Love And Color Is love colorblind? Just three decades ago, Thurgood Marshall was only months away from appoint- ment to the Supreme Court when he suffered an indignity that today seems not just outrageous but almost incomprehensible. He and his wife had found their dream house in a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C., but could not lawfully live together in that state: he was black and she was Asian. Fortunately for the Marshalls, in January 1967 the Supreme Court struck down the anti-interracial-marriage laws in Virginia and 18 other states. And in 1967 these laws were not mere leftover scraps from an extinct era. Two years before, at the crest of the civil-rights revolution, a Gallup poll found that 72 per cent of Southern whites and 42 per cent of Northern whites still wanted to ban interracial marriage. Let’s fast-forward to the present and another black-Asian couple: retired Green Beret Lieutenant Colonel Eldrick Woods Sr.
and his Thai-born wife, Kultida. They are not hounded by the police — just by journalists desperate to write more adulatory articles about how well they raised their son Tiger. The colossal popularity of young Tiger Woods and the homage paid his parents are remarkable evidence of white Americans’ change in attitude toward what they formerly denounced as miscegenation. In fact, Tiger’s famously mixed ancestry (besides being black and Thai, he’s also Chinese, white, and American Indian) is not merely tolerated by golf fans. More than a few seem to envision Tiger as a shining symbol of what America could become in a post-racial age.
Interracial marriage is growing steadily. From the 1960 to the 1990 Census, white-Asian married couples increased almost tenfold, while black-white couples quadrupled. The reasons are obvious: greater integration and the decline of white racism. More subtly, interracial marriages are increasingly recognized as epitomizing what our society values most in a marriage: the tri- umph of true love over convenience and prudence.Nor is it surprising that white-Asian marriages outnumber black-white marriages: the social distance between whites and Asians is now far smaller than the distance between blacks and whites. What’s fascinating, however, is that in recent years a startling number of nonwhites — especially Asian men and black women — have become bitterly opposed to intermarriage.
This is a painful topic to explore honestly, so nobody does. Still, it’s important because interracial marriages are a leading indicator of what life will be like in the even more diverse and integrated twenty-first century. Intermarriages show that integration can churn up unexpected racial conflicts by spotlighting enduring differences between the races. For example, probably the most disastrous mistake Marcia Clark made in prosecuting O. J. Simpson was to complacently allow Johnny Cochran to pack the jury with black women.
As a feminist, Mrs. Clark smugly assumed that all female jurors would identify with Nicole Simpson. She ignored pretrial research indicating that black women tended to see poor Nicole as The Enemy, one of those beautiful blondes who steal successful black men from their black first wives, and deserve whatever they get. The heart of the problem for Asian men and black women is that intermarriage does not treat every sex/race combination equally: on average, it has offered black men and Asian women new opportunities for finding mates among whites, while exposing Asian men and black women to new competition from whites. In the 1990 Census, 72 per cent of black-white couples consisted of a black hus- band and a white wife. In contrast, white-Asian pairs showed the reverse: 72 per cent consisted of a white husband and an Asian wife. Sexual relations outside of marriage are less fettered by issues of family approval and long-term practicality, and they appear to be even more skewed.
The 1992 Sex in America study of 3,432 people, as authoritative a work as any in a field where reliable data are scarce, found that ten times more single white women than single white men reported that their most recent sex partner was black. Few whites comprehend the growing impact on minorities of these interracial husband-wife disparities. One reason is that the effect on whites has been balanced. Although white women hunting for husbands, for example, suffer more competition from Asian women, they also enjoy increased access to black men. Further, the weight of numbers dilutes the effect on whites.
In 1990, 1.46 million Asian women were married, compared to only 1.26 million Asian men. This net drain of 0.20 million white husbands into marriages to Asian women is too small to be noticed by the 75 million white women, except in Los Angeles and a few other cities with large Asian populations and high rates of inter- marriage. Yet, this 0.20 million shortage of Asian wives leaves a high propor- tion of frustrated Asian bachelors in its wake. Black women’s resentment of intermarriage is now a staple of daytime talk shows, hit movies like Waiting to Exhale, and magazine articles. Black novelist Bebe Moore Campbell described her and her tablemates’ reactions upon seeing a black actor enter a restaurant with a blonde: In unison, we moaned, we groaned, we rolled our eyes heavenward . .
. Then we all shook our heads as we lamented for the 10,000th time the perfidy of black men, and cursed trespassing white women who dared to ‘take our men.’ Like most guys, though, Asian men are reticent about admitting any frustrations in the mating game. But anger over intermarriage is visible on Internet on-line discussion groups for young Asians. The men, featuring an even-greater-than-normal-for-the-Internet concentration of cranky bachelors, accuse the women of racism for dating white guys. For example, This [dating] disparity is a manifestation of a silent conspiracy by the racist white society and self-hating Asian [nasty word for women] to effect the genocide of Asian Americans.
The women retort that the men are racist and sexist for getting sore about it. All they can agree upon is that Media Stereotypes and/or Low Self-Esteem must somehow be at fault. LET’S review other facts about intermarriage and how they violate conventional sociological theories. 1. You would normally expect more black women than black men to marry whites because far more black women are in daily contact with whites. First, among blacks aged 20-39, there are about 10 per cent more women than men alive. Another tenth of the black men in these prime marrying years are literally locked out of the marriage market by being locked up in jail, and maybe twice that number are on probation or parole.
So, there may be nearly 14 young black women for every 10 young black men who are alive and unentangled with the law. Further, black women are far more prevalent than black men in universities (by 80 per cent in grad schools), in corporate offices, and in other places where members of the bourgeoisie, black or white, meet their mates. Despite these opportunities to meet white men, so many middle-class black women have trouble landing satisfactory husbands that they have made Terry (Waiting to Exhale) McMillan, author of novels specifically about and for them, into a best-selling brand name. Probably the most popular romance advice regularly offered to affluent black women of a certain age is to find true love in the brawny arms of a younger black man. Both Miss McMillan’s 1996 best-seller How Stella Got Her Groove Back and the most celebrated of all books by black women, Zora Neale Hurston’s 1937 classic Their Eyes Were Watch- ing God, are romance novels about well-to-do older women and somewhat dangerous younger men.
Of course, as Miss Hurston herself later learned at age 49, when she (briefly) married a 23-year-old gym coach, that seldom works out in real life. 2. Much more practical-sounding advice would be: Since there are so many unmarried Asian men and black women, they should find solace for their loneli- ness by marrying each other. Yet, when was the last time you saw an Asian man and a black woman together? Black-man/Asian-woman couples are still quite unusual, but Asian-man/black-woman pairings are incomparably more rare. Similar patterns appear in other contexts: 3a.
Within races: Black men tend to most ardently pursue lighter-skinned, longer-haired black women (e.g., Spike Lee’s School Daze). Yet black women today do not generally prefer fairer men. 3b. In other countries: In Britain, 40 per cent of black men are married to or living with a white woman, versus only 21 per cent of black women married to or living with a white man. 3c.
In art: Madame Butterfly, a white-man/Asian-woman tragedy, has been pack- ing them in for a century, recently under the name Miss Saigon. The greatest black-man/white-woman story, Othello, has been an endless hit in both Shakespeare’s and Verdi’s versions. (To update Karl Marx’s dictum: Theater always repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as opera, and finally as farce, as seen in that recent smash, O.J., The Moor of Brentwood.) Maybe Shakespeare did know a thing or two about humanity: America’s leading portrayer of Othello, James Earl Jones, has twice fallen in love with and married the white actress playing opposite him as Desdemona. 4. The civil-rights revolution left husband-wife balances among interracial couples more unequal.
Back in 1960 white husbands were seen in 50 per cent of black-white couples (versus only 28 per cent in 1990), and in only 62 per cent of white-Asian couples (versus 72 per cent). Why? Discrimination, against black men and Asian women. In the Jim Crow South black men wishing to date white women faced pressures ranging from raised eyebrows to lynch mobs. In contrast, the relatively high proportion of Asian-man/white-woman couples in 1960 was a holdover caused by anti-Asian immigration laws that had prevented women, most notably Chinese women, from joining the largely male pioneer immigrants. As late as 1930 Chinese-Americans were 80 per cent male. So, the limited number of Chinese men who found wives in the mid twentieth century included a relatively high fraction marrying white women.
In other words, as legal and social discrimination have lessened, natural inequalities have asserted themselves. 5. Keeping black men and white women apart was the main purpose of Jim Crow. Gunnar Myrdal’s landmark 1944 study found that Southern whites generally grasped that keeping blacks down also retarded their own economic progress, but whites felt that was the price they had to pay to make black men less attractive to white women. To the extent that white racism persists, it should limit the proportion of black-man/white-woman couples.
SINCE these inequalities in interracial marriage are so contrary to conven- tional expectations, what causes them? Academia’s and the mass media’s preferred reaction has been to ignore husband-wife disproportions enti …