I’ll take a little cream in my coffee: The evolution of interracial dating in the 21st century

Dating can be tricky – even when it is with someone from your own race and culture. Every couple, regardless of background, must deal with everyday issues such as communication, team work, love, sex, jobs, finances, and the divvying up of household duties. It’s hard for someone my age to really remember a time when interracial dating was considered a big no-no but the reality is nationwide acceptance is relatively new and very much determined by generation.

A brief history – On July 11, 1958 Virginia residents Richard and Mildred Loving, who had wed 5 weeks earlier in neighboring Washington, DC, were asleep in their bed when police infiltrated their home and arrested the couple under Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act. At that time 24 other states had laws strictly prohibiting the marriage between two people of different races. They were tried and found guilty, declared felons for the simple act of declaring their love for one another. The Lovings moved to DC and lived in relative peace but always with the knowledge that they could be criminally prosecuted throughout most of the country for the simple fact of being married. In 1963 they approached the ACLU, requesting their support in their fight for national recognition and respect of their marriage. The Supreme Court’s majority opinion Loving V. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967) legalized interracial marriage and declared laws like Virginia’s unconstitutional. Many state laws remained on the books but were rendered obsolete by the ruling. By 1967 only 15 of the 24 states still had active anti-miscegenation laws. The last law to be repealed was Alabama’s in 2000 – I turned 15 that year.

The Millennial generation is widely considered to the most racially tolerant when it comes to interracial dating. According to a 2010 Pew Research Center report on racial attitudes in the US, 93% of people between the ages of 18 and 29 found it to be perfectly fine for black and white people to date each other.

Why have recent generations become so much more welcoming and even encouraging of interracial dating? A significant reason points to the fact that younger generations hold much “more radically liberal views” (Pew, 2010) than older generations. I tend to agree with this statement but I think it’s also important to point out other factors as well, and not all of them positive.

Exoticism and the “other”

American society has always romanticized cultural otherness. We have appropriated Oriental style of dress, European art, and British manners of speech. But one of the most pervasive forms is our appropriation of Black culture. This includes music, art, dress, hair styles, food – the list goes on. American society has also romanticized and even fetishized black sexuality. Black men are virulent, masculine beasts and black women are sensual and seductive. We see this perpetuated in Hollywood, books, and the music industry, constantly barraged with images of the hyper-sexualized black person.

The question is also begged, does this work the other way around? Do people of color date whites because society equates white with higher classes of status and wealth? Because the standard bearers of beauty are tall, thin, athletic white females and males, is there a certain appeal towards people of color to date whites as well? Regardless of our color, American society has often viewed interracial couples as novelties. It is only in recent years that normal acceptance has started to emerge.

The Hollywood Effect

If you look past the appropriation of other cultures, I would argue that the Hollywood industry has really helped push the acceptance of interracial dating towards the mainstream. Similar to the growing acceptance of gays and gay marriage, positive portrayals of interracial couples on screen (True Colors’ Ronald Freeman and Ellen Davis, Happy Endings’ Brad Williams and Jane Kerkovich-Williams, The Mindy Project’s Mindy Lahiri and Fanny Castellano, and The Walking Dead’s Glenn Rhee and Maggie Greene) and the red carpet (Paula Patton and Robin Thicke, Kanye and Kim K, Idina Menzel and Taye Diggs, Halle Berry and Olivier Martinez, and Selma Hayek and Francois-Henri Pinault) have really forced people to question their internal, and often subconscious, biases towards the “mixing of races”.

The Use of Social Dating Sites

In the past people met their partners through their social circles or at work. If you grew up in a predominantly white or black neighborhood then you were probably more likely to date someone from your own race. The emergence (nay say, cataclysmic explosion) of online dating apps has really broadened the opportunities for meeting people of different backgrounds. There are even sites specifically designed for singles looking for an interracial mate – AfroRomance and Interracial Angels are just a few examples.

It’s safe to state that we currently live in an era that is more tolerant of relationships that don’t fit the traditional nuclear family (white, middle class, two kids, and living in suburbia). Reality TV shows such as 19 Kids and Counting, The Bachelor/Bachelorette, Becoming Us, Real Housewives/Husbands, Little People Big World, and Teen Mom are just a few of the examples of how we have come to celebrate the different worlds and aspects of the modern, dating and marriage world. Yet, despite this progress, interracial couples still attract stares and criticisms.

A few typical questions you get asked:

Do you only date black men? I can’t tell you how often I got asked this question when I was in a relationship with a black man. Dating outside of your own race can often be viewed as some type of fetish. It’s easy enough to laugh it off. “Yes, I do have jungle fever.” I can hear Stevie’s song in the background now. But there’s also a hidden danger behind this assumption of “race fetishes”. It assumes that the only reason I am with him is because of his blackness.

How do your parents feel about you dating a black man? How about his? The biggest issue with this question is that it diminishes a person to the color of their skin instead of the worth of their character. People instantly assume that families will be against the relationship. While such an assumption can be based on our historical (though not too distant) social attitudes against interracial couples, continuing to ask this question only perpetuates the idea that when you date someone of a different race you should automatically come to expect resistance from friends and family.

Wouldn’t it be easier if you just dated someone more like you? I find this question particularly insulting. Not only does it subscribe stereotypes to my partner as someone different who I cannot connect with, but there are hidden racist undertones to it. His blackness does not mean he has different values or a worldview than me. Nor does it mean that we come from such different backgrounds that we will never be able to agree on anything.

Don’t people stare at the two of you? Of course people stare but by acknowledging it again and again you only give credence to the perception that interracial couples are not the norm. Most of the time it is easy to ignore the stares, but that doesn’t mean that they are not still there.

4 comments

  1. The second to last question, “Wouldn’t it be easier if you just dated someone more like you?” My best friend said something similar when I broke up with a White guy. She felt that the type of guys I dated were “the same”. And therefore I should start dating Black men. Again, it assumes that because the last guy was a jerk that all White men are the same or prescribe to the same dating values…it really hurt me when she said that. But in a twisted way it made sense.

    Like

    1. Completely agree. We too often generalize an entire group based on one or two experiences. I’ve dated jerk guys who were white. Does that mean I should view every single white guy as one? No!

      Like

  2. Ooh you’re looking right into my soul. Lovely.

    Like

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