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Interracial Relationships and Marriage in the USA

Introduction

Interracial marriage was an illegal social practice in the US until as recently as the 1960s when the Supreme Court abolished laws prohibiting interracial marriage; an issue that the same court had avoided for several years, fearing racial intermarriage to be a controversial issue. In recent years, the number of interracial couples has risen sharply. Young adults in the US have been experiencing a new life stage in which they now enjoy tremendous social independence. Although the young adults are still dependant on their parents for tuition expenses in college for example, they now enjoy a much more independent social life than young adults have ever experienced in the US before. This means that parents now have less control over their children’s mates. In the past, adult children normally lived with parents and this kind of setup gave the parents more control over the eventual mates that their children would have. Adult children who still depended on their parents for economic support could not engage in romantic relationships against the wishes of their parents. In contemporary society, parents no longer have much power over their children’s relationships and most parents now believe that children should be given freedom to choose suitable mates. But nevertheless, this selection of mates by young adults is normally determined by the norms and social boundaries of parents (Rosenfeld 2007, p.2-3, 19).

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Interracial relationships and marriage

The term interracial has historically been used to refer to partners from different racial backgrounds. These partners may also display differences in culture, ancestry and customs. Children born into such relationships are referred to as multiracial or biracial. Most of the study done on interracial relationships and marriages in the US has concentrated on Black-White partnerships with studies on other interracial relationships like Native-American and Asian American to Black, White and Latino or White and Latino coming on very recently. Since World War II when African American soldiers returning home brought with them foreign brides, domestic and international intercultural marriages have been on the increase in the US. This has particularly been attributed to the weakening of boundaries that previously restricted out-of-race marriages as well as increased mobility of people. Although most interracial relationships take place among college or university students, actual interracial marriage takes place between middle-class persons who are a bit older, have previously been married, and those who work or live in integrated environments. Interracial marriages may also occur through attempts to solve individual problems or due to pregnancy (Okun & Anderson 1998, p. 200, 225).

Interracial marriage in the US has a long but very tortuous history that dates way back to the colonial times. After the first slavery laws instigated in the state of Maryland in 1661, Virginia soon after proposed a law that prevented interracial marriages. In the early 18th century, interracial dating and marriage were highly condemned with very strong social norms emerging, which prohibited intimate interracial contacts. Anti-miscegenation laws were drawn in the South with about 38 states passing laws that prohibited interracial marriage. Even by 1930, 30 states still practiced laws prohibiting intermarriage. In all these laws, Black-White relationships were banned. Whites were also not allowed to enter into intimate relationships with Hindus, Filipinos, Chinese, Hawaiians, Japanese and Native Americans. But only 14 states prohibited marriages between Asians and Whites while other seven banned Native American-White unions. Latin-White intermarriages remained officially allowable mainly because treaty protections had formally accorded White status to Mexican and Spanish citizens (Johnson 2004; Moran R. & Moran F 2003, p.4-5, 14-17).

In America’s past, racial minorities such as African Americans, Hispanics and Asians faced social and legal barriers that drew outlines regarding whether and how they could marry. Until 1967, interracial marriage was still prohibited in some states through prohibitive law enacted centuries back in 1661 to protect White women from men in low caliber positions. But these laws did not prevent sexual unions between Whites and Blacks in which children were conceived, giving rise to mixed-race offspring. It took the involvement of the court at different times in the history of America to modify and finally put an end to this type of discrimination against the racial minorities. The controversy surrounding interracial marriage in America has especially been concentrated around intimate relationships or marriage taking place between Caucasians and African Americans. This controversy has its roots in America’s long history of slavery.

Legally, slaves could not marry and in some states like Maryland and Virginia, Whites who got involved in interracial marriages would be punished. But the penalties invoked did little to halt interracial relationships and many White slaveholders were known to engage in sexual relationships with their own slaves; while others maintained mistresses among the freeborn. Blacks were also punished for engaging in sexual relationships with Whites but White men could even have children with the Black slaves. But even with an end to slavery, social and legal bars to interracial marriage remained and sanctions even grew stronger. Struggles over interracial marriage also affected the Asians, Chinese and Japanese (Craig-Henderson 2006, p.23-26; Walzer 2005, p. 32-35).

Prior to the year 1967, parents in most US states who opposed interracial marriage had the full support of the law but after these laws were struck down in 1967, racial intermarriage took a steady increase. Interracial unions however still experience several barriers, with Black-White intermarriages being the most affected by the barriers. Residential segregation remains a widespread phenomenon in the United States mainly because white families still want to have control over their children’s romantic or social access to children from other races (Rosenfeld 2007, p.19). Interracial marriages in the US have however almost quadrupled in the last thirty years or so while rates of interracial intimacy and dating have realized even greater rates. This increase has been largely attributed to the gradual erosion of racial barriers that have led to increased rates of interracial marriages. By the year 2006, interracial marriages in the US neared 1,500,000 with about 325,000 of these marriages occurring between Whites and Blacks. Americans have also had an increased tolerance for interracial marriages. In 1972, only about 25% of Whites approved of or tolerated interracial marriages, a figure that had risen to 61% in 1972 to 77% in 1997 (Craig-Henderson 2006, p.10-20).

Although public opinion about intimate relationships has become more positive with time, interracial marriages between Whites and Blacks are less frequent as compared to mixed marriages between Whites and other races such as Hispanics and Asians. Blacks still reflect a high tendency to marry within their racial group for several reasons. Interracial marriages are still regulated by interracial taboos with those involving Blacks and whites being most affected. His is mainly because current relations between Whites and Blacks are deeply rooted in the history of slavery, anti-miscegenation laws and legalized segregation, all of which hindered marriage and other forms of intimacy. While it is clearly evident that more blacks now enjoy better economic and political opportunities than was the case earlier on, America’s treatment of Blacks in these early times produced effects that still linger on. Present interracial relationships can therefore be influenced by the past especially in consideration of interaction patterns among teenagers and adolescents. In defining their own identity, adolescents refer to their parents and peers while independently finding their way through a very diverse society. Interracial relationships among adolescents often report hostility from families, strangers and friends (Craig-Henderson 2006, 20-21).

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In the history of the US, the segregated neighborhood was used as a tool for the prevention of racial intermarriage. Racial divisions mainly determined the separation of Whites from Blacks although informal sexual relations existed between the two races especially between the slaves and their owners. Residential racial segregation was used as a tool for preventing interracial relationships and marriages. Mate selection is currently determined much more highly by individual preference and romantic love especially in the Western world. In contemporary US society, mate selection is normally constrained by demographic, social and legal forces which narrow down the pool of potential mates from the wider society.

Demographic and social constraints to mate selection include early age at marriage, residential racial segregation, closed labor markets and integrational co-residence. Before World War II, women had little access to the labor market and had to rely on men for financial support. Young women at the time married quite early normally within their racially segregated neighborhood and we’re very likely to be high-school sweethearts. Post-war residential segregation and laws against intermarriage as well as parental and societal approval also played a great role in determining the choice of mates. Laws prohibiting intermarriage between races had been passed in the Southern states after the reconstruction. Residential segregation prevented social mixing or interaction between races, interracial dating and interracial marriage. Even after the industrial revolution, interracial marriage in the US was rare even in those states where it was considered legal (Rosenfeld 2007, p.5, 19-22, 34-45).

Interracial relationships and marriage take place in an environment that has favorable social contact and when individuals from different racial groups enjoy equal status. Unequal status has normally produced feelings of resentment and reinforced social contact between persons of equal status is said to promote positive racial attitudes. Inter-group relations are also enhanced by intimate rather than superficial relations. Age also influences interracial marriage with older people displaying less tolerance for such marriages. Both Blacks and Whites over 35 years of age have a tendency to favor laws banning interracial marriage.

Social settings that enhance interracial relationships include workplaces, educational institutions, residential neighborhoods, religious institutions and shopping places. But contacts in each of these settings vary in cooperation, degree of intimacy and status differential. Residential neighborhoods enhance contact among people of the same social status, as well as reducing opposition to interracial contact especially dating. Intimate interracial relationships in workplaces are on the other hand highly determined by the race and sex composition of a particular organization. Most religions promote interracial tolerance and intimate relationships are likely to occur between people of different races but same religion. Highly educated persons also tend to approve of interracial relationships than the less educated and interracial marriages are therefore higher among the college-educated. This is because educational attainment generally creates more tolerance and increases equal-status interaction between members of different racial groups (Johnson 2004).

Although interracial marriages have been on a steady increase, they are highly determined by age with chances of marriage decreasing as people advance in age. Younger people are therefore more likely to be involved in interracial relationships, a trend that reflects the increased tolerance of interracial relationships in contemporary society. Interracial relationships however rarely lead to marriage although this trend has also been changing over the recent years. A study conducted in 2003 also reported a general reluctance among adolescents to reveal interracial romantic relationships to close friends and family. This was a sign that such relationships were yet to receive whole-hearted approval within the societies they were taking place in (Lang 2005). Favorable attitudes towards interracial relationships and marriage have been going through a steady increase in the US although some negative attitudes towards the same are still evident. Interracial dating and subsequent marriage also differ geographically and demographically with those living in California and other West coast states being more likely to date as well as marry interracially.

Interracial dating is more common among African Americans than Whites mainly because of the general perception among African Americans that there is a social benefit that comes along with dating Whites. While African American men date White women for purposes of enhancing their social status, White women on the other hand date African American or other minority men for such benefits as physical attractiveness, money or social power. African American parents are also likely to embrace interracial dating more than their White counterparts. Mothers however tend to embrace their children’s relationship choices than men. Gender also plays a vital role in interracial behavior and attitudes with men having a higher likelihood than women to be involved in interracial dating. Both White and African American women display less positive attitudes towards interracial dating (Belgrave & Allison 2005, p.151-152).

Interracial relationships and marriage remain some of the most highly debated topics in American society today. Despite the gradual increase in interracial relationships and marriage, some people still view these aspects quite unfavorably. They have a social, cultural and political significance largely because of the sociopolitical meaning that such unions have especially within the Black and White communities within which they take place. Although interracial coupling has traditionally held great significance as a good measure for group assimilation, and progress towards a multicultural society, couples between the Black and White have often invoked

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racialized withdrawal into White and Black spaces. There is an overall inherent assumption defining interracial couples as being different from other couples. Among all types of interracial relationships and marriages in the US, Black-White couplings have attracted very mixed reactions ranging from disgust, curiosity and endorsement. These couples have also been portrayed in various ways such as being deviant, exotic, unnatural, pathological but always sexual. Both Whites and African Americans have also often objected to interracial marriages on grounds that children raised in such families will have problems when growing up and it also breaks family traditions. There is also the danger that interracial couples may continue being viewed as mismatched and separate individuals (Childs 6-11, 19; Belgrave 153).

Interracial couples are faced with a myriad of problems such as perceptions of indifference, sexualized/racialized stereotypes, familial opposition and lack of acceptance by the larger community. But such and other problems cannot be analyzed at individual level but rather as reflecting larger racial problems that cause division among the races. One of the major problems facing interracial couples is racial identity; an aspect that such couples have to struggle with. This is in spite of the fact that the attachment of couples to their ethnic or racial heritage has lessened in this era when there is a heightened awareness that racism still exists as well as the inequality that Whites continue to perpetuate on Blacks. Interracial couples also normally experience various problems related to their relatives, families of origin, friends as well as housing and employment. The extent of the problems depends on their geographical location, economic status, and the races from which their partners come. Couples with better economic status are better placed to withstand negative public attitudes. Many White families do not appreciate interracial marriage and view it as betraying racial purity.

White females are therefore more likely to face disapproval or be rejected by their families. Media stereotypes help to increase the fear and anxiety when a White female marries a Black male. Man Black families also consider interracial marriage as rejection of Blackness and betrayal of the Black race. The Black partner may even be viewed as a sell-out or traitor. But Black families however accept interracial unions than White families. Interracial marriages may also experience problems due to failure of one partner to meet the expectations of the other. A Black woman for example may marry a White man with expectations of financial security only to find herself living with a victim of underemployment. Family structure also poses another major problem when determining how far the couple should interact with immediate or extended family. Cultural differences may affect expected relationships of children with parents. In the event of a divorce or separation, biracial offspring are bound to suffer confusion and ambivalence about their loyalties and identity if they decide to live with a Black parent for example (Childs 2005, p.20-22; Okun & Anderson 1998, p.226-228).

Data collected on interracial marriages in the US reflects an increase in these types of marriages although available data mainly reflects an increase in the number of marriages between Whites and Blacks. High rates of interracial marriage are found in Oklahoma, Washington, Florida, Texas and California although Hawaii proportionally records the most intermarriages. This is mainly because since the 1990s, few American children born to Latino and Asian families marry outside their ethnic groups. While these children may feel quite Americanized and choose partners from different ethnicities, their parents back home expect them to pick partners from their cultures. This is irrespective of the fact that America’s immigrant population has created a broader choice for the children when picking partners. Most parents appear to be delighted when their children finally bring home partners from same culture or language. Many children are however not interested in staying within their cultures and are often very open when picking dates. But the parents’ influence highly determines whoever their children finally settle with (Root 2001, p. 6-7; Gonzales 2009).

Conclusion

Due to racial diversity especially on college campuses, most Americans are changing their attitudes towards interracial relationships. Too many young people, the issue of race has become irrelevant in determining one’s choice of a partner. Interracial dating has been on the increase but nevertheless, more racial friendships among the young have not helped much to reduce negative attitudes towards a racial group; largely because of the stereotype that may exist towards the group (Jayson 2006).

References

Belgrave, Z.F. and Allison W.K. (2005). African American psychology: From Africa to America. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Childs, C.E. (2005). Navigating interracial boarders: Black-White couples and their social worlds. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Craig-Henderson, M.K. (2006). Black men in interracial relationships: What’s love got to do with it? Somerset, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

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Gonzales, R. (2009). A family affair: Culture influence relationships. Web.

Jayson, S. (2006). New generation doesn’t blink at interracial relationships. Web.

Johnson, R.B. (2004). The Context of contact: White attitudes toward interracial marriage. Web.

Lang, S.S. (2005). Interracial relationships are on the increase in U.S., but decline with age, Cornell study finds. Web.

Moran, R. and Moran.F.R. (2003). Interracial intimacy: The regulation of race and romance. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Okun, F.B. and Anderson M.C. Understanding diverse families: What practitioners need to know. New York: Guilford Press.

Root, P.M.. (2001). Love’s revolution: interracial marriage. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Rosenfeld, J.M. (2007). The age of independence: Interracial unions, same-sex unions, and the changing American family. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Walzer, L. (2005). Marriage on trial: A handbook with cases, laws, and documents. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

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