It’s been an eventful couple of weeks, in biracal news anyway. A man was suspected by a Walmart security guard of kidnapping his own children, because his biracial kids didn’t look enough like him. And there’s the drama surrounding a Cheerios ad—starring a little girl who looked not unlike I did as a child, and featuring parents who looked a lot like mine. In the midst of this, I started thinking about biracal weddings and marriage: my parents’, mine, and others. I started wondering what they look like. I thought about how, much like ads featuring interracial families, I don’t see all that many interracial weddings coming at me as I go about my business writing about weddings, or reading wedding blogs and magazines.
I had finished reading Is Marriage for White People? by Ralph Richard Banks, a really good book that talks about both marriage in black America and interracial marriages (or the lack thereof on both fronts). The statistics on African-American marriages are bleak: nearly seven out of ten black women are unmarried, and as many as three out of ten may never marry. Black women today are about half as likely to be married as their 1950s counterparts and currently just half as likely as their white counterparts to be married. And black couples are, by some estimates, nearly twice as likely as their white counterparts to divorce. And unlike in white couples, this decline in marriage is not limited to the poor; the marriage gap is actually wider among middle class and upper-middle class African-Americans.
One of the main reasons Banks gives for this decline is the huge success gap between black women and black men. Black women outnumber black men in college and have surpassed black men in every field, even typically male-dominated ones. Black women are often faced with the choice of staying single, marrying “down” (marrying a less-successful, less-educated black man), or marrying “out” (marrying a non-black man who is as successful as she is). And, overwhelmingly, black women marry down or don’t marry at all. Through interviews with successful black women who have married down or just been in relationships with less successful men, Banks makes a pretty strong case for the success gap being the heart of this issue. (Meanwhile, Banks repeatedly reminds readers that “white follows black” with regards to patterns in marriage and family, and indeed, the marriage decline and these success gaps between young men and women are being felt by white folks now too.) So, then, why not marry out?
Banks never blames black women for their low marriage rates (and the genuine compassion and kindness with which he handles the sensitive topics in this book cannot be overstated) or suggests that marrying out is the simple solution, but he does try to answer that question. And the answer is… it’s complicated. In some instances, the black women interviewed believed that white men wouldn’t be attracted to them thanks to the white standard of beauty in our society, as well as the dominant stereotypes still associated with black women. (Meanwhile, surveys and interviews have demonstrated that white men are interested in black women but don’t think black women are interested in dating them. Oh, what an adorable rom-com-esque misunderstanding! Except not.) In many other cases, black women said they simply weren’t attracted to white men. But in many, many cases, the reasoning went deeper than that.
I’ll be honest: reading the way many of the women interviewed for this book talked about interracial marriage knocked the wind out of me. While I understand the hesitation due to fears of fetishization and the history of relationships between white men and black women (read: not always consensual) and I can deal with the reasons older generations gave against marrying out (I don’t like it, but I get it), it was tough to read what women my age or slightly older are saying about interracial relationships and biracial children. Turns out, the same freedom that allows me to check more than one box for race when filling out personal data rather than be subjected to the one-drop rule, makes a lot of people anxious. One woman bluntly said she wouldn’t marry a white man because she wanted “chocolate babies” and she “wasn’t interested in some little white girl telling me what she was and wasn’t.” Even the author’s own mother said she only dated darker-skinned men because, “I didn’t want no buttermilk babies.” Knowing that people on both sides of my family said things like that regarding my parents’ relationship and me (at least before I was born) made it particularly painful to read.
Meg and I have had a lot of conversations about diversity on APW. It should go without saying, but that’s something we’d like to see more of here, and this post came out of some of our discussions. But after reading Is Marriage for White People? I began to wonder: Am I not seeing more representation of black couples and interracial couples on wedding blogs and in magazines because these weddings aren’t happening? And, in the case of interracial couples, is it because people don’t want them to happen?
Lately, my Facebook feed has been filled with engagements that cross all kinds of cultural lines; I’d begun to think interracial relationships were no longer that big of a deal. (Interracial babies are a whole other story. Much like hybrid cars or Labradoodles, white people tend to feel very excited about us.) But this week, I realized that the fact that I was so elated to see a family like mine on TV—and that plenty of other people were so disappointed—means it’s still a big deal. (Or a “big fucking deal” as Meagan Hatcher-Mays wrote in one of the best things I’ve read on this topic… well, ever.)
Most of us here know it shouldn’t be a big deal, but my guess is that I’m not the only one who was telling herself it wasn’t a big deal because to admit otherwise is, frankly, depressing. (And because every time I want to talk about it, I experience the same anxiety a lot of people of color do over being criticized for “making everything about race.”) It’s much easier to think about the colors of my wedding cake than to think about the first time Eric had to witness someone firsthand asking me, “What color are you?” (A fairly common occurrence in my life.) Unlike a bride and groom, a cake can be chocolate and vanilla and nobody gives a shit, so most days, I’d rather talk about the cake.
But… clearly, we need to talk about it. From the lighthearted (Eric gets my hair, you guys…like, really gets it!) to the serious (if we have a child, will people think I’m my kid’s nanny?), there is a lot to say about love that crosses cultural lines. And while I’ve limited my definition of “interracial” to black and white in this post because of my own personal experiences, there are all kinds of “mixed marriages” and I hope this discussion will include others’ experiences with interfaith, intercultural, or other kinds of interracial relationships. But let’s start that conversation.
Photos from Rachel’s personal collection