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Interracial Love Is No Societal Cure-All

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Posted on Feb 17, 2012
Flickr / tinou bao (CC-BY)

By Marcia Alesan Dawkins

A recently released report by the Pew Center is a belated Valentine’s Day gift to interracial families. The report indicates that intermarriage across racial and ethnic lines continues to be on the rise in the U.S. and the change is a sign that acceptance is growing. Although this is definitely cause for celebration and a reason to continue the fight for marriage equality everywhere, we should remember that a fuller and more accurate historical account of interracial sex and marriage in the U.S. should focus on social and legal constraints along with demographic patterns. 

One reason why is the large-scale psychological distress experienced by all racial groups resulting from a social and legal history around interracial sex and marriage that’s been fraught with challenges. Legal history tells us that interracial sexual relations have been a troubled issue since the days of colonialism and enslavement, when many African-American women were forced to give birth to mixed race children to increase the enslaved population. This means that a large number of people who can claim interracial heritage do not because they are what multiracial activist Glenn Robinson calls “mixed by force” rather than “mixed by choice.” We must also consider the many free “mixed by choice” families of various backgrounds whose marriages were not recognized in the census records because miscegenation laws got even stricter after the demise of slavery. 

Then, there were female members of interracial marriages, such as New York’s Alice Rhinelander in 1925 or California’s Marie Antoinette Monks in 1939, who were accused of fraud so that their marriages could be annulled and so that they could be disinherited. So, we must remember that before the 1967 case Loving v. Virginia ended bans on interracial marriage in all territories where it was outlawed, interracial coupling was a common practice. That means there may be some validity to the critique that today’s demographic patterns may not represent as much of an increase from historical trends as is being reported. Sadly, this is difficult to prove because there are few historical records to document the trend through its centuries-long history in the U.S.

There’s also the issue of psychological distress faced by members of interracial romantic relationships today. This more personal anguish is experienced differently by various races, ethnicities and genders. A study conducted by sociologists at Rice University found that white women married to black men suffer the greatest psychological distress and social stigma. Next are Native American men, who actually out-marry the most. Latino and Asian men and women who are married to African-Americans reported the next highest levels of anguish. Interestingly, and despite mediated depictions to the contrary, African-American men and Asian women marrying whites experience the least distress when engaged in interracial relationships. 

The issue of psychological impact suggests that although interracial relationships are on the rise, they are neither gaining equally nor is the increase a sign of equal acceptance in a larger social sense. In fact, according to census data, interracial couples have a slightly higher divorce rate than same-race couples. These facts add a layer of meaning that needs to be considered in the history of interracial marriage and sex so that we can better understand why there are significant differences by gender in the tendency to marry outside one’s racial group. For instance, according to the Pew Center, “Black men are more than twice as likely as black women to marry someone outside their race, and the reverse pattern holds true for Asian men and women. In 2010, nearly one-quarter of black male newlyweds (24 percent) married outside their race, compared with just about 9 percent of black female newlyweds. In contrast, more than one-in-three (36 percent) Asian female newlyweds in 2010 married someone who is non-Asian, compared with only about one-in-six Asian male newlyweds (17 percent).”

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Finally, there are the issues of race and ending racism. What happens when we look simply at demographic shifts in interracial marriage and not at the psychological effects of legal and social histories is that we promote them as the only way to dismantle historical taboos. We shift the responsibility of solving racism and reimagining racial identity off of law and social custom and onto interracial families. This is not only unfair—it’s unrealistic. Charting the demise of racism by the rising number of interracial marriages is probably not the most reliable indicator that it’s ending. Wouldn’t the elimination of disparities in income, employment, health care, education, crime, punishment and family structure be more accurate indicators?

Let me put it differently. I once heard someone say that if marriage were the cure for our social ills then certainly sexism would be dead by now. Obviously sexism is still with us. What this says to me is that if the mere presence of interracial intimacy were enough to bring about racial harmony, it would have happened long ago. Instead, as we’ve noted, laws were passed to keep races apart and punishments, including fines, imprisonment and death, were instituted to keep people from crossing the color line. Although we should celebrate changing demographic patterns as one sign of progress when we should be looking for many, we should also remember that the racism inspiring such laws and punishments lives on in many communities. As Diane Farr put it recently, some of us continue the interracial struggle having “been told there was a right and an ‘over my dead body’ [racial] choice for love.”

Before we rush to judgment on whether interracial sex and marriage are doing away with historical taboos, we would be wise to remember that talking about them in demographic terms only forces us to hang on to the concept of race and makes ending racism by legal means all the more difficult to imagine.


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By MisoSoup, March 20, 2012 at 2:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I am so confused by many of the comments to this article. Many seem emotionally reactive and it does not seem like many of you took the time to understand the larger point the author was trying to make.

Dawkins is not arguing that interracial couples are not getting married out of love. She is arguing against people and institutions, like the Pew Research Center, who look at official demographic numbers and use them as a sign that institutional racism-the every day big and small acts that disproportionately affect certain groups’ access to adequate health care, education, jobs, political enfranchisement- is ending. She actually is saying, “don’t politicize this, because there are more substantial indicators than marriage to show that racism is ending.”

Interracial couplings have been going on for as long as humans have been interacting with each other. The Loving case just made it so that it was not seen as an illegal act, but Dawkins accurately highlights that societal and group taboos did, in the past, and still in the present, make it a difficult choice for some couples in love to live in. The very fact that there even needs to be research done on interracial couples by an institution like Pew shows us that it is something that still is not seen as the “norm” for all the legal, political, and social forms of racism that do not provide equal opportunities for all, and that keeps many of us segregated from each other.

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By mischling3nd, February 20, 2012 at 10:07 pm Link to this comment

Here’s a damn lie: “Legal history tells us that interracial sexual relations have been a troubled issue since the days of colonialism and enslavement, when many African-American women were forced to give birth to mixed race children to increase the enslaved population. This means that a large number of people who can claim interracial heritage do not because they are what multiracial activist Glenn Robinson calls “mixed by force” rather than “mixed by choice.” We must also consider the many free “mixed by choice” families of various backgrounds whose marriages were not recognized in the census records because miscegenation laws got even stricter after the demise of slavery. ” I’m sick of this BS claiming that “white blood” was forced on “blacks” and that all intermixing that didn’t involve a legal marriage was rape. (1) Both black and mulatto women had good reason to prefer white men as mates; (2) No one ever put a gun to a black’s head and forced him or her to marry a mulatto or quadroon. Quite the contrary. Mixed-race people were considered marital prizes for blacks and getting as much “white blood” as possible into he family was considered highly desirable. I could make a better argument that “black blood” was forced on mulatto and mixed-white families who felt forced by anti-miscegenation laws to marry blacks.

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By mischling3nd, February 20, 2012 at 10:04 pm Link to this comment

Interracial marriage is a sign of “race relations” getting better and the stigma against “race mixing” being lifted. I’m sick of idiots who try a hypocritical way of denouncing mixed-race identity by claiming that interracial marriages have “failed” to eliminate “racism.” If perfection is your standard, then there were no successful political movements in history. Interracial marriages are not a political movement but a sign that other movements (Civil Rights, Multiracial Movement, etc.) have achieved significant success.

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By Fletcher Christian, February 18, 2012 at 5:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Orwellian” logic isn’t just for the war in Iraq!
It goes like this:  If there’s a moment of peace in Iraq, it’s because we’re winning
the war.  If there’s a moment of violence in Iraq, it’s because we’re where the bad
guys are and we’re winning the war.  We’re ALWAYS winning!  Isn’t that great?
(sarcasm)
So if the interracial numbers go DOWN, we’re losing the struggle.  If the interracial
numbers go UP, we’re still losing the struggle.  We’re ALWAYS losing!  Isn’t that
awful? (sarcasm)
The author puts ONE line in ONE paragraph at the top on how it’s a positive sign. 
Then spends the next 7 paragraphs saying that the statistic is mute.
I come to this site to learn from the best… not to sharpen my skills on spotting ill-
crafted articles.
“Finger of Shame!” She of 2 last names.

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By Egomet Bonmot, February 17, 2012 at 9:33 pm Link to this comment

Dawkins writes:  “We shift the responsibility of solving racism and reimagining racial identity off of law and social custom and onto interracial families. This is not only unfair—it’s unrealistic.”

As half of an interracial marriage and a father to a half-black child I must confess I feel no such sense of responsibility—any more than a married woman feels the burden to “represent” emancipation from past sexism. 

I mostly just drive, eat food and sometimes mow the lawn.

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By eise70, February 17, 2012 at 4:46 pm Link to this comment

I totally agree that interracial marriage, or any marriage for that matter, should not be based on any other reason than love.  But we have to be careful not to play the colorblind role for the sake of love.  Love does not eliminate the reality of race in a relationship. 

As a black man, married to a Jewish/Italian woman, living in Montgomery, AL, our race does not escape us.  Even when we lived in what was recently called the most liberal “state” in the country, Washington DC (which is very misleading) by MSNBC, and has the second most interracial relationships in the country (according to Tom Joyner) race was still a reality. 

I love my wife very much, and our race does matter to us because it matters in our everyday interactions with the world.  We married each other because we love each other, and that is what is most important.  But the reality of race is inescapable, and those that imagine away or invalidate race because it is a social construct meant to divide people (which it is) are contributing to the problem more than helping with it because it is a reality whether we like it or not. 

Plus, there is nothing wrong with loving your race.  I love the black race because that is who I share a common history with that dates back to the beginning of human history.  From primates to civil rights and black power struggle, we share a common experience.  And that in no way shape or form distorts the unconditional love I have for my white wife.

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By vector56, February 17, 2012 at 3:10 pm Link to this comment

Interracial Couples; is that like Human and Klingon?

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By The Prisoner, February 17, 2012 at 2:32 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

My wife always chides me that I am prejudiced against white people, I always tell her, ‘I wasn’t until I married one.’

A cure-all, no, not at all, but it might help to get things rolling.  Or not…

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By Margaret Currey, February 17, 2012 at 2:07 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If a white woman is dating/married to a black man her chanches of visitation rights with her white child is taken away because somehow it is a bad relationship and white women should stick to white men and that is a crossover to the courts because racism is alive and well in all states of america.

What is happening to our president is a indication that the opposite side will do anything to win as to making him not born in the U.S. to being different (muslim).

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By prisnersdilema, February 17, 2012 at 1:05 pm Link to this comment

Who in their right mind, would decide to get married as a societal cure all?

People get married because they are in love. Nothing else will suffice to create a
happy relationship. Without it you are doomed to misery. Relationships based on
mental calculations are not love, they are something else.

Love is beautiful, and it comes in all shapes, and sizes, and of course colors.
Those fortunate enough to find it, need only to enjoy and express their love. And
also, if lucky enough to enjoy a long and prosperous marriage.

Using people to make political points, and espouse theories of which there are no
present need, is symptomatic of a political thought disorder.

Do us all a favor and just go away, leave us alone, to smile and to embrace in
peace, freed from compulsive political thinking.

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By gerard, February 17, 2012 at 10:57 am Link to this comment

And by the way, what is this ad doing in Truthdig?
  (look to the column on the right and see:

      Black Man White Woman
      Specialists In Black
      White Dating,
      Lifetime Profile, Free
      Chat Rooms

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By EmileZ, February 17, 2012 at 10:51 am Link to this comment

Gee, I thought it was just love.

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