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Nadra Kareem Nittle

Is Interracial Marriage Still Taboo?

By June 14, 2013

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The uproar over the Cheerios ad featuring a mixed-race family and the fact that June is the month when the U.S. Supreme Court reversed its ban on miscegenation in 1967 has earned interracial marriage plenty of press recently. On Thursday, the New York Times featured a panel of experts discussing whether such marriages remain scandalous in the United States. Each of the five experts pointed out that interracial couplings remain the subject of curiosity and bigotry, but they offered different reasons about how this plays out.

Diane Farr, an actress and author of Kissing Outside the Lines, said that parents are often to blame for stigmatizing mixed-race relationships. "Few peers of any recent generation give much thought to friends dating outside of their race," Farr remarked. "However, far too many Americans who dare to love someone of a different racial or cultural background find they will still have to face something unpleasant - ranging from disappointment to being disowned - from those people they loved first, their mothers and fathers."

Farr went on to say that even highly educated, well-traveled people who might support racial tolerance publicly tell their children privately not to date outside of their race. Farr says that her Korean-American husband's parents fit this bill and that her own parents objected to white-black interracial relationships. Because of this, Farr says that parents can play a crucial role in changing views of interracial relationships.

While Farr suggests that parenting practices are largely to blame for scandalizing interracial marriages, Kevin Noble Maillard, co-editor of Loving v. Virginia in a Post-Racial World: Rethinking Race, Sex and Marriage, says that peers can make interracial couples feel alienated by the way they question mixed couples about their unions.

"Every interracial couple in the history of interracial couples knows this scenario: At a party, they strike up a conversation with another guest," Maillard began. "Introductions made, commonalities identified, drinks refilled. It's just a matter of time before the inevitable question: 'How did you two meet?'"

For same-race couples this question is innocuous enough, but for mixed race couples the inquiry may be loaded. I've found that when people ask interracial couples this question, they don't mean "how did you meet" but "how on earth did you meet?" Because our society remains racially stratified, strangers wonder how the worlds of two people from different racial groups managed to intersect.

Lastly Rose Cuison Villazor, a law professor at the University of California, Davis, points out that the media often ignores interracial relationships in the gay community. She told the Times, "Indeed, if we look at relationships (not just marriages), we see even more interracial couples. A 2012 U.C.L.A. Williams Institute study shows that unmarried same-sex couples and straight couples have higher interracial rates than married couples. Additionally, if we expand our analysis to interracial families - including same-race couples who adopt a different-race child - the number goes higher."

Because of these findings, Villazor argues that analyses of interracial relationships should not exclusively focus on marriages but on other unions as well. Is it surprising that gay couples are more likely to cross the color line than heterosexual couples, or does the marginalization that gay people face make them more likely to be open-minded and take risks in romance?




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