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The Struggle Behind a Biracial/Bicultural Marriage

clarsen's picture

         A few months ago, a new commercial from Cheerios surfaced which surprisingly had a terrible response from many viewers.  The commercial showed a biracial girl asking her white mother if “cheerios really were good for your heart” who later goes on to pour them over her black father.  The cynical comments came from both white and black viewers who were disgusted by the thought of a biracial couple.  One of Zadie Smith’s lead couples in her novel NW is also biracial and faces similar negative reactions.  The overwhelmingly negative feedback from both the commercial and the characters in NW led me to question how accepted it was to be in a biracial and bicultural relationship along with the problems and barriers that stand in between.

            Leah and Michel are introduced in Smith’s novel early on stating that they were mainly in the relationship for physical reasons.  Not only are they of different races but also different cultures, Michel is French and Leah British.  These differences do little to help their relationship and rather act as a boundary between them.  Leah feels as though she is unable to express herself to her husband, which derives from the fact that they have so little in common.  Several times in the novel Michel complains about the croissants or bread made saying that they would have been so much better in France.  His complaints not only serve as an annoyance to Leah but they’re very insulting.  It’s almost as though Michel is saying his life in France was better than his new life with Leah.

            Some of the most negative comments of the Cheerios commercial came from colored women who believed they were entitled to be with men of their same race.  The fact that a white woman was with a man of their race was an outrage in their eyes because they thought of her as “stealing their man”.  Recently in the black community a trend of differentiating between light skinned and dark skinned women has began where they identify themselves as either “light team” or “dark team”.  It is embedded in many colored circles that light skinned is better than dark skinned and much more attractive especially for females.  This self-hatred has caused many women to bleach their skins and carry a grudge for light skinned and white women dating black men.  Leah faces similar reactions from women in the black community who are jealous of her.  They make comments questioning why Michel would ever want to be with her.  Although many women put her down, Leah also feels that being in a biracial relationship has made her more accepted by the black community.  She feels more cultured and is able to spend more time with people outside of her race.

Coming from a biracial marriage myself, I saw that there was a large cultural and racial barrier that stood between my parents.  My father is from Haiti and my mother is American, which meant they had a completely different upbringing and very little in common.  Both my mother and I have difficulty truly communicating and expressing ourselves to my father because he comes from a culture that is so unlike ours.  Leah faces a similar struggle with Michel, which is certainly most apparent nearing NW’s conclusion.  Leah lies naked on a hammock refusing to speak to Michel after her birth control pills are discovered.  Leah does not want to have children but cannot bring herself to tell Michel out of fear and their poor communication.  “She fears the destination.  Be objective! What is the fear? It is something to do with death and time and age.  Simply: I am eighteen in my mind and if I do nothing if I stand still nothing will change I will be eighteen always” (Smith 27).  Leah wants nothing in her life to change at the present and seems to only be able to communicate that to Natalie towards the end. 

Smith states that “they were married before they were friends, which is another way of saying: their marriage was the occasion of their friendship” (Smith 27).  They married because they were both physically attracted to each other.  “Here lie a man and a woman.  The man is more beautiful than the woman.  And for this reason there have been times when the woman has feared that she loves the man more than he loves her.  He can’t deny that he is more beautiful.  His skin is very dark and ages more slowly.  He has good West African bone structure.”  Their mutual attraction is what they consider the strongest aspect of their relationship yet Leah fears that they love each other unequally.  The couple has little emotional connection and instead replaces it with a physical connection.  Both the cultural and racial boundaries are too large and prohibit them from having a healthy relationship with proper communication and connection.  Leah suffers an internal battle because of this, which leaves her stealing her best friends medication in hope that nothing will change.  Their lack of openness and articulation creates a dishonest and closed-off marriage.


clarsen's picture

"Becoming Nikki Lynette." Why

"Becoming Nikki Lynette." Why Lighter Skin Is Better than Dark Skin. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2013.

Smith, Zadie. NW. New York: Penguin, 2012. Print.