Village Square shines spotlight on race and stereotypes

Panelists discuss the hardships of interracial marriage and adoption.
Photo Submitted by Bleu Bell.

An intimate group of about 40 gathered at The Junction on Monroe to discuss interracial marriage, adoption and retaining cultural differences. The Village Square, a non-partisan public educational forum hosted a panel Thursday featuring five individuals battling the difficulties of interracial love.

The emcee for the night was Brad Johnson, Local Color member and FAMU alumni. A diverse crowd engaged in humorous conversation and debate with panelists Rori Dunbar, Patrick McGuirre, Hetal Desai, Eric Eggers and Vita Woodson to answer the questions: “Should we be more like a melting pot or salad bowl?”

“We take the things that are difficult to talk about and talk about it,” said Johnson. “The first rule is that our goal isn’t to agree. It’s to disagree and keep talking.”

Each panelist had their own unique perspective. Woodson, a black woman, shared her experience being married to white man for six years.

“There are cultural and educational components. The religious component is the most  important. When people ask why we’re still together I say Jesus,” she said in between laughs. “There’s not a single day that I’m not out in public with my husband and I’m not aware he’s white and that people wonder why we’re together.”

Other subjects addressed were the importance of sibling groups, teaching adopted children to be comfortable, and to not simplify expect other cultures to maintain their stereotypes.

“If you were to pull all the black people together in the room, we wouldn’t say ‘Rock, paper, scissors, these are the things that define us as black’ and we’re all the same,” said Woodson.

Dunbar questioned the idea of white people adopting outside their race. She shared an anecdote of her white friend who was on a mission trip in Haiti and adopted two children. Her argument was that the children might have a better experience in their home country than coming to the United States. 

”For all intents and purposes, they are black and immigrants, Two things that this country doesn’t like,” she said, “what is it about white people that makes them want to do this? Why would you think that’s a good idea?”

Controversial topics were openly discussed and all viewpoints were welcome. Eggers shared the comical story of how a waitress brought a highchair to another table after he asked for one for his adopted black child and he heckled her, testing out “black privilege.”

“I say to her, ‘Here I thought after the election of Obama we’d be past this.’ The waitress was mortified. That was me, a white, Republican male, taking out black privilege for a test drive,” he said.

Desai, however, did not find Eggers’ joke funny.

Desai, who is Indian, and her husband McGuirre, white, are used to receiving looks from people on the street, but if they were in New York, their interracial relationship wouldn't draw negative attention. When they attend Indian weddings together, he is just “some random white guy” and was once assumed to be one of the staff.

The crowd was engaged and many laughs were shared. White culture jokingly was described as genocide, celebrating Christmas, and listening to “Africa” by Toto. Black culture was Tyler Perry and shea butter. The satirical conversational tone was a light-hearted approach to attacking stereotypes and the struggles of cultural preservation.

“When they were originally promoting this event, they were contrasting the idea, that I’ve grown up with, that America is a melting pot or a salad bowl, and all I heard tonight was salad,” said Mike King, frequent attender of Village Square events.

The night was concluded with a “lightning round” of current controversial events including the Jussie Smollett alleged assault and LGBTQ rights.

Johnson joked that his wife questioned why Smollett had to do this during Black History Month.

“It was funny, but I think maybe we see so much pain, we try to find a laugh out of it,” he said.