by Robin Landry
Although the numbers of interracial marriages in the United States have increased steadily since the Supreme Court struck down bans against them in 1967, they are still far from commonplace. According to the U. S. Census Bureau, Black-White marriages have increased from 65,000 in 1970 to 422,000 in 2005. When considering all racial combinations, less than 10% of all marriages in the United States today could be considered interracial.
As an African-American woman who has been twice married, first to a fellow African-American and currently to a Caucasian man, I found the question as to whether there are pros and cons to interracial marriage an interesting one. Having experienced both a same race and an interracial marriage I would guess that my perspective may be somewhat more balanced than many.
When I compare my first marriage to my African-American college sweetheart, which failed after just five years to my current four year old marriage to a Caucasian man, it is most interesting to me that the ups and downs within both of those relationships have had very little to do with race.
Disagreements about money, lack of communication and ultimately, my former husband's infidelity led to the break-up of our marriage. Therefore, in the process of choosing Husband #2, factors such as his willingness to stick to a budget, openly share his thoughts and feelings on a regular basis and a firm commitment to marital fidelity were much more important to me than the color of his skin.
I was single for twelve years between my first and second marriages and in that time dated men from a wide variety of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, including an African-American computer programmer, a Caucasian correctional officer, a Japanese doctor, a Hispanic graduate student and an East Indian college professor just to name a few. What I ultimately found was that similarities in intelligence level, personal values, and goals and interests were far better predictors of compatibility than race could ever hope to be.
However, as I examine my current relationship I believe that there may, in fact be some definite advantages and disadvantages to interracial pairing.
Marriage in general often requires the individuals involved to do quite a bit of "growing up" in order for the relationship to be successful. Developing an awareness of and an appreciation for the challenges your spouse may face as the result of racial and cultural differences simply accelerates that growth.
My husband has developed greater recognition of the trepidation that people of color sometimes feel in unfamiliar settings where they may be the only person of color. Being the "lone white guy" was a new experience for him when he first began attending church with me, for example. Though he now enjoys the worship services immensely, his responsiveness to situations where his African-American friends might be reluctant to accept an invitation to accompany him to a country and western bar or some other venue where the presence of other African-Americans is unlikely has been greatly increased. This awareness helps to make him much more sensitive to the need to put forth extra effort toward making newcomers to any situation feel welcomed and included no matter what their race.
Interactions between me and my Caucasian in-laws and the merging of our extended families have helped to eliminate a lot of preconceived notions on both sides. For example, when I was growing up the general consensus in the African-American community was that white people were cold, serious and unaffectionate people. However, my husband's large and raucous Irish-American clan is the biggest group of huggers and kissers I've ever known. I still have to resist the urge to extend my hand for the more formal handshake first greeting that I am accustomed to. Now, when African-American friends complain about the unaffectionate nature of whites I can readily provide some real world examples to dispute this particular racial myth.
3.Providing a Natural End to Social Segregation
While formal attempts to integrate American society like forced busing of school children and diversity awareness training in the workplace have had only mixed results, joining families of two or more very diverse cultures through an interracial marriage provides a more natural way to end social segregation. As my Caucasian and African-American family members have the opportunity to become acquainted with one another on a more intimate level at joint family gatherings I like to think that the chances that they will all be able to expand their social circles to include people of different races and backgrounds will be greatly increased. Eating and celebrating or comforting one another in times of sorrow does more to break down racial barriers than diversity training or government mandated programs ever could.
I firmly believe that if you and your spouse are compatible and the marriage is a healthy one, the benefits of an interracial marriage far outweigh the costs. There are, however, a few challenges that anyone contemplating a long term relationship with someone of another race might want to consider.
1. Increased Outside Pressure on the Relationship
In addition to the normal pressures of career, financial worries, child care responsibilities and the like, interracial couples may face additional external pressure in their relationships. Disapproval of family members may result in estrangement and a lack of necessary support networks. Even strangers can sometimes inject undue stress into interracial relationships through unkind words, stares and other rejecting behaviors. Spouses will have to be doubly committed to supporting each other through these types of difficult circumstances.
2. Issues with Housing Discrimination
Although discriminatory practices in the real estate market should be a thing of the past, unfortunately there are certain geographic areas of the country or certain housing price points where locating neighborhoods that will be accepting of interracial families remains challenging. Couples will need to do their homework in order to find a place to live that will be comfortable and welcoming to both partners and their children.
3. Potential for Identity Issues for Children
Parents of biracial children will need to be diligent in helping their children value all aspects of their heritage. Extra effort may be required to enable children to positively identify with the duality of their backgrounds and to learn how to confidently handle those awkward, "What are you?" questions from curious playmates.
Interestingly, there is a surprising lack of academic research comparing the divorce rates of interracial couples with those of same race couples. However, Seattle-based, clinical psychologist, Maria Root, Ph.D. asserted in her article, "The Color of Love" that the divorce rates of interracial couples were only slightly higher than those of same race couples. Even more significant, however was the fact that the reasons for divorce in interracial couples were virtually the same as those of same race couples. Factors such as loss of respect, lack of compromise, dishonestly and conflicting values were the reasons most often cited and have little to do with differences in race.
Conversely, there are numerous studies which detail the benefits of marriage in general. Researchers have found that happily married people tend to have lower rates of alcoholism, suicide, mental illness and loneliness and more favorable mortality and morbidity rates compared to never married and divorced individuals. When considering these benefits why would anyone reject an otherwise suitable marriage partner for no other reason than the color of his or her skin?
Root, Maria. "The Color of Love", The American Prospect, April 8, 2002.
Waite, Linda and Maggie Gallagher. The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier and Better Off Financially. Broadway Publishing, New York, 2001.