I’m very pleased to share an extract from a new romance novel from author Lee Jenkins, Right of Passage. In it, we meet Chris and Miriam, an interracial couple in 1960s America fighting against racism, sexism and intolerance to showcase the transforming power of love.
I said, “I went to my sister’s house in Atlanta, and her family, and then to Florida to visit my mom and my other sister. It’s curious. I missed this place and couldn’t wait to get back.”
“Maybe to see Miriam.”
“Sure, but I mean this place, the job.”
“I know what you mean. You and she seem to like each other.”
“Is that what people think?”
“She likes you,” he said. I nodded. “A fine girl, Chris.”
“You talk to her often?”
“We talk, about music, things, just like you and I do.”
“I think sometimes she misses New York.”
“How’d it come about between the two of you, if you don’t mind my asking?”
I sort of squinched my shoulders. How could I even begin to try to talk about that?
“Were you thinking of it?” he persisted.
“Thinking of it?”
“Attraction, between the races.”
“I don’t know.”
“How’s it working out?”
“Like any relationship, I suppose.”
“But is it like any relationship?”
“Why not?” Let me hear, first, I thought, what his idea was of why it wasn’t like other relationships.
“There’s a difference, racial, ethnic, religious,” he said.
“Then there’s the pleasure in overcoming it.” That was true, and something that moved me immensely, and yet it was also completely irrelevant—or was it? I was silent as we each waited for the other to speak.
“I wish you well.”
I said, “You spoke of overcoming religious difference in your discussion of Yom Kippur in class.”
“I spoke of appreciating religious difference, to bring about an understanding and acceptance of difference, to live and let live.”
“I agree with that. But I guess I’d like to abolish that difference too.”
“Black and white, Jew and gentile will always be, and a thousand other differences.”
“I guess I’d like to mate them, you know, merge them, graft them into one homogeneous thing.” Probably I did not really know I felt this way until I found myself saying it. Even as I said it I knew he was right, that if we got rid of racial difference, for instance, and everybody looked alike, a new, different hierarchy of difference would be established, would emerge, for instance, people with bushy eyebrows vs. people with sparse ones.
“You’ve got your work cut out for you. Life is being ourselves, living our differences. How does she feel about this?”
“She doesn’t say.”
“She knows what it’s like to be different, if you know what I mean.”
“You know she’s multi-ethnic, right—her father is Yankee, English and French.”
“I imagined it.” His saying it made me wonder, though, what he had thought.
“How’s that for difference—the American way. You and I are different too, yet the same in basic ways; what people in their distinctions forget.”
“I understand you. You two are so interesting to look at. She’s a lovely girl. You’re a good-looking black man. But not just that. Probably I’m also talking about the impact you make. I know you. But it’s still arresting, startling, to see you.”
“Doesn’t it ever wear off?” I asked. Howard smiled, and I returned the smile. I continued, “We try not to notice. By ourselves, we almost never do, unless it’s a way to make ourselves happy about something.”
“Would you have children?”
“Sure we would.” Even she thought that, and wanted to bring it about. I imagined she thought, as I did, that they would be beautiful, the world a better place, I thought, and said.
“That’s one way to look at it. I came down here, I wanted to do something in that spirit, commitment in a worthy way, you know, to people, mutual respect.”
“Everybody respects you, appreciates you, what you do.”
“There’s love too, a need to give—I feel I should say that—in this world.” He went to change the record.
Lee Jenkins is a psychoanalyst and author. His novel, Right of Passage, is available from AEON books, priced at £12.99 in paperback. For more information see http://www.aeonbooks.co.uk/product/right-of-passage/40447/