Interracial Marriage: A Personal Perspective

By , Elizabeth Stapler is a freelance writer living in Ashland, Mass.

LOVE IN BLACK AND WHITE: THE TRIUMPH OF LOVE OVER PREJUDICE AND TABOO. By Mark and Gail Mathabane, HarperCollins, 274 pp., $20

IN the race-conscious United States, surprisingly little has been written about mixed marriages. Mark Mathabane, author of the best-selling "Kaffir Boy" (1986) and its sequel, "Kaffir Boy in America" (1989), lays open this issue with another compelling autobiography about race relations.

"Love in Black and White," an insightful look into the lives of interracial couples, is a heart-warming romance as well. The intimate journal is team-written by this black South African with his wife, Gail, a white American. Both are journalists who met while students in New York City.

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Most chapters are divided into "Mark's View" or "Gail's View," in which the authors interweave their ups and downs, challenges, and the joys of their individual experiences.

Mark's direct, clean, and riveting writing style appears again in this joint venture. Gail has her own winning style - her honest, probing mind sorts through the perplexing issues that confront their partnership.

Mark and Gail met while Mark was working on "Kaffir Boy" - the story of his extraordinary escape from a devastating childhood in Alexandra, one of South Africa's most oppressive black townships.

The struggle to write "Kaffir Boy," maintain his support for the freedom of blacks in South Africa (including his own family), his development as a writer, and his love for Gail unfold through often touching and sometimes painful accounts in "Love in Black and White."

As in Mark's other books, there is a remarkable absence of bitterness. He has the ability to perceive the potential for the humane in all.

Gail writes about attending a junior high school in Texas, where she was a minority. "Gangs of blacks and Mexicans patrolled the school halls," she says. A minister's daughter, she came from a family that fostered moral courage and an independent spirit. This formative thinking gave her strength to survive a racially torn junior high and, later, the ability to confront stinging racial stereotypes and prejudice.

Despite the grave issues the mixed couple face, their journals never bog down. Joy and affection buoy their story:

"For the first time in our relationship, we dared to hold hands and put our arms around each other in public," writes Mark. "In the Museum of Natural History, while touring the prehistoric wing ... I kissed Gail in front of a staring brontosaurus. Stares and disapproving glances no longer fazed me."

The authors frequently discuss the contribution mixed couples and their offspring can make to racial harmony. The chapter "Raising Children: Black or White?" questions often-held assumptions about being children of mixed couples - such as the idea that it could be confusing to a child not to know whether they are black or white.

Their broad sampling of biracial adults indicates that most have gained strength from and feel enriched by their dual ethnic roots.

The final chapters chronicle the lives of mixed couples in America and South Africa - stories that shed further light on biracial relationships and serve to correct many misconceptions about mixed marriages.

In the book's "Epilogue," the couple speak as one voice. This is a fitting year to have "Love in Black and White" published, they say. It is the 25th anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling legalizing interracial marriage and a good time to assess where Americans stand on the issue.

Progress is taking place, they say. Multiracial student support groups have formed at many colleges and universities. And births to biracial couples are up "fivefold" from 1968 to 1988.

But more progress is needed, especially with the resurgence of racial discord in schools and cities nationwide, they say.

And, they reveal that the process of writing the book blessed them by affirming what they believe is really true about humanity:

"Racism is essentially a problem of the heart.... If in our hearts we truly accept one another as fellow human beings, many of our intractable problems would have solutions, and there would be no limit to the good we could do in making our world a better place for all."

Sixteen pages of black-and-white photos and an index make this book an excellent resource on a subject too long neglected.

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