New Visions Commentary: Bowl Game Proposal a True Indicator of Race Relations, Not Kramer’s Racist Rant

Some have said that Michael Richards’s recent on-stage racist tirade indicated that America’s racist past is not so distant. Some black leaders used it to drive the message that racism lies just beneath the surface of American life and that Richard’s antics were a true indicator of the state of the nation’s race relations.

But, over the New Year’s weekend, another incident occurred in the world of sports that stands as a strong counter to the claims that racism is still a prevailing force in American life.

On New Year’s Day, Boise State University and Oklahoma University squared off in the Fiesta Bowl. It was a game won in overtime – to the surprise of all the football experts – by the underdog Boise State. While the game was one of the most exciting in recent memory, our interest was captured by something that happened after the game ended. In the midst of chaos and uproarious celebration, Ian Johnson – the Broncos’ sophomore running back who scored the game-winning two-point conversion, proposed to Broncos cheerleader Chrissy Popadics.

As fans cheered their approval, Johnson proposed marriage on bended knee and Popadics said “yes.” A fitting end to a bowl game that was perhaps one of the most exciting ever played.

The additional flavor to this only tangentially sports-related story is provided by the fact that Johnson is black and his soon-to-be bride is white. Once an American taboo, what is notable about this incident is just how unimportant race is to the storybook tale of the handsome, talented football star who proposed to his pretty and wholesome girlfriend. The race of the two didn’t rate a mention in the after-game coverage, nor should it have.

Is love colorblind?

Understand this: Boise, Idaho is mid-America in spades. Some have argued that interracial relations and marriages are more common in the diverse environments of Los Angeles or New York City but still frowned upon in “mid-America.” That’s arguably true, which makes Johnson’s proposal to his sweetheart all the more notable. The skin color of Johnson and Popadics seemed to matter not at all to the Boise State fans. They gathered behind the two as the proposal was made and accepted (and captured by a television camera crew) and noisily endorsed the union as a welcome part of the victory celebration.

This scene would have been unthinkable not all that long ago. Up to the 1960s, many states had anti-miscegenation laws on the books that barred sexual relations or marriage between people of different races – with such activity deemed a felony in many states. It took the United States Supreme Court to strike down such laws in the 1967 Loving v. Commonwealth of Virginia case that ruled anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional.

Proof of how far the nation has come since 1967 was provided by the visit of presidential candidate George W. Bush to South Carolina’s Bob Jones University in the spring of 2000. Dating across the lines of race was forbidden on this southern campus. As Randall Kennedy pointed out in his excellent essay “Interracial Intimacy,” not a single nationally-prominent figure defended the university’s policy against interracial dating – causing Bush to distance himself from the institution and ultimately forcing the school to drop the outdated ban.

In 1970, only 0.7 percent of marriages were between people of different races. However, when the 2000 Census was taken, that number had increased to 4.9 percent of all marriages. In other words, 2,669,558 couples at that time ignored skin color as a factor in who might make a good marriage partner. Perhaps an equal number are engaged in romantic relations across the once taboo line of race. Whatever the case, what was clear from the images on our television screens was that the Boise State fans who traveled to Arizona for the game weren’t in the least bothered by the scene of two attractive young people of different races kissing passionately for all to see.

According to writer and social critic Steve Sailer, when soon-to-be U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and his wife had their hearts set on a house in a Virginia suburb of Washington D.C three decades ago, they couldn’t legally live together because of the state’s anti-miscegenation laws. Marshall was black and his wife was East Asian. Nowhere in the country would that be the case today, nor would their relationship today raise any eyebrows in the tony suburbs of the nation’s capitol. Leaving aside the issue of same-sex marriage, Americans have long ago decided – with the exception of a shrinking sector of bigots in various shades of skin color – that race is not a particularly important factor when it comes to affairs of the heart.

Where a few race-obsessed figures saw Michael Richards’s self-immolation on the stage of a comedy club as a good barometer of the nation’s race relations, most folks saw a has-been jerk. As a better indicator, on New Year’s Day we witnessed two young people in love declaring their intention to form a family. Few cared that one was black and the other was white.

Ian Johnson’s on-camera proposal to his girlfriend ruffled no feathers and served notice that America has moved much further away from an odious past then the race-mongers would ever admit. Let’s hear it for the home team!

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Joe R. Hicks, a member of the national advisory council of the black leadership network Project 21, is vice president of Community Advocates, Inc. and a talk show host for KFI in Los Angeles, California. David Lehrer is president of Community Advocates, Inc. Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21 or the National Center for Public Policy Research.

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