The changing face of American marriage

If you’re a really long-time Cromrade (and I don’t think too many of you still commenting have been with the blog for this long), you might remember a post I wrote about the proliferation of ‘interracial’ marriages in Canada:

I am heartened by the findings, of course. As the product of a mixed union myself (two, technically, after my dad re-married) I am obviously a supporter of marrying whoever you want to. As different groups begin to live together, go to school together, and work together, people become more exposed to other cultures and ethnic groups. As time goes by, they start wanting a bit more exposure (of the boobies kind) with other cultures and ethnic groups. Of course, this has a particular application to Canada.


What’s interesting is that the increase in inter-racial marriages isn’t an issue of simple familiarity (seeing different kinds of people in your day-to-day life), nor is it people becoming particularly philosophically enlightened. There is a phenomenon in social psychology called ‘in-group bias‘. Basically, you are more likely to favour members of your own group to the exclusion of those in other groups.

Well, as is the case with these ‘stories’, we have a new finding out of the United States that says much the same thing:

Interracial and interethnic marriages are at an all-time high in the US, according to a new study. In 2010, 15% of all new marriages were between couples of a difference race or ethnic group, up from 7% in 1980. The study, done by Pew Research Center also shows increasing public acceptance of intermarriage, with 43% saying it as been a societal change for the better.

There are two important things to break out of this finding. First, it suggests that some of the racial ‘silos’ that used to separate communities have begun to break down. Class mobility is perhaps not so starkly drawn along racial lines, such that people of different groups are mingling in each other’s peer groups. It certainly means that the stigma of marrying ‘outside one’s race’ no longer carries the same sting. This is either a reflection of diminishing family influence in romantic relationships, or simply a less restrictive attitude toward racial differences. While I don’t live in the United States, I can draw a parallel to a phenomenon I’m seeing more and more in Vancouver – mixed-race couples where one partner or the other is Asian (likely Chinese, statistically speaking). It’s become the norm rather than a neat exception.

The other implication of a finding like this is that the sociological silos of ‘race’ – that is, how we group people – is going to be rapidly breaking down in the next generation. We are using a very archaic jargon to describe racial groups (and I include myself in ‘we’). As the exceptions to the arbitrary lines we’ve drawn around different groups begin to grow, the language of race will quickly lose its precision, and thereby its utility. When we begin to push the boundaries that have meant so much in terms of how we judge people, we may find that prejudice simply becomes impractical. These types of romantic pairings, even those that do not issue progeny, will cause collisions of traditions in ways that will force us to radically reconsider the way in which we compartmentalize the world.

Now we must be cautious not to read too much into statistics like this – it is obviously premature to announce ourself ‘post-racial’ and begin holding hands under a rainbow. Race still carries a lot of baggage, and we are not yet grown out of our history of racial discrimination. The existence of a few ‘mixed race’ couples and their ‘exotic-looking’ kids does not mean that the struggle is over. It means that we may be turning an important page and creating an unprecedented social force that will render the traditional social order somewhat obsolete. How we respond the change will depend entirely on how willing we are to stare bravely and unashamedly into the face of our racial hangups and learn to move past them.

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  1. lordshipmayhem says

    I must confess that interracial relationships are so common where I live, that someone has to make a point about it before I notice the fact that a couple is interracial.

    It’s almost expected. It’s like same-sex couples are becoming: No Big Deal.

  2. Richard Simons says

    I think a similar thing is happening world-wide. UK statistics show a significant proportion of ‘inter-racial’ marriages and a former colleague married to a Malawian told me it was no big deal when she visited her family in Scotland. I spent several years in Namibia shortly after they gained independence and abolished apartheid and saw many signs that the barriers were being brought down, including mixed-race marriages. A big barrier, interestingly, was between people of Afrikaans and German descent.

    Depictions of apparently married couples on advertisements on television can be instructive. In an admittedly very small sample, I noticed that about 1/3 of ads in the UK showed inter-racial couples while in Canada these are largely confined to Chinese/White couples and I recall only one US example (for MacDonalds). BTW, I cannot think of a single Canadian ad featuring an Aboriginal person but perhaps I have just been unobservant.

  3. Riptide says

    I’d like to know how black-white marriage in the US is affecting these perceptions–many children of such unions consider themselves, and/or are considered by others, as just black. (Our humble host, while not being American per se, also subscribes to this identity.) This is a direct effect of the “one drop” principle–that is, anyone with an African in their genealogy was considered “coloured”. This has led to many generations of “mixed” African Americans from interracial couplings (consensual and otherwise), to the point that there are “light-skinned” African Americans whose parents and grandparents all share their colouring and all consider themselves black.

    This leads me to suspect that the changing perceptions of interracial couples in the US are due to other racial dynamics, with “visible minorities” from voluntary immigrant communities beginning to “mix into the melting pot”. Are “mixed” all-black Americans starting to consider themselves differently now? Are they starting to be considered differently? Is it possible that the “full black” people will become a minority-inside-a-minority, both statistically and socially?

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