Interracial Marriage: A Different Perspective

Oliver Wang looks beyond black and white.

By Naima Ramos-Chapman Aug 10, 2010

Oliver Wang writes at The Atlantic on interracial marriage, noting mostly that our definition of mixed and interracial marriages is often too limiting for the diverse nation America has become. Wang is extensive in his critique of the new Pew Research Center’s report on the topic, specifically when it comes to the Census’ limited definition of race and ethnicity: 

I was more than mildly surprised to learn in this new Pew Research Center report[1] that of all the current marriages in America, only 8 percent are mixed. Amongst "new" marriages (based on 2008 and 2009 data), the number almost doubles, to 14.6 percent, but that’s still relatively small.There’s a few huge caveats we need to acknowledge right off the bat. First of all, this tracks marriages, not dating patterns (the former being much easier to document). Second, it’s only looking at heterosexual marriages (a limitation that I hope will be remedied by 2020, if not sooner). Third, any discussion of "outmarrying" or "mixed marriage" rests on the slippery language of race and ethnicity and the more you try to untangle our classifications, the more you realize just how arbitrary and nonsensical many of these distinctions are.

Wang also points out how sticky it can be to lump one ethnicity all together. In this case, he focuses on Asian Americans:

Within the Asian American community, this trend has existed for decades and is a never-ending source of debate and tension. The dumbed down version (emphasis on "dumb") usually finds Asian men accusing Asian women of selling them out in favor of (usually) White men but once you start to look at the newlywed data, it seems that regardless of sex, if you’re an American-born Asian, the odds of you marrying a non-Asian skyrocket (and if a study looked at inter-Asian-ethnic marriages amongst American-born men and women, I’d guarantee the percentage would be even higher). 

Read more of Oliver Wang at The Atlantic

America’s had a long, complicated history trying to define "mixed marriages" and that’s sure to continue unless we find new, productive ways to talk about them. Wang’s insight turns the conversation into more than just a reconciliatory tale between black and white couples, and it’s refreshing.