Interracial Relationships and Racism

12 Dec
During the Interracial Marriage lecture, we discussed whether interracial relationships were an indicator of the decline of racism. Many of my classmates said they were not because being in such a relationship didn’t necessarily eliminate all a person’s racist beliefs because the male partner’s reasons for his attraction could be exotically racist, which is a type of racism where the “other” is appropriated for pleasure due to their erotic nature. This was interesting to me since Randall Kennedy suggested that mixed-race children-the result of interracial relationships- would instead reduce racism by breaking down psychological barriers about race among family members. Faced with these conflicting views, I did some research that showed that the increased prevalence of these relationships does decrease racism. More importantly, I wondered how we might better foster them, so as to speed up the decline of racism.

In “Understanding Interracial Relationships” by Toyin Okitikpi, the author shows that interracial relationships help white women become aware of the existence of anti-black racism. The white partners in these relationships were confronted with hostilities, suspicions, and assumptions from from their peers about why they were involved with a black man. In response, they had to develop strategies to combat the hostilities. Had they not been in an interracial relationship, they would otherwise be less likely to have gained a full understanding of the extent of racism’s prevalence. This process of realization would make these women more cognizant of potential unintentional racism and prejudice on their parts, thereby reducing racism.

Regan Durung and Tenor Duong performed a study called “Mixing and Matching: Assessing the Concomitants of Mixed Ethnic Relationships.” In it they found that the partners in mixed-ethnic relationships didn’t view themselves differently from same-ethnic couples. For them to believe this, they also had to believe that there was no inherent differences between the races in general. Clearly the more MERs, the less prevalent racism would be.

A Columbia Business School economist, Ray Fisman, noted in an article on slate.com that “Daters of both sexes from south of the Mason-Dixon Line revealed much stronger same-race preferences than Northern daters.” This difference can be explained by the difference in racism between the two regions. It’s commonly accepted that the South is more racist than the North. By promoting interracial relationships, this difference in levels of racism could be eradicated.

The evidence shows that as interracial relationships increase, racism decreases, but how can we promote more interracial relationships? In Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point,” he defines a tipping point as “the moment of critical mass, the threshhold, the boiling point.” He says one can be brought about  for sociological change if three ingredients are present: The law of the few, the stickyness factor, and the power of context. The law of the few states that “the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular set of social gifts.” He’s saying that 80% of the work towards sociological change is done by 20% of the participants. These people would be connectors-who are exceptional at making friends and acquaintances-,mavens-who are great at collecting information and extremely altruistic-, and salesman-who are charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills. The stickyness factor refers to the specific content of the message that makes its impact memorable; for interracial relationships, this would be the benefits of open-mindedness as a precursor for new experiences with respect to relationships. The power of context states that human behavior is sensitive to and strongly influenced by its environment. This means that promoting IRRs would need to occur in a context of decentralizing beauty from the current, narrow norms of skinny, blond, white women.

All the evidence suggests the opposite of many of my classmates opinions, since a world with 100% interracial relationships could not possibly be racist. Those involved in interracial relationships were able to gain more information on the races of their partners, which reduced the prejudices they had towards their partners’ races. According 2009-10 census figures, about 4% of all marriages are interracial. There’s significant room for that number to go up. Viewed within the frame of “The Tipping Point,” it’s possible that the right environment could be fostered to make IRRs more prevalent, and, clearly, it should be a goal our society strives towards.

By Geoff Langenderfer

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