Sunday, April 15, 2007

Interracial Marriage: 40 Years After

40 years after ruling, interracial marriage flourishing
By David Crary
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- The charisma king of the 2008 presidential field. The world's best golfer. The captain of the New York Yankees. Besides superstardom, Barack Obama, Tiger Woods and Derek Jeter have another common bond: Each is the child of an interracial marriage.

For most of U.S. history, in most communities, such unions were taboo.

It was only 40 years ago — on June 12, 1967 — that the U.S. Supreme Court knocked down a Virginia statute barring whites from marrying nonwhites. The decision also overturned similar bans in 15 other states.

Since that landmark Loving v. Virginia ruling, the number of interracial marriages has soared; for example, black-white marriages increased from 65,000 in 1970 to 422,000 in 2005, according to Census Bureau figures. Factoring in all racial combinations, Stanford University sociologist Michael Rosenfeld calculates that more than 7 percent of America's 59 million married couples in 2005 were interracial, compared to less than 2 percent in 1970.

Coupled with a steady flow of immigrants from all parts of the world, the surge of interracial marriages and multiracial children is producing a 21st century America more diverse than ever, with the potential to become less stratified by race.

``The racial divide in the U.S. is a fundamental divide. ... but when you have the 'other' in your own family, it's hard to think of them as 'other' anymore,'' Rosenfeld said. ``We see a blurring of the old lines, and that has to be a good thing, because the lines were artificial in the first place.''

The boundaries were still distinct in 1967, a year when the Sidney Poitier film ``Guess Who's Coming to Dinner'' — a comedy built around parents' acceptance of an interracial couple — was considered groundbreaking. The Supreme Court ruled that Virginia could not criminalize the marriage that Richard Loving, a white, and his black wife, Mildred, entered into nine years earlier in Washington, D.C.

But what once seemed so radical to many Americans is now commonplace.

Many prominent blacks — including Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, civil rights leader Julian Bond and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun — have married whites. Well-known whites who have married blacks include former Defense Secretary William Cohen and actor Robert DeNiro.

Last year, the Salvation Army installed Israel Gaither as the first black leader of its U.S. operations. He and his wife, Eva, who is white, wed in 1967 — the first interracial marriage between Salvation Army officers in the United States.

Opinion polls show overwhelming popular support, especially among younger people, for interracial marriage.

That's not to say acceptance has been universal. Interviews with interracial couples from around the country reveal varied challenges, and opposition has lingered in some quarters.

Bob Jones University in South Carolina only dropped its ban on interracial dating in 2000; a year later 40 percent of the voters objected when Alabama became the last state to remove a no-longer-enforceable ban on interracial marriages from its constitution.

Taunts and threats, including cross burnings, still occur sporadically. In Cleveland, two white men were sentenced to prison earlier this year for harassment of an interracial couple that included spreading liquid mercury around their house.

More often, though, the difficulties are more nuanced, such as those faced by Kim and Al Stamps during 13 years as an interracial couple in Jackson, Miss.

Kim, a white woman raised on Cape Cod, met Al, who is black, in 1993 after she came to Jackson's Tougaloo College to study history. Together, they run Cool Al's — a popular hamburger restaurant — while raising a 12-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter in the state with the nation's lowest percentage (0.7) of multiracial residents.

The children are homeschooled, Kim said, because Jackson's schools are largely divided along racial lines and might not be comfortable for biracial children. She said their family triggered a wave of ``white flight'' when they moved into a mostly white neighborhood four years ago — ``People were saying to my kids, 'What are you doing here?'''

``Making friends here has been really, really tough,'' Kim said. ``I'll go five years at a time with no white friends at all.''

Yet some of the worst friction has been with her black in-laws. Kim said they accused her of scheming to take over the family business, and there's been virtually no contact for more than a year.

``Everything was race,'' Kim said. ``I was called 'the white devil.'''

Her own parents in Massachusetts have been supportive, Kim said, but she credited her mother with foresight.

``She told me, 'Your life is going to be harder because of this road you've chosen — it's going to be harder for your kids,''' Kim said. ``She was absolutely right.''

Al Stamps said he is less sensitive to disapproval than his wife, and tries to be philosophical.

``I'm always cordial,'' he said. ``I'll wait to see how people react to us. If I'm not wanted, I'll move on.''

It's been easier, if not always smooth, for other couples.

Major Cox, a black Alabamian, and his white wife, Cincinnati-born Margaret Meier, have lived on the Cox family homestead in Smut Eye, Ala., for more than 20 years, building a large circle of black and white friends while encountering relatively few hassles.

``I don't feel it, I don't see it,'' said Cox, 66, when asked about racist hostility. ``I live a wonderful life as a nonracial person.''

Meier says she occasionally detects some expressions of disapproval of their marriage, ``but flagrant, in-your-face racism is pretty rare now.''

Cox — an Army veteran and former private detective who now joins his wife in raising quarter horses — longs for a day when racial lines in America break down.

``We are sitting on a powder keg of racism that's institutionalized in our attitudes, our churches and our culture,'' he said, ``that's going to destroy us if we don't undo it.''

In many cases, interracial families embody a mix of nationalities as well as races. Michelle Cadeau, born in Sweden, and her husband, James, born in Haiti, are raising their two sons as Americans in racially diverse West Orange, N.J., while teaching them about all three cultures.

``I think the children of families like ours will be able to make a difference in the world, and do things we weren't able to do,'' Michelle Cadeau said. ``It's really important to put all their cultures together, to be aware of their roots, so they grow up not just as Swedish or Haitian or American, but as global citizens.''

Meanwhile, though, there are frustrations — such as school forms for 5-year-old Justin that provide no option for him to be identified as multiracial.

``I'm aware there are going to be challenges,'' Michelle said. ``There's stuff that's been working for a very long time in this country that is not going to work anymore.''

The boom in interracial marriages forced the federal government to change its procedures for the 2000 census, allowing Americans for the first time to identify themselves by more than one racial category.

About 6.8 million described themselves as multiracial — 2.4 percent of the population — adding statistical fuel to the ongoing debate over what race really means.

Kerry Ann Rockquemore, professor of African-American studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago, is the daughter of a black father and white mother, and says she is asked almost daily how she identifies herself.

The surge in interracial marriage comes at ``a very awkward moment'' in America's long struggle with racism, she says.

``We all want deeply and sincerely to be beyond race, to live in a world where race doesn't matter, but we continue to see deep racial disparities,'' Rockquemore said. ``For interracial families, the great challenge is when the kids are going to leave home and face a world that is still very racialized.''

The stresses on interracial couples can take a toll. The National Center for Health Statistics says their chances of a breakup within 10 years are 41 percent, compared to 31 percent for a couple of the same race.

In some categories of interracial marriage, there are distinct gender-related trends. More than twice as many black men marry white women as vice versa, and about three-fourths of white-Asian marriages involve white men and Asian women.

C.N. Le, a Vietnamese-American who teaches sociology at the University of Massachusetts, says the pattern has created some friction in Asian-American communities.

``Some of the men view the women marrying whites as sellouts, and a lot of Asian women say, 'Well, we would want to date you more, but a lot of you are sexist or patriarchal,''' said Le, who attributes the friction in part to gender stereotypes of Asians that have been perpetuated by American films and TV shows.

Kelley Kenney, a professor at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania, is among those who have bucked the black-white gender trend. A black woman, she has been married since 1988 to a fellow academic of Irish-Italian descent, and they have jointly offered programs for the American Counseling Association about interracial couples.

Kenney recalled some tense moments in 1993 when, soon after they moved to Kutztown, a harasser shattered their car window and placed chocolate milk cartons on their lawn. ``It was very powerful to see how the community rallied around us,'' she said.

Kenney is well aware that some blacks view interracial marriage as a potential threat to black identity, and she knows her two daughters, now 15 and 11, will face questions on how they identify themselves.

``For older folks in the black community,'' she said ``it's a feeling of not wanting people to forget where they came from.''

Yet some black intellectuals embrace the surge in interracial marriages and multiracial families; among them is Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy, who addressed the topic in his latest book, ``Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity, and Adoption.''

``Malignant racial biases can and do reside in interracial liaisons,'' Kennedy wrote. ``But against the tragic backdrop of American history, the flowering of multiracial intimacy is a profoundly moving and encouraging development.''


browneyedsoul06 said...

The more faith that I try to have in society, the more I hear of the troubles that its citizens face. While I have personally faced discrimination in my life, it pales in comparison to what interracial couples have gone through, even today. How ludicrous does it sound that until a few decades ago, African-Americans and Caucasians could not wed? And this doesn’t take into account the Latin, Asian, etc. populations that have faced the same struggles, minus the discussions and coverage. I don’t think that interracial marriage is about a loss of identity, as the article mentions; it’s more about gaining a new one. Interracial marriage is something that’s vastly looked down on, from where I’m originally from, which is one of the reasons that I went away for college. I simply do not understand the opposition, let alone the violent outbursts that can occur with some of the more vehement detractors. Hearing the tales about families forced to move, children being home school due to fears for their safety and the sheer isolation that has to be endured is heartbreaking; however, no one can understand their situation unless you are currently going through it yourself. I agree with the last statement, though. The rise of interracial marriage is an encouraging development that will hopefully continue for years to come.

Anonymous said...

DancingChef said. . . . .
It saddens the soul to think that America as a nation has come to achieve so much and has becoming such a wonderful place. But in some aspect of America, we still have a long way to grow. To think, that America is based on the principle that “all men are created equal” and that we still have to fight for acceptance. We have had the civil rights movement, now African-Americans are treated the same a white-American. But these two, African-Americans and white-Americans still are not accepted as a couple and are discriminated against and even harassed. In this blog there is this underlying message that when you become part of a interracial marriage, that you lose your identity, you forget who you are. But in reality you know exactly who you are because you understand that you want to be with the person you love, not matter what people may say. People in society may say that life is harder for children who grow up in an interracial household, and they may be true, but that doesn’t mean that they are being raised right and won’t be able to make something of their life. Such people who were raised in interracial household are, Barack Obama and Tiger Woods, to name two from the blog. People in society lose sight on what really are the important issues in the marriages and just see color and race. I have never been in a interracial relationship but I do have a very close friend who is like a brother to me that is African-American and I am white. I have gone out to dinner and out shopping with him many times, and I have experienced the reactions and comments that interracial marriages/couples have faced. It’s not easy, I can tell you that much. I have learn from those comments that for a person to be able to take those reactions and comments, then they feel that person and the relationship is worth being in. People in society need to learn to be understanding and tolerant of others people decision and stop taking other people’s life style decision personal.

nbk01 said...

This is a very touchy issue and is something that I do have a bit of personal experience with because of my family having a bit of black ancestry. I’ve heard my great grandfather speak before his death about how his own parents were a mixed race couple and how they were treated at the time of their wedding. It amazes me to read about how such opposition to this still pervades today in a society which we claim to be the most modernized and equal in the world. It would be thought that a significant progression would be made from the time of my ancestors but in fact the harassment depicted in this article sounds very similar to what my grandfather described. Back home, I probably wouldn’t tell just anyone of my heritage because I know that a negative reaction would ensue due to the fact that this would most likely be seen as a “stain” on my bloodline to many. And just like the article depicts, the hostility isn’t just one sided either. I once had a bi racial friend who on a standardized test (one without an available “other” category to indicate neither white nor black) decided to select white as his race. Upon telling his black father this, he was severely scolded for this decision because he thought he was “too good for his own color”. William Bennett’s view of racial color blindness is admittedly flawed but the continued emphasis on racial differences in this country will only lead to trouble.

east_ky said...

I think that it’s great that the rate of interracial marriages has gone up over the past forty years. Great strides have been made to eliminate the racial lines that once kept the different races apart. It tells me that more people aren’t looking at race as a barrier to keep people apart. I think it takes a lot of courage to actually enter into an interracial marriage. It is definitely a harder life but many are choosing that path. Interracial families face many obstacles to overcome but can also be very rewarding as well. Children born of an interracial marriage will have the benefit of a multicultural background. I believe that this is how we can blur the racial lines and eventually get rid of them. It is often harder for interracial children to adjust to public school. They are classified as other, not apart of any specific race. This is why many are home schooled. I believe that the future looks bright if we can keep this trend going and bring an end to the interracial marriage taboo.

Sheena said...

I find it interesting that there is such a boom in interracial marriages. I guess that because of our geographical location it isn’t as evident. In this area, interracial marriage is still highly criticized, especially by older people. It is more accepted on a larger scale these days. I can say that within my family, if I were to date someone of a noticeably different racial background than myself my family would literally shit a brick. Its isn’t so much that they don’t like people who come from other racial backgrounds, its more that they would prefer not to have to deal with that kind of thing. I think that it would just be something that, if they really took the time, they would come to accept. Frankly, I don’t think that they want to accept something like that. For them, it’s a lot like dealing with same-sex couples. They don’t care if other people are gay/lesbian/bi-sexual as long as they don’t have to deal with it. Personally, I am attracted to people not races or genders and that is hard for people in my family to deal with. I guess the best way to sum it up is: Bible Belt.

raiden5060 said...

Ah, the good old days before Loving v. Virginia, interracial marriage was called “miscegenation”—the mixing of races…
I’m glad we’ve progressed to the point where we at least legally acknowledge interracial marriages. It’s despicable to think that it took our society so long to finally abandon our prejudices and recognize interracial marriages. I don’t think I can help but draw parallels between the hostility against interracial marriage then and the hostility against gay marriage now. Of course, gay marriage is opposed as a matter of gender discrimination, just as interracial marriage was opposed as a matter of racism. I say gender discrimination because the best argument against gay marriage is that the parts just aren’t compatible. To be married, one partner must have a penis and the other must have a vagina—gender discrimination, and it’s a weak argument. In the end, justice will triumph. Just as the hippies of 1960s-70s grew up and supported interracial marriage, this generation—which is overwhelmingly supportive of gay rights—will finally put the issue of gay marriage to rest. Get used to it, conservatives, this generation is going to secure the Democratic Party for years and years to come, and in the end, liberalism will reign supreme—on the side of justice as always.

budbud said...

I personally just dont understand what the big deal is. We as Americans are all different in some way or another. Society these days, still faces racial discrimination and I wonder how many more generation must pass for people and America to be a Color Blind society. Interracial couples still face discrimination even though the number of interracial marriages has increased in the past few years we still have a long way to go untill it's not even an issue. I know that as a middle schooler my so-called boyfriend whom was interracial was a good friend to me. I dealt with my parents telling me day in and day out that it wasn't right and I was only 12. That generation and the next one like our grandparents generation, I do believe that times have changed over the past few decades. I dont understand why some people still have issues with it especially being an American and living in this time and age. I wish that people of different races could just date, marry and be together in peace without all the hate.

the procratinator said...

For some odd reason this country wants to regulate marriage. I really can’t grasp why it is the government’s job to decide who can be married. Recently it has been gay marriage. I honestly could care less who marries who, if a dude wants to marry another dude, someone wants to marry a dog, two girls getting married, by all means go ahead. The main argument for this ban on marriages is because the bible says marriage should be between a man and a woman. That is all fine and dandy if our constitution was the bible, but it isn’t. So therefore, that argument should just be thrown away.
I had no idea that there was a ban on interracial marriages. This is another thing that blows my mind. Why on earth is it a problem if a black person and a white person want to get married? I don’t think there was a ban on Italians and whites, or Mexican and white, or Irish and white, so why is there a problem with black and white? America is a melting pot, people mix! In fact, we should be praising interracial marriages because mix marriages typically result in a mix offspring and these mix offspring is the key to breaking down racial barriers. These mix offspring rules out the race card and discrimination, because finally you can’t look at someone as if they are black or white but instead as a person.