April 29, 2002

I’M NOT A TEASE, any more than Richard Nixon was a crook. Hey, wait a minute. . . . Anyway, reader Steve Carroll sends this plaintive request on the topic of interracial marriage:

I’m anxious to see a selection of what your readers had to say about that interracial marriage post. You nailed it exactly, in my opinion. It especially drives me crazy to see references to “our women” from racial groups. Anyways, you teased that you would post more about the topic later. Just add my vote to those interested in seeing that.

Okay. Here are some samples of the email I got — not as much as I got about Scientific American, but far more than I’ve gotten defending Yasser Arafat. Reader John Chang wrote:

I don’t think there’s any sort of racist assumption on the part of Raspberry.

I think the dynamics of marriage between black women and men reflect the other dynamics that are currently in play in society. I won’t try to go into all the details here, but while black men are much more likely to marry non-blacks (and are often more desired by non-black women), black women are more likely to indicate a desire to marry black men. Conversely, non-black men will often place black women lower on their choice of dating prospects. I know this sounds a bit ridiculous, but this sort of stuff does take place. It’s very similar to the dynamics that take place within the Asian-American community, where the women are much more likely to marry whites than the
men (for whatever personal or cultural reason, which I choose not to delve into at this time).

Another reader who prefers to remain anonymous writes:

Intelligent people seldom marry outside their race because it makes very little sense to do so. The fact of the matter is that only a tiny minority of the population as a whole is in favor of interracial marriage and as a result discrimination is a big problem. Marrying someone who is obviously not of your race is like making the decision to devote your life to becoming a world renowned concert pianist and then taking a hatchet and hacking off your left pinky — it makes no sense given the current prevailing attitudes of all races.

The majority of people who marry outside their race do so, unfortunately, to make a statement; “look at me, I’m colorblind and I’m putting my marriage where my mouth is”. Most of these people are nitwits employed by universities who see racism everywhere.

The first part — about prejudice — may be true. But if this sort of consideration really determined matters of the heart, would anyone be gay? The second part, about “making a statement,” is just wrong. There were some marriages like this back when I was a kid, but the shock-value, or the PC-value, of interracial marriages is largely nil. Indeed, my experience is that as a white guy you’re as likely to get flak as praise for dating nonwhites — especially from nonwhites. Stuart Buck writes:

Maybe Raspberry’s is neither racist nor implying that black women are racist. He may just be realistic about the prospects of black women marrying white men. In my experience, black-white couples are overwhelmingly likely to involve a black man marrying a white woman. One web article claims that in 1990, black-white couples featured a white husband only 28% of the time. Think of famous couples or black men who date/marry white women: Clarence and Virginia Thomas, Sidney Poitier and his wife, Halle Berry’s parents, Mariah Carey’s parents, Edwin Moses, Kobe Bryant, Montel Williams, Wesley Snipes, O.J. Simpson — the list goes on and on. Whereas I simply can’t think of any famous white men married to or dating black women. There may be a few, but none come to mind.

As an empirical matter, this may be true. But if black women are failing to marry — and if, as William Raspberry says, this is a terrible thing for society — then should we simply accept these prejudices (for that’s what they are, really)? I’m not saying that we should force people to marry, of course, but Raspberry might tell these women that it’s better to marry a good man who’s not black than to stay single. Or maybe he doesn’t believe that. Which takes us back to my original question.

UPDATE: Reader Tom Gates writes:

The comment from the anonymous person who said that people marry outside their race doesn’t make sense, or to make a statement made me laugh because the person is displaying profound ignorance and/or stupidity.

I grew up in Hawaii, and the MAJORITY of marriages are inter-racial. I married my Japanese-American wife because she was beautiful, and I fell in love plain and simple. Pick your combo among the major ethnic groups (AJA, “haole” or Caucasian, Chinese, Hawaiian, other Pacific Islanders, etc.), and you’ll find most marry out their ethnic group. The only exception is the Chinese, and I can’t remember the University of Hawaii study which examined this. In California, the trend is like Hawaii.

Some practical problems that arise are when the Feds or your local school district attempt to pigeon-hole your child based on ethnicity, and the kids get to alternate ethnicity every year or so! I speak from experience, and it can lead to some funny discussions.

Yeah, if anything I would say there’s probably a mild built-in preference for “exoticity” (that is, difference) among a lot of people, which makes good evolutionary sense of course.