Race, Racism and the Color Line Peripheral Knowledges 16.04.2021

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Titre : Interrogating Love Across the Color Line in France and the American South

Cécile Coquet-Mokoko

This sociological study is grounded in personal experience in France (the author’s home country) and in an emblematic state of the Deep South of the USA. Its perspective is contemporary, but informed by an acute awareness of the history behind the legal Othering of Black-White interracial couples in both countries. By including metropolitan French society as a counterpoint, it seeks to de-center the U.S-centered viewpoint common to much of the literature on Black/White relations. 

Gendered perceptions of cultural authenticity and sexual ethics are a guiding thread, being inseparable from the historical and political contingencies (re-)defining acceptable forms of dating, marrying, and parenting among cis-heterosexual couples in each country.

Because the fieldwork was carried out between 2009 and 2018 among forty-three couples in two public universities in Alabama and metropolitan France, it could be expected to serve the foregone conclusion that France is more accepting of interracial couples than the Deep South. But the emic approach driving the study shows many unexpected parallels between the two societies.

The historical approach to race relations helps situate the politicized perceptions of the partners. Qualitative data show that within the structures of oppression built in each society, couples have consistently mobilized creative forms of agency as they seek to protect themselves and their children, while the support of extended or symbolic kinship networks help White partners acknowledge the existence of racial privilege.

The rising visibility of couples carving spaces for themselves against the White racial frame, re-negotiating cultural and racial allegiances on terms increasingly their own, calls for an increased attention to the overlapping of culture and race. Indeed there are many distinct Black cultures and ways of performing racial identities, with codes that vary, from safe spaces centered on small-group dynamics to public spaces where couples and families are under the public gaze.