February 13, 2012

Love between the lines

Viewpoints of interracial love shared, discussed

PLATTSBURGH — "Ooh sha sha. We got to live together."

The refrain is from "Everyday People," a 1969 hit for Sly and the Family Stone, a multiracial conscious-raising band, rocking the San Francisco Bay area.

Dr. Nell Irvin Painter of New Russia in Essex County grew up there, in Oakland. There, love American-style was not just black and white.

"There, the big hysteria about race mixing was with Asians," said Painter, a Princeton University professor emerita and the author of "The History of White People," "Creating Black Americans" and "Southern History Across the Color Line."

"The case I remember was Noriko Sawada and Harry Bridges. She's Japanese. During World War II, her family spent three years in an Arizona internment camp."

Like other Japanese Americans and others with "Foreign Enemy Ancestry" on the West Coast, the Sawadas were relocated due to Executive Order 9066 signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1942.

Harry, a white labor leader instrumental in the establishment of the International Longshoreman's and Warehouseman's Union, met Noriko, a labor and civil-rights activist.

They dated and fell in love. He popped the question. She decided on Pearl Harbor Day nuptials. Their 1958 obstacle was a Nevada law that prohibited interracial marriages.


Place plays a role in where race hysteria is focused, according to Painter.

"As far the states laws regulating who is what, the stigmatized part is the Negro and the white part is what is left over."

In Virginia and other southern states, she said, the laws that defined race were frequently changed — blood quantum fluctuated between 1/16 and 1/32 Native-American ancestry without any traceable African ancestry.

"How do you figure it out?" Painter asked. "The point I would stress, the laws were against interracial marriage, not interracial sex. Surely, they didn't enforce any laws against interracial sex. That tended to protect the rights of men, particularly white men. Making it respectable was the problem ... for property, for standing."

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