In the classic 70’s television series, The Jeffersons, cranky patriarch George Jefferson could often be heard complaining about the interracial couple next door (that is, when he wasn’t complaining about his gay neighbor). These days, the presence of an interracial couple on TV isn’t considered unusual. In fact, when Ally McBeal recently dated a sexy black doctor, their differing races were never even mentioned in the script.
It’s been more than 30 years since the United States Supreme Court ruled, in Loving v. Virginia (1967), that laws prohibiting interracial marriages are unconstitutional. Yet there are still people out there who share George Jefferson’s view on the issue of interracial dating and marriage. For starters, witness the recent media attention focusing on the ban on interracial dating at Bob Jones University. In some areas of the country, interracial couples are still the targets of stares and expressions of disgust from strangers and disapproval and alienation from family members. They may also experience discrimination in employment and housing opportunities and may even be the victims of hate crimes.
Despite these challenges, interracial relationships are becoming more and more common. Many partners find that the benefits of these relationships far outweigh the drawbacks. In the face of adversity, some couples even report that they have deepened their love and commitment to each other. They have also become a force in the drive to improve race relations in this country.
Successful Interracial Couples What’s the key to creating a successful interracial partnership? Couples need to develop strategies to cope with societal discrimination. They also need to identify and work through cultural differences that arise within the context of the relationship. For example, depending on their life experience, one partner may find that the other partner has very different views on topics such as how to raise children, how to communicate and express feelings, and men and women’s responsibilities in work, marriage, and family roles. It is important to become clear about one’s own value system before sitting down with a partner to figure out how to resolve your differences.
Some partners in interracial relationships report that with each successive generation, people seem more and more used to the idea of couples from different ethnic backgrounds.
“Our differences foster dialogue,” says Tony, 31, an African-American man married to a Chinese-American woman, who lives in Los Angeles, CA. “We have the opportunity to learn about each other’s culture on a very deep level, and our friends and families also benefit by learning to understand and respect our diversity,” he adds.
Successful Multiracial Families Interracial couples who are considering marriage are sometimes discouraged by friends or family members. They may be warned that the children of interracial marriages are bound to have low self-esteem and experience angst and confusion about how to identify themselves. Yet according to the most recent studies on the subject, biracial and multiracial youth (the offspring of interracial couples) are able to develop healthy self- concepts despite such stereotypes. It is true that a common challenge faced by biracial youth is deciding how to refer to one’s ethnic identity.
“I feel connected to both sides of my heritage,” says Tammy, 22, of San Jose, CA., who is the daughter of a Hispanic mother and a white father. “It’s hard sometimes because people try to label me by how I look, which is more white. But there are things I like about each culture, and by integrating them I feel I get the best of both worlds,” she says.
Each partner must figure out how they want to identify themselves, regardless of the labels assigned by parents, peers, or society. They may choose to identify with only one group, or they may choose a new identity that incorporates both sides of their heritage. In some cases, this might be more than two groups. There is no “right” choice, and studies have shown that the most important contributor to self-esteem is being comfortable with one’s chosen identity.
Support Networks Parents can help both their partner and their children make sense of these issues by connecting with other families of racially mixed backgrounds. The Association of MultiEthnic Americans (AMEA) is an excellent resource for those who would like to interact with other interracial families. Many educational resources, social and cultural events, and political activities have grown out of multiracial families’ desire to become more active in creating social networks.
One of the most visible victories for multiracial families is that thanks in part to their efforts, the 2000 Census is the first one that includes multiple boxes to check on forms that ask for racial/ethnic information. This small victory is a symbol of how much society’s acceptance of interracial unions has increased. Much of this change is due to multiracial families becoming more visible and more vocal about the fact that they are here to stay.