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Race and Interracial Marriage and Relationships

Jocelyn Faul & Epiphany A.White

Radford University
Introduction
Race relations in the United States has changed dramatically over the last few centuries.

Minorities have fought tirelessly for their right to receive treatment equating their White

counterparts in the U.S. Although, the American society was built on the principles of freedom,

equality, and opportunity, the people who indulged in these luxuries of life were strictly that of

the elite and White Americans. With a great level of determination and persistence, minorities

claimed civil liberties such as the right to wed interracially. The population of interracial

marriage has increased over the years, but still is at a lower rate than most people realize today.

This paper will introduce interracial marriage from its conception to the trends, patterns, and

attitudes of interracial unions of today.

For the topic of this paper, the main focus is on interracial marriage and historical events

that have contributed to the way interracial couples are viewed in the modern world. The word

marriage is a very narrow way to speak on interracial unions today. I say this because the

institutional value of marriage has decreased over the decades, meaning people are less likely to

join as man and wife. We also must take interracial dating and cohabitation in to consideration,

especially because younger couples are going to college and meeting people from all over the

United States and foreign students. A topic that is also under the umbrella of interracial romance

is raising a family. A mixed-race family and the ideas and reactions that support or reject

families of mixed race. In this paper we will touch base on intermarriage, mixed race

cohabitation, Intimacy challenges, and mixed-race families. Anti-miscegenation laws are laws

that prohibit or discourage two individuals from different racial backgrounds from pursuing

romantic relationships. These anti-miscegenation laws did not affect all citizens of the United

States, in fact, the most disadvantaged by such laws were Caucasian, African Americans, and
Asian citizens. Although I am sure a percentage of Native Americans and Hispanics are involved

in interracial unions, most research fails to mention these races. Laws against interracial

marriage were enforced to deter interracial unions. Penalties for interracial unions sometimes

varied by state and race. In some states, breaking these laws would have consequences of being

exiled, jail time, and loss of property rights Roland G. Fryer Jr. (2012) . Mixed race relationships

were not accepted among the society and violators were left with very few solutions if they were

to remain an interracial couple in the days of anti-miscegenation laws. The purpose of Anti-

miscegenation laws is to prevent the blurring or disappearance of the color line. The White

power dynamic would lose significance if less and less citizens were identified as White or if

Whites were to establish romantic proof that non-whites were capable of characteristics beyond

negative stereotypes depicted within American culture. Anti-miscegenation laws convinced

Americans to marry their own kind and deny mixed couples that their relationship could not be a

legitimate union.

Early Attitudes of Intermarrying

When we examine interracial marriage and make conclusions that the number of

marriages is far lower than expected, or that attitudes that oppose it persist, it is necessary to

research the history that shaped the present day interracial unions. Slavery set a tone in America,

one that conducted a separation of races. The dehumanizing of African Americans introduced a

new level of segregation, a grotesque way of separating groups of people, based on scientific

racism and prejudiced superiority. That damage alone would leave a scar on America’s

upbringing. However, slavery was only the beginning of a pattern of systematic oppression and

negative characterization.
After the abolishment of slavery, the torment of African Americans did not end.

Lynching is one example of white justice. Often, it carries an image of an irrational crowd

hanging a person of color. In actuality, “large crowds of white people, often numbering in the

thousands and including elected officials and prominent citizens, gathered to witness pre-

planned, heinous killings that featured prolonged torture, mutilation, dismemberment, and/or

burning of the victim. White press justified and promoted these carnival-like events, with

vendors selling food, printers producing postcards featuring photographs of the lynching and

corpse, and the victim’s body parts collected as souvenirs. These killings were bold, public acts

that implicated the entire community and sent a message that African Americans were sub-

human, their subjugation was to be achieved through any means necessary and whites who

carried out lynchings would face no legal repercussions” (Lynching, 201). These lynchings

occurred over 4,400 times. The most recent occurring in 1996. They hung innocent men for

crimes they created. Often the crimes were linked with African American males interacting on

any level with white women.

Jim Crow was a set of codes in the South that prevented African Americans from

integrating with white people. They had to use separate restaurants, schools, grocery stores,

bathrooms, water fountains, and other public spaces which further created a divide between the

races. In the 1930’s, one of the prominent stereotypes labeled black men in particular as rapists.

This idea was accepted because historically speaking, women were property. Women are still

striving to gain their full rights, and over time we can trace how they were bought with dowries,

restricted from owning anything after being married, and legally unable to defend themselves.

White men, have therefore been portrayed as their advocates, or protectors. As societies

developed and became integrated, interracial interactions became more likely. Those who
opposed such unions, found fuel in those biases. They found ground in the already developed

criminality of African Americans. They preyed on fears and used language that hyper sexualized

African American males and painted them as predators. This stereotype threatens the lives of

African American men, particular the number of those who have been wrongly accused or

convicted a crime they did not commit.

One instance of this is more notable. Emmett Till was a 14 year old African American

boy in 1955 who was accused of making advances towards a white woman. “Several days

following the alleged incident on August 28, Emmett Till was kidnapped from the home of his

uncle. Three days later Till's body was found floating in the Tallahatchie River; the fourteen year

old boy had been severely beaten before being fatally wounded by a gunshot to the head.”

“...Less than one month after Till's body was recovered, an all-white jury acquitted Roy Bryant

and J. W. Milam, the husband and half-brother of Till's accuser, for Till's murder.” (Emmett

Till). This is a prime example of how these damaging stereotypes and racism work together to

destroy innocent lives. This young boy was seen as an adult criminal, but even more than that,

one who was not worthy of a trial in court.

This stereotype can have damaging effects within the criminal justice system. One

comparison we can make that illustrates the extent of these attitudes and their influence deals

with rape in particular. Historically speaking we can tell the story of black vs white in regards to

victim. A young white indentured servant was raped by her master. A young black slave was

raped by her master. Their stories differed little in methods they used to try and avoid their

assailant, the only real comparison in what justice they received. The young white girl’s father

was able to testify on her behalf, sending her attacker to pay for what he did. The young black

slave received no justice, although those on the plantation knew of the attack, at the time, no
black man could testify against a white man, and so he went unpunished. Switching to justice

being served to the attacker, in comparing white vs black, the evidence reflects similar

disparities. Presently, the highest sentencing for rapes are given to African American males, the

lowest sentencing, given to white males. A very recent, polarizing example, illustrates this

disproportion in sentencing. Brock turner, a white college athlete, was found guilty of raping an

unconscious woman. There was undeniable evidence in the form of video footage, as well as two

eyewitnesses who came across him while he perpetrated the crime. On another college campus,

Corey Batey, a black college athlete, was found guilty of raping an unconscious woman. There

was indisputable evidence that included video footage of him carrying the female victim. Both

athletes claimed to be drunk at the time of the incidents. In Turner’s case, public outrage called

for justice, and yet the courts only enforced a three-month sentence. In Batey’s case, the courts

served him a mandatory five-year sentence. The overarching theme is that black men are seen as

criminals who must prove their innocence while white men are seen for their potential until

given a valid reason to keep them from fulfilling it. White is seen as inherently good. These

biases are impacting the lives of African Americans on a daily basis.

These instances are all connected in time. They were developed over history and shaped people’s

perceptions of racial minorities.

Laws Against Interracial Marriage


Anti-miscegenation laws are laws that prohibit or discourage two individuals from

different racial backgrounds from pursuing romantic relationships. These anti-miscegenation

laws did not affect all citizens of the United States, in fact, the most disadvantaged by such laws

were Caucasian, African Americans, and Asian citizens. Although I am sure a percentage of

Native Americans and Hispanics are involved in interracial unions, most research fails to

mention these races. Laws against interracial marriage were enforced to deter interracial unions.
Penalties for interracial unions sometimes varied by state and race. In some states, breaking these

laws would have consequences of being exiled, jail time, and loss of property rights Roland G.

Fryer Jr. (2012). Mixed race relationships were not accepted among the society and violators

were left with very few solutions if they were to remain an interracial couple in the days of anti-

miscegenation laws. The purpose of Anti-miscegenation laws is to prevent the blurring or

disappearance of the color line. The White power dynamic would lose significance if less and

less citizens were identified as White or if Whites were to establish romantic proof that non-

whites were capable of characteristics beyond negative stereotypes depicted within American

culture. Anti-miscegenation laws convinced Americans to marry their own kind and deny mixed

couples that their relationship could not be a legitimate union.

Important Court Cases

Throughout the history of American civilization, there has been a trend of the role of the

Supreme Court leading the nation to its civil rights victories. Without acknowledging the

influence of the Supreme court, it is hard to understand how laws our overturned and societies

way of adopting new standing laws into society. Some changes to law are slow and gradual

while other legal changes are met with rebellions and acts of defiance by members of the

community.

Plessy versus Ferguson was tried by the Supreme Court in 1896. The Plessy versus

Ferguson decision reinforced the superiority of whites and the inferiority of non-white citizens in

the U.S. due to this ruling, states had an option to support racial segregation in public

institutions. Non-whites were restricted the use of restaurants, restrooms, churches,

neighborhoods, and transportation that whites used with the exception of working in white only

public places. The adoption of Jim Crow shows blacks and other minorities that the rights
and luxuries of white people were not meant to be shared with them. It is important to notice

keeping all races divided helps manage the illusions of separate but equal, which gives the sense

of two races living in two significantly distinct worlds. Jim Crow Laws negatively the affects

minority populations ability to acquire higher levels of social status and marry outside his or her

own race.

Another historical Supreme Court case that altered the way interracial relationships for

years to come was in 1967. The Loving Versus Virginia Case was appealed to the Supreme

Court. Mildred, an African American woman and Richard Loving, a white man had their

wedding ceremony in Washington D.C, where interracial marriage was allowed, but the couple

settled in Virginia, where interracial marriage was illegal. To prevent being caught by their

neighbors, the Lovings lived in secrecy. When the Lovings could no longer go unnoticed,

Richard was sent to jail for being married to a black woman. The Loving family fought for their

marriage tirelessly for nine years before a ruling settled in their favor. The Loving Versus

Virginia ruling declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional and prohibited federal

government intervention among intimate matters involving consenting adults. When the ruling of

the Loving case was set in stone, sixteen states repealed anti-miscegenation laws. The remainder

of states either never had such laws or repealed before the Loving decision was finalized. Hawaii

is considered a state that has never had laws against interracial marriage, this is due to Hawaii’s

high immigration rates and the promotion of interracial marriage. Hawaii has 46% of the married

population involved in interracial relationships Paula M. Usita & Shruti Poulsen (2003). As

discussed by Roland G. Fryer Jr. (2012) the passage of the 14th Amendment into U.S

Constitution in 1868, contributed to the removal of anti-miscegenation laws, because it aimed to


make sure slaves were protected citizens under the law. The Loving family paved the way for

interracial couples to love unapologetically.

Interracial Marriage Trends

After the anti-miscegenation laws were repealed, it was expected that interracial marriage

was to increase throughout the U.S., but in fact there was a slow and subtle change in mixed race

unions. Gretchen Livingston (2017) reports the progress of intermarriage after the Loving case,

her report indicates only 3% of newly wed couples were interracial couples. Over a decade later

in 1980, newlywed interracial couples were only at 7%. 35 years later, 2015 statistics show that

17% of newly married couples in the U.S. were of mixed race. Interracial marriage patterns are

constantly changing the way Americans view the dynamics of family and relationships today.

According to Roland G. Fryer Jr. (2012) In the mid 1900’s into the 2000’s white male and Asian

female unions were the most common interracial marriage reported and a white male/black

female couple were least likely interracial marriage pairing. A black male is mostly likely to join

in an interracial marriage with white females and black females are least likely to marry Asian

males. These trends can be reflected in today’s society. According to Randall L. Kennedy

(2012), interracial marriage and relationships occur most within the younger populations and

divorced individuals.

Military Mixed Marriage Trends

The military was one of the first institutions to become desegregated. This prompted

more interactions between races, especially when serving in different countries abroad. It was

easier to engage with those who lived on or near the military base. Within the military the

concept of equal employment opportunity works more effectively than it does in society as a

whole. When we discuss social exchange theory its evident that the military provides a
stabilizing factor that makes for a more even exchange, there is less of a cost, making it more

likely for couples to intermarry in the military. There are incentives to marriage, like housing or

pay increases, that also encourage these unions.

Intermarriage by Educational Level


There many factors that contribute to an individual’s decision to interracially marry.

Earlier I alluded to location being a factor in interracial marriage patterns when I discussed

Hawaii’s promotion of immigration and mixed-race marriages. The location can change the

population’s attitudes toward marriage, which can have positive or negative effects. Another

factor that correlates with intermarriage is education levels. An individual’s level of education

can be a predictor of whether or not they find interracial marriage appealing, this can be broken

down by race and academic strides. According to Roland G. Fryer Jr. (2012), data shows that

blacks and Asians who have earned a high school diploma or less are not as likely to intermarry

as blacks and Asians with college level education. For the Caucasian race the patterns are

opposite from blacks and Asians. Whites with lower level education are most likely to

intermarry, while college educated individuals intermarry less.

Social Exchange Theories

Social exchange theory is one theory that examines relationships as a more calculated

social and economic exchange. Theorists rationalize that because of their position in society,

African Americans have the least amount of social capital, whereas white males in particular

have the highest form of capital across the board. They hold the most power in making real

change or maintaining current systems. Sociologists theorize that there is a cost to interracial

marriage. This cost comes in the form of a loss of status, negative perceptions, shunning by

friends or family, hatred from strangers. There must be an exchange to balance the costs, like in
economics. Sociologists give the example of a wealthy African American man who might marry

a poorer white woman to gain social mobility, and she gains economic mobility.

Cinematic Depictions of Mixed Race Unions


Overall, concern over attitudes on interracial unions, and the fear of losing audience and

by association profits, has caused networks to suppress interracial unions on tv. The few

representations can be misconstrued as an “answer to racism.” Others see this as an

overrepresentation because they are accustomed to being the only represented. The primary

example of these relationships represent the couple as coming from two different worlds, often

portraying African Americans in lower class positions or portraying an added white savior

complex. These stereotypes are narrow and damaging because they become the only

representation that people form their impressions on. We are making strides towards more

representation in media, but still have a long way to go in terms of progress.

Border Patrolling
The prevailing attitude towards interracial marriage is that individuals are better off

sticking with their own race. They see these relationships as different or out of the norm, and

raise concerns or try and rationalize why two individuals who “are so different” would want to

maintain a relationship. White maintain the color line through border patrolling. White people

have the power to patrol and influenced a couples ability to remain together whereas African

Americans can exercise distaste. For white people, they see it as an act of defiance or because of

sexual reasons. African Americans can see it as a betrayal, or a loss of the culture, and we see the

evidence of the damage the ignorance of a white partner can have on the relationship. Support is

lost on both sides.

Conclusion
Over time, attitudes towards interracial relationships have been shaped through racist

historical trends that disfavored such unions. This has had a direct impact on the reception from

peers and society, the frequency of such unions, and the representation they receive in media.

There must be a great deal of humility and education in order to reverse this systematic

oppression towards these relationships.


References
Emmett Till murder. (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2018, from

http://crdl.usg.edu/events/emmett_till_murder/

Fryer Jr. R. G. (2012). Rethinking the Color Line: Readings in Race and Ethnicity, 5th Edition.

McGraw-Hill.

Kennedy R.L. (2012). Rethinking the Color Line: Readings in Race and Ethnicity, 5th Edition.

McGraw-Hill.

Livingston G., (2017). Intermarriage, 50 years On. American Sociological Association,

16(4), 12-19. doi: 10.1177/1536504217742383

Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror (2nd ed., Ser. 5, pp. 1-27,

Rep.). (201). Montgomery, AL: Equal Justice Initiative.

doi:https://eji.org/sites/default/files/lynching-in-america-second-edition-summary.pdf

Usita P. M., & Shruti P. (2003). Interracial Relationships in Hawaii: Issues, Benefits, and

Therapeutic Interventions. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 2(⅔), 73-83.