Family is a unit composed of people who are related either by blood or marriage. A typical nuclear family comprises of a father, a mother and their children. According to many cultures, the unit is headed by the father. Many variations to the family definition exist, some of which are more inclusive. One such variation that is widely accepted delimits the relationship to blood and marriage and is accommodative to families with adoption cases. Majority of families are composed of people of the same race because they are able to connect easily in terms of cultural practices and beliefs. Almost always religion is another key factor that makes people to prefer to marry within their race, especially where a given race has a predominant religion different from another race. However, there are a significant number of families where the father has a different cultural background from the mother. Cases of culturally heterogeneous families are on the rise. For instance among the Welsh speakers, cases of culturally heterogeneous families increased by 10.4% between 1960 and 2002 (Charles 111).
There are a number of reasons behind the rise in culturally heterogeneous families. Increase in tolerance among the people has been cited as one of the mail reasons for interracial families in the United States. Assimilation of minority groups of people into a larger society also bring rise to families with mixed cultural background. In fact, intermarriage of people with different cultural background has been taken as a sign of acceptance of one community to another. In the United States, it has been argued that the times of civil war movement made racism unacceptable in the community. There are theories pointing the desire for exchange of socioeconomic status as a contributing factor to the rise of mixed race marriages. This is where members of a lower – status community desire to marry or get married to members of a higher – status community in order to elevate their status.
Interracial marriages can take different forms. They range from Whites and Asians to Whites and Blacks to Asians and Blacks. Although the acceptance rate for interracial marriages is increasing, there are forms of interracial marriages that are quite uncommon. The Black and White marriages have maintained an upward trend in the United States majority of which have White female and Black male (Grapes 76). There are, however, Black female – White male marriages some of which are for famous personalities for instance Bill de Blasio who is a prominent New York politician married to a Black lady, Chirlane McCray. On the other hand, the Asian – Black interracial marriages are less common and where they exist, majority have Black male Asian female. The reason behind the rarity of Black – White relationships and marriages is hinged on the society’s approval. According to Yancey, “Black-white relationships remain the most difficult from the stand point of social approval, expectations and level of understanding and social skills that relatives, friends and coworkers, typically have when interacting with interracial marriages and families. Social class and the mass media portrayals are important mediating factor here. In the past they have been strong deterrents (often backed by law). In contemporary society increasingly sympathetic understandings of such relationships makes them less unusual and more normative. Interracial families also must tease through such heady issues as how housework is divided, budgeting, discipline, and deciding vacation destinations” (Yancey 57). The 2000 census in the United States provides figures that in line with this thought. While interracial marriages accounted for only 1.9 percent of total marriages in the United States, the Black – White marriages stood at 0.006 percent, which is 200 times less that the White – Asian marriages which were at 1.2 percent. Blacks and Whites tendencies towards interracial marriage suffer prevailing taboos within respective communities resulting to great social and spatial distance between them.
Unlike Black – Asian and Black – White marriages where there is a disparity between the rates of one gender getting into interracial marriage compared to the other gender, in Asian – White marriages, there is an equal tendency of both males and females getting into an interracial relationship. This is partly attributed to the fact that both the Whites and the Asians are dynamic and are not as culturally inclined as the Black counterparts. This makes the couples arrive at a middle ground easily compared to people who have deep roots in their culture.
Interracial relationships and marriages are not without benefits. There is one theory that the couples in such marriages mutually benefit in the union where one party reaps a desirable status while the other party gains economically. The theory was propounded by Davis and Merton and has been subjected to various interpretations. Davis and Merton’s Status – Caste Exchange (SCE) theory proposed that the only reason black-white marriages took place was that the black spouse must have especially high status, much higher than the white partner, and that the high status of the black spouse would compensate the white partner for throwing his or her lot in with black society. Davis and Merton did not base their Status – Caste Exchange theories on marriage data from the United States, as such data were not available in the early 1940s (Rosenfeld). The theory has been widely quoted in the spheres of interracial marriage although some scholars are of the opinion that it does not hold water.
Interracial relationships and marriages have a number of challenges. When two people with different cultural background pair up in a family set up, they normally look for a common ground where both parties will be comfortable. This sometimes proves to be difficult. In his book, Charles has given an interview account of interracial marriage where he captured the challenge of transmission of culture in a family with a Welsh speaking man and a non – Welsh speaking wife. “One man who was not a Welsh speaker but whose wife was Welsh speaking said they both wanted their children to speak Welsh; both children were attending a Welsh playgroup but English remained the language of the household. In a different example, an Asian who was married to a Welsh man discussed her husband’s concern that their young daughter be aware of the Welsh side of her identity: He can’t speak Welsh so he feels sometimes that he can’t give her enough of the culture. So he does do extras, you know? Like he’ll make sure she has Celtic jewellery, or he’ll just, whatever few words he knows of Welsh, try to speak to her in those” (Charles 111)
Another common challenge encountered by interracial couples is lack of acceptance by the spouse’s community. Individuals in interracial marriages are sometimes confronted with a lack of acceptance by members of society, resulting in some degree of marginalization. It appears that social acceptance is more likely to occur in primary group situations in comparison to secondary group situations (Charles 143). The couples may be at home with each other but they cannot blend with the society as a couple more so because the community looks at the spouse from a different race with an eye of suspicion. This prevents the interracial family from engaging meaningfully with the surrounding community.
Stability of interracial marriages
Although gender plays a great role in interracial dynamics, there are general inferences that can be drawn from various researches done to investigate the stability of interracial relationships and marriage. According to Kreider, racial paring is a key factor that determines the stability of marriage. In addition to the cultural stress that is posed by interracial relationships and marriage, some spouses risk losing connections with their kinsmen. “Research on estimated interracial union dissolution hazard by racial pairing illuminated substantially different risks of divorce. Controlling for all variables, Black men married to White women and Latino men married to Black women share signiﬁcantly high risks of divorce. Latino men married to Latino women have signiﬁcantly low risks of divorce. The results suggested that Blacks and Latinos overall may enhance their risks of divorce by pairing with members outside of their race. Perhaps net of individual-level factors that affect racial differences in divorce, social-structural factors may elevate Black and Latino risks of divorce. In addition to race-related individual stressors associated with being a minority (institutional racism and discrimination in both education and employment), Blacks and Latinos who engage in interracial unions may also receive family stress over the relationship. As a consequence, minorities who marry interracially can often be removed from their kinship networks” (Kreider 253). Expanding this school of thought, there many are single – parent situations that can be attributed to divorce resulting to instability nature of interracial marriages. If divorce happens early in marriage when the children are very young, the parent who ends up with the children transmits their culture to the children.
Although interracial marriages have a higher likelihood of getting disrupted compared to same race marriage, there are many other factors, other than the fact that the marriage is interracial, which are more important in determining the stability of a marriage relationship. These factors include educational level of the spouses and the age at marriage. These factors are also divorce influencers in endogamous marriages. Therefore interracial relationships and marriages cannot entirely be blamed for the increasing rate of divorce in many societies.
There are studies that have been made on Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and how interracial dynamics play a role in the violence. One such study by Chartier showed that indeed the rate of domestic violence in interracial families is higher compared to same – race families. He says that, “the prevalence rate for any occurrence of Intimate Partner Violence was highest for interethnic couples, followed by black and Hispanic couples and then white couples. Interethnic couples reported the highest prevalence rates relative to other couples for 5 out of the 11 individual acts of violence examined, including throwing something, pushing, grabbing or shoving, slapping, kicking, biting or hitting, and hitting or trying to hit with something. Black and Hispanic couples reported higher rates than interethnic and whites couples for 4 of the remaining 6 acts, i.e., beat up, choked, forced to have sex, and threatened with a knife or gun. Despite black and Hispanic couples’ higher rates for these severe acts of partner violence, interethnic couples were more likely to report severe intimate partner violence based on their higher rates of kicking, biting or hitting, and hitting or trying to hit with something. Rates of moderate intimate partner violence were only somewhat higher in interethnic couples relative to other couples. Among couples that report intimate partner violence, most occurrences of intimate partner violence for interethnic couples were mutual, involving bidirectional male and female perpetrated violence. Black couples reporting intimate partner violence also had higher rates of mutual violence, while white and Hispanic couples reported more unidirectional partner violence, i.e., male-to-female (MFPV) and female-to-male (FMPV) perpetrated violence only” (Chartier 1792).
Interracial dynamics in children performance
Children in interracial marriages have their own share of challenges. Some of them are physically different from their peers and find themselves in a category of their own. This has a great bearing on their social lives and extends to their performance in class. However, when the parents foresee this challenge and take positive steps to make their children come to terms with it, the children grow up with their mixed – race situation being strength rather than a drawback. Grapes talks of this challenge where parents give an account of their challenges in helping their children cope with race conflict “A white mother with two young children refers to them as black. She sees this term as a political term—it bears no relevance to the way things really are. A black father classified his two daughters as white, and this is on their birth certificates. Many parents mentioned that they have discussed racial issues with their children, stressing the importance of seeing people as individuals and not as blacks or whites. They wanted their children to know that there were differences, but that these differences did not matter when it came to what was inside a person. All these parents have had to deal with the issue of identifying their children’s race and apparently they have given a good deal of thought to it. Perhaps the dominant theme of this issue is that the parents do not have a label that adequately describes their children, not for the parents’ sake but for society in general, which seems to need to label children. They recognized that their children would have to “check off” a certain category, and as far as they were concerned, there was no adequate category to describe their children’s race. Seven out of ten parents felt that their children had adjusted well to their biracial identity in school and with friends. The parents were well aware of racial prejudice and what their children would have to endure” (Grapes 15).
Since interracial families face an unusual status in the society, they tend to embrace the need to openly talk about race with their children and help them to face their situation positively. This helps the children to cope with the mixed – race challenge which consequently removes the barrier to their performance in social life, academics and generally success in life.
Charles, N. et al (2008). Families in transition: social change, family formation and kin relationships. Bristol: Policy Press.
Chartier, K. G. & Caetano, C. (2012). Intimate partner violence and alcohol problems in interethnic and intra-ethnic couples. J Interpers Violence, 9, 1780 – 1801.
Grapes, B. J. (2000). Interracial relationships. San Diego, California: Greenhaven Press, Inc.
Kreider, R. M. (2000). Interracial marriage and marital instability. Los Angeles CA: Population Association of America.
Rosenblatt, P. C. et al (1995). Multiracial couples: black & white voices. United States: Sage Publications Inc.
Rosenfeld, M. J. (2005). A critique of exchange theory in mate selection. American journal of sociology. 110, 1284–1325.
Yancey, G. & Lewis, R. (2009). Interracial families: current concepts and controversies. New York: Routledge.
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