Love in Black and White

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Gail—a blonde American who grew up in middle-class suburbs in Ohio, Texas, and Minnesota—and Mark—an African reared in extreme poverty and suffering in a segregated South African ghetto—met at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in New York City in 1984 and fell in love. Eight years later, married and the parents of two small children, Gail and Mark Mathabane chronicle the life they have made together in defiance of mainstream societal norms. Writing in alternating chapters from their personal perspectives, Gail and Mark tell how they struggled to overcome their own fears and stereotypes, how they dealt with opposition from family and friends, and how their relationship was publicly scrutinized after Mark’s best-seller KAFFIR BOY and his KAFFIR BOY IN AMERICA were published.

Early in the relationship, Gail tried to research interracial marriages and found mostly “a plethora of absurd theories and explanations.” She and Mark determined then to write a book someday that would tell the human story, not one that just collected statistics, analyzed, categorized, and labeled. The result of that decision is LOVE IN BLACK AND WHITE. In addition to their own experiences, the Mathabanes include stories of other mixed race couples and consider issues like raising children as black or white, black women’s responses when black men marry whites, interracial marriage in the American south, and mixed couples in South Africa.

But the book’s real impact is as autobiography. Some readers may find the introspection overly detailed in places. And even with such a complete account, life in an interracial fishbowl is an experience that observers may never truly understand. But this intimate portrait will probably help most readers agree with Gail’s mother, who concludes that “Love is complex. Sometimes is doesn’t need to be understood. It needs only to be accepted.” Readily acknowledging that they do not intend to speak for all mixed couples nor presume to have all the answers, the Mathabanes simply want to tell their own love story, and they do it well.