Considering Interracial MarriagesNovember 30, 2009 | by Wendy Leopold
You're director of the Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate. What is that?
AGEP is a program sponsored by the National Science Foundation designed to get more underrepresented minority students to pursue doctorates in science, technology, engineering and math - what we call the STEM disciplines, and in the social, behavioral, and economic sciences, known as the SBES disciplines. The other goal is to encourage them to pursue careers as professors.
Why the focus on academia?
In general, the numbers of U.S. domestic students pursuing doctorates has been on the decline since the 1970s in this country. The nation's Ph.D. production rate has gone down significantly, and that feeds into issues of American competitiveness.
Did your book arise from research you did in the course of your doctoral studies at Northwestern?
One of my professors and I were talking about interracial marriage when I noticed that he constantly spoke of it in terms of white women married to black men. After a while, I told him that my personal experience of interracial marriage was more likely to be the other way around. When I started looking into it, I discovered that almost all of the research literature from as early as the 1960s and right through present times looked at interracial marriage in terms of black men and white women.
Yet the famous Loving decision was about a black woman and a white man?
The 1967 Loving versus the State of Virginia decision revolved around Mildred and Richard Loving, a black woman and white man who got married in 1958 in the District of Columbia because their own state banned interracial marriage. When they returned to Virginia, the Lovings were arrested by a sheriff in their own home in the middle of the night. The case eventually was argued in the Supreme Court by the American Civil Liberties Union and decided unanimously in the Lovings' favor. It struck down all state laws banning interracial marriage as unconstitutional.
What is the main message of your book?
I hope the book makes it clear that interracial couples are as successful and likely to find happiness as same-race couples. When it comes to marriage, statistics don't fall in educated black women's favor. For every 100 college educated black women, there are 40 to 45 college educated black men. If an educated, middle class black woman broadens her dating pool, she's more likely to marry.
What percent of couples in this country are interracial?
We're talking about tiny numbers here. Four percent of all married couples in this country are interracial -- and that means white with any other racial group. As of 2006, the number of black and white interracial marriages was under one percent. Of those, 71 percent are marriages of black men with white wives. But I think the numbers of black wives and white husbands are growing within the middle class.
Why did the topic interest you?
I come from a family that's very interracial and has been for generations. It never occurred to me or to my siblings that we were limited by race in choosing a mate. My mother's phrase was "you're the one who has got to live with him or her."
How many couples did you interview and where did they come from?
I talked with 50 couples primarily from Evanston, Oak Park and the Chicago neighborhood of Hyde Park because that's where a lot of interracial couples in the Chicago area wind up living. Most of them said that race was not a driving factor in their lives -- something that might not have been as true if they lived in less integrated areas.
Are interracial marriages more or less stable than others?
According to the data, the most stable marriages are white/white marriages and interracial marriages are more stable than black/black marriages. This might speak to the fact that most of these interracial couples are a bit older than the average marrying couple. They may have given considerably more thought about getting married and sifted through potentially problematic issues before they married.
Were there any issues regarding race that were paramount to all these couples?
The greatest challenge to the entire group of interracially married couples with children was the need to nurture solid racial identities among their offspring. Having children in some cases also improved their relationships with in-laws. After all, people generally like being grandparents and having grandchildren.