Interracial marriages are a growing issue in our society. Over the past century the number of interracial marriages has more than multiplied. This is an interesting fact considering that not too long ago many states in our country had laws that banned and punished any type of relationship between people of different races. In this paper I will discuss the history between interracial marriages, reasons why interracial marriages are increasing in our society, common characteristics of the people who choose to marry interracially and the reasons why they choose to do so, the three stages of marriage and how they affect an interracial couple, the potential pitfalls of interracial marriages, and I will conclude with the issues of biracial children.
History of Interracial Marriages
In history of interracial marriages there was no support to those couples that choose to date or marry someone of a different race. The biggest problem our country faced with this issue arose in the era of slavery. The White race wanted to maintain the race superiority and thus used laws against interracial, especially Black and White unions of any kind. Our early history is an indicator that Black and White interracial unions have always faced the most social pressures. During the slavery era, the White race was concerned that marriages between Blacks and Whites carried implications of social equalities. Social equalities were exactly what the White race was trying to avoid, so these unions were not to their benefit.
It has been said that there is no better place to examine prohibitions on interracial relationships as in the state of Virginia, because this state possessed a vast amount of leadership in the concept of slavery, and it was also the first state to legally define race. Virginia has an extensive background for its opposition to interracial marriages.
In the late 1600′s Virginia enacted laws against marriages of different races. The laws were specifically targeting the union between Whites and Blacks. Their justifications for banning interracial marriages were: White supremacy, protection of White womanhood, and prevention of mixed children. The law creators believed marriages between Whites and Blacks reduced White supremacy because social equality was slowly emerging as these marriages occurred. Protection of White womanhood refers to White woman remaining pure, away from the hands of any Blacks. Lawmakers wanted to prevent mixed children because mixed children were considered mentally and physically inferior to pure White race children, although there was no scientific proof for any of these inferiorities. The lawmakers also disapproved the idea of mixed races because the physical characteristics of a person defined their place and benefits in society. If the person was White then they received privileges, if they were not White then they were rejected by society and did not receive any privileges. This became a problem when interracial couples had biracial children who looked White; the burden was on the state to try to prove that the person was something other than what they looked. To avoid these situations, the states simply made laws to try to avoid them from arising.
The issues got so out of hand that the Whites created ways of identifying how much Black heritage a person carried within them. This system has been labeled “passing” for the simple reason that it allowed some people with Black heritage to pass and be accepted as a White person. The categories Blacks could be placed in were as follows: Sacatra, Griffe, Marabon, Mulatto, Quadroon, Metif, Meamelouc, Quarteron, and Sang-mele.
A Sacatra was half Griffe and half Black. A Griffe was half Black and half Mulatto. A Marabon was half Mulatto and half Griffe. A Mulatto was half White and half Black. A Quadroon was half White and half Mulatto. A Metif was half White and half Quadroon. A Meamelouc was half White and half Metif. A Quarteron was half White and half Meamelouc. A Sang-mele was half White and half Quarteron.
People went as far as to define how much Black blood each of these categories possessed. A Mulatto had half Black blood and half White. A Quadroon was ¼ Black and ¾ White. An Octoroon was the child of a Quadroon and a White, this person carried less than ¼ of Black blood. A Cascos who was the child of a Mulatto and a Mulatto, carried less than ½ of Black blood. A Sambo, who was the child of a Mulatto and a Black, carried ¾’s of Black blood. A Mango, who was the child of a Sambo and a Black, carried the same Black blood as a Sambo. A Mustifee who was the child of an Octoroon and a White, carried less than 1/16th of Black blood. A Mustifino, who was the child of a Mustifee and a White, carried less than 1/32 of Black blood. This got complicated. Only the categories where the person had less than ¼ of Black blood was considered “passing,” but the individual must carry White physical characteristics. Some of the main problems with this system, including that this was accepted as a system, was that many interracial individuals were labeled Mulatto, and those who were labeled anything else, nobody knew if they were full-blooded or not, in order to do the classifications. There were many Blacks who arrived from other countries and nobody knew if they were already recipients of White genes before arriving in our country, and even the individuals themselves did not know if their ancestors had been previous victims of hybridization.
As with any laws there are always consequences, and this case was not the exception. The penalties for any person of the White race who chose to marry someone of the Black race, was banishment from the colony. Black men who married or had sexual relations with a White woman were convicted of rape and were put to death, yet White men were never charged with rape much less put to death for having sexual relations with a Black woman. Fortunately, by 1795 the death penalty for rape was abolished and other punishments were put in place. The issue of motherhood arose, White mothers were looked down upon for having interracial children more often than Black mothers because White mothers were committing the crime of assaulting White purity, and Black mothers were not convicted of this crime because they could never have pure White children. Punishments also existed for any person who had the authority to issue a marriage license, or the authority to unite two people in marriage, and knowingly united an interracial couple, whether it was through the law, the church, or both. The unborn children of these interracial couples also suffered punishments. In earlier times the child would be banished from the church and considered a warden until the age of 30. Later the church decided that the children of interracial couples would be considered bastards. Once labeled, the church would remove the child from their parents and take them into their own custody. The child became a servant of the church until the age of 30. At later times the terms were reduced, by 1765 if the “bastard” was male then he was obligated to serve the church until the age of 21, and if the “bastard” was a female she was obligated to serve the church until the age of 18.
This all came to an end, at least in the courts, on June 12, 1967, when the laws against interracial marriages were banned because they were considered unconstitutional. The reason the laws were revised was due to the Supreme Court Case of Loving vs. Virginia in 1958. This case was about a couple, Richard Loving, a White male and Mildred Jeter, a Black female, who were residents of Virginia and decided to travel outside of the state and marry were it was not illegal. The plan was perfect, with one minor detail, after marrying in Washington D.C. the couple returned to Virginia. The state of Virginia had enacted an Act in 1924 called, “An Act to Preserve Racial Integrity.” Under this act Whites were to marry Whites, those who married interracially outside of the state and then returned back were to be prosecuted, and the children born out of such a union were considered illegitimate and did not hold any privileges or protections. When the Lovings went on trial for marrying outside of Virginia and then returning to the state, they were sentenced to one year in prison unless they left the state and agreed not to return for at least 25 years. In 1961, the decision was overturned because issues of unconstitutionality that arose. At that time laws regarding interracial marriages, in the state of Virginia, were abolished.
Although laws have been banned, interracial dating, or interracial marriages are still in issue in our society. Some people have not accepted the fact that race should not be an issue in marriages or relationships. Three years ago, Bob Jones University in South Carolina had existing prohibitions against interracial dating. This became an issue with the public when our current president George W. Bush, visited the college, a very publicized visit, and did not have any comments to the college regarding their prohibition on interracial dating. Thanks to the publics concern and the bad reviews the president received for staying quiet about the issue, the college has now dropped the ban on prohibiting interracial relationships. This is one of many cases that are still provoking issues in our country. Banning the laws against interracial relationships helped, but some rare and obvious cases of banning racial relationships in particular institutions still exist in our country.
Are People Marrying Interracially?
Yes, people are marrying interracially. Actually interracial marriages are in an increasing state of being. Over the last few centuries’ interracial marriages have more than multiplied. Between 1970 and 1994 the number of interracial marriages increased from 310,000 to 1.3 million. Of the 1.3 million interracial marriages of 1994, 296,000 were Blacks with Whites. Although these numbers may seem significant they are less than 3 percent of the total marriages population in the U.S. But they are evidence of a changing America.
The reasons interracial marriages have gained popularity include an increasing social acceptance, as well as an increase in interactions between the different races, family influences, and the media. Social acceptance began to grow once laws against interracial marriages were abolished and people began to understand that what matters are how people feel and not how people look. Increase in interactions has developed through many institutions; the most popular is college or the educational sector. A decrease in family or outside influences has also been recorded, which alleviates some of the problems interracial couples may face.
The media is an important source of information in our society, and it has also played and important role in the development of interracial marriages or relationships. A wider acceptance of interracial relationships has been registered in the media through their advertising. Advertising is commonly known for depicting couples of the same race, especially if they are addressing the issue of romance. Yet depicting interracial couples in advertising is gaining popularity. Some well known brands who are gaining popularity for depicting interracial couples include: Diesel, Club Monaco, Ikea, Guess, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, and Perrier.
With the growth of interracial relationships there has been the development of interracial support groups. These support groups have started all across the country, and since they represent a community in the making, their outlook on survival is very optimistic. Examples of these interracial support groups include the following: Kaleidoscope at the University of Virginia, Students of Mixed Heritage at Amherst College, Interracial Family Club in Washington D.C., Half and Half at Bryn Mawr, and Mixed Plate at Grinnell. These are definitely not the only ones, and many more are in development.
Types of People Who Choose to Marry Interracially
There are many types of people who chose to marry interracially. The most common people who choose to marry interracially share the following traits: highly educated, professional middle class or working class, marry at an older age, similar status, other interracial marriages exist in their family, and they are people who have been married before. Many of the people who marry interracially are placed into a category to try to explain their reasoning for marrying interracially. The types of categories include but are not limited to: outcasts, rebels, mavericks, compensators, adventurers, escapists, and unstables.
The outcasts are those people who do not feel comfortable with their race because they don’t agree with the norms. They are often questioning why they have to do certain things, and are not happy because they don’t fit in with the social groups of their race. The outcast will usually find a culture within another race that appeals to their needs. This provides the outcasts with the opportunity to marry interracially and begin a family within a different racial context.
The rebels are those people who disagree with the basic values, beliefs, and politics of their race. For them marrying outside of their race is not only a form of a long-life commitment to another person, but it is also a long life commitment to a form of protest. They disagree with one or more aspects of their race and they don’t care what anyone around them might think if they marry outside of their race.
The maverick may be seen as the non-conformist. People in this group are usually independent. Although the people within their race usually accept them, they would rather not belong to the “in group.” For the majority of the time these people are sufficiently detached to the different aspects of their race that they are happier not belonging to it, much less belonging to the “in group.” Marrying interracially allows the maverick to feel freed of the pressures to join and conform to the values, beliefs, politics, etc. of a race that they do not accept.
The compensator is the person who is always looking for their “other half.” These are the people who feel incomplete by themselves, who do not want to be alone, and long for a loving relationship. This may not sound exclusively for people who marry interracially, but it is because this type of compensator is under the belief that they can only find what they need with a partner from a different race. The compensator attributes the deficiencies in their life to their race. Many times the compensator belongs to a broken family where neither of the parents is present, physically nor emotionally. The compensator is not negative about their own race they are just under the impression that someone from a different race can provide what they feel they are missing.
The adventurer is the person who is always daring to be different. Adventurers marry interracially because they need the excitement from those who are different to them. They are risking their life with a race that is unknown to them, they don’t want a predictable relationship instead they want a marriage that will stimulate their life and make them feel special. Many adventurers cross all boundaries: race, class, religion, age, etc. Each additional difference makes the marriage and their life more exciting.
The escapist is the person who marries outside of their race in order to improve the quality of their life. The escapist may be marrying a different race to move up the social or economic ladder, they marry for the benefits. The majority of interracial marriages include some type of trade off between the parties involved.
Unstables can be described by deviance. They marry outside of their race to defy authority. The authority they are usually trying to defy is their parents. Once they marry outside of their race the family will consider them to be abnormal and unstable people. Not many people marry under this type of circumstance, but it does happen.
Outside of these seven categories where people can be placed to explain why they choose to marry interracially, exists love. Some people do marry outside of their race because they have simply “fell in love.” Love can sometimes become a problem because in the cultures of many races, romantic love is simply not a valid reason to join lives in matrimony and begin a family. Yet love is usually all it takes for many people to undergo marriage.
The Three Stages of Marriage
Regardless of the race of the parties involved in a marriage, the marriage usually undergoes three distinct phases. These three phases either aid the couple in developing a stronger bond or the stages simply contribute to weakening or breaking the marriage. The phases may be distinguished by the following categories: the honeymoon stage, the setting-in phase, and the resolution phase.
The first stage of marriage is the honeymoon stage. This is the stage when everything is new and wonderful. Both parties are optimistic and confident about their future together, they believe they can overcome any obstacle. They value their differences, and they work together to try to make the most out of everything and anything. In this stage interracial couples are at ease with each other, they face minimal if any problems between themselves. Unfortunately, this stage must and does end. This stage ends with the intrusion of an outsider who strains both persons. The outsider is usually somebody in the immediate family. If there is no outside intruder, then the marriage moves into the second phase when the individuals in the marriage stop valuing each other’s differences and begin to see their differences as obstacles. The couple begins to realize what each difference means in terms of spending their lives together.
The second stage of marriage is the setting-in phase. In this phase both members of the marriage expose their behavior. The politeness between the couple is reduced and the couple finds itself constantly arguing because they have begun to defend their own ideas, and disregarding the ideas of their partner. The different types of qualities the individuals bring to the marriage are visible to each person during this stage. There is a revelation of love vs. compatibility in this stage, which relates to differences vs. similarities. The more differences the less compatibility, the more similarities the more love. In this stage interracial couples face more obstacles than couples of the same race, because there are more elements that need to be discussed. This is the stage where couples either make it or break it.
The third phase in the marriage is called the resolution. In this stage couples have either mutually agreed to stay together and ignore each other’s differences as well as each other, or they pretend nothing is wrong, or they are in a constant state of anger towards each other and the issues they face. Many interracial marriages don’t make it past the end of stage two and the beginning of stage three, unless they make arrangements that they can both understand and respect.
Potential Pitfalls of Interracial Marriages
There are potential pitfalls in any marriage whether the couple is interracial or not but there have been some common trouble spots that interracial couples have identified in their marriages. Some of the common trouble spots include: values, eating habits, sex, gender roles, friends, in-laws, and raising children. Some of these issues overlap, but there are some specific distinctions between each. Although these are potential trouble spots for any type of marriage, the degree to which they affect interracial marriages is greater.
Value is what is seen as good or bad, right or wrong, true or false, important or unimportant. Values tell us a lot about who a person is. Couples from the same racial group sometimes have different value systems, and couples from different racial groups almost always have different value systems. Value differences cause disagreements and misunderstandings between the couple, which may lead to many conflicts. In order for interracial couples to overcome value differences, there needs to be tolerance from both parties. It helps when there are more similarities than differences in their value systems.
Food and drink also become a problem in some interracial marriages. Food and drink does not only consists of what is going to be consumed, it also takes into account how the meal is prepared, what time the meal is served, where the meal is eaten, and how it is eaten. People from different races usually prefer different types of foods, even people from the same race who are from different locations have a problem with food, imagine what people from different races go through. How would an American feel about eating tortillas with all their meals, or how would a Mexican feel about eating rice with all his meals? Eating customs from different races can cause problems. In some races the time a woman takes to prepare a meal is significant of how much she loves her spouse, and in other races the spouse wont care if the wife picked up the meal at the drive through as long as he gets fed. So if food is really the way in to a man’s heart, what is a woman to do when the man does not like her specific choices of meals, and she doesn’t like his, should she sacrifice herself and eat what he prefers? For some races mealtime is family time, yet for some others mealtime may just be whatever time the person gets hungry. If the person is used to eating at specific times during the day and making a feast out of every meal, they may find themselves in trouble when the spouse is eating at random times of the day, not in the dinner table, but on the sofa watching TV, or the spouse simply does not eat at home but instead takes it on the go because his busy schedule does not permit him time to sit down and eat with the family. What if the couple does not share the same manners or etiquette at the dinner table, who is to say which one is the correct form, and how will the argument be settled? For many eating is a common and non-threatening event of their daily lives, for others, especially interracial couples, eating can become a form of pitfall in the relationship.
Even sex can become an issue in interracial marriages. Some of the issues that arise in sex matters are: contraception, menstruation, masturbation, number and importance of children, virginity and chastity, family honor, machismo and femininity, hygiene, premarital relations, marital fidelity, sexual practices, homosexuality, incest, dating, dancing, romance, holding hands, using cosmetics, and the way an individual dresses. One of the biggest reasons that sex can become an issue in interracial marriages is because the young couples don’t expect it to be an issue, so they don’t discuss many of the previously mentioned issues before marriage. If anything they are both under the impression that sex will be one of the few things they wont have problems with. Unless the multiracial couple holds the same moral values the topic of sex will usually become an issue.
Gender roles will cause problems when each individual holds different beliefs about how the other person should behave. In western societies women are given more liberties and freedoms, but in non-western societies the female is heavily expected to serve the man. When the races from these different societies unite some problems arise, especially if the man of a western society is marrying a woman of a non-western society and he is under the impression that she is going to serve him when no other women from his same race would do this, and the woman from the non-western society is marrying him because she believes he is going to offer her more liberties and freedoms, like no other man in her race can offer. Usually men and women want to take on the roles from the other race that they benefit from, and this becomes the problem. Outside expectations and pressures from family members can contribute to the problems. If a man from a non-western society marries a woman of a different race from a western society and accepts her liberties and freedoms, his family will usually become judgmental of the circumstances until they convince him to be different and thus he begins to have problems with his wife, and the woman’s family may find it rare for their daughter to become a “servant” to the man. The gender role expectations and pressures from outsiders have a great influence on the decisions and actions of each individual in an interracial couple, it helps lead the couple into conflict and problems.
In interracial marriages friends are difficult to find and keep. The difficulties in finding friends can arise because our society is not completely tolerant of interracial marriages, our society would rather keep each race to them selves. Same race marriages may become uncomfortable having friends of multiracial marriages because they do not have the same type of background and they are not living through the same experiences, they have a difficult time understanding each other. The majority of interracial marriages can easily adjust and they benefit from having friends who are also part of an interracial marriage or relationship. When they find friends from interracial marriages or relationships they have mutual grounds to discuss. These friends know and understand the types of problems that the other couple is facing and the majority of the time can offer productive and positive feedback to help the couple with problems. Interracial couples must find friends for their own benefit because an isolated couple is not a healthy or a happy couple.
In-laws are a frightening issue in any marriage. Disapproving in-laws are an issue in the majority of interracial marriages. The problem with in-laws is that depending on their race; they hold different views regarding what rights they have over their children, even after their children marry. In some races the parents believe their children are owners of their life and have the right to decide anything for themselves once they marry or turn a certain age. In other races parents hold the belief that since they raised and took care of the children when they were young, the children owe them eternal respect and gratitude, part of this respect and gratitude is conceived as parents having the authority over their child and the spouse of the child. Patriarchal authority becomes an issue if one person holds customs where their parents do not have any say in their children’s married life. Interracial families find it beneficial to move away from both of their families to avoid this type of problem. Distancing themselves from the family may help alleviate the in-laws problem, but it can also contribute to issues of separation from a main source of support. Couples need to take into consideration the pros and cons of being away from the in-laws before they make the final decision to move away.
A couple is supposed to consider children and everything they bring to a family, a blessing. But when these children are born to interracial couples, the raising strategies may become more than a blessing, sometimes the issues will become condemnations. The models of upbringing children vary from race to race, and deciding which method to use will become a problem for many multiracial couples. The system of upbringing biracial children may become what many know as trial and error. Parents of biracial children can decide to try various things while upbringing their children, they can disregard the mother or the father, or they can do a combination of what both races believe. Biracial children benefit their exposure to both worlds, but the child may also easily suffer from contradicting each parent when he does what the mother or father prefers, in this case the child will be placed in a loose/ loose situation. Fortunately, most parents in interracial marriages find that the one thing they have in common is the need for their children’s well being, their basic beliefs and values pertaining to the children are generally similar.
Issues of Biracial Children
By Langston Hughes
My old man’s a White old man,
And my old mother’s Black,
If I ever cursed my White old man,
I take my curses back.
If I ever cursed my Black old ma
And wished she were in hell,
I’m sorry for that evil wish,
And now I wish her well.
My old man died in a fine White house,
My ma died in a shack,
I wonder where I’m gonna die,
Being neither White nor Black.
Poems like the one above reveal many of the issues children of interracial parents face on a day-to-day basis, and throughout their whole life. In addition, children of interracial couples suffer from the inequalities that their parents suffer. Although nobody should be suffering from inequalities based on their race, the children of these marriages sometimes experience the inequalities, both at home and in our society. Some of the issues biracial children face includes: racial identity, coping with racism, coping with grandparents, and coping with siblings. The number of children from biracial children has increased over the last few decades, especially after the period of slavery and the Civil war.
The issue of racial identity is the most popular problem that biracial children face. An identity crisis arises when the child can’t decide what group he belongs to, many times the child does not want to belong to any group but this is a conclusion they reach at an older age, children struggle to belong to a group when they are young. Children obtain a sense of identity from their parents, but when both parents posses different identities the child will face trouble. The biracial child may try to choose one identity over the other, but then one parent will try to pull him in one direction, and the other parent will try to pull him in a different direction. When the child finally decides, the parent who was not chosen will give the child negative feedback on his choice. This problem can lead children into emotional instability and a great resentment towards their parents, because they did not receive the support they longed for. Another problem biracial children face is when the parents and child agree on an identity but then society does not agree with their choice. The child blames the parents for the negative feedback society gives them; this adds to the resentment that children hold against their parents.
Coping with racism will become difficult for biracial children because they face more racism than individuals that can be placed into one category or another. People who try to place individuals into specific categories are going to have trouble placing these children into any one category, thus they might hold more resentment towards them and be more racist towards them. Our society will also place another burden on these children by not accepting them into any race. For example, a child of a Black and White marriage, may suffer because he is either to light to be Black, and too dark to be White. This biracial child would literally be stuck between two communities that reject him. Biracial children suffer conflicts with grandparents. These conflicts are mainly because the grandparents may distance themselves from the child for the fear of being stigmatized when they are seen with their biracial grandchildren. The physical attributes of the child usually pushes away one set of grandparents, and pulls towards the other, it just depends which side of the family the child resembles the most. In some cases the grandchild is what brings parents back into their children’s life. If a White person married a Black person and the parents of either party distanced themselves away from their children because of the marriage, then when a child arrives the grandparents may overlook everything else for the child’s sake, they will go as far as defending the children and their family, regardless of what they thought before.
Siblings are another potential issue that biracial children face. What happens when an interracial family has children that look like one parent, and other children that look like the other parent? What are the children to do? Is their relation any different because of the color of their skin? Most interracial families face trouble with this issue. The biracial children will have trouble getting along. When one child gets more privileges from the family and society because of their physical characteristics, the other child will resent it and take it against his sibling. Siblings can also cause problems if one of the children is trying to hide his true identity (i.e. passing) and then his brothers or sisters, gives the identity away. Resentment will build up in the family. Relations among siblings are difficult enough when the children look like each other; stirring in different racial characteristics does not help make the situation any better.
The main problem among interracial marriages is not: their history, their race, their marriage, or their children, the problem is society. If society were not so judgmental and concerned with race, people would live more happily. Relations among groups would be easier to develop if they didn’t have to face the strains from society. Many things still have to be done within our society to allow race relation in our country, especially among marriages, to take another path, a positive path.
Barron, Milton L. (Ed.) (1972) “The Blending American, Patters of Intermarriage.” Chicago: Quadrangle Books
Breger, Rosemary, & Rosanna Hill. (Ed.) (1998) “Cross-Cultural Marriage.” Oxford, New York: Berg.
Dalmage, Heather M. (2000) “Tripping on the Color Line.” New Brunswick, New Jersey, and London: Rutgers University Press.
Greenberg, David. “The Incredible Staying Power of the Laws Against Interracial Marriage.” 15 June 1999. 16 April 2003.
Kaeser, Gigi, & Peggy Gillespie. (1997) “Of Many Colors.” Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.
Kennedy, Randall. “Interracial Intimacy.” The Atlantic Online December 2002. 5 March 2003.
Romano, Dugan. (1988) “Intercultural Marriages.” Maine: Intercultural Press.
Rosenblatt, Paul C., Terri A. Karis, & Richard D. Powell. (1995) “Multiracial Couples.” Thousand Oaks, London, and New Delhi: Sage Publications.
Unknown Author. “Interracial Marriage.” 2000. 19 February 2003. Hubbynet Internet Posting.
Washington, Joseph R. Jr. (1993) “Marriage in Black and White.” Lanham, New York, and London: University Press of America.
Youngkrantz, Jenny. “Interracial Marriage.” 7 October 2002. 10 March 2003.