It’s a Nice Day for a (Half) White Wedding

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

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  • Agree completely. On the main topic of interracial marriage and children I don’t have much to add to your already strong points.

    From a feminist perspective I wonder about this “success gap”, though. I can understand and get behind wanting people of any gender and any race to have more or less an equal shot and therefore be more or less equally represented in various fields and levels of success (however you measure it).

    What I don’t get is that everyone’s saying this vis-a-vis men catching up to women in terms of success so women don’t have to “marry down” or make the choice not to marry, without considering some equally important issues:

    1.) Women of any race, in terms of pay and in many fields (especially the highest paying ones), are STILL behind men, so this “success gap” is a fairly contained thing, and that’s a problem because they pay gap is still very real.

    2.) How come nobody ever talks about men “marrying down” to find women? I get that it’s been traditionally more accepted, both openly and quietly – I get it, but I don’t like it. But now? Why is that still, you know, not a problem we discuss, but we do discuss women not wanting to “marry down” to less successful men? Why is one more of an issue than the other, still?

    3.) How DOES one measure success, anyway? I make more money than my husband and have a more successful career but I truly do not feel there is a “success gap” between us. In so many ways he’s a better person than I am. I admire him. So what are we talking about when we are talking about success gaps? Prestige? Income (it can’t be income, men still outearn women even in female-dominated industries)? Education (maybe?)? What?

    4.) One way to solve the “success gap” (for everyone) is to promote a society in which everyone has a more equal shot at success and more or less equal likelihood at failing (something we really, really do not have now, along either gender or racial lines, or both), and all the possibilities in between. But nobody ever considers the idea that teaching our kids young that success isn’t just measured in education, money or prestige, and so “marrying down” isn’t a concept that even needs to exist. Rather than just promoting more equal opportunity for success among, say, black men, shouldn’t we also be teaching women that a man doesn’t need to earn more than you to be “successful” or “equal to you”? Isn’t that part and parcel of true equality?

    • marie

      Some very current research that speaks to a few of your questions:

      • marie

        Your points are great. I think the paper I linked to addresses (2) pretty well, and tells us something about the importance of your policy suggestions in (4).

    • marie

      What the heck, here are some more.

      Here are two papers on racial and gender preferences in mate selection, where the authors very cleverly use data from large speed dating experiments to figure out revealed preferences in potential partners:
      Basically, women are willing to date men who are seem more ambitious/intelligent, but men are only willing to date women who are less-than-or-equally so.
      Women have stronger racial prefs than males, among other things.

    • Laurel

      The aversion to marrying ‘down’ doesn’t just come from women: if you grow up with the idea that being a successful man means providing for your family and having the central career in your household, it can be tough to accept marrying ‘up.’ Plus, men are less likely than women to expect to make sacrifices for their partners’ careers, so you have logistical barriers to relationships lasting.

      That paper has a lot of useful information, including the tidbit that women do MORE housework relative to their partners when they out earn them, perhaps as a way of confirming threatened gender roles.

      • Gina

        This is so true. I still remember my dad warning me that if I continued my education post-college, the pool of men who would want to be with me would narrow. This was definitely true for one guy I dated, who couldn’t even handle the fact that I was a couple years ahead of him in college.

        Today, I have a professional degree and am engaged to a wonderful man with a high school education. I understand that some people implicitly think I am marrying down– but why? He makes more than I do, for one. He has found a fulfilling career path that he loves. And he is smart– he can hold his own in my group of consultant-lawyer-doctor friends.

        The difference between my fiance and my ex-boyfriend is that my fiance is not threatened by my education and never entered our relationship with the delusion that I needed to be “taken care of.”

        I think that women are justified in choosing not to marry someone who has no independent motivation or drive to succeed at life. (See: the Italian phenomenon of mamoni, or “mama’s boy”). But women should definitely not be judged for choosing to marry someone who may not have obtained her level of education or career advancement.

    • Rachel

      In regards to your #2, I have been asking myself that a lot lately as I read articles like the recent one in the NYT about female breadwinners. How come nobody ever talks about men “marrying down”? And I think the answer is in the fact that, historically, it was OK for men to do it, and so there just isn’t as much cultural baggage associated with it. (For the record, I do NOT think this is right, just offering what I understand may be going on.) Women often get pressure from outsiders when their man makes less than they do and men often get shit from outsiders when their wife supports the family. Again, I don’t think it’s OK, but those cultural stereotypes run deep and I think tuning that out is easier said than done for both men and women. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, but it does mean that it might not be as simple as we’d like. I hope that in the next generation this idea that the male must be the provider isn’t as deeply ingrained, but I think people my age got both the message that women can do anything they they want to do AND the message that men are defined by their jobs. So I think we’re still working through what that means for relationships. (Also, in the interest of brevity I didn’t get very into this particular point in this post, but in the book he really gets into why the success gap is a problem in relationships. I hope it’s something that gets explored more on APW in the future because it’s a big and important topic.)

      As for how we measure success in this country, we measure it based on education and income. (Again, I don’t really agree with this.) So even though individually, you know that your husband’s success isn’t about his income, other people might not see it that way and that shit can really get in your head. (Interestingly enough stay-at-home-moms in progressive circles often deal with these same perceptions. “Success” these days, whether you are male or female, is all about working for pay.)

      • Anne

        I find this really fascinating. My husband and I met in college, so at least when we started dating, we were on “equal” footing (according to success measurement, I guess). I certainly still consider us to be equals, although my husband (computer engineer) makes significantly more than I do (PhD student), and will continue to do so unless he changes careers. However, my education level already surpasses his, and since he has no interest in going back to school, this will always be the case.

        I do wonder if how we measure success in our own relationships has to do with the stage in our lives when we met our partners. Since my husband and I met when we were relatively young and at the same point in our lives, I suspect I would continue to view my relationship as completely equal no matter what other external successes we each met with along the way. It’s not like either of us had any idea what level of success we would achieve in the years following college. But if we had met at a later point in time, perhaps we would have perceived one another differently. I don’t know, but it’s an interesting idea.

        • lady brett

          i think this is an important point. it is (in my experience) fairly easy to be in very unequal financial places with a relationship that has progressed to a point where things are so much about “us” that comparing relative income/social standing/education/what-have-you is irrelevant. but i would imagine that dating (or being in less serious relationships) from “unequal” perches would be far more difficult.

          (i have little/no personal experience to go on here, as my wife and i started off on fairly equal footing and purposefully went off track from there as a team, and all my previous relationships were decidedly egalitarian in these ways. i think that is one of the reasons they lasted as long as they did.)

      • marie

        Rachel– totally check out the paper I linked to ( ); it’s the impetus for Dick Thaler’s recent NYT female breadwinner piece ( and several others in the media right now. The original work is chock-full of interesting facts!

        Thanks for a great piece!

        • Rachel

          Will do, thanks!!

        • KSandoval

          Marie – thank you for posting these articles.
          The breadwinner piece is very interesting to me as I now earn about twice what my husband earns and we are happier than ever. The part of the piece that speaks to divorce rates/unhappy marriages increasing when women earn more was striking to me, although I understand where those feelings come from. This has made me think even more about the reasons why my husband feels proud of me without being threatened and I will continue to ponder that. Very interesting topic and I look forward to reading the other articles you linked to as well!

          • marie

            You’re welcome! This is my day-job (labor economist!) and it’s fun to share :)

            I think it’s fascinating to see what happens when cultural norms lag behind rapidly changing economic landscapes.


            When I read this stuff, I can’t help but feel that by clinging to old patriarchal notions, men are leaving something on the table. Glad your husband knows what’s up, and is supportive and proud of his high-achieving spouse!

    • two points of interest regarding how race plays into your third point (that is, when you add in race, it absolutely can be income. or education. or prestige.).

      one, the gender income gap is *much* lager among whites than blacks. for african-americans with a bachelor’s degree, the gap is a few hundred dollars; for whites with a bachelor’s degree it is almost $20,000. that difference changes the conversation substantially.

      moreover, while women earn more college degrees than men across the board, for whites that is about a 10% gap, while for african-americans it is more like 30%. this is probably the bigger aspect of the “success gap”, because it indicates that the education gap is growing drastically, and particularly among younger people (which is relevant to the marriage aspect, although clearly you don’t have to be young to get married). plus, black men have a notably higher unemployment rate than black women (whereas whites are on fairly even footing there).

      when you add those to things together, you get that (younger) black women are overwhelmingly in higher pay grades than black men, and that the gender pay gap is enough lower that that means they are in fact making quite a bit more money (whereas, statistically, a white woman with a bachelor’s is only slightly ($3k) out-earning a white man with a high school diploma, among african-americans, she’s earning almost double). and that’s without getting into the prison industrial complex.

      • marie

        Picking up where you left off, here is a good piece on the impact of mass incarceration on marriage markets:

        • Class of 1980

          This is what happens when you privatize the jails.

          Now they have financial incentive to incarcerate as many people as possible … leading to one of the highest rates of incarceration in the world.

          Without privatization, there is incentive to keep jail populations as low as possible.

  • marie

    A free version of the full text:

    • I love how straight-up academic this comment thread got from the get-go.

  • The whole time I was looking at cake toppers I was hearing Carla on Scrubs saying, “They don’t make tiny plastic interracial couples, Turk.” We’re white and Indian though, which seems to have a lot less baggage, societally. I do wonder whether people will think I adopted our (still hypothetical) kids when my husband isn’t with us. Then again, we could have pale babies with confusingly Indian names. My husband wasn’t raised with a lot of emphasis on his culture and we’d like to change that for our kids, but don’t have a model of what that would look like. And while neither of us are personally religious, even exposing our kids to Hinduism will be a big problem for my Christian mother.

    • Laura C

      It turns out that they do make tiny plastic interracial couples, though! (NB: I am not having any kind of cake topper, but I was curious while procrastinating on the internet one afternoon.)

      I too am white and marrying an Indian-American man and mostly when I think about our interracial relationship I think about what an issue it’s not. That aside, our backgrounds are so similar in some big ways — we grew up in different parts of the same state, we both had at least one college professor parent, there are books in every room of our parents’ houses. Which actually means that the moments when ethnicity is briefly an issue often take me by surprise. But those moments, so far, have not been externally imposed. Well, there was the night I called my father, drunk, at midnight, telling him to call a lawyer because if I could find the guy who had been trying to push A around for having the wrong skin color I was going to hurt him. But other than that! Mostly it’s, like, I say it bothers me how when he describes people he invariably says they’re smart and it feels like a class judgment to me, and he says but being smart has this resonance in post-colonial India, and I’m like, ok, point, but at the same time, that still makes it a class thing…

      The knowledge that any babies of ours are likely to be pale (based on how all of his cousins with one white parent look) is actually part of what, for me, settled the “whose name will they get” question with his name. My thinking about that is probably too confused to fit into a comment, but that’s what it boils down to.

    • Remy

      They didn’t make cake toppers that looked like us, either. :) I’m very pale despite some melanin in my ancestry, and my wife is quite brown. We *will* be adopting our future children, and we have a better-than-average chance that they will be dark-skinned. The “Are you the nanny?” syndrome may apply to both of us!

    • My cousin is white and married to an Indian man and their daughter is so pale you would never guess she had any Indian blood!

      There are a lot of examples of mixed couples white and Indian. There’s a whole subset of blogs known as the “gori wives” blogs written by white women married to Indian men.

    • Sarah

      I accidentally hit report instead of reply. :(

      I couldn’t find any cake toppers that looked like us, either. Aside from being white/Asian, I’m taller by several inches! There were absolutely zero cake toppers that didn’t have the man towering over the woman. We ended up with a custom made one from Etsy with cats.

    • Mads

      I am a white, European American about to marry (in five days!) a dark brown, south-Indian who’s lived in the U.S. for over a decade. We have encountered discrimination to the point that one uncle had to be uninvited to the wedding after he grilled my mom about our future “mulatto children.”

      Wedding planning has been very difficult for us, as we’ve encountered obstacle after obstacle due to lack of diverse options in the wedding industry: think half-hour time-limits on ceremonies; “exclusive” caterers (who can’t make any cuisine besides meat-eating American) at most all wedding reception sites; and intercultural, interfaith issues galore between our families and even ourselves–from what jewelry and clothes we’re wearing, what day the wedding is on, how each others’ families are helping or not helping, etc. At times I have desperately sought out the advice of others who have gone before me in an inter-racial, intercultural, interfaith marriage. Fortunately I’ve been able to find a few people through friends of friends.

      Planning any wedding other than the big-white-dress, 20-minutes-in-front-of-a-minister, couples-that-match style wedding is not for the faint of heart.

      • I’ve been blogging about my interfaith Hindu/western wedding, but I don’t know that I have the same issues to deal with that you do. Sounds really tough!

  • marie

    Here’s another engaging and informative paper, from Roland Fryer at Harvard. It is about the history of interracial marriage, and the theories of marriage that best account for observed cross-race marital patterns:

  • SJ

    THIS. I am so all over this. I identify as black because it’s so much simpler than breaking down my complete heritage. My soon to be husband is so adorably white he sunburns in the shade. (He’s also a redhead…score for me). I’m rather medium complected anyway and I usually get “Which one of your parents is white?” It’s so much fun when I say “Neither”. FH and I have an ongoing discussion about our future children and race issues and what that looks like…it’s evolving, much like we are.

    On the subject of “marrying out”…I guess you could say that I did that. He’s white. He’ll be an electrical engineer soon and none of that really matters to me. As a black woman, I chose not to date many of the black men I encountered simply because they made it known was that what they were interested in was my skin color from the very start.

    And along came the love of my life with the best pick up line ever : ” Hello. My name is J.”

    • APW Lurker

      SJ I just wanted to say thank you for saying what is so hard for me to say without feeling like the scum of the earth. My experience with other black males has been similar to yours, little appreciation for my intellectual just a check box for being black. I always felt bad, like for some reason I was in the wrong for not being attracted to men of my same race. And growing up as a chocolate chip in a big white cookie I never approached the guys I was actually attracted to because I never felt pretty enough or good enough compared to my white friends.

      • SJ

        Oh I definitely understand. I grew up in Southern California….there may have been 50 black students in a school of 3300. It’s hard to be attracted to what you don’t see…

        And you should do more than lurk here. We don’t bite.

        • APW Lurker

          Sometimes I feel that it goes beyond my hometown. Growing up in the late 90s pop revolution as a preteen girl, I felt that my attraction was dictated by a predominately white male cast aka N’SYNC, Backstreet Boys, LFO (ah if only I could be a “summer girl”). Although I will say that the highlight of my tv watching years was Boy Meets Girl when Shawn and Angela start dating. They were my beacon of hope couple, that I could look at and say “SEE! It happens!”

          Shoot now that I really think about it, my fiancé actually does resemble Shawn…. Hmmmmm

          • ANI

            Shawn and Angela… SWOON!

  • ferrous

    Oooh, me, me! *hand raised, bouncing around in seat* I saw the Banks book this weekend and raised my eyebrow quizzically at the title; I’m glad to hear he doesn’t blame women for the disparity.

    I’m biracial (blasian) and marrying out (he’s white). I LOVE seeing representations of myself and us in any media and have to agree it’s very rare. One thing: [based on anecdotal data] I feel that marrying out is rare due to straight up racism. When I was online dating the great majority of non-black men, while choosing a “preferred race,” checked every available box except black. “I’ve never been attracted to a black girl before” [lucky f*cking me] is something I got used to hearing.

    I have to admit a twinge of guilt at marrying out. (I self-identify as black, it’s the one-drop thing.) It’s entirely socially imposed. There was a story on NPR a few years back about a white man who gives seminars to black women on dating out; they also interviewed the women on the stigma of doing so. I wish I could find it, it was fascinating.

    My fiance (who “looks like Captain America” according to random folks we meet on the street) is regularly shocked by the things people say out loud to me. He says he never realized how much racism still existed until we started dating; I chalk that up to the Captain America thing (remember Jon Hamm’s treatment in that 30Rock episode? It’s like that). My interest in him skyrocketed when, during our first date, he never asked the dreaded “What are you?” or uttered the word “exotic.”

    This is all over the place; suffice it to say I’m excited to see this post on APW. Thanks for making my Monday.

    • Jessica B

      The Jon Hamm on 30 Rock thing is probably the best way to explain the ‘blinders of privilege.’ Since racist comments aren’t directed at white people (hardly at all, I should say), it’s easy for people who live and operate in mostly white circles to realize that there is still a huge racist component to society. I’ve had to explain things about sexism to my fiance and his family–and my family, for that matter–because they just aren’t seeing what is actually happening. They chalk it up to the status quo.

      I know there’s a tumblr called ‘Yo, is this racist?” where people can send in their concerns about possible racist thoughts and situations they have or experience. I just want there to be a popular blog explaining to people the etiquette of race. For instance, if you see someone you think is biracial, DON’T ask them which of their parents was white. It’s rude and presumptuous. Unfortunately, because of all the Jon Hamm’s out there, this needs to be taught.

      Also, this:

      • ferrous

        I have the first half of this conversation on a weekly basis. Including the “I knew it was Japanese or Korean!” part.

      • Rachel

        This video is HILARIOUS.

      • I love this video so much. My husband is hapa-haole (half-japanese, half-white, in the local slang). The “what-are-you” question sometimes painfully comes up, often followed by some kind of stereotype (sushi, anime, etc). This video is such a relief (and a good lesson!).

        Plus, living in Arizona sadly means that if you aren’t white or black, you are assumed to be Mexican or Chicano, which as a male can often mean harassment by the police. But that’s a whole different story.

      • amigacara

        I love that video!!

      • Pumpkin

        I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve had to turn to my oh so very white FH and say something like “um, you know that’s a really racist/sexist/antigay term… right?” and his response is always something along the lines of “Oh… it’s just a word I grew up with. I didn’t know it meant that”.

        It came as quite a shock to him to realise that not only was his father being REALLY racist toward his (admittedly really scummy) Ecuadoran brother in law but that the negative things he was saying regarding his Latinness (rather than focusing on his scummyness) could be insulting to me as a Latina.

        But, you know, he wasn’t talking about *me*. *I’m* not like that.

        • Liliana

          this is why I eventually just stopped dating white US American guys. It was either them or their families with the frequent small, “harmless” comments and finally I was like, I don’t have the time or the inclination to be your ethnic studies teacher. Fighting the sexism is enough! Plus most of my friends are mixed with black like I am, and it seemed most white US American boyfriends I brought around found it uncomfortable to be the only white person in a group of people as it was a new experience for them.

          I don’t have any negative opinions about black women who marry out – yay for love! – but I am really, really happy to be with a black man. (who earns even more than I do, although I have a masters degree)

      • That video! Perfect! Hilarious!

      • Emily

        Yo Is This Racist is also a (hilarious) podcast, for what it’s worth.

    • Rachel

      You know, whole racial preference regarding online dating thing came up in the book! It’s hard for me to break down such a big topic concisely, but basically, he argued that that’s not as bad as it seems. Apparently women (of all races) are far more likely than men to not check boxes indicating they’d date outside their race. There were some other points too that I’m not remember off the top of my head that sort of indicated that it might not be as bad as it seems. While I’m certainly not arguing that the stereotypes of black women aren’t influencing some white men in the boxes they check, it sounded like there was more to it than that.

      • For what its worth, I have done a ton ( a ton) of online dating and in my experience, racial preferences only influenced the ones I contacted, not who contacted me.

        I wouldn’t initiate contact with anyone who excluded my race on a profile (mostly because I think it’s rude). But far and away, the most people who did contact me had my race excluded. I figure people mostly choose that kind of stuff on past experience and not future expectation.

        • Copper

          Or they choose it in a checklist way, like, “this is what I imagine I’m looking for” but keep flexibility to deviate when they see someone that doesn’t meet the image they had in their head but still catches their interest.

      • marie

        For reference:

        Here’s the biggest peer-reviewed study I know if on racial preferences in online dating:

        Here’s complementary evidence from speed dating experiments (I also posted it above):

        • KIT

          I am late to this thread, but Marie, you rock with providing all the research info. Thanks!

      • A-L

        While online dating (where I met my husband!) I also saw the people who would check their own race only (which I didn’t mind as much), but also the people who would check everything but black (which definitely bothered me). I wouldn’t contact people who did that, but like others here have mentioned, guys would contact me who hadn’t included one of my races on their checkboxes.

        From online discussions I have had elsewhere, I think part of it depends on what part of the country one is living in. (Unfortunately, I think anything but black pops up more often in the south.) I think it also depends on how marriage-minded the person happens to be. Partially from experience and partially from others’ reports, it seems that guys who wre just interested in dating around were a lot more open to various races, perhaps because they viewed them as flings. But the more marrige-minded guys tended to be more restrictive, because although it would be okay to date someone different, it’s a completely other matter to actually spend the rest of your life with them and raise children together.

        • H

          Sometimes, it’s also about not fighting your racist family. The thought goes something like this, “well, i’ll just only date white people, so my family doesn’t dislike the future person I choose to marry.” For what it’s worth, I was actually told, don’t bring home anybody but a white person. I mean, I may have brought home an Asian guy as my first boyfriend, and I was absolutely terrified to tell my parents. Like, irrationally terrified. (and they even liked him!) So, rather than relive that terror, I only dated white guys after that. Yes, I married a white guy. Could I have married somebody of a different race? Probably – if I had met one I liked. Was it worth the fighting? No.

      • mira

        It’s not just about box-checking, though. Did you guys see this on oktrends? They looked at who people actually reply to, regardless of what boxes have been checked.

  • Laurel

    I really love this piece. Thanks for writing it, Rachel.

  • S

    Rachel, I love your family photos – so adorable!

    I think another reason for why there is not as many black marriages compared to white marriages (and thus not a lot of prominent resources/discussions on black marriages – you often have to seek it out as I did in preparation for my own marriage) is because many of us black women and men may not have grown up with parents who were married and therefore we don’t see the importance and tradition of it compared to our white counterparts. If we don’t see it modeled first hand, how are we to know why it’s important and what the benefits of marriage are? From my own experience, I didn’t have (and still don’t) have many positive examples of marriage within my own family. Neither my mother nor my grandmother were married and my aunts and uncles who were married have become divorced. My husband’s family is mostly divorced as well but we have the same view of why we believe in marriage and how important it is for us to be a strong marriage unit for the sake of our future children.

    On the interracial side, to me, if you love someone so be it. Love should not have any colour boundaries…you are, or I should say, should be loving a person primarily because of who they are and looks should be secondary. It warms my heart to see interracial couples (especially the older couples-so adorable!) because it means that we’ve come a far way but still have so much more to go. What a very timely post though seeing that this Wednesday is “Loving Day”; a celebration of the illegalization of interracial marriages!

  • The Family Jules

    I’m so happy that this discussion has officially started.

    I’m white and my partner is white passing (first generation American with parents from the Netherlands and Afghanistan. He considers himself as “passing”). We haven’t had any problems except when people pester him with “Where are you REALLY from?” (His accent is not the typical “American” accent). On the religious side of our “mixed” relationship he’s a Baha’i (and a very observant one at that) so that leads into a lot of questions from my family and friends who have not yet met him.

    We haven’t had any problems as of yet, but we are definitely the most” different” kind of relationship to happen to my family.

    • Rachel

      “Where are you REALLY from?”

      Ugh. Yep. People get so disappointed when I just blankly look at them and say, “Um…Michigan?”

      • Jessica B

        I just posted this in another comment, but it made me laugh so hard I want to share it again:

      • That’s when you should stare at them with dead eyes and intone, “from inside your dreams. . . .”

        • The Family Jules

          Hahaha that video is great.

          Rachel- Same here! People just seem so taken back and disappointed when he says “Uh…Pittsburgh”. The poor guy gets hit with 20 questions every time I introduce him to someone new in my hometown (Nowheresville, Upstate New York. Not a lot of diversity in my neck of the woods).

          Erin- That is a wonderful suggestion. I will definitely tell him to do that to future inquiries. ;-)

      • YEEESSSS. “What’s your background?” “Ummm . . . American.” “And what else?” “Um . . . multiple generations American.” “Oh . . . really?!”

        It doesn’t upset me, I just think it’s so weird to ask a relative stranger. When himself and I were traveling through South America, everyone — and I mean everyone — assumed that we were Brazilian. We thought it was weird until a local explained to us that it was the only conceivable explanation to most of them for a black woman and a white man to be together.

  • Hintzy

    I am white bread and mayonnaise as I like to call myself… and so is my partner… so I have very little to offer, except to say that I really appreciate being able to read about your experiences and thoughts so thank you for sharing.

  • This so much. As a queer, black woman about to marry a straight, white man, on my best days I feel “quirky and different” and on my worst days I feel “alone.”

    Don’t get me wrong. In my family, marrying out is extremely common. Interracial marriage (especially remarriage) is almost the norm. My parents would have been more shocked if I brought home a black man than all of the white ones they’ve met over the years. Its a running joke that our family reunions closely resemble a United Colors of Bennetton ad.

    But. I don’t have examples of it in my peer group. I *really* don’t have examples of same sex, black-white relationships (do they even exist outside my own experience?). And I always, always feel like I’m sort of Ambassador of the Republic of Interracial Relationships when asked (constantly) “why don’t you date guys/girls your own race?” I have been “the first balck girl I’ve ever dated” more times than I can count. Sigh.

    And yet. I am proud of my relationships. I am proud that my family defies convention and has spent four (four!) generations marrying whoever the hell we want, race be damned. I’m proud that every time I explain for the millionth time that the two blonde kids with me are my niece and nephew not my employers kids, I’m helping others reassess what “family” looks like. And I’m super proud to be marrying out to a person who matches me in every way, regardless of race.

    • Anon

      Black-white same sex relationships certainly do exist! This isn’t really my story to tell, but my (white) sister and her (black) girlfriend could write a book on this topic. It’s not an easy fight, but they have stuck together through all the shit the world throws at you for being a lesbian, interracial couple. While our family is super happy for them, her family is not so much (for them interracial=bad and same-sex=eternal damnation).

      I just hope that one day this won’t be an issue. With war and suffering and poverty rampant it seems so RIDICULOUS that anyone should fight against love.

    • Black/white same-sex relationships totally exist. The couple in the landmark Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas (which decriminalized sodomy in the US) were a black man and a white man. For example.

  • This is amazing.

    Growing up in suburban New Jersey, I went to culturally diverse schools from K-12. Then, I ended up going to a 95% white college. I know, right?! Now, I currently teach in a Title I school in the same city in Pennsylvania where I went to college. The student population is about 45% Hispanic & 45% black. So with that being my background…

    My boyfriend & I recently moved in together, which was a big step for both of our families (mostly mine, though). Since our relationship is getting more serious (!), we’ve been talking about getting engaged, married, having kids, all that terrifying grown-up talk. Things that make this even more overwhelming is that I was raised Catholic & am from a big white family. He was raised Baptist & is from a big black family. Where I never saw an issue with this (seriously), things are coming to a head more and more, now. And, based on this post, I can guarantee that things will continue to escalate as our relationship does.

    I get some backlash from my parents/extended family (although they’ll never come out and say it; which is worse?). When I told my aunt we were getting serious, she reminded me that I’m supposed to find a nice Irish Catholic boy from a big family like she did, and that we should make Irish Catholic babies to continue the big Irish Catholic tradition. No thanks; not for me.

    Some of my black female students either find it really cool (which is a plus, teaching middle school) while others seem taken aback that I’m dating a black man. I’ve often heard comments like, “Those white girls stay taking the good black men.” Even when we’re out, I feel looks from women – black & white, alike. My boyfriend doesn’t notice. And if he did, he’s probably just think they were jealous that he was on my arm & not theirs.

    I didn’t think that I didn’t fit in until recently. Like, what? I’m in a grown-ass relationship? What’s the big deal, right? This was a really, really long winded way to thank you for this post. And that quote, “Interracial babies are a whole other story. Much like hybrid cars or Labradoodles, white people tend to feel very excited about us,” had me laughing out loud.

  • THIS to the entirety of your lovely post. So beautifully written.

    Your remarks on fetishization and, specifically, the commoditization of biracial babies hit so close to home. My husband is Chinese (I’m a stereotypical red-headed Irish chick) and it seems that the instant after I introduce or even show a picture of my partner I’m bombarded with “OMGZ! You absolutely HAVE to have babies. Half-Asian children are the cutest EVER!”

    I mean, it’s certainly one of the less pernicious forms of profiling we encounter (the worst are the people who feel it’s ok to ask me about the size of husband’s man-bits or who feign pity because he ‘probably doesn’t satisfy me’), it often feels mighty uncomfortable.

    On the plus side, if you’ve never seen this site it is incredibly lovely (and caters exclusively to inter-cultural couples):

    • Laura C

      Ha. Recently I was with two Indian-American friends and one of them says “hey, we’re all in white-Indian relationships. We need to all have gorgeous interracial babies.”

    • Rachel

      Ya know, I think the sweeping generalizations about how cute mixed babies are get under my skin more than anything else. (Luckily, I don’t have to deal with the horrendously rude people talking about my guy’s junk like you do…for crying out loud, people!!) I think it’s because it’s meant to SEEM like a compliment, but there’s a whole host of issues going on there (first, there’s the idea that people like when POC are closer to the white standard of beauty and then the fact that it makes you feel like a zoo animal…a pretty one, but a zoo animal all the same).

      On a lighter note, thank you so much for sharing this website! This made my morning: (Mainly because in many of my wedding delusions, I’m wearing that same Reem Acra gown that the bride is wearing at the reception.)

      • I’m so glad you like the website! When we were planning our wedding it was a great source of both happiness and inspiration.

        “it makes you feel like a zoo animal…a pretty one, but a zoo animal all the same).” You nailed what I was struggling to conceptualise. That’s exactly it.

        The questions about my husband’s junk are depressingly common, but I’m always happy to set the record straight on that matter.

        My “favorite” line of inquiry is “but how does he pronounce your name?” People assume that the Ls in my name (Kelley) are overpoweringly difficult for him and I have to deal with being called ‘Ke-ree’. Ummm, no. #1, Chinese has an L-sound; Japanese uses the psuedo-R. #2, he grew up in New Jersey and has perfect English for crying out loud!

      • Oh yes…those comments can be incredibly awkward to deal with. I had two different (very sweet) older women come up to me at my wedding and tell my how lucky I was to be marrying a hapa (local Hawaiian slang for interracial) because they were the best looking and such. They then went into an exposition on some of my husband’s other hapa friends and which ethnic combinations produce the best-looking children. I’m not really even sure how one responds to that.

      • Sara C.

        Yep, I hate the “your babies will be so cute! mixed babies are the best!” comments too.

      • Corrie

        My wedding delusions ALSO involve that same Reem Acra dress! I’m obsessed.

    • Seriously, people actually ask you that? Wow. I don’t know if people are erroneously pitying me, but at least they’re keeping it to themselves.

    • Katie

      Yes! White woman married to black man here, and I get the opposite side of the “junk size” question. Not as much anymore, now that we’ve been together for 5 years but definitely in the beginning. We don’t plan to have kids but we get a LOT of the “you HAVE to have kids because they would be soooo gorgeous!!!” I don’t even know what to say to that most of the time, because I know that it’s not coming from a bad place but there’s so much wrapped up in it.

      • Interesting note: in the junk questions, Asian American men are assumed to be small, black men are assumed to be big, and white men, surprise surprise, get to be in the perfect middle.


      • Emily

        A family friend once asked me about the junk issue AT THE THANKSGIVING TABLE. Horrifying.

        • JESUS. A great aunt asked my mom about that in the 80’s and even then Mom thought it was outdated and inappropriate…

    • Eeej

      Oh my goodness, thank you for this!

      As a person in another white woman/Asian man couple, it’s often awkward. And don’t get me started on the “cute babies” thing. I always respond that our babies will be cute, not because of being mixed, but because both of us are really, really, ridiculously good looking. (**cue Blue Steel pose**) :-)

      I’ve noticed though that in white/Asian couples, there’s an additonal interesting gender dimension- I’ve always felt like the more common pairing is an Asian woman with a white man, and people don’t always know how to react to the reverse. While we’ve encountered little outright bigotry in our East coast blue state, there’s sometimes a double take (“You’re with him?”). Not the worst thing in the world, but it does give you an indication of where we are in terms of progress- it’s not as unremarkable as you’d think.

      • Audrey

        I remember being really surprised when I found out about the gender disparity. My coworkers even ended up commenting on it at my most recent job (where I was already married coming in) — there are plenty of asian/white heterosexual couples at the company, but I’m the only one where the woman is white…

    • Laura

      Yes to all of this! White woman married to a Korean man here. Constantly hear about how gorgeous my half-Asian babies will be, have dealt with the ridiculously inappropriate questions about his man-bits, and watch him live the video posted above daily (“But where are you really from? I knew it was Japanese or Korean!”). He also has a very Korean name, so people are constantly shocked at his perfect English. Sigh. Interestingly I dealt with basically no questions, looks, disapproval or fetishizing when I was in a long relationship with a mixed man (black and white) – the one time we did get nasty disapproving looks when he visited me while I was living in Boston, we were super appalled. Spending most of our time in Minneapolis, which my gay black male professor (who is married to a white man) calls the “land of 10,000 mixed couples” had clearly sheltered us.

      • I love you guys. Sharing the love here, always, but I have to respectfully disagree on all counts regarding biracial/mixed babies.

        Disclaimer: The Fiancinator is Trinidadian/Chinese and I am White.

        I do NOT see that as profiling or stereotyping or anything with negative connotations. I happen to think they ARE beautiful….I’m personally sick of everything being “whitewashed” (pun intended) and culturally autonomous. I think capturing the melding together of two worlds in a face is an utterly gorgeous thing. And I’ll be honest…to my eye, they ARE freaking cute. :)

        We have even gotten comments walking past people…”My husband is white and I think we’ll both have gorgeous children.” Not only were we NOT offended but we laughed and stranger-bonded over it.

        I actually find it kind of a surprise that people would be put-off at the notion of being informed that their unborn children will be lovely.

        • Rachel

          Well, I would argue that part of what makes me uncomfortable is the implication that biracial babies are beautiful because they are whitewashed people of color. It’s hard to ignore the subtext of “You’re so pretty,’re not like the OTHER [darker] people” when a lot of people give this “compliment,” and that makes me super uneasy. And while I personally agree that many mixed-race children are gorgeous (though I also am totalyl biased!) the comment I often hear that ALL mixed-race children are gorgeous is irritating because it’s just inaccurate. Not all of us turn out like Halle Berry, you know? Obviously if it doesn’t make you uncomfortable, then soak it in! (And perhaps we disagree because you’re coming at it as a parent, whereas I’m coming at it as the object of attention?) But since it clearly makes so many of us uncomfortable, I guess I would file this under “generally better to avoid.”

          • Ahhh yes, Rachel. I see what you’re saying. You’re looking at it from the angle that babies can/are objectified and compared (appalling!) and, yes, I was thinking more by way of “All babies are beautiful. I’m confused.”

            By “whitewashed” I actually meant to highlight a lack of nuance overall, regardless what their skin color literally is.
            I don’t mean to harp on the issue but I kind of see it as a celebration of cross-cultural integration and acceptance. From behind my rose colored glasses the more mixed faces we see the more we must be dispelling the notions of prejudice and racism as a whole. Or at least I hope. So in that way I do believe those children are exceptional: because today they still are the exception.
            And maybe that’s why I celebrate it rather than taking offense?

          • Rachel

            @Blair “So in that way I do believe those children are exceptional: because today they still are the exception.” I mean, THAT is amazing. And that is totally how I feel when I see mixed children too…like “Oh awesome, there are more of us! This is happening!” (I know, I know…I need to stop pushing my mixed-race agenda!!) So I think you and I are in agreement that it’s really about what those faces represent that is what makes them beautiful.

            (Side note: yay for respectful disagreements and discussion!)

          • k

            Wow, that’s so interesting! I admit that I find biracial babies especially cute (in reality I find pretty much anyone with dark eyes/hair/skin especially cute, regardless of age or gender), though of course ALL babies are cute. I would never however say anything other than “your baby is adorable” to someone I wasn’t pretty much best friends with. The implication of “whitewashed people of color” had never occurred to me though — if I were to compliment someone as “you’re so pretty” my secret never-to-be-verbalized subtext would NOT be “not like those other darker people,” it would be “not all pasty white like me.”

          • Poeticplatypus

            Thank you. As a dark skinned Black woman I would cringe when people talk about the beautiful biracial babies. Not because they aren’t cute but why only gush about them. It stings that I never hear someone mention other races or colors. All skin tones are beautiful. Let’s embrace that.

        • lady brett

          “I actually find it kind of a surprise that people would be put-off at the notion of being informed that their unborn children will be lovely.”

          sure, assuming that someone says “wow. you two are going to make beautiful babies” – but what people are saying in this case is “you two are going to make beautiful babies because of your race.” the former? cute, sweet, complimentary and fun. the later? skeezy. i mean, if someone told me that my babies were going to be pretty *on account of being white* i’d high-tail it.

          • Yeah. Like I said I understand it if we look at it as some kind of objectified/comparative analysis between races but to be honest the thought has never crossed my mind that anyone would think there would be some sort of “improvement” by adding white features to a racial line. Who cares what race is being added, it’s a new baby person that combines the best of ALL kinds of unique features, regardless what they are.
            The notion otherwise is disgusting so I think we are in violent agreement on that angle of it.

            Full disclosure: first thing I noticed about my Trinidadian fiance was his fabulous ass. (And by ass I mean smile. Of course). His skin color was so far from relevant that I’m genuinely perplexed by this!

    • Pumpkin

      I am friends with a couple where the husband is Thai and the wife is German/Irish with blue eyes and fair skin and their two children take heavily after him.

      People are constantly telling her that the children are beautiful and asking her “where she got them” and the look on their faces when she brightly and pleasantly responds with “Oh, I got them from my vagina, and thank you!” is pretty much the best thing ever.

      • Sarah

        As a white woman who is starting the TTC journey with a half white/half Asian husband, I admit the thought has crossed my mind that if our kids have very Asian features, will people think I adopted from China or something. I’m think I’m going to steal that line.

      • Laura

        YES! My (white) sister-in-law who has a very Korean-looking daughter (who is the cutest thing JUST CAUSE SHE’S CUTE NOT CAUSE SHE’S A HALFER) is constantly getting asked where she “got” her daughter from. I am most definitely planning to say about my still-hypothetical children that “I grew them in my uterus, aren’t I awesome??”

    • Audrey

      I remember getting the cute baby comment from my Filipina seamstress when she found out my husband to be is Filipino. Fortunately it seems to be the exception rather than the rule. (His family is of course all about babies too, but that’s different…)

      I’m glad I’ve never run across anything as personal as someone asking me about his man-bits!

  • Anka

    Loved this piece. There are other interracial couples on APW! My husband is mixed race, raised by the black side of his family, and I’m white. In our case, my husband and I both have graduate degrees. But I definitely see the marrying-down issue playing out for some of his female cousins. They’re not quite at the marrying stage yet, but they’re bright, they’re in college, and they’re dating high-school dropouts.

  • Mark and I will be an interracial married couple soon enough. He’s white (Irish and Hungarian) and I’m Native American (Seneca). I’m fairly concerned about the kids part, too, because the Native community in this country is a small one. And for some reason, when Native children are mixed (even if they grew up immersed in the culture), people belittle that because they can’t really be Native if they’re half white! How is that so? (Cue Cher’s awful “Half Breed” song and imagine the headdress she wore in that video!)

    Also, I can relate to the “What are you” kind of question. Or if someone can identify that I’m Native, I get my favorite kind of question “What kind of Indian are you?” Nails on a chalkboard!

    Thanks for an insightful post. This has to be my favorite wedding blog – ever! Substance is always good!

    • This. How do people think it’s ok to assume that the moment you have one white family member you become all white? I worry about our kids getting sufficient access to Indigenous culture, but hopefully my partner’s extended family can help (I’m white, my partner is Australian Indigenous).

  • Alexa

    I loved reading this, even as it reminds me to worry about my future kids. My family are white, hippie liberals and my husband’s family are conservative, Christian Nigerians. In the interactions between the two, especially while we were wedding planning, I think it was easy/necessary to focus on the inter-cultural aspect of the relationship. (I wrote about some of my feelings about our Yoruba engagement ceremony here:

    I do worry, occasionally, that we use it as an excuse to gloss over the inter-racial aspect of the relationship. We live in a fairly liberal area, have a number of friends in interracial relationships/marriages, and (if I’m being realistic, for better or for worse) are one of the most common interracial pairings. We don’t get many comments about it, just a rare “I wasn’t expecting him to be black” from a co-worker after meeting him or a “She’s got a booty; I think that’s why she’s got an African man.” But I know that when we have kids it will, in some sense, be more visible & people are likely to feel more comfortable making (potentially dumb/obnoxious) comments. I’m glad I’ve got some time to prepare, think about these things, and educate myself before we get to that point.

  • Hannah

    You rock, Rachel. This was well-written and informative. It makes me sad to think how many people still get worked up about this stuff, which makes it hard to talk about because isn’t it easier to talk about cake?? But thank you for bringing it up. It is a big fucking deal.

  • Jaya

    It only occurred to me recently, as a half-white (representing about half the countries in Europe) and half-Indian woman, how often I get asked what I am or where I’m from. Or how when I was a kid everyone thought my white mom was my Irish nanny. Or how everyone always expects me to be Indian because it’s more interesting to them even though there’s just as much culture and tradition on the other side. And yes, mixing gene pools is a great way to get nice looking kids, but please stop calling me “exotic.”

    It also only occurred to me recently that my marriage to a Jewish guy totally qualifies as interracial, though most people probably wouldn’t think that from the outside. As sad as it sounds, we “pass.” Sometimes I wish we didn’t.

  • I love this writing. So funny, deep and thought-provoking. And i love your family photos :)

    I do have one question for you, Rachel: why do you write that the statistics on African-American marriages are “bleak”, just because they are lower than white marriages?

    I know this is (partly) a wedding/marriage blog, but why is marriage the ideal that must be upheld? I question that marriage is necessarily better than being single, dating or co-habiting.

    Please note, I am coming from the perspective of a white, Jewish queer woman.

    • Rachel

      Ah, good question! First, because I, personally, think marriage is important, as does Team APW. The legal protections can’t be ignored and there are real social benefits to making it “official.” (There’s a reason we’re fighting for marriage equality after all.) That’s not to say cohabiting couples’ love is less real or anything like that, but I personally see marriage as beneficial and significant. (Generally speaking anyway. Every couple is different and I would never suggest that all cohabiting couples SHOULD get married!)

      I also found them bleak because, at least in the book anyway, they were tied to other issues. The author writes that while the black middle class has really expanded, it’s “fragile,” and that many younger black middle class couples don’t have the support that comes from years of success/living a middle class life. He said something like they are only a few paychecks away from financial ruin. Having two incomes often affords one a great deal more comfort/stability (financially speaking) and cohabiting might not provide the same benefits. (Again, the legal stuff is important here…particularly the health benefits and the protections offered if a couple splits up.)

      There’s also a LOT in this book about infidelity and the rates of extra-relationship affairs among black Americans. While I don’t want to imply that being married automatically means fidelity, a lot of women in the book spoke of a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it came to whether or not their unmarried partners were seeing other women. The implication was that they know what’s going on, but given who has the power with regards to dating right now, many chose to just ignore it. That’s not something they’d likely be as comfortable with if they were married. And the rates of STDs among black women were really quite shocking, and may have a lot to do with this. So while monogamy isn’t the end-all, be-all, and while marriage doesn’t always equal monogamy, those kinds of things led me to feel like this situation was rather bleak.

      • Copper

        If I could jump in, I’d say they’re “bleak” if there’s a gap between how many people want to get married and how many people are able to find partners (and are legally able to, though that’s a whole other angle on the marriage conversation that’s been covered at length in other posts). However if as many people who wanted to be married were able to do so, and it’s simply that people weren’t feeling the need for it, I wouldn’t consider that to be bleak.

        • Rachel

          Excellent point, and that was absolutely the case here.

        • Class of 1980

          I don’t know about that.

          If black Americans don’t avail themselves of legal protections, and as a result have worse outcomes in life, then it’s bleak whether they chose it consciously or not.

          And it does sound like the book is saying their financial success is more fragile due to lack of legal benefits. A choice that negatively impacts their financial stability will also impact their opportunities in life. And that negatively impacts their equality in society.

          That is bleak.

          • Laura S

            “If black Americans don’t avail themselves of legal protections, and as a result have worse outcomes in life, then it’s bleak whether they chose it consciously or not.”

            Could you unpack this statement a bit? It sounds a bit like you’re saying that Blacks are opting out of the legal protections provided by marriage. I think that the situation is a bit more nuanced than simply “opting out”, however it is a bit difficult to read your intent.

      • Thanks for responding, Rachel.

        That makes a lot of sense; I know there can be financial, social and health benefits to (good) marriage. On a practical level, it can lead to stability. I just question it as the ideal goal of relationships from a queer, feminist perspective.

        Maybe I will check out that book!

      • I had the same thoughts about the language “bleak” when describing marriage statistics, as lately I have been really trying to challenge these ideas about heteronormative and ideal families. But, like you, I continue to see a problem in the kind of marriage disparity that Black women face, because for many Black women, being unmarried is not necessarily what they would have chosen. I have so many friends who have their stuff together and would love to get married, but its just not happening. Marriage shouldn’t be considered the “right way,” but if it is the way someone would choose, I think it is unfortunate that, because of factors such as poverty, education, unemployment, and white standards of beauty, people who want it are so much less likely to access it. I just wish that when this issue of Black women’s marriage inequity comes up, it is framed in the context of such issues, which are related to overall racial, social and class problems which need to be addressed regardless, rather than the shallow ways it often is, where either Black women are blamed because of our (insert here: independence, bitchiness, ugliness, lack of adequate submissiveness) or male homosexuality is lumped in with all of the other social problems that stand in the way of Black women’s marital chances. I also think the focus on Black male imprisonment as an obstacle to marriage is important to look at, but that discourse can be dehumanizing (many of these men do have wives, partners, families) and can overlook the way in which the imprisonment of women of color is growing at alarming rates as well. The prison industrial complex is disruptive to all kinds of families and should be seen as a violence to all families, not so much an unfortunate obstacle to a particular kind of family formation.

        • Class of 1980

          The Prison Industrial Complex is very real and it’s horrific.

          Great post.

  • Copper

    I’ve been wondering about this a bit. In my dating life I was very diverse, with actually very few white guys, a black guy, a couple of Jewish guys, an Persian guy, and many Mexicans. I’m white bread myself, but I always perceived a lot of the diversity in my dating life as a reaction to me instead of the other way around—I’m curvy and opinionated, which resonates more with the cultural expectations of Latin cultures especially, moreso than it resonates with white guys. I wasn’t skinny enough for white guys, I wasn’t passive enough. Now I never looked at this as a step down to date the guys who were interested in me, but I was a bit hurt by my diminished pool.

    But somehow after Mexicans being the staple of my dating diet for years, who am I ending up marrying? A white bread american guy with Irish heritage, whose family looks a heck of a lot like my family in many respects. As much as I’ve thought about it, I’m not at all enlightened as to why that happened. The one thing I can point to is, when we go to each other’s family events, holidays, etc. there is something there that fits, enough in common that when we think about marrying in there’s a “yeah, I can see that. These people feel like my people.” instead of a, “well I guess I’ll have to finally learn Spanish because this only being able to hold a conversation at the level of a kindergartener has got to go.” That’s the big stuff, but there’s also the little stuff like being raised as board game fanatics that feeds into it too, that’s much more specific than the bigger racial stuff. There’s an aspect of comfort and familiarity that certainly isn’t what got us started on this relationship in the first place, but I have a sneaky feeling that maybe it’s part of what makes a whole life together easier to envision? That it’s not wrong to marry outside your race, but that it’s a little bit *easier* to marry inside it, and lots of us fall onto the easy road.

    • Procrasting at work

      Copper, I appreciate what you’re saying, but I think for a lot of us who are children of immigrants, marrying inside our race is not necessarily the easiest path. Part of the reason this video ( resonates for so many of us is because other people see our race, but we feel our own upbringing, which is almost totally “American”. For reference, I am a 2nd generation Asian American (parents born in Asia, I was born in the US), and my boyfriend was born in South America (as were his parents), but moved to the US as a toddler.

      In many ways, the fact that we both have immigrant parents/families mean that we share much more in common than each of us would with someone who was our own race but had a different upbringing. (Although neither of us were specifically looking for that or thinking about that when we were dating people.) And the fact that we both grew up in America, of course, provides an overwhelming amount of similarities that provide a foundation of mutual understanding for our relationship. And of course, the fact that we (and our families) share the same religion also provides a further foundation that we agree on.

      I guess my point is, of course I understand why couples often share some sort of similar background, whether it be nationality, race, language, religion, socio-economic background, etc. And for white Americans, most of the other people you meet or date will not only share your nationality, but also your race, so maybe it is easier to marry inside that. But I guess I just feel uncomfortable with the implication that two white American families are more similar than a white American family and a non-white American family based on race alone. In so many ways I am American, (I certainly don’t fit in when I go to Asia), but it makes me feel like no matter what, I will always be more different than alike, based on how I look. Or to extrapolate further, the 4th-generation Asian-American girl in the video will always seem Asian to outsiders, but why is her family less similar to a 4th-generation European-American family than other white American families?

      And for the record, my boyfriend and I are trying to learn each other’s foreign languages, although both sets of our parents speak English well, partly to pass that down to future children, partly as a way to honor each other’s backgrounds, and partly cause it’s pretty bad-ass to have three languages to communicate with one another in.

      • JCB

        I agree, there are many cultural factors that are more important than race to many people. I am white & marrying a 2nd generation American. More than anything our broad graduate-level humanities educations really affects how we experience the world, and is such a huge factor to our relationship. The racial/cultural differences have been pretty easy to navigate. Much harder is how very differently our families see money and titles. My family’s religion dictates simplicity and disregard for status, rejection of symbols of status, and my parents take that pretty seriously. His parents don’t see things that way & bought me an 8,000 welcome-to-the-family watch. Navigating THAT difference has been the most challenging for us, much more than a racial difference.

  • OddAnnie

    I’m half white, half Native American, and I’ve had a few “what are you?” comments in my life though not probably as many as other people have. My little brother is even darker than I am, and has very short hair that is kinky-ish curly; people often think he is black/white mixed. My sister in law, pale and redheaded, teaches school in an inner city area, and her kids often think my brother is “mixed” and either tease her or congratulate her, which makes her feel weird either way. The both of them always get to hear about what beautiful babies they’ll make. My dad says after my mother’s family recovered from the “scandal” of her marrying him, my grandma overcompensated by taking me everywhere and showing me off to prove that she was proud of her mixed grandchild, which might be true or might be him being an asshole. Most of my dad’s side of the family has married “out”, but with all different races, black, white and Hispanic.

    And I’m sorry, but if I heard someone say “I don’t want buttermilk babies”, I’d think they were gross and just as much of a racist as someone who said “I don’t want brown babies.” My father always said that eventually, everyone would become so blended that it wouldn’t be possible to define someone’s “race” just by looking at them, and that then we as a society could maybe actually stop being such assholes to each other.

    • elle

      Exactly, to your dad.

      • Class of 1980

        Science is already saying that among people whose ancestors originate from the United Kingdom, the percentage with blue eyes has gradually become much lower in the U.S.than in the U.K.

      • OddAnnie

        That was a really interesting article. I had no idea about the blue eyes thing. I’ll have to forward it to my dad, lord knows he loves to be right about stuff. :)

      • JCB

        Except brazilians have just as wide a range, if not wider, than the US, and their own complex racial politics. What they are referring to isn’t even the prevalent complexion in many regions.

  • You know, I am half Asian half white and my parents were unmarried (I carried around a tragically long hyphenated last name for 19 years, 18 letters long). They separated when I was young and my Asian dad married a white woman on her insistence since she was pregnant. I don’t think they would have gotten married otherwise. And my stepmom was disowned for marrying an Asian man. Funny thing is everyone always thought she was the nanny because we are all little brown kids and she has blond hair and blue eyes. I’ve noticed that marriage in my Asian family doesn’t seem to have the same ideas that it does in America. All of my aunts and uncles and grandparents have been married and divorced and are all “living in sin” in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. And on top of that they all still hang out with their exes like it isn’t a big deal. There must be some studies on it somewhere!

  • Julie

    As a part of a racially/ethnically diverse couple, I really appreciate this post.

    I am racially-mixed, ethnically Puerto Rican and Taino (and culturally a pacific north-westerner). As a current resident of an east coast city where the racial makeup is predominately black and white, I have been bombarded with the “what ARE you” question. I have spent my lifetime asking myself that question as I tried to make sense of who I am in relation to the predominately white community I grew up in, and to my diverse extended family. I have come to accept my own cultural self-definition while still hearing feedback from people who claim I’m not black enough because of my complexion, hispanic enough because I don’t speak Spanish, or that I have too many exotic features to be white.

    I have found that having people accept my definition of self is made trickier depending on who I’m in a relationship with. When I dated a Puerto Rican who spoke Spanish, I found more people identifying me immediately as latina when I was with him. Being with my future husband, who is a white guy from a rural town, has emphasized my “exoticness” to his community while de-emphasizing my “minority status” to others. Overall, this has not impacted my day-to-day, but, during those times when I want to celebrate the uniqueness of our cultural diversity I find myself worrying about the perception others will have and what kind of response it will create – because, from stares to violence stemming from racism, I have gotten feedback in a variety of forms based on what people defined me as and I’d prefer to spare my fiance the same harassment.

    In specific regards to the media- I have struggled to find much in the way of visuals that embrace diversity. If society has difficulty accepting the black man and the white woman in a cheerios commercial, can they fully accept that little girl? And what does it mean for a child from two parents who are bi-racial, multicultural, etc? I wonder how much easier it would be for multi-cultural/ethnic children to identify with their rich backgrounds if consumable media spent more time accurately reflecting the diversity of couples instead of matching people up based on race.

    • Rachel

      Julie, this part of your comment: “de-emphasizing my ‘minority status’ to others”? I feel like there’s a whole other post in there. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been told that I “don’t count” as black because I was raised in a white suburb by the white side of my family. While I have no problem admitting that I’ve experienced a shit-ton of privilege because I’m biracial, I feel like sometimes I have to remind people that yep, I’m still a minority! And I don’t think they want to erase that fact about me in a good, post-racial way, but in a far more unsettling way.

      • Pumpkin

        One of my (100% Puerto Rican) cousins told me about twelve years ago that I was “not like other Puerto Rican girls” without any other qualification.

        I’m still wondering if he meant it as a compliment or an insult, and if it was meant to be a complement whether he ever realizes that it’s pretty damn insulting anyway.

  • Alix

    I am white and marrying a white dude so I don’t have anything valuable to add to the discussion but I just wanted to say I loved reading your post, Rachel! And all the thoughtful comments as well. It’s also super great seeing more diversity on APW. Rock on everyone!

  • amigacara

    I love this conversation. I’m white and my husband is South Asian and while the interfaith aspect of our relationship comes up more than the interracial aspect it’s still there and it’s still important to think about. My husband gets “what are you” questions sometimes–a lot of people think he’s Brazillian, for some reason. And I imagine our future kids will be more confusing. Sometimes I think that he thinks that by the time we have kids and they grow up the world will be a perfect place and they’ll never have any issues because of their race or religion…but I’m not so optimistic.

    And while there are several mixed race couples in my extended family, so it’s a familiar concept, I still think that my mom is probably a *tiny* bit sad that her grandkids will not have blue eyes and blond hair like her babies did…she’s never said that, and she never would, but I feel like it’s there, you know?

  • I appreciate you SO much for writing this. You always seem to get at the heart of the issue and blow that pink elephant right out of the room. Mixed gal marrying a Filipino man…I get this more than you know!

    • Rachel

      <3 I actually thought of you as I was writing the part about my Facebook feed filling up with interracial engagements and I wondered what your thoughts on all this were!

  • Sara C.

    Also, black-and-white couples exist! Here’s a few of my wedding pictures, courtesy of Krystal Kast photography:

    The hardest question I have had so far, however, has been how my husband and I will one day teach our kids about race. There’s a balance between preparing them for a world in which a Cheerios ad is controversial and also not making them overly cynical, jaded, or superstitious.

    • Sara C.

      I should also add that one thing I think helped cement our relationship was that we shared the same religion and have a similar educational background. As much as they say opposites attract, I believe that at some point if there are too many differences of these fundamental characteristics of a person then it will be harder to maintain a marriage.

    • Copper

      I would love it if all the children of the world collectively looked at the reactions to things like Cheerios ads and went, “WHAT are the adults freaking out about? Grownups are stupid.”

    • S

      Love your wedding photos! And.. that he surprised you by playing the guitar to you during the ceremony! That must have been sooo sweet! :) Congrats to you both on your marriage and best wishes for finishing law school!

      • Sara C.

        Thanks! It was really wonderful :-).

    • Rachel

      Ahhh, thanks for sharing! You guys are a super cute couple and I love that he’s playing the guitar for you! This looks like an awesome wedding.

      As for teaching your kids about race, I can only speak from personal experience but I think my parents (and mainly my mom) did a great job. She didn’t shield me from anything but talked about race in this very…non-political way? Like she just told me things very matter-of-factly and with sort of this sort of un-emotional attitude of “Here’s what people think and here’s why that’s ridiculous duh.” And so I got the message early on that this shit IS ridiculous and so I perfected my blank “You’re ridiculous” face/response to racism or ignorance very early on. While the best way to talk about race/racism is a whole other conversation, I’ve found that a pointed confused scowl that makes the other person uncomfortable when they say something inappropriate has served me quite well. And that approached also helped me feel less jaded. For me, it really helps to talk about it and (gasp!) to laugh about it with close friends and family who get it.

      • Sara C.

        I agree – matter-of-fact sounds like a great approach for kids – especially for more obvious situations (like the reaction to the Cheerios commercial).

        A big issue for us is when we disagree on whether a word/act is racially biased…and how we should instruct our children to handle what I call almost “silent” racism. As in, is the person on the elevator avoiding your gaze because your black? Or are they avoiding it because they’re thinking about something intently? What if everyone is avoiding your gaze?

        Not sure if that makes sense, but striking a balance between making them aware of what’s going on versus causing a chip on the shoulder seems difficult at times!

        • Rachel

          You know, I can’t remember my parents ever talking about little things like that, and I kind of like that approach. By focusing on the big stuff, I was able to (when I got older anyway) figure out the small, silent stuff on my own without anyone telling me to. (On that note, I’m convinced it’s one of those things you just KNOW. Which makes it hard to explain to other people after the fact.) But I think this helped me avoid that feeling of being suspicious when I was younger; had they pointed them out, I probably would have been a lot more hurt/jaded/afraid after those moments.

        • My parents never talked to me specifically about the subtle, silent racism either. For racism in general, they took the same approach that Rachel’s parents did. There are certain things you do not do – steal, throw a fit in public, lie, judge people on their skin color, tell Grandma her cooking is gross, etc. I think the biggest thing that was helpful for me was that they kept it age appropriate and explained when I had questions. If I didn’t notice it, they didn’t point it out because I was an over-dramatic child anyway and probably would have shouted at people who were looking at me funny not because of race, but because I had my panties tucked into my dress again.
          I think if you trust your gut, you will know exactly how to handle the situations as they come…

        • Copper

          I think you teach it packaged with whatever way you teach handling any thoughts/judgements/whatever from other people. When someone’s avoiding your gaze in an elevator, it’s probably about them. Even if they think it’s about you… it’s really about their own thoughts inside of their own head, and you don’t have to acknowledge them, try to figure them out, or react to them in any way. Especially since if you’re sitting there trying to puzzle out what they’re thinking about you, all it will really reflect is your own fears about what others think of you. It’s a death spiral.

  • Gillian

    Thank you for this piece. As a white girl married to an asian guy, this hits close to home and raises all sorts of questions about how I will feel with our future children, how they will feel, how society will feel. I think there’s still loads of room for improvement here, and for lots of conversation. Thanks for starting this.

  • Gina

    My fiance is half white, half Latino. However, his father (who is Mexican) has very fair skin, so my fiance looks, well, Italian. He has struggled with where he fits in, even though he grew up in Texas where mixed marriages between whites and Latinos are very common. He identifies with the Latino community and is very proud of his heritage, but he often feels guilty because he has privileges that most Latinos don’t have. We’ve wondered a lot about how to present this to our children. We want them to have pride in who they are, but we also recognize that they’re going to be really white. I guess expose them to the reality of white privilege in age-appropriate ways, while also making sure they spend time with my fiance’s father’s side of the family. Anyone else have experience with this?

    • I am half Mexican, half Swiss and we all look a bit mixed, my brother is very light skinned but he has eyes that look kind of Asian (like my mom), my sister is the darkest skinned of us three, I have been told I look Brazilian or Italian, people can’t really tell.
      But I am proud of being Mexican, I think it is where you grow up, together with the cultural bits that your parents teach you that define you and that can be such a cocktail..
      My husband is even more mixed, he has Indonesian, Surinamese, Dutch, Austrian blood, and some Black if you go back in the genealogy.
      We want to incorporate all of that in little ways, and we already try to do it in little things (like me learning recipes from his mom or grandma, etc…).

  • You guys are intense today. Need some coffee for all this difficult conversation.

    Can I interject with something a little more light-hearted? Has anyone ever noticed that they are treated BETTER because they are inter-racial?
    It has never been an overt thing with us but I sometimes get the sense that folks kind of appreciate seeing us together and we are always treated warmly particularly when we travel.

    In a perfect world that wouldn’t even be the case but, I dunno, it kind of makes me proud!

    • *yes* We have people smile so warmly at us sometimes or nod in appreciation. It’s so interesting compared to when I’m dating someone of my same race.

    • We’re a mixed-race couple, and I do this to others. Not that I treat them differently or do anything out of the ordinary, particularly, but I notice . . . perhaps even more so than other people. Kinda like how I imagine a parent might look at another parent whose toddler is throwing a fit and give them a reassuring glance? Like, “IIII KNOOOOOWWWWW.”

  • Tamara Williams Van Horn


    Finally this week happens…thank you. I am back. Rachel, go, womyn! Just, you GO.

  • Anon For This

    “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.”

    It is a big deal. I wish it wasn’t.

    As a white woman currently divorcing a Black man, I must say, I feel like I’ve let interracial couples down a bit. I feel like my failure reflects poorly on other happy couples. Like detractors of interracial relationships can point to my marriage and say, “See? Told you so.” Maybe I’m putting too much pressure on myself to be an example, but it’s hard not to when there are (seemingly) so few of us.

    • You ARE putting too much pressure on yourself. It’s like when gay couples divorce, it’s not “proof” that same-sex marriages are destined to fail.

      We’re just humans. And sometimes we break each others’ hearts, or are incompatible for whatever reason, and need to end their relationships. It’s just one shitty part of being human. No matter what your demographic.

  • elle

    Hello! Just another half of an interracial couple here. We do exist! Even on APW! :)

    I can identify with a lot of the gripes expressed in the post and comments, especially the “Which of your parents is white?” “Um, neither!” exchange. As someone who has a very mixed heritage, I enjoy blowing the minds of people from more apparently homogeneous backgrounds, of all races I should say. (Although, a particularly classy (black) dude once tried to pick me up while suggesting that my mom must have been lying about the identity of my actual father for me to be so fair skinned. Needless to say, he was not successful in his attempt to get my number.) (And I say apparently, because as I’ve learned from my very white husband, even they can have backgrounds that are fascinatingly diverse in different ways, though clearly ones not as obviously distinctive as skin colour.)

    The reaction to the Cheerios ad interested me a lot. When I first started dating my husband, I was a little concerned about potential racism, but here in the UK we’ve thankfully never encountered anything that we’ve noticed. (And we haven’t always lived in such a liberal bubble of a neighbourhood, either.) Interestingly, I also have quite a number of friends from home here, of various non-white ethnicities, who are all “marrying out”. That said, they are all also immigrants to the UK, and probably all a bit mixed-race to some degree – that happens a lot where I’m from – so it feels a less radically different thing to do. However, I recall heated and bitter discussions with black British colleagues when at uni who saw doing that as the worst possible form of ethnic traitorship.

    Anyway, thanks for the interesting post, APW! Lovely to see all these discussions happening.

    • elle

      Another thought I’ve had while pondering this post, is how glad I am that actually, I pretty much just identify as “Trini”. (Trinidadians come in a range of ethnicities). So I think of our future kids as being half-English, half-Trini, rather than in purely ethnic terms. And that way of thinking seems to work here in the UK, especially given that English, Scottish, etc, differentiate among themselves so strongly, despite all being “white”. It’s very interesting to see how very different (while also being very similar) things are in the US.

  • As a half white, half black Guyanese (don’t call me African American) kid who married a white guy; this is super interesting and fun to read. LOVE IT. I don’t really have anything to add; my response to most of these questions and conversations is only slightly funny and mostly offensive humor. MASSIVE kudos to Rachel for starting a thoughtful conversation and not writing off the majority of the world like some of us jaded half-breeds.

    Also, the Wal-Mart link is EXACTLY why I told my husband that he couldn’t nickname our son “monkey.” Innocuous to most, but all it takes is one Nosy Nelly to see a very tall white man chasing a small, mostly brown child through the store saying, “C’mere, monkey!” to get security called on us.

    • elle

      Ha! Mongrel, half-breed humans FTW!

    • Remy

      Oh yes. Monkeys are an off-limits theme in the nurseries/playrooms of several kids I know, for similar reasons.

      • I should point out that he does it anyway, he’s just careful about it in public. He’d be called Monkey no matter what color he was, I just had to remind my poor innocent husband of the societal implications. (We’ve had the “You know you’re in a interracial relationship, RIGHT?” conversation many a time. It’s sweet that he doesn’t think of us that way, but that sweetness doesn’t make it safe for us to stop to pee at gas stations with Confederate flags in the window while we’re on road trips.)

        I’m more irritated that he calls the dog Monkey too, they both look up when he says it and it’s just going to make for confusion when he gets older.
        Or great movie quotes; “We called the dog Indiana…”

        • My mom called me by the dog’s name regularly throughout my childhood, and called the dog my name. Knowing my mom ALWAYS has issues with names, I still mostly chalked it up to alliteration as the tripping point (Sarah/Sunny), but then my brother texted me a few weeks ago that she called the dog my name again, out of the blue. Her dog’s name is Hannah. Sigh. And I still get called “Sunny” every now and then. Confusion happens. It’s okay (though my experience lacks the racial underpinnings).

        • Rachel

          “We’ve had the ‘You know you’re in a interracial relationship, RIGHT?’ conversation many a time. It’s sweet that he doesn’t think of us that way, but that sweetness doesn’t make it safe for us to stop to pee at gas stations with Confederate flags in the window while we’re on road trips.” THISSSSSS. When I moved down to TX, Eric and I drove through Arkansas very late our first night and couldn’t find a hotel and were really hungry. We were in some TINY town and we stopped at a Taco Bell; outside the front were a bunch of tough-looking dudes and it was the only time in my life that I genuinely felt AFRAID of how people might react to seeing Eric and me together. So…we went through the drive-thru. And slept with one eye open for just a few hours at the hotel we finally found. (It reminds me of a similar story my mom told me about a road trip she and my dad had to take when I was just 8 days old and got stranded in Indiana or Ohio and she was felt afraid.)

          But what was sort of interesting to me (for lack of a better term) was the fact that Eric felt that fear too, without me saying anything. And I don’t know how to articulate this exactly, but it always is kind of a relief when he gets there without me reminding him? (Actually one of the fears about interracial relationships discussed in the book was the fear that the white person wouldn’t see/notice racism as often, so maybe I’m not crazy.) Anyway, I think those moments are like kind of how people of both cultures/races/etc. go from blissfully thinking interracial relationships are no big deal to adults in interracial relationships who are like “I’ve seen some shit!”

          • Alexa

            Hmmm. See I had the whole “I didn’t realize it was an interracial relationship” conversation with my mom when I first started dating my now husband, but I was also 16 at the time, which I hope gives some excuse for my naivete. It’s always interesting (if sometimes depressing) to hear about other people’s experiences, because I have a hard time figuring out why I’ve become more aware of racial tensions and concerns. How much is being in an interracial relationship for 10 years? How much is working in a diverse environment where race-related issues are often relevant? And how much is just growing up and becoming more aware of the world? And then I wonder how much more is out there that I’ll become aware of later and/or never see . . .

            Any way, thanks for sharing. Now I kind of never want to drive in the south though. :(

    • ferrous

      About Monkey and racist nicknames: my (white) fiance wants to name our potential son Graham. I’m not in favor, because I’ll likely often refer to him as my little Graham Cracker, and then I’ll laugh out loud every time at our accidentally racist slur of a nickname.

  • Pumpkin

    I feel like I must have had the weirdest interracial upbringing experience ever. My mother is Puerto Rican but brought up as a New Yorker, my father is half Italian half Anglo Pilgrim stock WASP also brought up as a New Yorker.

    Visually I can apparently pass for pretty much anything “ethnic” as I’m small, dark olive skinned, and straight haired (I get pegged as everything from Pacific Islander to Indian to Brazilian) and culturally I was brought up mostly NY Italian with a giant formative dash of awkward bookish metalhead Geek.

    The weirdest part of it is that my father doesn’t seem to realise that his wife and kids are not generally considered WHITE. Laudable and forward thinking in some ways but actually fairly dismissive of differential experience and racist in other ways (in that “men of a certain age” way) and it has left me with some pretty weird stuff to work through.

    I still remember dating a Haitian guy (who was lighter skinned than I mind you) when I was in HS and standing slackjawed as I got a lecture from my dad that I shouldn’t stick with the relationship long term because it would be really hard on us if we had a family. Because, yanno “interracial kids have it hard because they can’t identify as either culture 100%”.


    In the long run I ended up with a German/Irish man and I recognise that our decision to remain childfree saves us a hell of a lot of explaining in the long run. I’d undoubtedly be passing on Puerto Rican features so how in hell am I supposed to pass on a Puerto Rican heritage I don’t myself understand?

  • So I just turned around to inquire with the guys at my office on this issue. The observation they made was that there is absolutely a gender angle to this. They indicated that they would think that women tend to undergo fewer questions (awkward or overt) about their inter-racial relationships (and bi-racial children). And that there is likely less intensity.

    For example: They assert that an Indian man with a child that has predominantly black features is MUCH more likely to be harassed/approached. Same with TSA, etc.


    • Copper

      Unfortunately, it may just be because when people see a women with a child who does not appear to be of the same race as her, they assume she’s the nanny. :(

    • Pumpkin

      Part of this is probably simple gender expectation.

      When you see a woman with children she is more likely to be assumed to be in a caretaker position regardless of the resemblance. They could be explained as stepchildren, adopted, wards, neices/nephews.

      A woman alone with random children is *not noteworthy*.

    • Rachel

      Hmmm…good question! As a kid, other kids sometimes asked me if I were adopted because they had only seen my white mom. It may be completely different with how adults perceive things though!

      On a related note…this is not a story of a biologically related interracial family, but I don’t think it’s impossible to suspect that this could happen to a biological mom of mixed-race children:

  • L

    There is so much that my brain is trying to sort out about this topic that I don’t even know if I should start. I feel that I might have something noteworthy to add, but I am not sure what it is yet so bear with me while I work it out.

    My husband is from the gulf region of the Middle East. Born and raised (and he is the only member of his extended family to move out of their town, much less across the world). I am a European-American Muslim. The first concerns of his family upon hearing about me were, “Who will marry your kids?”. The problem being that I am white, American, and undesirable at best (I think the same standard would be applied if I were American and some other racial background, but I can only speak for my experience). I wish I could say that years into our marriage, this attitude has subsided, but someone regularly voices the opinion that he is dooming himself and all future off-spring to a miserable life and he should divorce me before we have kids. Obviously this is a layered, complex issue that may perhaps take us decades to unpack, but there it is.

    Immediately after we got married everyone kept telling me how cute our babies would be and I just assumed it was because everyone thought my husband is especially handsome (which I think, naturally). Now I am going to start turning that thought around and examine it, if for no other reason than for the sake of our future kiddos.

    After I started wearing hijab (covering my hair), I immediately started getting the, “Where are you from?” “But where are your parents from?” But what is your origin?” It can be so easy to toy with people as I walk them back by each generation, listing the birthplace of each great-grandparent. Once, volunteering at a commune, the head chef asked me to make cookies from “my people,” so I made shortbread. But mostly it is annoying. And concerning that people are so put-out that they can’t categorize me that they ask me in line at the grocery store.

    Last week someone asked me what food my husband and I make at home and I talked about fajitas and casseroles and she interrupted saying, “Oh! Normal people food.” I spend a loooong time explaining how not-ok that was and I am still not sure she got it. She felt it was ok as long as she amended it to, “Normal American food, not cultural food.” ANGER.

    There is just a lot that goes into this discussion when you bring in other cultures, and religion, and language. Maybe someone else sees some brilliant point in what I’ve written. I am only just starting to organize it.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      People can just be rude, whether there’s a relationship in the picture, or not; whether you’re the same race, or not. I’m a white redhead who grew up in California. I never adapted during my time in Virginia in law school.

      One lady at church kept asking “where my people came from.” I’d say, “Kansas” or “Ohio” or “Pasadena” depending on my mood. She’d press: “No white people are really from Kansas. Where were they from before that?” The fact of the matter is both my maternal grandparents can trace their families’ presence in the United States back to before the Declaration of Independence. I’m an American.

      My last name is a highly identifiably Jewish name, but you can’t expect people to know that everywhere. Another time, the same lady was pressing me about whether I’d looked up relatives who stayed behind when my father’s family emigrated. I had to say, “They all died in the War” three times before the subject changed.

      Then there was the time visiting another church in Virginia, and a total stranger says to me in the parking lot, “You must be Irish.” “No.” “Scottish then.” “No.” “What are you then?” “I’m Jewish.” He walked off, and I wasn’t invited to coffee hour.

      Then again, I got stopped by a stranger in the grocery store once in the San Francisco Bay Area to look at his claddaugh ring. Again, “I’m not Irish. Maybe ask some Irish-American cultural center.”

    • “Once, volunteering at a commune, the head chef asked me to make cookies from “my people,” so I made shortbread.”

      I love this. :)

  • Theodora

    I know a woman (white) who recently married an African-American man. They’re a lovely couple and compliment each other wonderfully. There were comments within the extended circle of friends that this woman, who makes $$$$ and is college-educated, was marrying “down” because her FH was blue collar, although he brings home a large paycheck himself. I’m told there were some African-American female friends of the groom who had to be seriously talked to after they raised a stink about “a white chick stealing a black man” because “there are few enough ‘good’ black men.” Let’s just say they weren’t invited to the wedding and leave it at that.

  • My dad is white my mom is black and both have some native american ancestry; I consider myself Black-ish. My fiance TeacherMan is white and it never occurred to me until i read this post, that he has NEVER witnessed anyone ask the “what are you question” I can’t even begin to imagine what his reaction will be the first time he’s there for that conversation. I have had people ask why I don’t date inside the race and I usually just tell them to find someone with the exact racial make up that I have (white, black, Black Foot, and Shawnee …at one point i could tell you estimated percentages of each) and I’ll go on a date with them.

    I’ve gotten the nanny assumption a few times as my son and my nieces all appear white, but again my fiance hasn’t witnessed any of this…
    Perhaps we should postpone the wedding until he has a chance to REALLY experience the interracial relationship thing (kidding…mostly)

  • AVA

    Recent newcomer to APW here. I love this.

    Racially I’m Korean, future-husband is white (of English descent – as an aside, I sometimes wonder if ‘white’ people get annoyed by the use of the word ‘white’, the way I occasionally get miffed about ‘Asian’ being too broad a descriptor). However the fun doesn’t stop there: I’m adopted, and my mother is Italian, and my father is ‘white’ (also English descent).
    Culturally I’m Italian-Australian. To the disappointment of many strangers I cannot speak any language other than English, I cannot interpret menus at Chinese restaurants, I don’t celebrate Lunar New Year, my last name is “white” even though I’m not married yet, and I’m “from” Australia.

    I’ve experienced all kinds of racism in my life, even the occasional ignorant comment from the future-husband’s family. Sadly, I expect the same for my future hypothetical children – who will have four pale-skinned grandparents, and a predominantly ‘white’ cultural upbringing (whatever that is).

    APW, I’m so glad I found you, and your engaging, thoughtful community.

    • I don’t get annoyed at “white”. It’s broad but it’s also easy, and in conversation, easy is good.

      I usually refer to myself as “white and Jewish” though, because I see Jews as a distinct group of (often) white people. And I look pretty Jewish, so that will explain things better to new acquaintances and friends who I’m talking to about this stuff ;)

    • Sarah

      I sometimes get frustrated by ‘white’ because I’m second generation American of Irish/Danish and Catholic background, raised in an ethnically diverse area, but now living in the South. My version of ‘white’ is completely different than ‘white’ down here, and it frustrates me when people assume I’m Baptist, think I eat fried foods and love Paula Deen, am English (a HUGE no no for my Irish family), identify with this side of the Civil War or frankly even have any interest in the Civil or Revolutionary Wars (nope, none of my family were even in the country then, kthanxbye). Ironically, my half Puerto Rican husband fits in much better culturally because his mom is southern and we live in his hometown. So lots of surprise from strangers when they assume I’m the ‘normal’ one and in fact it’s very much him.

  • I just wanted to add to the marrying ‘out’ and marrying ‘down’ of black women. I’ve dated both out and down. Down is actually much harder because class and income make a huge difference. Out was easier because when dating out I was usually at my socioeconomic and educational level. I’m getting ready to marry out in every possible sense. Younger, different race and different religion. But, better educated, financially ahead and professionally advanced. For the longest time, I was convinced as an educated black woman I was just never going to get married. Not in a dramatic ‘woe is me’ sense. Just a matter-of-fact conviction it would just not happen. Totally opposite from my white female friends who couldn’t imagine a world in which they wouldn’t get married!

    • Rachel

      I didn’t get into this in the post, but the author of the book basically makes the same argument…that marrying “down” is a lot harder than a lot of people anticipate. He basically said that it’s easy to think that race is enough of a shared cultural experience to make it more important than class or economic level, but that exactly what you’re saying is true.

      PS Was just creeping around on your blog and I’m excited to start following you!

      • Ms.Jordan

        I too, had put marriage out of my mind and went on living my happy, single, child free life. Falling in love and committing to some one younger and from a different cultural/socio-economic back ground has rocked my world. I just reread the book Rachel cites in her post. Wishing for a book group, because I want to talk more about the power dynamics around money and gender role scripts.

  • Mel

    I can’t thank you enough for writing this and opening up the dialogue for this discussion! Definitely interested in reading that book and getting some more insight. As an educated woman who has struggled for all of her 20s to successfully date, this really hits home. I would consider myself mixed (black and Japanese) and have maybe been on ONE date in my entire life in which a guy didn’t ask “….so…..what are you?” I don’t particularly take offense to the question, but more self-conscious I guess? What if he doesn’t like my answer? Date over? Also for me I think the struggle stems from a mixture of living in Las Vegas (transient population+easy access to instant gratification experiences=a shallow and dirty dating pool), the fact that I am educated beyond a high school level, which you don’t necessarily need to live (and thrive) here, and then the race element. I don’t feel like I should have to sacrifice everything I’ve worked for just so a dude isn’t offended/intimidated by my success and ambition, but it gets tiring trying to defend myself and basically justify my education. I prefer to date out than date down because dating down, for me at least, has been ten times more complicated than dating out. There’s always a struggle and a sense of not feeling like I can celebrate my accomplishments and be proud of my success. I also agree with the comments on here about online dating-I never reach out to a guy who hasn’t checked off the race box that applies to me. The conversation thread on here is FANTASTIC-thank you ladies for sharing your stories!!

  • Julia

    Minnesota Public Radio is talking about this right now:

    My husband is Indian and I’m Scandinavian-American. We get a ton of looks when we are out together. I tell myself it because even though we are clearly different races, we oddly look a lot alike! But my sister is going through this with her kids. My brother-in-law is Chinese-American. (BTW, loved the video above, totally sums up what he encounters constantly!) My sister said that people feel free to say the most amazingly insane things to her because they can tell her kids are bi-racial. She has gotten the “where are they from” question and answers, “My uterus”.

  • Victwa

    One of the most interesting and well-written posts (and ensuing commentary) I have read on APW. About to be married to another white person, this is not an issue we have personal experience with, but this is a conversation I have had MANY times with several close friends who, as Rachel pointed out, WANT very much to be married, are truly amazing, having-their-poop-really-together people, and are not overwhelmed with the awesomeness of their dating experience, for many of the various reasons people have mentioned above. Nice work, people.

  • As someone else said, I am mayo-white bread… but Rachel, I have to say that I love your thinking and writing! Your thoughts are fascinating and I found this conversation intriguing. APW, thank you for your work and Super-Thank-You for introducing me to Rachel’s writing!

  • Hi Guys,
    I wrote he post a little while back on class and being the first to get out and dealing with having two sides to with (I think it was called being two people at once?). Then I got busy with job stuff (and yay! I will be teaching history at a lovely high school next year). Me and the fiance just moved back to the bay.

    I didn’t get into race in that post because I wanted to talk about class, but we actually talk about race a lot and there is a lot of intersectionality, so as I was reading this I was thinking about how my interracial relationship is treated in the two cultural class zones we exist in and it is weird.

    The fiance and I don’t think of ourselves as being cultural different. We grew up in the same neighborhood. Our families have both been poor and urban for many generations. Neither of our families have been in America very long so we have an immigrant narrative in some branches and both of our families have a very long history of interracial dating. Outwardly I am white. I am treated like I am white. But I am also the whitest of my four siblings. My older sister is mixed and part hispanic, both of my younger siblings are mixed and part native. Almost all of my cousins have some mix. My grandma’s generation was unusual at the time in having different sets from different ethnic groups, we just happen to be the offspring of the German father (we also have Greek, Irish and Italian Great Aunts and Uncles, also some just good out fashioned Okie blood and some native blood too). My nephew is a perfect example of this, his dad, my brother is German and Choctaw. His mom is Indonesian, Mexican and White. Which makes my nephew German, Choctaw, Indonesian, Mexican and some mix of “white.” ALL of his cousins on his mother’s side are part black, making him the whitest of his cousins. My mom encouraged us to marry/date interracially. Any racial mix would be have been celebrated and acceptable. The fiance is half Mexican and half white. His parents grew up in the same neighborhood and both sides have some mix of Mexican and white. His nieces and nephews of varying degrees of Mexican and white. He grew up primarily with his mom whose side of the family is “mostly” what we affectionately refer to as white trash (had to find a way to differentiate ourselves from the white kids at Stanford, and this seemed to be the most salient, so most of the time I refer to myself as white trash). The fiance thinks as himself as being cultural both, technically by blood he is more white, but he is also built like a football player, has a tan and has the last name Martinez, so to people on the street he is Mexican, and despite the fact that our families are extremely similar people see us as being in an interracial relationship.

    Neither one of us thinks of it that way and no one from back home thinks of it that way either. But when we are around the privileged circles we hang out in, they can’t. stop. talking. about. it. Which is why I had to get really good at explaining all of this to people. My privileged friends don’t even call me white, and have decided that I am not technically white, even some of my black privileged friends call me basically black, and they treat Vincent like he is entirely Mexican (because people are hella racist). So it has been a much bigger thing there than it was where we grew up and in our families. Our families think we are perfectly normal and that is an appropriate match because we are the best educated members of our families, so why not marry the geeks off to each other? This is because they’ve been doing this for a really long time. Still processing and thinking through all of this but wanted to add in the way class and region and family members and also say that frankly the most rigid places I have seen in regards to race were not my working class central valley rural/suburban-urban neighborhood but were the supposedly most liberal place in America.

    • In the last paragraph that should read not members but matters. As in class and region and family matters.

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