Gallup’s recent Minority Rights and Relations poll provides an interesting insight into how interracial relationships are viewed in the United States. According to the poll, 87% of Americans now approve of marriages between black and white partners, compared to 4% of Americans in 1958.
Well, that’s a given. What’s more difficult to digest is the fact that less than 20 years ago, in 1995, only 48% of U.S. residents approved of such of interracial marriages. And while it's good that attitudes have changed, the 87% figure remains mind-boggling. Why isn’t the number at 100%? What the heck are the other 13% of Americans thinking? What's holding them back?
It’s the same sort of question that comes to mind with “controversies” such as the furor over this adorable Cheerios advertisement, which committed no crime save casting a white mother and black father as the parents of an appropriately biracial girl.
While YouTube's comments section isn’t a place one looks to for profound discussion, the grossly racist remarks left as a result of the commercial (one user deemed the commercial "racial genocide") forced Cheerios to disable comments entirely. In contrast, Cheerios’ Facebook page, where the video was also posted, displays several comments from individuals who were grateful to the company for representing a family that looks like their own.
The Cheerios commercial is hardly the only controversy over interracial marriage in recent memory. In 2009, Louisiana Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell refused to grant a marriage to Terence and Beth McKay because the couple is interracial. In an interview, Bardwell claimed that he wasn’t racist, but remained unapologetic for his belief that the interracial marriage should be prevented for the sake the couple's future children. Unfortunately for Bardwell, racism is racism, no matter what absurd excuse you try to dress it up with. Bardwell stepped down from his position that November. In 2010, the lawsuit filed against him by the McKays was dropped.
Interracial marriage has been legal in the United States since the 1967 Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virginia, but the social stigma of such marriages remained prevalent even in the midst of progress. It may be a matter of generational differences. The Gallup poll reports that, predictably, interracial marriage is less popular among older Americans than younger Americans, and is overwhelmingly accepted by millennials.
Even so, I have experienced opposition to interracial relationships firsthand. The white, male father of a friend of mine once described my relationship with my white then-boyfriend as an "upgrade" for me, and a "downgrade" for my ex. He insisted that he wasn’t racist but speaking from the heart, because in his childhood, race relations were more tense and “mixing” was less acceptable. I was I shocked by his admission, and also hurt by the full brunt of his ignorance. The resulting discussion went on for several hours, as I tried to explain why his dated thoughts are problematic. I believe that, to this day, he would be disappointed if his daughter became romantically linked to a black man.
While the Pew poll does show greater support for interracial marriages among non-Hispanic black Americans, at a near-unanimous 96%, than white Americans, at 84%, a separate poll shows that both groups are less likely to marry outside of their race than are other groups. An earlier Pew Research survey revealed that in 2008, 30% of Asian and 26% of Latino marriages were interracial, compared with 16% of black marriages, and 9% of white marriages. Out of all the subgroups mentioned in the study, black women were found to participate in the fewest interracial marriages. Despite the high approval ratings for interracial marriages, there is still some vitriol about black-white interracial dating the black community. The stereotype is that black women “lose” good black men to “submissive” white women, while black women dating white men are viewed as “betraying” their people, and are considered the least desirable partners.
The fact of the matter is that the tolerance and acceptance of black-white relationships, while currently at an all-time peak, are still constrained by the historical taboos that haunt race relations in the United States. Given the 13% of Americans who still disagree with interracial marriages between black and white partners, one wonders how long it will take for gay marriage to get even that far.
When it comes to interracial marriage, we’re almost there, but not quite here.