Race is such a bitch. Things are almost infinitely better than they were when I was growing up in Texas, but we still have such a long way to go. Good news: Every day I see bi-racial couples, and little children who would have been called mulattos, or quadroons, or even mongrels when I was young. More and more every day. Where I grew up, it would have been unthinkable, especially a black man with a white woman. Somewhere, in some moral sinkhole just down the road, crosses would be soaking in gasoline. Someone would be tying a noose. Even in the late 20th century, just down the road from my home town in a place called Vidor, a black couple was basically run out of town.
Bad news: There still exists a strong divide, so that in most social gatherings we see mostly white people or mostly black people. This story takes place among the upper social strata of black Los Angeles. These people are well-off, well-educated, well-placed in the worlds of business and the professions. There is not a single nigga from the ‘hood to be seen. (Sorry, but we’ve been watching The Wire, and the three most-used words in that show are “nigga,” “fuck” and its infinite variations, and “yo.”)
As in so many romances, this can be seen as a Romeo and Juliet situation, love between members of two warring tribes. Kenya McQueen (Sanaa Lathan) is a successful and pretty uptight member of a high-level accounting firm. She has an impossibly long list of what she’s looking for in a husband, but the only one that really matter is that he be black. Very much against her better judgement, she finds herself falling for her white landscaper, Brian (Simon Baker). He worked in an ad agency for six years, just so we know he’s not totally working class, but bottom line, he works with his hands in the dirt. He has no problem with falling in love with her, but for her, race is always there, an unavoidable subtext. At parties her male friends are always jibing at him, and he comes to see how it is to be the only white person in a room full of blacks, which if you reverse the situation is something that successful black people have to deal with every day. They always are aware of the “black tax,” that is, of having to be twice as good as a white person to be treated equally.
There are no great new insights here, and don’t expect a Romeo and Juliet ending, either. It’s all really too easy in the end for the real world, but who said romantic films had to reflect the real world? We enjoyed it, and I expect that in a year or less I will have forgotten all about it.