Sex and Race
How are things different today?
John David Smith:
As in history, today people of all ethnic backgrounds are attracted to others of different ethnic backgrounds. Today white southerners seem to be more tolerant of interracial partnerships, but I would argue that this is neither universal nor across-the-board. The farther one lives from a metropolitan community the more one observes stares at interracial couples and the more likely interracial couples are to encounter the social opprobrium of their communities. Ideas die hard and many whites still are uncomfortable with the reality of "racially- mixed couples."
The Till case looks more ambiguous than it did in 1955, because of the emergence of feminism. In 1955 no decent human being, no citizen endowed with a conscience, could fail to be revolted by the price that Emmett Till paid for his braggadoccio. That is still true. But the feminist movement that had begun to emerge a decade later also saw something sinister in what Till in his joking adolescent way did, which was to assume that females could be "taken" by any males bold enough to make advances upon them. A wolf-whistle was no longer a matter of amusement, but came to be seen as an example of an unpleasant aggressiveness that women no longer needed to endure or make light of.
I should add that the trial, even though it resulted in the injustice of an acquittal, brought to light the horrendous excess to which white supremacists would go to perpetuate "the Southern way of life." The shock of the murder and of the subsequent exoneration produced an outrage that would burst into the civil rights movement that crested within the decade, and quite a few activists who helped doom Jim Crow have testified to the emotional impact that the Till case exerted upon them.
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