Couples engaging in interracial relationships are becoming commonplace in the U.S., a trend that is also noticeable in Hollywood and in politics. President Obama is the product of a black father from Africa and a white mother from Kansas. Supermodel Heidi Klum married Seal, a British singer, of Nigerian and Brazilian descent. The trend is increasingly visible on campuses due to the growing diversity at colleges and universities and as cultural taboos about interracial relationships shatter, interethnic dating has increased. But is the world really “colorblind” when it comes to relationships?
Angela Hattery, the Associate Director of Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University and the co-author of Interracial Relationships in the 21st Century, attributed the rise in interracial relationships to less stigma, especially among the younger generation.“Even though it is not the same across the board, younger people are more likely to have liberal attitudes,” she explained. “Another reason is that we are seeing interracial relationships more visibly, whether it is real relationships, on TV, or in movies, so it doesn’t seem too unfamiliar.”
George Yancey, a sociologist at the University of North Texas and author of Just Don’t Marry One, also said that he believes exposure has been an important factor in the way young people view interethnic relationships. He added that the changes in attitude towards ethnic minorities and the increase in racial tolerance has led to a rise in the number of people who view interracial relationships in a positive light. Many students are now required to take courses in cultural diversity or ethnic studies, and the media seems to be fueling colorblindness as movies, TV shows and advertisements are increasingly portraying interracial romance.
In fact, according to recent studies, attitudes in every generation have become more accepting of interracial dating. Nearly 25 percent of college students reported having dated interracially and about 50 percent expressed an openness to become involved in an interethnic relationship. But although there is a more progressive attitude among younger people, there still continues to be big differences in the types of relationships that are considered “acceptable.”
According to Hattery, society tends to be less accepting of white and black couples, something she mostly attributed to the past; “There is a huge history of segregation, racism and the concern of wanting to prohibit black/white relationships,” she explained. “We are still struggling through that history even if we’re more liberal on other issues related to race.”
Lydia Smith, a senior at the University of California, Los Angeles, has experienced the lack of support for a black-white romantic relationship firsthand. She recently dated a guy from Angola for a few months, and though they were smitten with each other, the rest of the people around them did not seem too enthusiastic about seeing them together. “We were walking around downtown and I kept noticing that people were giving us weird looks,” said Smith. “I’m not sure if they were aware that they were doing it, but it made me uncomfortable.”
Hattery says that while younger people may be used to seeing interracial relationships, the older generation and those with less liberal views are not so comfortable with it. “College campuses are a weird bubble among everything else,” explained Hattery. “But for the most part, outside of college campuses, we live pretty segregated lives.”
This message may hit close to home for Ashley Gold*, a senior at Pitzer College. Gold, who is white, has been dating her boyfriend, who is Mexican, for nearly two years. While he has already met most of her family, she has yet to meet his. She explained that she worries that his parents and siblings will not approve of her because she is not Mexican and cannot identify with his family’s culture. “As bad as it sounds, I don’t really want to meet them,” said Gold. “I’m scared they won’t like me, and since they don’t speak English well, I don’t know how we would be able to communicate.”
Hattery said that Gold’s discomfort is fairly common in interracial relationships, because obtaining the family’s approval matters to everyone who is in a serious relationship. She added, however, that sometimes it is just a matter of perception. People may assume their parents will not be comfortable with their relationship because of the racial divide, but Hattery advised couples to not assume the worst.
“Don’t assume that you know,” said Hattery. “You might not think that they will be supportive, but your parents may be more understanding than you think. They might react negatively at first, but if they see that you are happy and none of it is negative, they can come around as time goes on. Have a little faith.”
*Name has been changed