Interracial romance has been a point of contention in America since the first English settlers established colonies in the seventeenth century. In 1664 Maryland banned interracial marriage due to questions over whether the offspring of a black slave and a white person would be considered a free person or property. In following years, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and South Carolina instituted antimiscegenation laws which banned interracial marriage. In 1691 Virginia outlawed interracial couples and labeled their children as “that abominable mixture and spurious issue.” When slavery was abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, many southern states instituted what were known as the “Black Codes.” In addition to stripping freed slaves of most of their newly acquired rights, these codes continued the prohibition of marriage between whites and blacks. This was based on the commonly held notion that Africans, and Native Americans as well, were inferior races and interbreeding would pollute the white gene pool. When Congress tried to override the “Black Codes” by issuing a series of laws from 1866 to 1875, the Supreme Court declared most of the legislation void and upheld the southern states’ right to outlaw interracial marriage.
Miscegenation in American history
Antimiscegenation laws did not keep everyone from crossing the color line. Before the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, many white slave masters secretly took advantage of black women, with whom they fathered scores of children. Also, not every state had laws prohibiting interracial marriage. Some estimates indicate that as many as 70 percent of African Americans are descendants of black and white couplings. Famous African Americans such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Frederick Douglass were of black and white ancestry. Douglass eventually married a white woman, Helen Pitts, after the death of his first wife. Douglass, one of the most vocal African American activists of the Civil War era, felt that intermarriage was the key to the assimilation and acceptance of the newly freed slaves into American society. According to Douglass, “The future of the Negro therefore is . . . that he will be absorbed, assimilated, and it will only appear finally . . . in the features of a blended race.”
Not all African Americans wanted to be absorbed however. “We have not asked assimilation; we have resisted it,” said W.E.B. Du Bois. “It has been forced on us by brute strength, ignorance, poverty, degradation and fraud.” Du Bois also condemned white America’s hypocrisy when it came to miscegenation. “It is the white race, roaming the world, that has left its trail of bastards and outraged women and then raised holy hands and deplored ‘race mixture.’”
Loving v. Virginia
By the beginning of the civil rights era in the 1950s, antimiscegenation statutes were still on the books in sixteen states, mostly in the South and the Midwest. In 1958 Richard Loving, a white man, and Mildred Jeter, a black woman, went to Washington, D.C., which did not forbid interracial marriage, to get married. When they returned to their Virginia home they were arrested and convicted of violating Virginia’s antimiscegenation statute. Under Virginia’s law, the 1–5 year prison sentence for marrying across racial lines applied even if the couple was married in a state that allowed interracial marriage. The Lovings were sentenced to one year in prison. For nine years after their arrest they waged a legal battle through the courts, and in 1967 the Supreme Court reversed the Lovings’ convictions. “Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State,” wrote Chief Justice Earl Warren in Loving v. Virginia. The Supreme Court decision effectively invalidated all existing antimiscegenation legislation.
Increased prevalence of interracial romance
Since the Supreme Court struck down the last of America’s antimiscegenation laws, the number of interracial marriages has more than tripled. According to the Census Bureau, the number of mixed-race marriages rose from 300,000 in 1970 to 1.2 million in 1990. Between 1960 and 1990, the percentage of African American marriages involving a white spouse more than tripled. Furthermore, according to recent statistics, 65 percent of Japanese Americans marry outside of their race and 75 percent of Native Americans marry someone of a different ethnic background.
The incidence of interracial dating among American youth has increased even more dramatically. According to some recent studies, as many as 57 percent of teenagers have dated someone outside of their race. An additional 30 percent have indicated that they would consider dating outside of their race. Many credit the rise in immigration and racial integration, which have increased the amount of contact that young adults have with people of different racial backgrounds, with the growing prevalence of interracial dating and marriage. Also, as a result of being raised during the civil rights era and the 1960s, many of today’s parents have a much more liberal attitude toward interracial dating. However, although the Census Bureau statistics indicate a rapidly growing acceptance of couples who date across racial boundaries, there are a considerable number of people who do not accept interracial romance as a legitimate choice.
Opponents of interracial dating contend that those who date or marry outside of their race are betraying their families and abandoning their cultural heritage. Many African Americans believe interracial marriage erodes the solidarity of the African American community. Author Lawrence Otis Graham feels that “interracial marriage undermines [African Americans’] ability to introduce our children to black role models who accept their racial identity with pride.” Graham also fears that biracial children will turn their backs on their black heritage when they discover that it is easier to live as a white person.
Conservative whites oppose interracial marriage for a different reason. The rise in interracial births, combined with increased immigration, will make white people a minority by the middle of the twenty-first century. Some feel that this “browning of America” will lead to the eventual eradication of European-American culture. Syndicated columnist H. Millard believes that “we are seeing the death of the American and his replacement with a non-European type who now has enough mass in our society to pervert European-American ways.” Millard also contends that if the current trend in interracial relationships and births continues, the white race will eventually become extinct. According to Millard, “white people . . . are going to have to struggle mightily to survive the Neo- Melting Pot and avoid being part of the one-size-fits-all human model. Call it what it is: Genocide and extinction of the white genotype.”
A bridge across the racial divide
On the other hand, proponents of interracial relationships contend that interracial romance is a step toward eliminating racial hatred. According to Mitali Perkins, “Where exploitation and anger have separated the races in society, an interracial family called by God is a compelling example of the gospel of reconciliation.” Yvette Walker believes that “racism . . . will have to be bred out. We can’t make policies to change it. And certainly in an interracial relationship the children are raised in a climate of tolerance.” She and others contend that the rising incidence of interracial children will eventually lead to a society where race will no longer matter because everyone will blend into one race, the human race. More importantly, assert many supporters of interracial relationships, color should not matter when it comes to love. They echo Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous sentiment that people should be judged not “by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
The debate over interracial relationships is controversial because it touches on the sensitive areas of family, cultural heritage, religion, and racism. The diversity of views on this subject are reflected in At Issue: Interracial Relationships.