The charisma king of the 2008 presidential field. The world’s best golfer. The captain of the New York Yankees. Besides superstardom, Barack Obama, Tiger Woods and Derek Jeter have another common bond: Each is the child of an interracial marriage.
For most of U.S. history, in most communities, such unions were taboo.
It was only 40 years agoon June 12, 1967that the U.S. Supreme Court knocked down a Virginia statute barring whites from marrying nonwhites. The decision also overturned similar bans in 15 other states.
Since that landmark Loving v. Virginia ruling, the number of interracial marriages has soared; for example, black-white marriages increased from 65,000 in 1970 to 422,000 in 2005, according to Census Bureau figures. Factoring in all racial combinations, Stanford University sociologist Michael Rosenfeld calculates that more than 7 percent of America’s 59 million married couples in 2005 were interracial, compared to less than 2 percent in 1970.
Coupled with a steady flow of immigrants from all parts of the world, the surge of interracial marriages and multiracial children is producing a 21st century America more diverse than ever, with the potential to become less stratified by race.
But what once seemed so radical to many Americans is now commonplace.
Many prominent blacksincluding Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, civil rights leader Julian Bond and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braunhave married whites. Well-known whites who have married blacks include former Defense Secretary William Cohen and actor Robert DeNiro.
Last year, the Salvation Army installed Israel Gaither as the first black leader of its U.S. operations. He and his wife, Eva, who is white, wed in 1967the first interracial marriage between Salvation Army officers in the United States.
Opinion polls show overwhelming popular support, especially among younger people, for interracial marriage.
More often, though, the difficulties are more nuanced, such as those faced by Kim and Al Stamps during 13 years as an interracial couple in Jackson, Miss.
Kim, a white woman raised on Cape Cod, met Al, who is black, in 1993 after she came to Jackson’s Tougaloo College to study history. Together, they run Cool Al’sa popular hamburger restaurantwhile raising a 12-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter in the state with the nation’s lowest percentage (0.7) of multiracial residents.
The children are homeschooled, Kim said, because Jackson’s schools are largely divided along racial lines and might not be comfortable for biracial children. She said their family triggered a wave of “white flight” when they moved into a mostly white neighborhood four years ago”People were saying to my kids, ‘What are you doing here?’“
“Making friends here has been really, really tough,” Kim said. “I’ll go five years at a time with no white friends at all.”
Yet some of the worst friction has been with her black in-laws. Kim said they accused her of scheming to take over the family business, and there’s been virtually no contact for more than a year.
“Everything was race,” Kim said. “I was called ‘the white devil.’“
Her own parents in Massachusetts have been supportive, Kim said, but she credited her mother with foresight.
“She told me, ‘Your life is going to be harder because of this road you’ve chosenit’s going to be harder for your kids,’“ Kim said. “She was absolutely right.”
The boom in interracial marriages forced the federal government to change its procedures for the 2000 census, allowing Americans for the first time to identify themselves by more than one racial category.
About 6.8 million described themselves as multiracial2.4 percent of the populationadding statistical fuel to the ongoing debate over what race really means.
Yet some black intellectuals embrace the surge in interracial marriages and multiracial families; among them is Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy, who addressed the topic in his latest book, “Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity, and Adoption.”
“Malignant racial biases can and do reside in interracial liaisons,” Kennedy wrote. “But against the tragic backdrop of American history, the flowering of multiracial intimacy is a profoundly moving and encouraging development.”