Sunday, December 2, 2007

Interracial Marriage:Love can take its toll

In many cases, interracial families embody a mix of nationalities as well as races. Michelle Cadeau, born in Sweden, and her husband, James, born in Haiti, are raising their two sons as Americans in racially diverse West Orange, N.J., while teaching them about all three cultures.

“I think the children of families like ours will be able to make a difference in the world, and do things we weren’t able to do,” Michelle Cadeau said. “It’s really important to put all their cultures together, to be aware of their roots, so they grow up not just as Swedish or Haitian or American, but as global citizens.”

Meanwhile, though, there are frustrations — such as school forms for 5-year-old Justin that provide no option for him to be identified as multiracial.

“I’m aware there are going to be challenges,” Michelle said. “There’s stuff that’s been working for a very long time in this country that is not going to work anymore.”

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 multiracial — 2.4 percent of the population — adding statistical fuel to the ongoing debate over what race really means.

Kerry Ann Rockquemore, professor of African-American studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago, is the daughter of a black father and white mother, and says she is asked almost daily how she identifies herself.

The surge in interracial marriage comes at “a very awkward moment” in America’s long struggle with racism, she says.

“We all want deeply and sincerely to be beyond race, to live in a world where race doesn’t matter, but we continue to see deep racial disparities,” Rockquemore said. “For interracial families, the great challenge is when the kids are going to leave home and face a world that is still very racialized.”

The stresses on interracial couples can take a toll. The National Center for Health Statistics says their chances of a breakup within 10 years are 41 percent, compared to 31 percent for a couple of the same race.

In some categories of interracial marriage, there are distinct gender-related trends. More than twice as many black men marry white women as vice versa, and about three-fourths of white-Asian marriages involve white men and Asian women.

C.N. Le, a Vietnamese-American who teaches sociology at the University of Massachusetts, says the pattern has created some friction in Asian-American communities.

“Some of the men view the women marrying whites as sellouts, and a lot of Asian women say, ’Well, we would want to date you more, but a lot of you are sexist or patriarchal,”’ said Le, who attributes the friction in part to gender stereotypes of Asians that have been perpetuated by American films and TV shows.

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