Groundbreaking Columbia Study: Fear and Stereotypes keep Black Women out of Interracial Marriage

Vickie Remoe is a master’s student and Multimedia Journalist at Columbia University. I was honored to be a part of this important report.

See complete study with graphics and slideshows here.

Fear and Stereotypes keep Black Women out of Interracial Marriage

by Vickie Remoe

Black women in America are more likely to be unmarried than women of other races. They are also least likely to marry men outside of their race although a Pew Research Center report suggests that interracial marriage has more than doubled since 1980.

Released in February 2012, the report suggests that there are specific gender variations within some racial groups. Asian women are twice as likely to marry out as Asian men and Black males are more than twice as likely to marry out as their female counterparts.

In 2010, 24 percent of all black men who got married had a spouse of a different race compared to just 9 percent of black women.

Lorraine Mcmaster is a 24-year-old single black woman who lives in the Bronx. She was raised in New York but went away to college at Northeastern University. Although she grew up in a predominantly black and latino community she said she always had friends of all races. But despite that early exposure to diversity, Mcmaster says, marrying a white man is still out of the question.

“I was in Boston one time at a white bar and this guy asked me for my number and I said no. There was nothing wrong with him, he was just white.”

Mcmaster explains that there are certain cultural issues that make her want to wait to marry a black man. But more than that, she is afraid of having mixed children. Mcmaster believes that they have a tougher time.

“In college I met a lot of mixed-race kids and they didn’t seem to understand on what end of the spectrum they belonged. If I have kids I don’t want them to be confused about their identity,” she says.

In addition, she believes that a man of her race would understand certain specific things that only apply to black women. A black man would be more accepting of the many different ways in which she wears her hair.

“My friend’s sister is married to a white guy. He keeps trying to get her to perm her hair. She currently has dreadlocks,” she says. “I would never want to feel that anyone was trying to tell me how to wear my hair.”

She says that while some black men also prefer women with relaxer-straightened hair, a white man asking her to change the way she looked would feel like an insult.

Mixed-race marriages account for 15 percent of all U.S. marriages according to census data. In New York, mixed-race marriages make up 14.7 percent, almost the same as the national average.

Black women are twice as likely to receive college or graduate degrees than their male counterparts. In the last 30 years, black women in America have passed black men in education and income.

A Pew Center study, “The New Economics of Marriage” , found that a third of all black women married in 2007 were more educated than their husbands, “a higher share than for the population overall.”

In “Is Marriage for White People?” Stanford Law Professor Ralph Richard Banks argues that there are more successful single black women than black men.

For his book, Banks traveled around the country interviewing college-educated black women. He found that many black women were unwilling to date men of other races. Instead they preferred to marry black men with less education and lower incomes over marrying outside of their race.

“The disparity of school dropouts and economic hardships leave an unbalanced pool,” Banks explains. “Imagine there are 10 black men and 10 black women to start with and one of those men is unemployed, one goes to jail, and one marries out of his race.”

Graphics by Sarah Alvi

According to census data from 2009, over 70 percent of black women between the ages of 24-29 have never been married. They are still twice as likely to be unmarried as white or Asian women from age 30 and above.

David and April Gibson are a mixed-race couple who live in a two-storied townhouse in Astoria, Queens. They met in North Carolina were there are twice as many black and white mixed-race couples than in New York. This is the second marriage for David whose wife passed away.

They met at a bar where a mutual friend introduced them, and started dating soon afterward.

The race dynamic in the Gibson family is unique. April is raising David’s children from his first marriage to a white woman.

The kids are upstairs playing and David sits next to April on the sofa as she braids her hair. She has a low raspy voice. As she tightens the folds in her hair, she explains that this is the first time that she will be wearing braids to work. It was a conscious effort not to freak anyone out by seeming too black. She works as a technical manager among mostly white and Asian men. To be cautious, she always wears her hair straightened during the probationary period at work.

April says that while she didn’t have a problem marrying a white man, that America’s history of racial intolerance and segregation still discourages some black women from marrying outside of their race. Her mother was the first generation of students to forcefully integrate schools in the South.

“She was kicked, called names, and she still remembers that vividly,” April explains.

Besides the living memory of the struggle for civil rights in America,Dr. Ruth White,  an anthropologist and associate professor of sociology at Seattle University, explains that certain slavery-related gender issues also serve as a barrier to interracial dating.

“Because of slavery, there are black women who feel a sense of loyalty towards black men and feel that they have an obligation to be with black men as a result.”

LeAnne Rizk is a married 26-year-old mother of one who recently moved to New York. Rizk, who grew up in Florida, says that she never considered marrying outside of her race.

By the time she got to high school, she and some black friends from middle school were being bussed to a majority white school. She said that while the black and white students did school-related activities together, there was very little interracial socializing outside.

“The black kids dated within the black circle and we all got along but everyone kept to themselves,” she says.

“There wasn’t really any racial tension, but outside of school all my friends were black.”

Later Rizk attended the historically black Florida A & M University in Tallahassee. Every man she dated there was someone of her own race. She says a white man has never hit on her but, even if one did, she said she would be suspicious. She believes that some white men have a black-woman fetish.

“I’ve watched all these old films and I’ve heard how white guys call getting with a black woman as getting that ‘dark berry’,” she explains.

“I will never know if a white man wants me for real or if it’s just an experiment.”

Rizk says that while it is possible for both black and white men to want to exploit black women sexually, she would rather be exploited by a black man.

“If he was white and he did that to me, I wouldn’t be able to shake that feeling”

***

Christelyn Karazin , a mixed-race relationship expert, and the author of “Swirling: How to Date, Mate, and Relate Mixing Race, Culture, and Creed,” says that black women don’t marry or date out for a combination of reasons. Many of which she says are based on misinformation, fear and prejudice.

“There are some black women who believe that if a white man wants them, it is purely for sex, to satisfy some “jungle booty” fantasy,” she says.

“When a black man dates or marries a white woman, they get a pat on the back from other blacks, but if a black woman does the same, she is made to feel guilty, like how are you going to date ‘Mr. Charley,’ the slave master?”

A blogger and mother of four, Karazin says that she has been accused of being mentally ill. Once she was a guest on the Earl Ingram Show, “Evening Rush” in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She had been invited on to discuss mixed-race relationships. She remembers that a caller said, “Black women who want to marry white men must be crazy because they want to marry someone who enslaved them.” She was surprised that instead of speaking out against this extreme point of the view, the show’s host seemed to share the same opinion. Karazin said that was ridiculous, especially because her husband’s family are third generation immigrants from Germany.

She has been married to a white man for 10 years. Her blog BeyondBlackWhite  offers relationship advice to black women in relationships with white men or black women looking to date out or, as she puts it, “swirl.”

Karazin says that to her, “swirling” describes any combination of racial mixing in relationships, but she developed the term with black women in mind.

Starr Rocque is a 29-year-old freelance journalist who said she “swirled” before finally marrying her black husband Anslem.

Rocque grew up in a black neighborhood in Harlem. Her mother, an arts enthusiast and a teacher, pushed her to engage in activities that exposed her to children of other races. As a result, when she got older she says race was not a factor in determining who she dated or chose to marry.

When Rocque got into her first relationship with a white man, one of her black girlfriends, a close childhood friend, had been surprised that she was in an interracial relationship. Rocque said she explained that they had met at a party and the man had approached her while she was taking pictures. After they spoke they found out that they had a lot in common.

Upon hearing that, the friend said, “Oh that’s it? I thought white guys have some special way of trying to get with you.”

***

Perpetuated racial stereotypes of black men and women are major barriers to mixed-race relationships and marriages. Dr. White  says that while stereotypes about black men actually help them date outside of their race, stereotypes about black women have distorted the way black women see themselves and how they are viewed by men of other races.

Angela Stanley  is a research associate at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at the University of Ohio. “In the media black women are portrayed as loud and emasculating, not the kind of person anyone would like to date,” she explains.

“Black men are shown as hyper-masculine. Even with association with crime, it works to their advantage.”

In an airy apartment in Harlem, newly engaged mixed-race couple Nigel Chiwaya and Sarah Babka are about to have dinner. Babka is cooking pasta while Chiwaya sits at the breakfast nook attached to the stove. There is a large window and a balcony that faces west. Chiwaya is playing with their cat.

Chiwaya is a 25-year-old black male and a native of New York. Babka is white and a lawyer. They met at a Starbucks in downtown Manhattan. She was sitting next to a plug and he needed to charge his phone. Twenty minutes later they were still talking. They will be married in September this year.

Chiwaya had never been with a white woman before he started dating Babka. He says one of the reasons why he is marrying her is because she is sometimes even more sensitive to racism than he is.

On the other hand, Babka said that even though she had dated one or two white men, she has a preference for black men and that is whom she has dated. She went to high school with mostly black students.

While their parents have now grown to accept that they are both going to marry outside of their race, Chiwaya says that his mom took a while longer than his father to come around.

“She had expressed a preference for me to date black women,” he says.

Both Babka and Chiwaya say that seeing a mixed-race couple causes a reaction in onlookers. But they say that most times it is black women who seem to most disapprove of their relationship.

“When you are in an interracial relationship you get a lot of stares, even in New York,” he says.

“Most of the stares come from old black women. I don’t know what that speaks to, but I guess there is still some hostility.”

Chiwaya says that when those older black women react negatively to seeing him and his fiancee together, it makes him think of how disapproving they must be of their own daughters dating outside of their race.

***

In May 2011, Psychology Today published a controversial paper by Satoshi Kanazawa a social psychologist at London School of Economics, who argued that black women were the least attractive while black men were the most attractive. The study attempted to use data from the U.S. Add Health, a longitudinal adolescent study commissioned by the federal government to examine adolescent health outcomes.

In 1994 seventh-12th graders were asked to fill our detailed surveys to allow researchers to identify factors influencing certain behavioral patterns. Demographic data about the students’ race and appearance was also collected.

Kanazawa used data from the Add Health Study, not of the survey responses, but he instead focused on how the researchers rated the appearances of the survey respondents. Using that data alone he published his paper with a series of charts and graphs.

The paper titled “Why are black women rated less physically attractive than other women, but black men are rated better looking than other men?” argued that “women of all races are on average more physically attractive than the “average” man, except for black women.” He went on further to argue that “black women were far less attractive than white, Asian, and Native American women.”

Many online black publications and netizens accused Kanazawa and Psychology Today of being both racist and sexist upon the paper’s release. Although it is still available online, Psychology Today removed the paper from its website without any explanation not long after the public outcry.

However, that study, supported already existing negative stereotypes about black women. According to Karazin, many black women falsely believe that white men are not attracted to them.

“At some point the baggage that black women have limits them from getting with white men and other times it also destroys relationships,” Dr. White says.

She recounted a story of a mixed-race couple she knew that broke up early in their relationship. The man who was white, said he was going to make his black girlfriend “his sex slave.” It was a joke. But his girlfriend felt it was insensitive and she could not get over it.

“There are cultural land mines that separate blacks and whites that go as far back as slavery that continue to keep people apart,” she adds.

But Karazin argues that it is blacks not whites who are becoming more aggressively against interracial relationships. She said that when she showed a photograph of her mixed-race daughter and her white husband to her black family who had missed her wedding, they made a mockery of her.

“I had just had a baby with my husband and they wanted to shame me because he was white.”

While social pressure is not enough to prevent black women from dating or marrying outside of their race, it limits their choice of husbands.

Dr. White  says that those black women who choose not to date or marry out because of a strong racial affinity are being asked to bear an unbalanced amount of the collective slave burden.

“Black girls are conditioned from birth that you are black first and then you are a woman,” Karazin

 says.

— additional reporting by Rani Molla