I’m a white dude. Well, more pinkish if we’re talking skin tone but you get the idea. German is the swarthiest blood in my veins, commingling with Irish and English – nothing below approximately latitude 48°N. My wife is Korean-American. Now if you know anything about Korea, you’ll know that it’s in East Asia and that it’s largely racially homogenous. Yes, we’re a mixed-race couple.
I’ve never really given it much thought. We met, we fell in love, we lived together, we got married. Even early in our relationship I simply thought of my future wife as an intelligent, beautiful, perceptive and vivacious woman – the perfect woman for me, not the perfect Asian woman for me.
But oh, the tales I could tell of the discrimination we’ve suffered, how I could shock you with some of the outrageously racist comments hurled at our innocent heads. Trouble is, that’s exactly what they’d be – tales. Fictions. I would have to make them up, because there really haven’t ever been any.
I’m quite sure that there’s still a great deal of prejudice and intolerance out there, but from our own experience it would seem that interracial couples are pretty much accepted these days, and it is astonishing that as recently as 1967 interracial marriage was illegal in many US states. (Alabama repealed unenforceable anti-miscegenation laws only in 2000.)
Even in the free-wheeling, free-loving atmosphere of America in 1968, many southern broadcasting outlets refused to air an episode of Star Trek in which white Captain Kirk kisses black Uhura (albeit under the mind control of evil aliens in togas). They were worried about offending viewers (and NBC originally insisted they shoot two versions – one with the kiss and one without – but William Shatner, who played Kirk, intentionally sabotaged all the non-kiss takes), but a letter written to NBC by a white southern male in response to the kiss reveals an air of ambiguity: “I am totally opposed to the mixing of the races. However, any time a red-blooded American boy like Captain Kirk gets a beautiful dame in his arms that looks like Uhura, he ain’t gonna fight it.”
The evolution of attitudes toward mixed-race relationships has been slow, coming in fits and starts, and it hasn’t really hasn’t been until this century that interracial marriage has become relatively commonplace in the US. Data from the 2010 census reveal that among opposite-sex married couples, roughly 10% are interracial, a 28% increase since 2000. In 2010, 18% of heterosexual unmarried couples were of different races and 21% of same-sex couples were mixed.
“We’re becoming much more of an integrated, multiracial society,” says demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution. Not only are there more mixed-race couples, but societal acceptance of these couples has risen considerably. In 1987, a Pew Research Center study found that 48 percent of Americans agreed that it was “all right for blacks and whites to date each other;” in 2010 Pew put that number at 83 percent.
The recent study also showed that “more than four-in-ten Americans (43%) say that more people of different races marrying each other has been a change for the better in our society, while 11% say it has been a change for the worse and 44% say it has made no difference.” I consider 87% of the American public seeing interracial marriage either positively or indifferently as a fairly major victory for race relations.
Of course, hidden in those numbers are complex issues of gender roles and racial preconceptions and inequalities – not all poly-racial pairings are created equal. Many Asian parents, for example, are okay with their children marrying whites but not blacks. Twenty-four percent of black males marry outside their race, but only 9% of black women, while the reverse is true for Asian men — 17 percent are intermarried, compared to 36 percent among Asian women.
The issues become even more convoluted when you throw children into the mix. For us, the fact that our children would be mixed race was never a consideration, nor was it for my family. (My father, even before my wife and I were married, looked at us over breakfast one morning and said, “It’s none of my business, but you two have to have children. They’d be beautiful.”) And that’s the comment we get most about our mongrel kids, some variation of “mixed children are gorgeous.” Perhaps, but with all of these interracial marriages, there’s been a lot of press about children having difficulty “identifying” themselves with a particular race or culture.
Is Halle Berry black or white? Salma Hayek’s mother was Mexican of Spanish descent, but her father was Lebanese. What does that make her? Tiger Woods claims a mixture of African American, Chinese, Thai, Dutch and Native American descent (although if you ask me there’s got to be a smidgen of jackass in there somewhere). Then there’s Keanu Reeves, a Canadian born in Beirut whose genetic makeup is a cocktail English, Irish, Portuguese, Native Hawaiian, and Chinese. Is he Caucawaiianese? I’m pretty sure there’s no box for that on most standard forms. (Actually, on many forms these days there’s a boxed simply labeled ‘mixed.’ A straightforward solution.)
For many of these people, there has been considerable outside pressure to be one-or-the-other – to pick a side, as it were. I would argue that mixed children – and their parents – have the advantage of being able to choose aspects of their cultural and racial backgrounds that they deem important or just attractive, and ignore others. Aside from the discomfort of other people, there is no real reason to make a choice. When kids on the playground ask my children, “What are you?”, I hope they reply “My dad is white and my mom is Korean.” End of story.
Indeed, the trend seems to be toward a beneficial blurring of racial lines. Increasingly people of mixed racial heritage feel, like California lawyer Jonathan Brent, whose father was white and his mother Japanese-American, that “race is becoming a personal thing. It is what I feel like I am.” Articles with titles like ‘Time’ magazine’s “Are Mixed-Race Children Better Adjusted?” pop up on internet searches. I even read an article claiming that mixed-race children, like hybridized plants, may in fact be more physically “vigorous.” (The frequency with which my children fall ill would seem to belie this claim, but who am I to argue with purely speculative science?)
What is undeniable is the fact that the number of mixed-race kids is soaring, up in the US from approximately 500,000 in 1970 to roughly 9 million in 2010.
Whack multiracial kids in with blacks, Hispanics, and Asians, and by 2020 they will represent the majority in the United States. The folks at Fox News are pooping their pants.
“The rise in interracial marriage indicates that race relations have improved over the past quarter century,” says Daniel Lichter, professor of sociology at Cornell University. “But America still has a long way to go.” Well, yes, certainly that’s true. But in this, at least, it looks like we’re moving in the right direction.
Are you in a mixed-race relationship, or the product of one? We’d love to hear your stories – good or bad.