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Commentary By Charles Fain Lehman

The Arnaz Paradox

Culture Race

REVIEW: ‘Classified: The Untold Story of Racial Classification in America’

The first televised interracial kiss is canonically dated to the November 22, 1968, episode of Star Trek, the one where William Shatner’s Captain Kirk shares a passionate moment with Nichelle Nichols’s Lt. Uhura. The kiss was not the first instance in which a white and nonwhite actor swapped spit—Wikipedia snippily notes a number of prior instances on Star Trek in fact—but it attained its cultural status because it was the first kiss between a white man and a black woman (rather than some other, less-villainized pairing) and because it took place at the height of the civil rights movement, on an extremely progressive television show.

Pop culture, in other words, reflects where people want to see race, and where they don’t. Take, by contrast, one of the earliest examples: the 1950s comedy classic I Love Lucy. The show features the white Lucille Ball playing opposite her husband (in the show and real life), Desi Arnaz, who fled to the United States from Cuba following the 1933 revolution. Today, Arnaz would check the "Hispanic-Cuban" box on his Census form. But in the 1950s, when less than 5 percent of Americans approved of interracial marriage, millions of viewers nevertheless cheered his antics with the English-descended Ball.

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Charles Fain Lehman is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal. Follow him on Twitter here.

This piece originally appeared in The Washington Free Beacon