TV Guilt

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? Everybody.

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I have a confession to make. I didn’t get the flap about the Cheerios commercial at first, because I wasn’t looking at it. I had the TV on in the background, and unless you’re looking at the TV, that commercial sounds just like any other commercial.

When I did see it, though, I did a little fist-pumping. An interracial couple…no, it’s better than that. It’s a family. And they’re behaving just like any other family. How cool is that?

In a way, the Cheerios family reminds me of the Lovings, whose Supreme Court decision we celebrate today on the Loving Day Blog Hop. The Cheerios couple isn’t the first to turn up in American television advertising, just as the Lovings weren’t the first interracial couple to be married in the United States. Coffee Mate and Ikea both featured interracial couples before Cheerios. (I couldn’t find Kim and Adam, the interracial couple testing their new Ikea mattress, but here’s another ad for your viewing pleasure.) The Lovings were married very legally in Washington, D.C., before moving back to Virginia, where the trouble started. At the time, interracial marriage was illegal in 24 states – but very legal in the other 26.

So what’s different with Cheerios? What’s different with the Lovings?

It’s the unwillingness to back down. It’s courage. It’s the steadfast belief that interracial couples are and ought to be just like all other couples.

Television advertising is notoriously gun shy about even the appearance of offense, and General Mills got an earful from racists when it unveiled its interracial couple. But the company refused to back down in the face of public pressure. “There are many kinds of families, and Cheerios celebrates them all,” Camille Gibson, vice president of marketing for Cheerios, said in USAToday.

When the Lovings pleaded guilty to being married interracially in Virginia, their prison sentence (and take a second here to really consider the fact that there was a prison sentence) was suspended on the condition that they leave Virginia and not return as a couple for the next 25 years. They moved to Washington, where they’d been married in the first place, and this story might have ended there. Mildred and Richard shunned publicity, and neither of them was trying to make a huge public stand when they challenged the Virginia law. All they wanted was to be able to visit Virginia – the place they both called home – as a married couple.

Guys, you’ve got to check this out on the Life magazine website – the Lovings were the cutest of couples.

The Lovings got what they asked for in 1967, when the U.S. Supreme Court found Virginia’s law, and all the nation’s remaining anti-miscegenation laws, unconstitutional. They returned to Virginia, where they spent the rest of their lives. Forty-six years after the decision, popular culture has covered a lot of ground. I can remember a time, not long ago at all, when interracial couples on television were few and far between. Their appearance often meant you were about to see a very special episode or that you were going to be treated to a lot of good-natured ribbing at the couple’s expense (remember George Jefferson and Tom Willis?). At one point this year, prime time network television was home to more interracial couples than I could keep up with. The writers, in the understanding that those relationships are not a pedagogical tool, are not focusing on the interracial component.

It’s the story, not the swirl. Put that way, I almost don’t mind missing the first season of Scandal. Almost.

We’ve made lots of headway. Interracial couples aren’t fighting for recognition in quite the same way today. Corporate America defends their identity as couples, just like other couples.

But there are still holdouts in the so-called real world. I myself have been seated near the kitchen door on dates with white boyfriends. Well-meaning friends have suggested that the course of true love would run more smoothly if I stuck to my own kind. People stare, although in fairness, I’ve been known to stare at an interracial couple just to see if they’re a couple.

Yeah, I’m not much better. You see, when I say “interracial couple,” I’m thinking of black people and white people. I shouldn’t ignore the rest of the world’s diversity, but I acknowledge that I’m guilty of doing so.

We’ve come a long way. We haven’t come nearly far enough. Still, the world’s changed a lot in my parents’ lifetime, and I see more change to come in mine. My hope is that my niece will grow up in a time of true marriage equality.

Let freedom smooch.

OMG! I screwed up and forgot to mention that Delaney Diamond has the next stop on the hop! Go see her — please!

**I join more than 30 other blogs today to celebrate Loving Day with the Loving Day Blog Hop! Check out the roster for other great stops on the hop (Koko Brown, Afton Locke, Vallory Vance, and my sister in swirl, Tracey Livesay, among others, join us today). And just to keep things interesting, I’m going to give away a copy of my book, ILLICIT IMPULSE, to some lucky commenter (relevant to my post, before midnight, Pacific Time, on 6/12/13) below! Happy swirling, my friends.

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The Cocktailery Affair: The Drink From U.N.C.L.E.

It’s been a long time since the last Cocktailery installment, and I apologize. If it’s any consolation, I’ve been drinking a pretty good bit since the last issue of Cocktailery, and I do hope you have been, too. This month’s Cocktailery is an homage to one of my favorite characters in one of my favorite shows.

Act One: Her Birthday, My Cake

A good friend of mine celebrated a birthday recently. I got her a bottle of Jamaican white rum (nothing like having Mr. Wray and his nephew sing Happy Birthday, right?), but I bought myself a bottle of Pinnacle Cake vodka. I love birthday cake in all its forms, so I’ve been dying to conduct some bartenderly experiments with this.

I love the cakey twist Pinnacle’s put on all my vodka beverages. Appletinis have turned into sort of a tarte-tatin-apple-crisp-crumble flavored drink. Screwdrivers are more like Creamsicles. Pineapple juice goes to upside down cake in one simple step.

But of course, I have two favorites. I named them both for another favorite of mine.

Act Two: Like Siberia, but Lighter and with Soymilk

You all know that a White Russian is made of Kahlua, vodka and cream. I personally prefer a lighter beverage, something with less alcohol and fewer calories. After a lot of experimentation, I came up with something I call the Illya Kuryakin.

(When I was younger, I had quite the schoolgirl crush on David McCallum. Now I have a huge fangirl crush on him.)

Here’s what you need to get cozy with a Kuryakin of your very own:

Instant coffee. This might require a bit of pre-prep, but you’ll thank me later.

Pinnacle Cake vodka.

Light vanilla (not unsweetened, and not plain) soymilk. You could use the Silk Very Vanilla soymilk, too, but that vodka is already pretty sweet. Just be careful.

Ready? Let’s get to drinking.

Act Three: Stirred, Not Shaken

Prepare the coffee. I used hot water and a packet of Starbucks Via (thanks to Tina Glasneck for my Christmas present!), and then I mixed them in a jar. I put the jar in the fridge the night before Kuryakin Time. If you’re in a hurry — like you want to drink right now — you could put it in the freezer. I imagine you could use it warm, but I think coffee should either be really hot or ice cold. Either way, you will have enough coffee for about 8 Kuryakins.

Put a shot of the vodka on the bottom of your glass, hit it with a shot of the instant coffee, and fill the glass with the soymilk. You could put this in a shaker, but then you’d have to wash the shaker. I just stir it with a spoon.

I call it the Illya Kuryakin because it’s not a real White Russian. It is lightweight, delicious fun, just like Mr. Kuryakin. A variation, made with light chocolate soymilk, is equally delicious. I call it the Mocha Kuryakin. Use two shots of vodka for a Double Kuryakin. Two shots of coffee? Well, I don’t know. I was going to call it an Ivan Drago, but I found out there’s already a drink with that name. It’s an extra large White Russian. That made me laugh so hard, I forgot what I was researching.

Act Four: Happy Hour on Channel D?

The D in Channel D is for “drinkee drinkee!” Enjoy.

Diversity’s Never Looked Quite Like This

I’ve always written interracial romances featuring a black heroine. I’m like a lot of romance writers, in that I wanted to read and write about a heroine I could identify with. For years, I avoided reading romance altogether because I didn’t feel represented there. I might have stayed away from romance if it hadn’t been for law school. One of Mom’s friends sent me a couple of romances in a care package. I was so desperate to read about human beings and just enjoy the story, without the pressure of facing The Paper Chase the next day. I finished the first one very quickly and had to slow down and savor the others.

I still didn’t feel represented. But I was interested in what romance had to offer.

When I started reading romance, it looked like black women appeared in only two capacities – as the Sassy Black Friend, helping the heroine get the guy, or as the “exotic Creole” character. I was never clear on whether the Creole character was actually black. She always had dark hair and dark skin, but I always wondered why the author didn’t just say she was black, if she was in fact black.

I wanted to see – and, okay, maybe to be – a black heroine at center stage of her own romance novel. It wasn’t enough to help someone else get the guy and then be relegated to the end of a series (if she was lucky) with the only other black character in the books. I didn’t want to have to guess whether the heroine was black.

And that’s when I started thinking about writing romances. I had always written stories and I’d always wanted to write for publication. I just didn’t think I’d do it with romance. After all, I didn’t see anyone else publishing interracial romances, although I know now that there were a handful of them out there, scarce as hens’ teeth.

Then Sandra Kitt changed everything. The Color of Love is the romance novel I needed to see. The heroine is definitely black – she’s not olive-skinned or Creole – and she is definitely center stage. She and the hero, who is white, overcome the obstacles separating them (race-related and otherwise) to arrive at the end of the book with a declaration of love and a marriage proposal. I’d never read anything quite like it.

The Color of Love came out in 1995, so it was around when I got to law school. I just didn’t know about it. Once I found it, though, the game changed again. If she’d been published with an interracial romance (and Sandra Kitt has more than one such story out there), then I could do it, if I worked at it hard enough.

When my first novel, Illicit Impulse, comes out in three weeks, it will enter a very different world. I never thought I’d see a world with so many interracial relationships in books, television and movies. Interracial romances have long since made a place for themselves in electronic publishing, but TV and movies seem to be seeing the light, too. Finally.

I was the nut who stood up and cheered when Uhura kissed Spock in Star Trek. (Go easy on me. I’d been waiting YEARS for that.) I’m happy to see James Bond continuing a 40-year tradition of getting his swirl on. I was almost delirious with joy when ABC had two (three if we consider Grey’s Anatomy) well-established interracial relationships in prime time scripted television, although I miss 666 Park Avenue dearly now. Better still, television executives aren’t playing up the fact that their characters are falling in love across racial lines. These are just characters with their own needs and wants and dreams and problems. They just happen to be of different colors, and that’s the sort of romance I love the most.

I couldn’t be more excited to enter this field now, when the market exposure is growing. I’m part of a steadily growing audience, composed of people seeing these relationships for the first time and people who are saying “about damn time.” The sky is the limit now. I already know there are more interracial relationships on TV than I can keep track of. I claim the next book as my excuse, but I hope I can keep up with developments.

In the meantime, I need to make plans to see Skyfall.