Sunday, March 2, 2008

Interracial couples still misunderstood by families, society

The issue of race, for better or worse, has always been important in American society.

The idea of interracial couples in American history has, for the most part, met with rejection.

"In the United States, it was against the law to marry a black person, and we are still an endogenous society for the most part," sociology Professor Gloria Pimentel said.

Laws banning interracial marriage, sex and cohabitation have been termed miscegenation laws or antimiscegenation laws since 1863. Miscegenation comes from the Latin words miscere, "to mix," and genus, "kind."

The first laws banning interracial marriages were put in place in the 17th century when the 13 colonies were still subjects of English rule.

Segregationists use the Bible to justify antimiscegenation laws, including the stories of Phinehas, who prevented the spread of a plague by killing a fellow Israelite and his Midianite woman (Numbers 25: 1-17), and Noah's curse of Ham, condemning his son to servitude (Genesis 9: 18-27).

It was thought by segregationists that interracial marriage would lead to the destruction of the white race and the United States. Segregationists even accused civil rights leaders such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. of working with the Soviet Union to destroy America.

In the 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, antimiscegenation laws were declared unconstitutional.

Pimentel said today, people see more and more biracial couples, but are they more accepting or more tolerant?

"America is in a state of denial; discrimination sill exists," Pimentel said.

Teaching sophomore Jennifer Opiela has experienced this discrimination firsthand.

Opiela is white and her boyfriend, Mitchell Anderson, a sophomore at St. Philip's College, is African-American.

Opiela recounts an incident when she and Anderson walked into a bakery together in Castroville. The couple were refused service.

At first, they waited as other customers were helped and left the store, but after a while, it became apparent that no one in the store was interested in helping them.

Opiela says that this was the first time that they had been victims of discrimination; however, she does notice the double-takes people make when she and Anderson walk down the street holding hands.

"Some of my family opposed our relationship at first, but overall they accepted it," Opiela said.
Pimentel says people have a greater understanding of interracial relationships because such relationships have become more exposed through the media.

"People know that people are marrying outside of race," Pimentel said.

Opiela says her family was shocked at first. Anderson is the first African-American she's dated, but they got over it.

"I find that older people look at it weird and not so much younger people," Opiela said. "It's a generation gap from the way the world is now and the way it was back then."

Her friends were more accepting of it, but Opiela did note one exception. One of her best friends is Hispanic, and at first, couldn't understand why Opiela was dating an African-American. Opiela says that this is because of the customs of different cultures.

"Different cultures have different prejudices," Pimentel said. "Every human being has prejudices; acting them out is discrimination."

This is the difference between endogenous and exogamous societies. Webster's New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition, defines endogamy as the custom of marrying only within one's own group, as a clan or tribe, and the exact opposite of exogamy.

"The American definition is defined by ethnicities," Pimentel said. "We are a multicultural society."

"Overall, we have created a society that has become desegregated," Pimentel said.

In the philosophy of diversity, Pimentel says that America has come far. However, in some aspects of society, it is as segregated today as in the 1960s.

The difference, Pimentel says, is in the way people cluster together in public places into a voluntary form of segregation.

For example, in a high school cafeteria, students are able to sit wherever they want. However, they choose to sit with people they want to eat with thereby, segregating the student body into niches and cliques.

"At the college level, in such a large social environment, students are more comfortable working together," Pimentel said. Another example she offers to illustrate how people work together is the military.

LaTerrence Moses, criminal justice freshman, disagrees with Pimentel on the point of the military. Moses said the only time he felt discriminated against was in the military.

"All my life I lived in a black neighborhood," Moses said. "It was when I first joined the military I felt discriminated against."

It was during basic training when he had an encounter with a white solider who had never interacted with a black person.

The white solider told Moses that black people were the lowest people in society and were at the bottom of the barrel.

"Other things were not as obvious or blatantly put out there, but it was there," Moses said.

Another incident occurred when Moses was going for a promotion. His immediate supervisor refused to allow Moses to go in front of the board to be evaluated for a higher rank. When the supervisor was asked why Moses was not going in front of the board by a black supervisor, he was not able to support his reason for refusing Moses' request. Moses was then given a second evaluation and received the promotion.

"It took another African-American to allow me to go to the board and receive a higher rank," Moses said.

Moses said that he and his wife have never felt discriminated against because of their interracial marriage. His wife, Maria, a nursing freshman, is Hispanic.

"I feel that those days are gone when people look at you because you date someone of a different race," Moses said. "A lot of people are stuck in the old mind frame of the '60s. We actually get a lot of compliments from people because we're a good couple."

"We have a long way to go to get to 'accepting' in the United States," Pimentel said. "It makes us a very exciting society."

How would electing a black president reflect on the issue of race in the United States, Pimentel asked. With the election, new issues are being brought up about race in society.

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