The recent release of the Pew Research Center publication, The Rise of Intermarriage provides a number of insights on the status of race relations in America. The report analyzes the demographics and economics of those who "marry in" and "marry out" of their race. The reports notes an increase in the number of interracial marriages and an increase in support for such marriages.
Gender patterns were also noted in the report and there was great variance in this data. One particular statistic stood out for me. About 24 percent of all black male newlyweds in 2010 married outside of their race as compared to 9 percent of black females.
Well into my adult years, despite the fact that I preached diversity, I held the belief that black men should marry black women and conversely, black women should marry black men. I never considered a white man as a potential mate simply because of race. Maybe it was because I feared that others would interpret my choice of a white partner as a statement about my weak or non-existent affiliation with blacks. I was actually listening to the voice of my own insecure black identity and the collective insecurity that as blacks we embraced from living in a racist society. Perhaps that is why there are always more black men marrying outside of their race than black women... but that is a topic for another post.
A white male friend who challenged my belief on this topic caused me to pause and rethink this position. I reasoned that after a day of battling being "the only one" or "one of a few" all day I might not want to connect with my partner simply because he was white. He pointed out that it wouldn't be any different from the times when I wouldn't want to connect with my black partner simply because he was male or because of a personality characteristic.
Another white male friend also enlightened my racially inconsistent thinking. He noted that by ruling out white males simply because of race was as offensive as any other racially exclusive action. I could rule him out because of personality or other reasons, but to do so because of race was absurd.
Ultimately, when doing research on cross-racial friendships, I not only changed my position on interracial marriages, but became a advocate for those who crossed racial lines in marriage. We have much to learn from them. At the risk of oversimplifying the issue, I believe that interracial couples support us all in moving toward a shared American experience.
In my diversity-training sessions, we often progress toward an animated discussion about what the American experience is. All of our ancestors, except for those of Native American Indians, arrived in this country by boat -- the difference is in the kind of boat. Some were passenger ships, and some were slave ships. The American Dream, that anyone may be able to create a "rags to riches" success, has historically been a nightmare for some racial groups. Similarly, the "bootstrap theory" -- that anyone can succeed through diligence and hard work ("pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps") -- only applies to those who have boots and, more particularly, boots with straps. From this perspective, the historical background of our racial heritage frames our relationship to America, and thus dictates the kind of American experience one might have.
What I witness in interracial couples is not only the ability to disencumber themselves of society's racial baggage but also evidence of the inherent God-given right that each of us has to fulfill our human potential by loving. It is how we love, not our historical relationship with America, that dictates our ability to grasp the richness of the American experience. Yes, we are really free to love whom we please in America. That is one of the true beauties of being an American.
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