Happy Endings: Interracial Couples on Television

Matthew McGregor, American Renaissance, October 1, 2013

Ignoring the dark side.

In 1967, most Southern states still had anti-miscegenation laws that prevented interracial marriage. That was the last year those laws could be enforced; the Supreme Court struck them down in Loving v. Virginia.

That very year, Hollywood released a film that depicted a faultless black man (Sidney Poitier) visiting the family home of his white girlfriend (Katharine Houghton). In Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, the girl’s liberal, upper-class parents overcame their “prejudices” and accepted this upstanding black man. The film was supposed to convince Americans that miscegenation is normal.

Despite the film’s box-office success, only 20 percent of Americans approved of interracial marriage in 1968. Today, a reported 86 percent of Americans approve of black-white marriages, and a popular ABC sitcom Happy Endings reflects this change. It focuses on yuppie couples (with a mandatory homosexual friend) who all have quirky qualities that make the show a comedy.

This formula has been the sitcom norm since Friends debuted in the ’90s. Happy Endings premiered along with several other relationship sitcoms that did not have interracial couples, and is the only one to make it to a second season.

Like Guess Who’s Coming to DinnerHappy Endings depicts a black man with a white woman, but in the television program, this is presented as entirely ordinary and race is hardly discussed on the show. The only odd aspect of the couple is the wife’s earlier foray into lesbianism, which disturbs her thoroughly bourgeois black husband.

A black husband with a white wife is the most common form of black-white marriage, yet this kind of matchup is still rarely shown in film and television. The popular humor website Cracked even mocked this hesitancy in the article “They Still Can’t Show a Black Man Dating a White Woman (Unless That’s What the Whole Movie Is About).” The article argues that producers are too squeamish to depict black man-white woman couples because they think white men are repulsed by them.

While Happy Endings’ interracial couple is happy and fairly normal by current television standards, the show fails to show the reality of multi-racial couplings. According to a 2008 study on interracial divorce, couples that crossed racial lines more likely to divorce than couples of the same race. Black husband/white wife couples were the most likely to divorce: twice as likely as white couples.

Interracial couples are also more likely to suffer domestic violence than same-race couples. According to a University of Pittsburgh study, interracial couples were nearly three times more likely to have repeated incidents of violence, twice as likely to engage in mutual assault, 71 percent more likely to be arrested for domestic violence, and  37 percent more likely to be involved in abuse that results in injury. A recent report by a group of Florida State University researchers confirmed most of these findings, but found that domestic abuse among interracial couples is higher than in white couples, and occurs at about the same rate as in black couples.

There can be worse: The authors of a 2005 study on domestic violence in the United States reached the sobering conclusion that “the incidence of spousal homicide is 7.7 times higher in interracial marriages compared to intraracial marriages.”[i]

One study for the period 1979 to 1981 found that white men who married black women were 21.4 times more likely to be killed by their spouses than white men who married white women. A white woman increased her risk of being killed 12.4 times by marrying a black man. Marrying a white person did not appreciably change a black person’s risk of being killed by his or her spouse.[ii]

The children of mixed-race couples typically have more mental health and behavior problems than monoracial children. White/black mixes have a 31 percent higher chance of depression and are 28 percent more likely to be regular binge drinkers than white children. Compared to black children, mulattoes are 76 percent more likely to suffer from depression and twice as likely to be regular binge drinkers.

Of course, there is none of this in Happy Endings. While the couple has yet to have children, they would certainly be presented as well-behaved, smart, and happy. The Endings couple is an idealized characterization of an interracial relationship, depicted in a way to convince viewers that this is completely normal.

The number of interracial marriages is at an all-time high and the media certainly do not want to be left behind. If the success of Happy Endings is any indication, we can expect to see more interracial couples in movies and television.

[i] Lynn Barkley Burnett and Jonathan Adler, “Domestic Violence,” emedicine.com, Nov. 15, 2005.

[ii] James A. Mercy and Linda Saltzman, “Fatal Violence Among Spouses in the United States, 1976 – 85,” American Journal of Public Health, May, 1989.


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Michael McGregor
Mr. McGregor writes for Radix Journal.
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