I grew up believing that marrying outside of one’s race was no big thing. My dad is from Peru and my mom is from Oklahoma, and there’s never seemed to be anything odd about that. But throughout this nation’s history, interracial marriage has often been seen as a scandal and a threat.
Before 1967, it was a felony in much of the United States for whites to marry non-whites. Even after anti-miscegenation laws were deemed unconstitutional, intermarriage between races and ethnicities was still a taboo subject. After the 2010 Census, however, it was revealed that things had drastically changed since then. Interracial marriage had increased along with our acceptance of interracial couples. In the past year, about 15% of new U.S. marriages were between spouses of different races or ethnicities. While this increase is partly due to immigration trends, there is no doubt that interracial marriage is becoming more and more acceptable in American society. A Pew Center study done using government data showed that about 43% of Americans said they believe that an increase in intermarriages is a change for the better, and only about 10% said that it is a change for the worse.
Despite this increase, there are still social barriers that prevent people from forming romantic, interracial relationships. Qualitative data shows that couples still get self-conscious about dating and marrying across racial lines, and with reason. Although interracial marriage is no longer illegal, nor a social taboo in most places, it is still sometimes considered an unusual phenomenon and a bit of an uncomfortable topic to a lot of people. Particularly among youth, there are ethnic stereotypes and misconceptions that make people question why someone would choose to be in a certain interracial relationship. On top of this, there are cultural and religious barriers that limit who someone can and can’t marry or date, mostly implemented by adults rather than youth.
These barriers, however, have diminished considerably over time, either as a result of or a reason for an increase in interracial marriage. Due to this increase, multiracial Americans have become a small but fast-growing demographic, making up about 8% of the minority population.
So now, these mixed-race children are faced with an identity predicament. They often feel like they must decide on one ethnicity to identify with, and also have to put up with other people mislabeling them. This causes confusion and frustration… “Obama’s black right? Wait, no he’s not! His mom was white and he didn’t even really know his dad. But hold on, no, he’s black because he looks black. But doesn’t he “act white”? …How about me? I’m half Peruvian, but I have fair skin and light hair! Am I just as much Latina as Barack Obama is African American?” Trying to understand one’s own identity in this frustrating culture of labels and hierarchies could drive a person crazy, but as interracial marriage becomes more common, Americans will be forced to overcome this ethnic confusion. Maybe we’ll finally come to understand that it’s impossible to perfectly categorize and form expectations of someone based on his or her race or ethnicity. For me personally, I am awaiting the day where there will no longer be those awkward moments when I come across a Spanish word and have a sudden freak-out because I don’t know whether or not to pronounce it correctly! I may not live to see that day, however, if Americans keep building apprehension towards racial and cultural intermarriage.
The underlying reason why moral panic ensues as people brake through social barriers and decide to interracially or interethnically marry/date is the concern for the offspring. What if, in an interracial relationship, the mother is Jewish, but the in-laws want a Christian daughter? What if the father is Mexican and the mother worries about her son being racially discriminated against? What if the parents want their children to have a solid sense of a certain cultural identity but feel like they won’t if they’re only half and half? Parental worries may take a while to ease, but for immigrants who are trying to create a process of dual acculturation for their future children, intermarriage might be a pathway to a new American identity.
Blurring the color line, particularly by mixing immigrants and native-born Americans, is contributing to The United State’s melting pot. This is somewhat of an alternative to the difficult task of immigrant assimilation. When immigrants intermarry, Americans end up meeting them somewhere in the middle of the cultural spectrum by creating multi-ethnic households and raising multi-ethnic children. The Census Bureau estimates that people of multiracial backgrounds will come to represent a majority of the U.S. population by mid-century, which should be good for building an understanding among Americans of the complexity of race and ethnicity. But according to Daniel Lichter, a sociology professor at Cornell University, when it comes to acceptance of these interracial couples, “America still has a long way to go.”