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Perspective

Sick over jungle fever

A new interracial-dating 'guide' leaves one reader ill.

By Francie Latour
February 20, 2011

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What’s a single, white 21st-century gal to do in a world where, as the saying goes, all the good guys are either married or gay? As someone who is not single or white, I’m probably not the person to ask. But apparently J.C. Davies is. Davies used to specialize in equity investments at Goldman Sachs. Since getting laid off a few years back, she’s re-branded herself as an intercultural dating expert, and she’s out with a new book. Is it called I Got the Fever: Love, What’s Race Gotta Do With It? Yes, it is. Does the cover feature the 40-something Davies in a red dress with five Chippendales-types arranged like ethnic flavors around her vanilla? Yes, I’m sorry to say, it does.

Luxuriating in a sea of stereotype froth that spans the rainbow – Indian men are smelly, Jewish men are cheap – Davies’s career transition is some of the best evidence yet that, contrary to popular belief, we are not living in a post-racial moment: We’re living in a moment where some people have convinced themselves that making wildly bigoted statements is now clever and saucy and degradation-free.

According to a 2010 report by the Pew Research Center, 1 out of 7 new US marriages is interracial or interethnic. Mine is one of them: Black Haitian-American woman meets white Irish- and German-American man. I had dated outside my race before we married, although I can’t claim Davies’s credentials. Behold her chapter titles/conquests: “Yellow Fever,” “Salsa Fever,” “Curry Fever,” “Shiksa Fever,” and the classically taboo “Jungle Fever.” After decades in the trenches, Davies has this to report: If you’re ready to spice up your love life, brace yourself for a wild but head-scratching ride. Those crazy Asians, they make you leave your shoes at the door, even if you’re wearing Prada. Visiting your Latino boyfriend’s parents is a minefield: You have to offer to help three times before you know it’s OK to sit down. And please, tread lightly when attempting ghetto talk with your black man. “It has taken me years to get it down,” Davies warns.

The book offers no “vanilla fever” chapter – a curious omission, because white people also do the darndest things. White people, for example, will follow you around IKEA exclaiming: “You look just like Michelle Obama! Janice, doesn’t she look like Michelle Obama?!” A sister-in-law of mine once told me: “You are so lucky you’re black – black people never get rosacea. My skin problems are awful!” That goes double for Davies, whose biggest skin problem is this: She seems unaware that hers has a color.

What is interracial marriage really like? Interracial marriage is waking up on a Saturday morning, going to a church yard sale in the small town where you live, and having your heart cracked when a very sweet lady says, “Now how did you find out about a yard sale all the way out here?” Interracial marriage is also telling your husband what happened and having him fire off the perfect comeback line: “I was actually on my way to a carjacking and thought I’d pick up a desk lamp.” Interracial marriage is the chasm that reveals itself when you’re singing Stevie Wonder’s “Jungle Fever” while writing this story, and your husband says, “There’s actually a song called ‘Jungle Fever?’ ”

But it’s also that chasm in reverse: It’s realizing that when you and he watched the ’70s sitcom Good Times, he understood it in a way you never did, because he was the youngest of six in a working-class family, and you were the daughter of two doctors who bought you a red convertible at 16.

Interracial marriage isn’t just reading a book about Martin Luther King Jr. to your 6-year-old and watching the first awareness of racism wash over his face. It is also reading between the lines when your husband later mentions, “Owen said Martin Luther King got shot because white people wanted to control everything.” It’s realizing that if you’re not careful, your son’s father could become the white devil.

The “real-life” couples in Davies’s book fret over ethnic faux pas and exotic food, but real life is more complicated than she allows. I’ll go out on a limb and state that if there’s anything to be said about love between races, it’s that it’s weird and subtle and thick – sometimes painful but also gloriously hopeful. And it doesn’t have anything to do with flavors or fevers.

Francie Latour is a writer and editor in Sherborn. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.

(Illustration by Matthew Hollister)