining its authenticity. If that means I must be opposed to true love and miscegenation, then so be it. In all other facets of life and interaction, you know I am the strongest supporter of equality and desegregation. But at home? No. I am an author as well, as I am sure you are aware, and I too argued my beliefs in, “The Condition, Elevation, Emigration and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States”: “Our females must be qualified, because they are to be the mothers of our children. As mothers are the first nurses and instructors of children; from them children consequently, get their first impressions, which being always the most lasting, should be the most correct. Raise the mothers above the level of degradation, and the offspring is elevated with them.”
This image, from albany.edu, shows Milred and Richard Loving. Their case was responsible for the Supreme Court striking down the ban on interracial marriage in 1967. Mr. Loving in known for his sweet and witty remark after being asked by his lawyers if there were any arguments he wished to add to his case in which re he responded, “Tell the Court I love my wife.”
Cooper: Well, I have not, not could I ever condone that kind of thought. As a woman, and an accomplished one at that, clearly I have done more with my life than raise children! Yet I think I have contributed to many great changes across our nation. I do not think progress and maintaining the “authenticity” of a race is a means of “purebred” childrearing. Rather, it is a joint effort between both men and women, using the nobility by which Christianity grants women to enact change in our nation. Have I ever told you of the nobility women possess? And how they can use this power to enact a great deal of change without doing any harm? If you would be so kind as to hear me out: “For although the Feudal System can in no sense be said to have originated the idea, yet there can be no doubt that the habits of life and modes of thought to which Feudalism gave rise, materially fostered and developed it; for they give us chivalry, than which no institution has more sensibility magnifies and elevated woman’s position in society.” For these reasons I think you are doing our race and our country a great disservice by saying that women do not have a place to enact change in whichever means they choose; be it mixed-raced child bearing or not.
Delany: I completely reject your idea that Christianity has granted women nobility, and thus power to easily influence society. A woman is not meant to impart political change. I have argued this over and over. By all means, “Let our young women have an education; let their minds be well informed; well stored with useful information and practical proficiency, rather than light superficial accomplishments, popularly and fashionably called accomplishments. We desire accomplishments, but they must be useful.” And furthermore, I feel these useful accomplishments can be made in the form of the creation of a strong, whole, and authentic race. A race in which we have strived so hard to prove is worthy of equality.
Cooper: Mr. Delany, I think you are misunderstanding my argument. I, too, am appreciative and wary of the progress we have made over the past century. But the times have changed. And a woman’s “useful” contributions as you described do not have to be limited to the home. A mixed race can diversify the nation, and help lead to total acceptance and equality. The benefits of a mixed raced surely outnumber your so-called consequences. Marriage should be about love, commitment and devotion. Skin color should never come into consideration. I argue, “Who in Christendom doubts of questions [woman’s influence on social progress?] One may as well be called on to prove that the sun is the source of light and heat and energy to this many-sided little world.” I ask you, Mr. Delany, to please consider that women can impart social progress on the world and not just on their families. They should there fore not be subject to any ancient beliefs on who they can and cannot marry.
Delany: Calling my beliefs ancient is crazy! There are many others who will side with me on this debate. And these supporters may claim even more absurd reasoning then I. For example, others argue miscegenation will lead to incest, the spread of disease, that God will disapprove and that it is unnatural. I am not so naïve to believe these arguments. I simply wish to stress that it is better for our race and our nation to remain pure.
Courtesy of USmagazine, this image shows one of the most famous modern day interracial couples, Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West. Kim Kardashian is known for her Armenian heritage.
Cooper: I cannot continue this discussion without tarnishing the rest of my day. I hear your points, Delany, yet I think you are naïve and stuck in the dark ages. In today’s progressive society we should no longer concern ourselves with “authenticity” of a race, or the role in which a woman must play. Women are equal, races are equal and classes are equal. If you ever look in your passport you’ll see my words, “The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class – it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.” I so eagerly look forward to my friend’s beautiful wedding and their display of love and commitment before God. I wish you, too, could see the beauty in their love.
Delany: Unfortunately, Anna, I feel we must agree to disagree. I cannot be waivered in my position. “These are the proper and only means of elevating ourselves and attaining equality in this country or any other, and it is useless, utterly futile, to think about going any where, except we are determined to use these as the necessary means of developing out manhood. The means are at hand, within our reach.” I hope you think on that, Ms. Cooper. Have a wonderful rest of your day and a lovely weekend.
Henry, Gates L., Jr., and Smith A. Valerie. The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. 3rd ed. Vol. 1. New York: W.W. Norton, 2014. Print.
Kelly, Kate. “Anna Julia Cooper (1858-1964), Only Woman Quoted in Current U.S. Passport.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 17 Feb. 2012. Web. 8 May 2015.
“Novkov Examines History of Interracial Marriage Laws in Alabama.” Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 May 2015.
Ravitz, Justin. “Kim Kardashian, Kanye West.” Latest News. US Magazine, 8 Jan. 2013. Web. 8 May 2015.