Butler depicts the complicated dynamics and power struggles of many different types of interracial relationships, in the romantic relationship between Dana and Kevin, the master-slave relationship between Rufus and Alice, and the complex familial relationship between Dana and Rufus. In Dana and Kevin’s marriage, Butler shows the possibility of an interracial relationship that is built on true connection based on shared personality and experiences, as the couple each struggle to become writers, rather than focusing narrowly on the differences in their race. However, Dana and Kevin’s relationship is not free from the harmful effects of racial discrimination. They each have to fight against prejudiced family members and co-workers, while maintaining a balance where Dana’s writing career does not come second to Kevin’s, even though Kevin is more socially accepted as an author due to his race and gender. Still, Dana and Kevin each put in the necessary effort to meet each other with mutual respect and support to make an honest, loving relationship possible.
In contrast, Rufus and Alice are the ultimate example of an unhealthy interracial couple. Rufus is obsessed with “possessing” Alice as both a slave and the object of his affection, while Alice regards Rufus, her master, with a mix of fear, loathing, pity, and hints of affection. The social structures and injustice surrounding black and white relations in the Antebellum South make it impossible for Rufus and Alice to escape the twisted power discrepancy of Rufus as a master and the de-humanizing oppression of Alice as a slave. A romantic relationship between them cannot be beneficial for either partner, because there is no respect or common ground between them. Rufus sexually exploits Alice with no regard for her human feelings, forcing Alice to give up her consent and freedom as well as subjecting her to the resentment of the other slaves. If Alice gives in to Rufus’s sexual desire for her, she both gives up control over her own body and “betrays” her fellow slaves by taking advantage of the comforts that sleeping with the plantation master gives her. In the end, Alice chooses to take her own life rather than losing her self-respect by becoming Rufus’s loyal mistress, and Rufus is also destroyed because he cannot recognize the necessity of respecting black women as equals instead of objects.
Contact between these two couples influences the dynamic between Dana and Kevin as well as Rufus and Alice. Dana, as a present day descendent of both the white master and the black slave, tries to approach Rufus from the position of an equal and convince Rufus to acknowledge Alice as a fellow human and true romantic partner. Yet the time that Dana and Kevin spend in the past also exposes their healthy marriage to the harmful effects of slavery on black-white relations. Butler emphasizes the physical similarities between Kevin and Rufus (as well as Rufus’s father Tom) as well as between Dana and Alice, stressing how interracial relationships in the present are not free from the legacies of oppression and privilege between the races in America. Butler acknowledges the unique conflicts that interracial couples face, yet also advocates for increased acceptance of interracial couples so that these couples can move forward in a more supportive atmosphere and provide crucial first steps to healing the racial divide in America. It is only when systems of oppression and privilege are not present that couples have a chance of stripping away the differences of race and racial experience in order to connect in a positive way. While this one healthy couple certainly doesn’t solve the centuries of pain that white masters inflicted on black slaves, Kevin and Dana do offer a future in which white and black people are equal and integrated and have a chance at an authentically loving relationship.
Interracial Relationships ThemeTracker
Interracial Relationships Quotes in Kindred
I lost an arm on my last trip home. My left arm.
And I lost about a year of my life and much of the comfort and security I had not valued until it was gone. When the police released Kevin, he came to the hospital and stayed with me so that I would know I hadn't lost him too.
Alice Greenwood. How would she marry this boy? Or would it be marriage? And why hadn't someone in my family mentioned that Rufus Weylin was white? If they knew. Probably, they didn't. Hagar Weylin Blake had died in 1880, long before the time of any member of my family that I had known. No doubt most information about her life had died with her.
He had written and published three novels, he told me, and outside members of his family, he'd never met anyone who'd read one of them. They'd brought so little money that he'd gone on taking mindless jobs like this one at the warehouse, and he'd gone on writing—unreasonably, against the advice of saner people. He was like me—a kindred spirit crazy enough to keep on trying.
A place like this would endanger him in a way I didn't want to talk to him about. If he was stranded here for years, some part of this place would rub off on him. No large part, I knew. But if he survived here, it would be because he managed to tolerate the life here.
"This could be a great time to live in," Kevin said once. "I keep thinking what an experience it would be to stay in it—go West and watch the building of the country, see how much of the Old West mythology is true."
"West," I said bitterly. "That's where they're doing it to the Indians instead of the blacks!"
He looked at me strangely. He had been doing that a lot lately.
“She doesn't care much for white people, but she prefers light-skinned blacks. Figure that out. Anyway, she ‘forgives’ me for you. But my uncle doesn't. He's sort of taken this personally.”
“He ... well, he's my mother's oldest brother, and he was like a father to me even before my mother died because my father died when I was a baby. Now ... it's as though I've rejected him. Or at least that's the way he feels. It bothered me, really. He was more hurt than mad.”
I said nothing. I was beginning to realize that he loved the woman—to her misfortune. There was no shame in raping a black woman, but there could be shame in loving one.
"I didn't want to just drag her off into the bushes," said Rufus. "I never wanted it to be like that. But she kept saying no. I could have had her in the bushes years ago if that was all I wanted."
"I know," I said.
"If I lived in your time, I would have married her. Or tried to."
"Christ," he muttered. "If I'm not home yet, maybe I don't have a home."… I could recall walking along the narrow dirt road that ran past the Weylin house and seeing the house, shadowy in twilight, boxy and familiar… I could recall feeling relief at seeing the house, feeling that I had come home. And having to stop and correct myself, remind myself that I was in an alien, dangerous place. I could recall being surprised that I would come to think of such a place as home.
“I know what he means. He likes me in bed, and you out of bed, and you and I look alike if you can believe what people say.”
“We look alike if we can believe our own eyes!”
“I guess so. Anyway, all that means we're two halves of the same woman—at least in his crazy head.”
Her names were only symbolic, but I had more than symbols to remind me that freedom was possible—probable—and for me, very near.
Or was it?
Slowly, I began to calm down. The danger to my family was past, yes. Hagar had been born. But the danger to me personally ... the danger to me personally still walked and talked and sometimes sat with Alice in her cabin in the evening as she nursed Hagar.
He gave me a long searching look. "You want to be with that white man, girl?"
"If I were anywhere else, no black child on the place would be learning anything."
"Some folks say ..."
"Hold on." I was suddenly angry. "I don't want to hear what 'some folks' say. 'Some folks' let Fowler drive them into the fields every day and work them like mules."
"Let him! They do it to keep the skin on their backs and breath in their bodies. Well, they're not the only ones who have to do things they don't like to stay alive and whole. Now you tell me why that should be so hard for 'some folks' to understand?"
A slave was a slave. Anything could be done to her. And Rufus was Rufus—erratic, alternately generous and vicious. I could accept him as my ancestor, my younger brother, my friend, but not as my master, and not as my lover. He had understood that once.