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Intimate relationships between men and women have been around for as long as the different sexes have, and these often complicated structures will probably be around as long as people exist. Within relationships, there can be countless different combinations in relation to the age of the people involved, their hobbies, religions, family backgrounds and many other variables. Depending on the people involved in a relationship, different factors will be more important than others. With these numerous factors that can play a role in two people getting together, the races of the two individuals can be considered one of the most important. Besides being visually salient, someone’s race is usually intermixed with their culture. More often than not, two people in an intimate relationship will be of the same race, and this does not draw attention to that factor. However, when the races do decide to mix, it usually does not go unnoticed.
Even within the factor of race within relationships, there are several different combinations of possibilities including Asian/White, Hispanic/Black, Native American/White and many more, but one of particular interest is Black/White relationships. These relationships, especially in America, have always received large amounts of interest whether they were between master and slave, or today where a black/white couple often gets a second look from outside observers. This particular mixing of the races seems to get investigated more closely than the others do and numerous theories have come out concerning its various aspects. These range from the idea that whites enter relationships with blacks solely because of their supposed sexual prowess, to whites and blacks entering into relationships with each other for the same reasons that same race couples do. Teasing apart the truth concerning different aspects of these relationships is often difficult as some investigators may have been looking at them from a racist viewpoint biasing the theories they produced. A close look at theories and experiments concerning black/white relationships hopes to show that many of the past theories were based on unsupported reasons and that these relationships are formed in the same way and for the same reasons as are same race relationships.
To understand why black/white relationships are being exclusively studied, as well as factors that might be influencing theories presented about these relationships, a brief review of black/white relations in this country will be taken. Beginning with slavery, relationships between blacks and whites were “sexualized” meaning that not only were they thought of as always being about sex but in actuality generally were centered around sex. The marriages between black slaves were given little, if any importance as families were often split up, and even a married black woman’s body was available to a white master if he desired it. While a black woman’s body was an object to any white master who desired it, a white woman also became another kind of object. White women in the south were portrayed as pure, chaste, and from the white man’s perspective, needing protection from the black men who desired her. Whether or not this belief concerning black men was even true, white men felt they had to keep black men under control and away from their women (Simms-Brown, 1982). The black men were forbidden to look at, touch, and by no stretch of the imagination, marry a white woman. For the whole system to work, white women also had to deny any possible attraction to black men even if there was some attraction. The problems presented formed the base for white/black relations, and these unnatural, pathological patterns dominated the view of relations between the two groups for hundreds of years (Monahan, 1973).
Even after slavery was officially abolished there were many antimiscegenation laws that were strongly enforced which involved the hanging or imprisoning of a black man for consorting with white women. It is important to note that during this period the sexual interactions of white men and black women were most often overlooked by law enforcers. Many of these laws were present until 1967 when the Supreme Court finally struck down all laws against interracial marriage. Even though this ruling made interracial marriages legally possible, it did not automatically lift the opposition of whites toward interracial relationships (Brown, 1989-1990).
The stereotypes developed during this period have been continued long beyond slavery in some cases. Spaights and Dixon (1984) related what they felt were current stereotypes during the writing of their article. The black woman was seen as sensual, free and loving, and promiscuous by choice. Her sexual nature was childlike and animalistic while the white woman, especially in the New England and the South, was still seen as chaste and too pure to become fully involved in sexual matters. White men were seen as controlling, powerful, vengeful and responsible for the past actions of the white race. Black men were given the most complicated stereotypes. They were seen as shiftless, ignorant, and childlike, yet they were feared because of their supposed lust for white women.
As far as records are kept, interracial dating and marriage between blacks and whites have increased during the past few decades. The exact rate of increase and what areas are increasing the most are not completely known considering that in many states people do not have to write down their race on their marriage certificates. This process will probably never be implemented because it would infringe too heavily on personal rights, so the best data on interracial relationships has been gathered through gallop polls (Stimson et al., 1979).
With this increase in black/white marriages one might think that past stereotypes and prejudiced theories are either extinct or are on their way to being so, however this is not completely true. One factor that plays a role in this increase in interracial relationships is simply more contact between blacks and whites. As blacks are able to obtain better education and jobs, they will inevitably be around more whites than in the past, which just allows for more opportunities for interracial dating. Even though mere contact can not explain all of the increase, it does have a role in the process. Another factor that has played a role is a more accepting society for interracial relationships. As blacks and whites have interacted more as coworkers and friends, discrimination and prejudice against blacks have gone down, which in turn lowers negative attitudes towards black/white relationships.
While an increase in the number of marriages is noted, it must also be noted that blacks have the lowest rates of intermarriage of all minority groups in this country (Davidson & Schneider, 1992) and that the US has the lowest rate of black/white intermarriage among all Western nations (Pettigrew, 1988). The US seems to be a more race conscious country than most other nations today where interracial marriages are generally accepted (Gordon, 1964).
This information does not give a clear picture to the extent that interracial relationships are accepted in this country. There have been studies done that aimed at shedding light into this area but instead just kept the picture very unclear. One study examined not only blacks’ and whites’ interest in intermarrying but also looked at their willingness to live near or be friends with interracial couples. This study which was published in 1992 found that according to their scales, blacks were significantly more willing to acceptance interracial relationships in all contexts than whites and that overall whites were not accepting of interracial marriages. This study highlighted the idea that black/white marriages still have controversy surrounding them and that at least for this sample, opposition to them was not limited to extreme white racists (Davidson & Schneider, 1992).
However, another study done in 1979 obtained different results as they found that in their sample, which was drawn from two Mid-Atlantic colleges, that there was a general level of acceptance of interracial dating and marriage. The interesting finding from this study was that 92% of the student sample felt like people were not becoming more accepting of interracial relationships, yet 65% of this sample was willing to date interracially (Stimson, et al., 1979). The difference between these two studies is that this study was done with a college population while the study done by Davidson and Schneider involved participants from a city. Colleges are known to be places where young people are more accepting of “radical” ideas like interracial relationships.
A study done that looked at family acceptance of interracial relationships returned results that went more in line with the Davidson and Schneider study. From a sample taken from college students in a midwestern university the researchers found that again blacks, or more specifically black parents, were more accepting of interracial relationships. However, overall perceptions of family acceptance of interracial relationships were negative (Mills, et. al., 1994). This study also fits in line with the previous pattern of results because even though the Mills study was done on a college campus it was asking about how accepting the students’ parents were instead of how accepting the students themselves were.
Armed with the knowledge that interracial relationships are increasing in this country but yet are still plagued with opposition and a general feeling of disapproval, one might wonder why this is the current state of affairs in this area. Saying that it is just an ingroup vs. outgroup phenomenon or that America just has an overall racial bias are not sufficient answers. It is proposed that a combination of the historical problems between black and white relationships as well as the theories that came from this air of racial problems have influenced both the fact that blacks have the lowest intermarriage rates and that the overall black/white marriage rate is lower in this country than other developed ones. What the exact mechanisms that are affecting this are unknown but possibilities include the idea that people refrain from black/white relationships because they are afraid of being stereotyped or questioned about their motives, they do not want to deal with possible family and social pressure, or they are unsure of their own motives for wanting to be in an interracial relationship and therefore refrain from entering them.
Whatever the exact mechanism that has allowed stereotypes stemming from slavery times to hinder interracial relationships today, these stereotypes and theories need to be looked at with a closer eye and put up against empirical tests. It can be said that many of the theories about interracial relationships rely on faulty logic, have been formed on the basis of individual cases or small samples, and have a racist element involved in them. The following will take a critical look at the more widespread and well-known theories that came out of the period where racism and science were hard to separate.
A quick example of the problems faced when trying to discover the truth in interracial relationships is shown in a study done by Hans Sebald (1974) at Arizona State University during the 1968-1969 school year. This study looked at interracial dating on the campus and was specifically comparing the dating patterns of white and black men. This study’s main finding was that the sample of 80 black men on campus dated more interracially than did the 140 white men sample. This was deemed an important finding and the paper presents different ideas about why this might have been the case. These ideas range from the black men on campus mostly being athletes and having a “black mystique” to how black women do not have the type of desirability that white women do. With all these theories being spouted out, a simple fact is not discussed. These 80 single black men were part of 350 black students (including married men and women) on a campus with 23,400 students; the blacks made up about one and one-half percent of the students on campus. Combining this important statistic with the idea that in college people interact with numerous people and often date these people, it becomes clear why the black men interracially dated more than the white men. The black men simply saw and interacted with white women significantly more than white men with black women, and ultimately dated more across racial lines. This study is just one example of how biases can be present in research and how simple, easily explainable events can be complicated by theories from researchers.
Even without interracial theories complicating simple statistics, it has been said that because of the history between blacks and whites, not only is there always the possibility of pathological motivations (Brayboy, 1966), but one black psychiatrist even said that pathological motivations underlie most black/white marriages (Osmundsen, 1965). While there have been many smaller theories generated about why black/white relationships might form, there is one theory that because it has predictions about certain aspects of interracial relationships is easier to empirically study. This big theory encompassing several possible motivations for black/white relationships is the caste exchange theory.
CASTE EXCHANGE THEORY
The caste exchange theory concerning interracial relationships comes from combining the resource exchange theory (Foa & Foa, 1974) and stereotypes about blacks stemming from slavery days. The exchange theory by the Foa couple involves the give-and-take of commodities and resources. Resources in this theory can either be physical or psychological entities that, when received, are considered a reward by the recipient. Resources can be numerous. They can be relatively tangible like money, goods, or information that are exchanged in many interpersonal settings. They can also be relatively intangible like affection and respect which are exchanged in interpersonal settings and are viewed by the participants as personal. Important to note is that generally for a relationship to be successful the partners need to be similar in the amount of resources that they give and receive from each other. This theory combined with the idea that blacks’ racial status is considered to be lower than whites’ produces a caste exchange theory for black/white relationships. This theory says and predicts that since there is a difference in the status of blacks and whites, a white individual will enter into a relationship with a black only if the black has a surplus of some resource to adequately compensate the white person for accepting the lower status of the racial minority (Yancey & Yancey, 1998).
This larger theory has been the basis for many other theories that describe the pathological motivations that supposedly plague interracial relationships. Black women might be tired of “shiftless, lazy, irresponsible” men and therefore are looking for a white man who has stable employment and can be a constant provider. She might be using her white man as a way to “get white” or to attain a social status that she does not feel she could get with a black man. Similar to black women, black men might exploit white women for their money and higher social status. These ideas and theories, like all the ones that will be discussed, can be true in some cases but they may not be true for the majority of interracial relationships.
STUDIES AGAINST CASTE EXCHANGE
Since this caste exchange theory is one of the most widespread stereotypes about black/white relationships, there have been studies done specifically to test this theory. One such study looked at personal advertisements to see what exactly whites and blacks who were interested in interracial relationships were promoting as their resources and what they were looking for in the opposite sex. The experimenters examined personal advertisements because it is known the writer wants a relationship. It is designed so that the writer tells his or her qualities to offer (resources), and tells the reader what qualities are desired in a relationship. Other advantages of this method include the idea that since the advertisers have a small space to write, they will only put the characteristics they feel are very important to find in a mate and will put what they believe the other sex will want the most.
Using attractiveness and financial status as the most looked for resources, the caste theory would predict that whites should be offering less resources because they automatically have the higher caste status, while blacks would be looking for less resources. These predictions according to the caste theory were not supported in the results of the experiment. First, blacks were more, not less, likely than whites to look for resources by seeking financial security, despite their lower caste status. The results concerning the offering and desiring of physical attractiveness also did not support the theory as blacks and whites showed levels of offering and desiring this resource that did not differ at significant levels (Yancey & Yancey, 1998). Another study done by the Yanceys (1997) a year before but again with the personal advertisement method, found that instead of caste exchange theory having any predictive value, traditional marital exchange theory, with men’s financial status being traded for women’s physical attractiveness, appeared to be more explanatory of the data concerning interracial relationships.
While this study did not find support for the caste exchange theory, another experiment did find some support depending on the manner in which the results are viewed. This experiment, done by Bernard Murstein and others (1988) looked specifically at physical attractiveness as a resource in interracial relationships. Using the exchange theory to provide a hypothesis for their study, they predicted that blacks would exceed their white partners in physical attractiveness. This slight variation in the exchange theory was put for by Merton (1941) who said that race will be exchanged for relational capital. This experiment rated physical attractiveness in three different ways, and by using one of these measures was able to find support for their hypothesis. They measured attractiveness by independent judges, by self-concepts, and by perceptions of the partner. The latter two measures did not find any significant difference in the attractiveness of the participants but the independent judges did find the black members of the black/white relationships to be more attractive. They justified this by saying this one measure was more important than the other two because they felt that disinterested judges tend to see strangers in a fairly objective way and that standards of beauty are quite reliable (Udry, 1965).
There is a problem with using the judges’ ratings as support for the caste theory. The problem with the interpretation of the results is in the idea that a raters’ opinion is more important than both self-concepts and partner perceptions. It is true that both of the latter might be more idealistic and distorted, but they are also how the couple actually sees each other. According to caste theory, whites would be willing to trade their higher status for a more attractive black, but if in the white person’s mind they are equally as attractive as their black mate, then they are not following the predictions of the caste theory. Since the couples rated themselves as equally attractive in this study, either the caste theory only applies when outside people view a couple, or it is a theory that does not apply to interracial relationships in general.
Another experiment done in 1976 examined the occupational class of couple entering into interracial marriages. Referring again to Merton’s caste exchange theory, the blacks in the relationships should either be trading their beauty or a higher economic status for the higher racial status of the whites. Since this study only looked at the occupational class, that is the only part of Merton’s theory we can put against empirical evidence. The study (Monahon, 1976) took into account the actual couples’ occupational class as well at the parents of the couples to get a clearer picture of the social class the couples were actually in. After they determined which class both people in the interracial relationship were in, they looked into whether they were in the same occupational class. If not, they looked into which partner was in which class. An examination of the evidence showed that both black husbands and wives tended more often to marry upward into the white occupational groups than when they married other blacks. While this could just have been an artifact because the blacks generally had the lower economic status, it must be recognized that even if this is true, the whites still had to accept the lower economic status of the blacks before entering into a relationship with them. This idea goes against the Merton caste exchange theory as that theory would predict that the blacks would be trading their higher economic status for the whites’ higher racial status.
Combining the results from the three experiments, even with the seemingly contradictory findings of the study done by Murstein and others, shows a lack of empirical support for the caste exchange theory and the predictions that come from it. The resources examined, attractiveness in one case and occupational status in another, are the two most important aspects of caste exchange theory. If predictions in these areas are not being supported by empirical evidence, then it is likely that any smaller theories and predictions that come from the caste theory would also not be able to find supporting evidence. It seems that the caste exchange theory is an outmoded way of thinking about interracial relationships, especially when they are formed by individuals actively seeking them. More likely is the idea that interracial relationships are formed for the same reasons that same race relationships are, out of love, respect, and compatibility.
The caste theory about interracial relationships has predictions associated with it, and therefore is more easily supported or not supported by empirical evidence. Many of the other theories and ideas about the motivations behind interracial relationships do not have these same qualities that can be examined and, in a less direct way, supported or not supported by experiments and studies. These motivations for black/white romances include rebellion, general pathology, sexual curiosity or preoccupation, revenge, exhibitionism, or a rejection of one’s own race.
Rebellion as a possible motivation for interracial relationships can have many different facets to it. This rebellion by one of the members of an interracial relationship can, in theory, be against his or her family or culture. This theoretical perspective usually has the white partner rebelling against their families and the social order represented by their families by trying to be liberal minded (Aldridge, 1978; Hullum, 1982; Spaights & Dixon, 1984). On the individual level this might be a white man rebelling against an inhibiting social group and being led to what he believes is a richness and freeness present in the black lifestyle. Similarly, a white woman might be rebelling against her more white, traditional lifestyle and craving the black vitality and earthiness (Spaights & Dixon, 1984). This rebellion theory, which was presented several decades ago, has not yet been supported by empirical evidence. The origin of the theories concerning this motivation are unclear but it is possible that since white families are generally opposed to interracial marriages, the white person wanting to engage in a black/white relationship must “rebel” as needed for the relationship to occur, and this act was exaggerated and given as a possible motivation outside of its original context. Finding direct evidence against this theory would be difficult because of its sensitive nature and its possibly unconscious base, but evidence presented later will show that when black/white relationships are studied, this motivation does not appear to be a normal motivation for interracial relationships.
While rebellion as a motivation for interracial relationships generally refers to white members of the relationship, the speculation that rejection of one’s race as a major motivator is usually identified with the black members of interracial relationships. This can be seen as black members rejecting their race or feeling like the black race has rejected them. On the individual level, a black woman, in theory, may choose to date whites because she has become disillusioned by the black man, or she may reject the sexual attitudes prevalent in the black community, which according to Spaights and Dixon (1984) are an insistence upon intercourse in the early stages of a relationship. The black woman might feel that only a white man will provide her with true romance and affection and that these acts do not always have to be within the context of sex. Also the black woman might have experienced abuse at the hands of black men and might be looking for the protection and comfort that they believe a white man knows how to give.
Theoretical motivations for black men to date white women that are often referenced are that black men have been rejected by black women in the past or feel rejected by the black race in general. Linked with that is the idea that black women, with their constant nagging and belittling have driven black men away. Because of this, black men have fled to the stereotypically passive, submissive white women who they believe will stand behind them and rebuild their egos (Simms-Brown, 1982). This theory can also play out in the idea that blacks are rejected by black lovers and peers, and because of that, unknowingly turning to another race for these necessary relationships. Whites can also have motivations of rejection such as rejecting the discrimination against blacks by whites and having natural sympathy for the “underdog” or feeling so much sympathy for blacks that they think being in a relationship with them will help them in some way (Day, 1974). While there has not been a study directly testing this possible motivation, there has been information gathered that would refute this idea. A study done by Maxine Clark, Linda Windley, Linda Jones, and Steve Ellis (1986) looked at the dating patterns of black students on white southern campuses, and found that contrary to this theory, blacks who dated interracially did not have a less favorable stereotype of blacks than blacks who dated only within their race. Also within this study they also found that black male interracial daters had the most favorable ratings of black women.
Another hypothesis for why blacks get into interracial relationships with whites is for revenge. This motivation is fairly broad and seems to get its roots from slavery days. Blacks were thought to do undetected actions to take revenge on their masters in those times. It is possible that at some point a black person did actually enter into a relationship with a white person just for revenge and this case was used to make a generalization about motives for interracial relationships. Under this theoretical motivation, one possibility is that the black woman might want to take revenge on the white man by taking advantage of his money. She may do this either by actually spending his money or just being with him so that she can be seen as someone with money and power (Spaights & Dixon, 1984).
According to Spaights and Dixon (1984) black men have sometimes blatantly exploited white women as revenge for the treatment that they feel they and their parents have received at the hands of the white race, especially white men. This could take several forms from exploiting them economically to physical abuse, to emotional or verbal abuse. The motivation of revenge that is theorized about is not directed at any single white person but is usually taken out on the white woman. While it is likely that at some point a black man has used a white woman as revenge against her race, it does not seem probable that this is true at any time other than in rare cases.
The unsupported ideas about rebellion, rejection and revenge are generally used to talk about one race or the other. Sexual curiosity and preoccupation, other theoretical motivations, can be used to describe motivations for either race in interracial relationships. This theory, more than the other ones, seems to have gotten its base directly from slavery days and the racism that occurred during and because of it. The individual level of this theoretical motivation begins with the white man seeing the black woman as an object of exciting sexual action that he has not been able to find and obtain with white women. White women might prefer black men because of their stereotype as animalistic and direct lovers who are also very physically well-endowed. Similarly she may view the “exotic as erotic” which will be accentuated if in the past “exotic” was forbidden for whatever reason. This would give her the experience and excitement of having a forbidden sexual object (Grier & Cobbs, 1972).
The preoccupation side of this theory is most often thought of as the idea that black men are and will always be attracted to the “forbidden” white woman. Another part of this idea is that the black man has a desire to prove himself sexually to a white partner and this has provoked bitter conflict between black males and females. The black females feel their men are constantly deserting them for women of the other race (Day, 1972). This idea, which was present in slavery times, seems to have been simply continued from that time period. Even though no evidence has been found to support this idea, its spread to everyday culture seems to have been uninterrupted (Berry & Blassingame, 1982). Even though this theoretical motivation is hard to test directly, one study, which investigated the dating patterns of black students at a predominately white college, found that the black interracial daters expressed a desire to date black and white women with no indication of a white preference (Clark et al., 1986). This particular paper even goes on to speculate that under different conditions these black men would not be dating these white women at all which would go against any “preoccupation” ideas.
Other ideas have been used to give reasons for black/white relationships when they do not seem to fit under any easily titled category. These usually fall under the title general pathology. Under this theoretical motivation for interracial relationships, a black women might be trying to get into black/white relationships because she is trying to reverse the historic roles of slave and master. She might also be trying to flaunt her increased sexuality to show how much better her race is compared to the “chaste” white woman. White women might use a black man to overcome their insecurity about their own sexuality if the black men treats her like a “white queen”. Another remote possibility is that the white woman has low self-esteem and is seeking a violent and embittered black man to treat roughly (Spaights & Dixon, 1984).
A possible unconscious reason that either or both members of a black/white couple will enter a relationship together is because they harbor deep-seated resentment of their parents for a certain reason, and desire to hurt them through becoming involved in an interracial relationship (Hullum, 1982). This subconscious reasoning would be possible from both sides. Black parents could be “hurt” if their child decides to “sell out” leaving his or her culture behind and also not giving black members of the opposite sex a fair chance. White parents could be disappointed if they see their child moving down in social rank and status to become involved with a black person. According to Spaights and Dixon (1984) the motivation of the black man who becomes involved in an interracial relationship has the “potential for the greatest pathology because he is the member in this quartet who in many ways has been most severely restricted and injured by the historical relations between blacks and whites” (135). A possible motivation for a black male is to prove his manhood to white women through combative sex, showing contempt for the white man who can not satisfy a woman as well (Spaights & Dixon, 1984). Under this idea, black men may seize the opportunity to use a white woman’s feelings of guilt about racial injustice to negotiate sexual favors (Day, 1974).
STUDIES AGAINST THEORETICAL MOTIVATIONS
Since the ideas presented above do not generally lend themselves to direct contradiction from empirical studies, the evidence shown will give support for the idea that interracial relationships are formed for the same reasons as same-race relationships and that all the discussed theories might have occurred in rare cases but are not the general rule for interracial relationships.
One such study was done by Richard Lewis, George Yancey, and Siri Bletzer (1997) which looked at racial and nonracial factors in black/white relationships and how important they were to the members of the couples. Important in understanding the study are ideas about how relationships are generally formed. There are two major forms of mate selection being homogeneous and heterogeneous. As a concept, homogeneous mate selection is linked with social characteristics. When one adheres to the social norm of marrying a person with similar characteristics, such as ethnicity, race, religion, age, social class, etc, they are using homogeneous mate selection (Benokraitis, 1993). Heterogeneous mate selection occurs when one goes against broadly defined social norms and marries someone with different social characteristics. It can be argued that homogeneous factors are more important in a relationship and that these types of factors have been historically linked with same race relationships.
Interracial relationships come into the picture starting with the idea that these relationships have been viewed as unions that were formed on the basis of factors other than homogeneous ones. The researchers wanted to look at whether black/white marriages were formed according to homogeneous factors, which would make them similar to same race relationships, or whether they were formed according to racial factors, which would give support to the numerous theories previously presented. The study defined these homogeneous factors, or nonracial factors, as factors that are known to usually be similar in same race relationships like economic status, common social interests, entertainment interests, and spouse attractiveness. The racial factors, or heterogeneous factors, were items like the novelty of marrying interracially or finding members of a different race more sexually attractive.
The results of the study showed that non-racial factors were more important in spouse selection than racial factors for the sample of black/white couples. The couples stated that the factors such as common interests and general attractiveness of the person, irrespective of racial group membership, were much more important than the racial factors. These results lend support to the idea that not only are interracial couples getting together because they are similar to each other and not for all the pathological motivations, but also that they are getting together for the same reasons that same race relationships are.
A study done by Shibazaki and Brennan (1998) echoes the idea that interracial relationships get together for the same reason that same race relationships do. Their study looked at how and whether cultural variables impact interracial relationships and the results of the study revealed no significant differences between interracial and same race relationships in terms of the individuals’ reasons for entering into their respective relationships. Their study also found through qualitative analyses, that interracial couple members were motivated to enter the given relationship out of liking, respect, common interests and goals.
Another study that focused on the homogamous factors in black/white relationships did so by looking at the educational levels of the members in the relationship (Bernard, 1966). This study could be used as more evidence that the caste exchange theory is invalid, but rather will be used simply as evidence that interracial relationships are the same as same race relationships. By looking at the U.S. Census, it was found that in general the interracial relationships as of 1960 were educationally as homogamous as same race relationships. It is noted that when they were not educationally homogamous, the over-all tendency was for the white partner to have more education. This is not seen as a problematic finding however. It must simply be noted that during that time it would have been extremely difficult for a black and white person to be on an equal educational level, and the fact that most of the time they were on a similar level is a testimony to both the ideas that similarity in important areas is a major attractor and that interracial and same race relationships are not extremely different from each other.
Another study (Gaines, Rios, et al., 1999) which found support for the idea that black/white interracial relationships are formed and operate like same race relationships, looked at romanticism and interpersonal resource exchange. These researchers looked at romanticism, which is defined as a set of beliefs conveyed from society to the individual concerning the presumed desirability of establishing and maintaining a romantic relationship. Beliefs associated with the ideology of romanticism include love at first sight, there is only one true love, true love lasts forever, idealization of the partner and relationship, and love can overcome all obstacles (Sprecher et al., 1994). The study looked at romanticism in interracial relationships as well as affectionate behavior and respectful behavior between the partners.
The results of the study supported the hypothesis that partners in interracial couples would exchange affection and respect at significant levels. Romanticism was also found to be important among the black/white couples. Even though this data does not necessarily flatly contradict the possible pathological motivations that were described earlier, it can be said that in this data support for those theories is not found. If partners had gotten into interracial relationships for revenge against the opposite race or for just sexual curiosity then they would not be affectionate and respectful of each other. The fact that these couples are respectful of each other finds no support for many theoretical motivations for black/white relationships.
Another study conducted (Gaines, Granrose, et al., 1999) again supports the idea that interracial relationships are similar to same race relationships and are not always plagued by dysfunctionality and pathological motivations by looking at attachment styles among interracial couples. Attachment styles are described as ways that a person interacts with significant others. There are three different types, secure, anxious-ambivalent, and avoidant, and each style has its own predictions concerning its influence in a relationship (Hazan & Shaver, 1987). The study of attachment styles in general has grown very large in recent years and the findings about how often each style occurs in the population and how they affect relationships is rather robust.
Within any random sample of same race couples there should be close to 60 percent securely attached individuals, with the other two categories being split fairly even. These were the same ranges of percentages found for individuals in interracial relationships, which is the support for similarity between both types of relationships. Also, with the knowledge that in general securely attached individuals describe their relationships as involving happiness, friendship and trust, and a little more than 60 percent of individuals in interracial relationships were classified this way, it can be argued that at least this large percentage of these relationships were not plagued by pathological motivations.
The study of interracial relationships is still relatively young. As evidenced in this paper there are many theories concerning these relationships but not nearly enough empirical studies done on the topic. One study that could be done could be a comprehensive study with a large number of black/white couples. The study would be the most direct study of the caste exchange theory. It would include an examination of as many resources as possible. It would look at the financial status of the individuals in black/white couples, their attractiveness, educational backgrounds and other important parts of the relationship that would be defined as resources. This would allow for all the major aspects of the caste exchange theory to be examined in one study. Also, the study would look at same-race relationships to see if and how interracial relationships differed, if at all. If the results from this did not support the caste exchange theory similar to the other studies looked at, then it could be proposed that the theory should simply be discarded. This would be an improvement over many of the studies previously cited because it would investigate more than just one side of the exchange possibilities.
Another possible group of studies would to be to try and examine the other possible pathological motivations through implicit tests. This would make it possible to test the hypothesis that people get into interracial relationships because of pathological motivations but do not even know it. There could be tests to try to determine whether the person in the relationship had an underlying hatred for the other race, a hatred for their own race, or felt the need to rebel against their parents. If these connected studies all returned results indicating that individuals in black/white relationships do not have these factors present in them, even on an implicit level, then those theoretical motivations could also be discarded as general motivations for interracial relationships.
A quote from Aldridge (1978) who is citing J. Washington from 1970 says, “ People may marry their ‘own kind’ for the most weird reasons, yet these reasons do not make each marriage suspect. Perhaps, the imputation of ulterior motives to interracial couples says more about the individual making these interpretations and about the society we live in than about the couple who intermarry”(358-359). After looking at interracial relationship issues in slavery days it becomes easier to see the reasons that people would want to formulate theories and ideas against interracial dating. Although the creators of those theories may not have necessarily wanted to keep interracial relationships from being accepted, for at least a while they did so.
It is also important to note that the many theories, from caste exchange to undefined pathological motivations, about interracial relationships were just that – theories. People can make up a theory to fit any situation, and by making up theories, they can often include any biases or prejudices that they believe in. An example of theories being made to explain information in interracial relationships can be found when there is a finding of a difference in the wealth of a black male/white female couple. If in this relationship the black male has more money, the caste exchange theory is presented to explain the finding where the black man is trading his money for the women’s higher caste status. However, if the black man has less money, another theory about exploitation is presented where the black man is simply using the white woman for her money. This is just a possible example of how a finding that shows a difference in either direction can still be used to formulate a theory that interracial relationships are formed for negative reasons.
As long as these negative theories about interracial relationships are still believed in and circulate in our society, not only will some people stay away from entering these relationships but the couples that are together will continue to face discrimination and prejudice from many different sides. As more empirical studies are done without a biased perspective I believe more evidence will be found that interracial relationships, including black/white ones, are formed and maintained in the same way that same race relationships are. As it becomes clear that these relationships are not constantly plagued by pathological motivations, it would not be surprising to see the number of interracial relationships increase faster than it is currently. People will no longer be afraid of becoming stereotyped if they enter these relationships, or of having their motives questioned by society, friends, and family.
Also as these relationships become more accepted in our country and prejudice and discrimination against them goes down, it would be expected that many of the social pressures that interracial couples face will decrease. On a large scale this should decrease the current divorce rate among interracial relationships, which according to the most recent data has two out of every three interracial marriages ending in divorce (Gaines & Ickes, 1997). A more accepting society should also have smaller positive effects. Couples in black/white relationships would feel more free about holding hands in public and not get as many questioning stares from strangers. A cycle that has already begun would continue where discrimination, prejudice, and negative social pressures would decrease, while the number and quality of black/white relationships would increase.
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Ron Chapman Jr.
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