Transcript: Paul Kix
My interview with the American journalist and author
On Thanksgiving weekend, an essay started circulating — and it was an essay that I felt like I’d been waiting a long time to read. The essay explores a troubling trend: a renewed skepticism of interracial relationships, and, indeed, of interracial families. Its author is a white man, married to a Black woman. And while progressives had applauded their wedding back in 2007, he writes that it now felt as if he no longer had the right to parent his own children.
Paul Kix is an American journalist, and the author of You Have to Be Prepared to Die Before You Can Begin to Live. His latest essay, for The Free Press, is “Liberals Once Embraced Interracial Marriages Like Mine. What Changed?”
This is an edited transcript for paid subscribers. You can listen to the episode for free here.
TH: Paul, welcome to Lean Out.
PK: I'm so glad to be here.
TH: It's so great to have you on. Your recent essay at The Free Press, about interracial marriage, is an essay that I feel like I've been waiting a long time to read. I live in Toronto. It's a hugely multicultural city. Most of my friends are in interracial marriages. There are interracial couples in my extended family. I feel like things had just gotten to the point where this was unremarkable — and then things changed.
PK: Yeah, things did. I used to say back in the day that I am the original “woke.” Because Sonya and I got together in 2004, even before I understood the full connotation. People were like, “I'm not so sure that you want to say ‘woke’ anymore.” It was like, “Really?” Then I looked more into it and yeah, I kind of don't want to say “woke” anymore.
TH: I think it's really telling that this woke ethos on race — where it falls apart the most is in families, where we are at our most human. So, I want to start today with your own family story, which you tell in this essay. You are a white guy from an Iowa farm. Your wife is Black, and from inner-city Houston. Take us back to the moment that you two met.
PK: I was 23 years old. I working at the time for an altweekly in Dallas, The Dallas Observer. A couple of colleagues were like, “We're going to go to this meet-and-greet.” And so we go up there, it's this wine bar. There's literally curtains and I part these curtains and she's the first person I see. I'm like, “Whoa. She is beautiful.”
So, immediately I go to the bar and I order two different whiskeys. I’ve got to get as much courage as I can to go talk to her! I'm not joking. As I was about to walk back, she sees me double fisting and she's like, “Hi.” And I'm like, “Hi.”
Sonia and I started talking that night, and in a real sense, we haven't really quit since. I like to say that I wooed her. At the time I drove a 1988 Cadillac. It was called the Brougham D’Elegance. It was like 20 feet of awesomeness. I took her outside that night as the bar was closing and she's like, “You don't really drive a Cadillac.” And I'm like, “I do.” And there it was. She's like, “Oh my God, I love that car.”
In a very real sense, we bonded a short time thereafter — just on our similarities. As the piece says, there's so many surface-level differences between us. But really, within a matter of hours, we were clicking along like, “Oh my God, you love Tupac too. Oh my god, you love J.D. Salinger novels too.” Like I said, we never quit talking after that.
TH: I loved reading that. I love hip hop as well. This used to be just a normal feature of human interaction — it was just assumed that we would have some differences and commonalities. Especially in the working class, which both you and your wife come from, there was this sense that we had more in common than not. When specifically do you think that changed?
PK: I think around the election of Trump, although some people would argue it changed before that. We both found with the election of Trump, there was this sorting in America. I just couldn't fathom how America could elect somebody who talked about “shithole countries” and disparaged women — and the stuff he said about people from Mexico. On and on and on.
I grew up in a very rural, conservative place. But it was also a very warm-hearted place. To see my county and then my state turn for Trump, I'm just like, “I don't even know what that is, what that represents.” A lot of high school friends, we just don't talk about politics anymore. We used to kid each other, because I was one of the lone liberals. But politics is something, after Trump, that we stayed away from.
That then influences, I think, a younger generation of liberals. Frankly, to a certain extent, I don't even fault them. Because it's like, “You're responding to something that should be against, to my mind, everybody's values.” I'm not even talking politically. I love Texas. You go live down there, you find not only conservatives, but libertarians. I have no problem with conservatives. I have no problems with libertarians. I have a problem with assholes — and Trump is an asshole.
The fact that a whole party could align around that. I'm like, “That party's values are now completely misplaced.”
The thing that I couldn't fathom, and I'm wondering if you found the same thing in your own line of work … Instead of doubling down on the John Stuart Mill — classic liberalism, open thought, open debate, all of that — liberalism, and I would even argue progressivism, if you want to counter the strain there, became just as closed-minded. Just as intolerant of any idea that was not its own. And that's after Trump. It was mimicking in some ways what the alt-right/far-right was doing.
TH: I also come from the left. The values being expressed on the far left right now are values I don't understand, I don't comprehend. It's just so alien to me and so illiberal. There's a point in your essay that captures this. You're a former editor at ESPN, and in 2018 you were hosting a happy hour for writers and editors. Tell us about that moment, and what you took away from it.
PK: So, I'll even say some of the stuff that didn't make the essay. Because it went a little bit beyond that.