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Looking at O’Grady’s conflicting scenes of what she calls an “under-theorized historic relationship” today, we might be tempted to extend the subtitle so that it reads: The Clearing: or, Cortés and La Malinche, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, N. O’Grady forces us to ask: what are we to make of interracial love at the advent of Empire?
What are we to make of that mixing of desires, identities, and cultures—both free and forced—since “first contact”?
“There’s power in love,” said the Most Reverend Michael Bruce Curry, preaching at the wedding of one of the most famous interracial couples today, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Curry repeated the phrase at least five times during the sermon he delivered in May at Windsor’s St.
In (2011), both are naked: she lies on top of his body, cradling his head as she kisses his spine.
Her skin, a dark-brown collage that she shares with the surface of the room in which they make love, rubs off on his white skin, transforming him into a new person.
Akunyili Crosby flips the historical script in which the black female nude is always available to the colonial gaze, by offering up her white husband’s body for the female gaze, and, if we may, the black female gaze.
Where Gordimer has imagined relationships between white men and black women, most pointedly in her short stories, “Country Lovers” (1975) and “City Lovers” (1975), it is through the prism of forbidden, and eventually failing, love between masters and servants. Coetzee, is similarly preoccupied with interracial unions in works that I would describe as his frontier novels, Duskland (1974), In the Heart of the Country (1977), Waiting for the Barbarians (1980), and Disgrace (1999), in which older white patriarchs attempt to resolve their, to use that famous first line from Disgrace, “problem of sex” through coercive sexual relations with black women, which we would today understand as rape.
For Gordimer, the possibility of “real” interracial love seems to exist only between white women and black men, and by implication, the promise of a liberated future seems bounded within this union. Where the sexual contact is not coercive, it is because, in the case of his protagonist David Lurie of Disgrace, the white man has engaged the services of a black female sex worker.
And in our own time, what are we to make of interracial love when we consider the hierarchical ladder in which, predominantly, white men still figure at the top, black women at the bottom, with black men and white women occupying the two middle rungs?
Almost a century and a half after La Malinche and Cortés’s complex entanglement unfolded in Mesoamerica, another settler colony on the other side of the Atlantic witnessed its first recorded interracial marriage.