Minority Within a Minority

Bloggers like me have been discussing interracial marriage for years now. What happens inside the relationships, and we attempt to explain why. One trend that we’ve all observed has now been expressed in hard numbers by the Pew Research Center, a respected think tank. Several weeks ago the group published a study that found the rate of interracial marriage had spiked in the United States in 2008. In that year, 14.6% of new marriages were between members of different races or ethnic groups—double the rate in 1980, and more than six times the rate in 1960. You can see the executive summary here, as well as download a copy of the PDF.

Pew also zeroed in one something we’ve been saying for years, that for whatever reason, black women are far less likely to date outside their race than black men, and that Asians don’t have the same hang-ups and peeves that we seem to have about interracial dating.

• Gender patterns in intermarriage vary widely. Some 22% of all black male newlyweds in 2008 married outside their race, compared with just 9% of black female newlyweds. Among Asians, the gender pattern runs the other way. Some 40% of Asian female newlyweds married outside their race in 2008, compared with just 20% of Asian male newlyweds. Among whites and Hispanics, by contrast, there are no gender differences in intermarriage rates.

I read this part to Hubby, and joked that we were real freaks. There are very low rates of intermarriage among black women and white men. How in the world did we pull it off? He just chuckled and quickly dove back into serious paying work. So I went back to reading, quietly, some of its other interesting findings:

• Among all newlyweds in 2008, 9% of whites, 16% of blacks, 26% of Hispanics and 31% of Asians married someone whose race or ethnicity was different from their own.
•  There is a strong regional pattern to intermarriage. Among all new marriages in 2008, 22% in the West were interracial or interethnic, compared with 13% in both the South and Northeast and 11% in the Midwest.
•  Most Americans say they approve of racial or ethnic intermarriage — not just in the abstract, but also in their own families. More than six-in-ten say it “would be fine” with them if a family member told them they were going to marry someone from any of three major race/ethnic groups other than their own.
•  More than a third of adults (35%) say they have a family member who is married to someone of a different race. Blacks say this at higher rates than do whites; younger adults at higher rates than older adults; and Westerners at higher rates than people living in other regions of the country.

I hope the study suggests this country is becoming more comfortable talking about and dealing with race, and that we can all maintain our racial and cultural richness, while treating each other with respect. Feel free to talk about what you think the study means; I’d like to hear what you think. Please, just be respectful. This is a family program!

Am I His Type?

Before I met Hubby, I thought I knew what sort of black woman a white guy would date. She would have light skin, straight hair or wavy hair, and an educational, professional or social background in common with him. This post by blogger Julian Abagond caught my eye a while ago, and I’ve just gotten around to putting down my thoughts on this. For the most part, I agree with Abagond’s observations about the type of black woman that would attract a white guy’s attention. But I want to push his theories beyond ideas based on surface beauty.
A woman’s bearings go a long way in determining the kind of guy she will attract, and it is especially true of black women. Since whites are far less likely than any other group to date outside their race, I think it’s fair to say, allowing for exceptions, that white guys are going to go for someone who fits a certain mold. She has her head on straight, might have as much education as he does, plays a big role in her family and community, and is the no-nonsense type who doesn’t play a lot of games. That’s not to say she isn’t fun. In fact, they probably do share a lot of the same interests, making it really easy for them to have good times and be at ease around each other. On his side, I think persistence helps, because a lot of black women just don’t know when a guy outside her race is hitting on her, and even if they do, they don’t respond readily. Maybe Gen Y and children of the millennium are more open to dating outside their race and behave differently, but sisters in their 30s and up seem to give the white guys a tougher time. This seems to be true of all the interracially married black women I know, and I see hints of the same among those I see from afar.

I like the picture he chose to illustrate his point, too. There a sister sits, absorbed in a book, while the guy, presumably her boyfriend, has his arm around her and is glancing in the opposite direction. Or maybe he’s a paramour peeved that she won’t pay him any mind and is about to quit trying to ask her out.

As for me, I never considered dating anyone outside my race. Actually, a relationship was the last thing on my mind when I was in my early 20s, because I was trying to manage a new job at a daily newspaper, and a taxing church life. I also come from a large, clannish and pious family that was heavily involved in church life. The pressures from one compounded expectations from the other. I was too busy trying to make everyone at home, church and work happy, much less think about what I wanted, so I never would have sought out white guys even if I had the time and energy to see anyone. But I seemed to attract them. One guy in particular had a really hard time getting my attention, because none of his flirtations registered with me at all. For months, none of his compliments, hints, etc., penetrated that thick fog of duty and obligation over my head. In retrospect, I feel a little bad. He was (and probably still is) tall, handsome, charming, a talented musician, he had principles I liked and was funny. He was also someone I thought could have his pick of women any place, any time, so I didn’t get why he was trying to talk to me.
Maybe he liked the fact that I was quieter, slimmer, was reasonably friendly and didn’t give him a brush-off worthy of a brutally honest sister from Brooklyn, Detroit or Chicago’s south side. Who knows? I don’t know for sure if we would have gone the distance. No one ever knows those things.  But had we dated, we would have had a great time and if we had broken up, would have separated on good terms. That’s how much basic respect we had for each other as people.

Interracial Breakups

I am never surprised when celebrity couples announce breakups. Marriage is hard enough on ordinary people like me, and I can imagine that the pressures are magnified 10 times when you’re dealing with two people in an ego-driven, beauty-obsessed industry like entertainment. Being an actor is a demanding way to earn a living, between all the networking, schmoozing, rumor-mongering, long days at shoots and filming in locations far away from home. That is a set of circumstances I would hate to have to deal with.

All that took the sting out of hearing about the breakups of two MAJOR celebrity couples featured on this blog: Halle Berry & Gabriel Aubrey and Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon & Mike Nilon. I’m not sure why the Berry/Aubrey relationship fell apart, but in the Beauvais-Nilon case, the husband was accused of carrying on a four-year affair!

Without being patronizing, I sympathize with Halle and Garcelle in all this (sorry, unless these women have been caught severely hurting their children, the sisters have my steadfast backing). Assuming that they are reasonable and stable people, it just reinforces the message that all black women everywhere will have to spend a significant part of their adult lives single, and not by choice. If stunning, accomplished beauties like them can’t find the simple happiness of a loving, devoted husband or mate, it makes me feel like true, grown up love between men and women is unattainable. But then I think: Hey, take it easy. Their problem was that they hooked up with guys, and as any woman who has been in a marriage or long relationship with a guy will tell you, those creatures are hard to love at times. Men have a shocking capacity to be immature, callous, insecure, moody and cruel. There have been times when I’ve complained to my friends or what have you about Hubby’s behavior, and some of the women who have been married a lot longer than me offer the same advice: You have to suck it up and tolerate it. Judging by the behavior I’ve witnessed, relationships are often sustained by a woman’s sheer ability to tap into her willpower and tolerate a lot of male nonsense and weakness.

Of course, the one guy out there who reads this will be insulted. So let me try to be balanced here. Sometimes, women are the flaky ones who drag down a relationship. Spend inordinate amounts of money. Gossip too much. Leave him to do too much heavy lifting in everyday duties. In either case, it’s a very depleting way to live, and as heartbreaking as it might be to separate, breaking up is sometimes the healthier thing to do.

This is why I do not actively encourage black women to date or marry outside their race, and certainly not as an alternative to black men. Marriage and long-term relationships are serious business, and people should not get into them for the wrong reasons.  If a black woman is open to a relationship and can find a more than reasonable level of happiness with a guy outside her race, I think that’s wonderful. But black women should never, ever date across color lines thinking that white, Asian or Hispanic guys are less of a headache. It may be “rough out there” for a single woman, as the husband of one of my friends once said, but it is definitely better to be single than put up some guy’s incorrigible nonsense.  And I heartily disagree with the sentiment behind Luther Vandross’ smooth ballad “I’d Rather.”

If Mike Nilon cheated on his wife while she was pregnant with their twins, he’s scum. I don’t know what Gabriel Aubry’s story is, but I’m glad that in that case, I’m not hearing a lot of mud slinging. In fact, he released a statement that sounded promising for a dignified, amicable split:

“While I will not comment on all of the wild inaccuracies being speculated about in the media, I am sad to say that Halle and I have decided together to separate at this time.   “She is, and will forever be one of the most special and beautiful people that I have ever known, and I am certain that we will continue to have only love and respect for one another.”   “We have been blessed with the most amazing daughter in the world, and her happiness and well-being are the most important thing for both of us. Please respect our privacy during this very difficult time.”

I’m not sure what’s going to happen in these two cases, but both couples have kids. As famous parents, I hope that Halle and Garcelle handle this painful episode without leaving a scandalous trail of public insults for their children to find later on.