Sunday’s New York Times carried a piece entitled, “Meet Your Cousin, the First Lady.” In it, Joan Tribble realizes her great-great grandfather, a slave owner, fathered a child with one of his female slaves, who turned out to be Michelle Obama’s great, great, great grandmother. Other relatives don’t want to know saying, “ancestral ties to slavery might besmirch the family name.”
Line up: we’re all besmirched, and I don’t believe white people’s fear comes from the horror of owning slaves. It comes from the realization that beloved great great grandpa had sex with (and probably raped) a black woman.
When I was young, I couldn’t figure out why some black people were light and others dark. They were treated the same by whites—not allowed to sit at the table with us, couldn’t shake hands, came in the back door, and didn’t have last names. We were told miscegenation (the mixing of the races) would bring on the downfall of western civilization, and it was to prevent this horror that integration must be prevented.
When I realized why the best waiter at my family’s hotel was caramel color while his colleague was ebony, I was stunned. White people—white men—had sex with people we claimed were too tainted to eat next to. Miscegenation was all around us, but everyone pretended not to see.
Michelle Obama’s ancestor gave birth to several mixed-race children, and white family members hope this meant the sex was consensual. There can be no consensual sex between a fifteen-year-old female slave, without the power to say no, and a white master.
By the 1890 census, according to the article, 1.1 million Americans were of mixed race. A whole lot of besmirching going on.