Interracial Dating as an Indicator of Integration - Higher Education

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Interracial Dating as an Indicator of Integration

by Black Issues

Interracial Dating as an Indicator of Integration

I recently read an article in Black Issues In Higher Education on integration by Paul Ruffins (Jan. 7, 1999). The author writes that approximately 1.2 million marriages are interracial. These figures are used in a context leading the reader to believe that substantial changes have taken place on the path to a more integrated society and the number of interracial marriages could be used as an indicator. Unfortunately, the actual numbers do not paint a very optimistic picture.
The numbers used in the article were for all interracial marriages. African American/White marriages are not the largest category of interracial marriages. Whites married to someone who isn’t African American but who isn’t White is the largest group. In fact, African American/White marriages total only 311,000 out of all marriages — 54,666,000 — according to Current Population Survey, 1997. Thus, African American/White marriages do not constitute even 1 percent of all marriages.
Yes, change has occurred over the past three decades. The number of African American male/White female marriages has increased 8 times to 201,000. The number of African American female/White male marriages has increased as well and stands at 110,000. But whether or not these numbers represent movement toward a color-blind society is debatable.
Very little research has been done on interracial couples. Research by Dr. Tom Monahan on upstate New York interracial couples over two decades ago and my own research on college campuses indicate that there are unique circumstances that lead to the formation of interracial couples. Monahan found that as the number of African American people increased in a given geographic area relative to Whites, the number of interracial couples actually decreased.
Exploratory research I conducted last year on a small, private college campus indicated that White women who date interracially tend not to be less involved in formal social organizations on campus — such as sororities — than the general student population. This suggests — and more research is needed on the topic — that membership in predominantly White social groups on college campuses actually inhibits interracial dating.
In other words, the evidence that exists does seem to indicate that situational determinants — the ratio of African American to White students, as well as membership in formal social organizations on campus — are important. If race was not a factor in our society, these findings should not have occurred. Interracial couples should have been randomly distributed throughout the college population. They were not.
College dating should be taken seriously as potentially leading to marriage. It is easy to dismiss the college years as a time period of exploration. One out of three alumni from the college where my study took place who were married, were married to each other.
On the other hand, there is hope for the future if we are going to use interracial couples as an indicator of integration. Researchers have found that class background is not a factor in the formation of interracial couples. Interracial couples can be found among all economic backgrounds. Interracial couples say they are together for love, feelings of commonality, and shared values — similar reasons for many same-race couples.
This goes against the classic theory proposed by Dr. Robert K. Merton that people who are in an interracial relationship do so because they gain in ways other than for love, such as economic gain or social acceptance. The evidence indicates otherwise.
So, there are three things we have learned about interracial couples. First, there has been some increase in the numbers but the number of interracial couples is still quite small. Second, there is still substantial evidence that race plays a significant factor in the formation of interracial couples in a given area, especially on college campuses. Finally, individuals involved in an interracial relationship do so for reasons based on love and affection rather than exploitation of another. 

— Dr. Robert M Moore III
Professor of Sociology,
Frostburg State University,

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