Census data shows it’s more common, but acceptance is still not universal
BY ROBERT MCCOPPIN
AND GRACE WONG
ELMHURST, Ill. — While volunteering at her daughter’s school, Rachel Gregersen noticed something that bothered her. Her 8-year-old daughter was the only African-American she saw in her class.
“I was seeing the world through her eyes for the first time,” Gregersen said. “It’s important for children to see a reflection of themselves, to see the beauty in themselves and know they’re not odd.”
Gregersen, who is Black, and her husband, Erik, who is White, don’t make a big deal out of living as a biracial couple in Elmhurst. But they decided to transfer their daughter to a private school with a greater mix of Black and White students.
It’s a small example of issues interracial couples still face, even 50 years after mixed marriages became legal nationwide.
It was June 1967 in the landmark Loving v. Virginia case — the subject of the recent film “Loving” — that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state bans on interracial marriage were unconstitutional.
Now a new analysis of census data by the Pew Research Center has found that the percentage of interracial or interethnic newlyweds in the U.S. rose from 3 percent since the Loving case to 17 in 2015.
And Americans have become more accepting of marriages of different races or ethnicities.
One measure reflecting the shift is that, according to a Pew poll, the percentage of non-Blacks who said they would oppose a relative marrying a Black person dropped from 63 percent in 1990 to 14 percent in 2016.
Asians and Hispanics in the U.S. are by far the most likely to marry someone of a different race or ethnicity.
Almost one-third of married Asian-Americans and about a quarter of married Hispanics are married to a person of a different race or gender, according to the study.
In interviews, interracial couples in the Chicago area said they rarely encounter overt racism but occasionally run into subtle signs that they’re treated differently. The Chicago metropolitan area’s rate of interracial marriages is 19 percent, slightly higher than the national rate of 16 percent, according to the study.
When Rachel Gregersen gets asked for identification at the same store where her husband does not, or when they eat out together and the waiter asks if they want separate checks, she said, they notice it.
The couple has been married for 11 years and previously blended into more diverse communities like Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood and Oak Park.
When they moved to Elmhurst to be closer to work, unlike some other newcomers, they said no neighbors introduced themselves. And after a woman next door asked them to recommend a painter, they didn’t find out their neighbors were leaving until they saw the moving truck.
More broadly, the couple is concerned about how their children might be treated by law enforcement.
Along with a talk about the birds and bees, they will have to talk about what to do when stopped by police.
“Being in an interracial marriage did open my eyes to things like that that I never would have thought about,” Erik Gregersen said.
Between the couple themselves, though, “race really is not an issue,” Rachel Gregersen said. “We forget about it until the outside world reminds us from time to time.”
As the child of an interracial couple, Michelle Hughes identifies herself differently depending on the setting.
With Black friends or professionally, she might describe herself as African-American, while with mixed-race friends, like a social group called the Biracial Family Network, she’s proudly biracial.
The network, which will celebrate the anniversary of the Loving decision next month, also holds an annual family barbecue.
As a child, Hughes remembered being called the N-word exactly twice.
She reported one child to school officials, who ended the name-calling, and her father impressed on the other child that such language was not acceptable.
Hughes’ parents married in 1967, the year of the Loving decision, but she said they didn’t face as much backlash as some other couples because they lived in diverse areas in Chicago and south suburban Homewood.
Some of her biracial friends had much worse experiences, she said, having their hair cut off or being beaten up. Some had grandparents or other family members who disowned them.
Others, whose parents divorced, got negative images of one race or the other, Hughes said, because if the ex-spouse was considered a jerk, “then everyone of that race was a jerk.”
Tensions since election
Since Donald Trump’s election as president, Hughes said she feels heightened tensions over race, as dramatized recently by a group of White nationalists with torches demonstrating over the removal of a Confederate statue in Virginia.
But Hughes considered her parents’ mix of friends and family getting along despite their differences to be a good model for race relations.
“My perceptions were (that) the rest of the world was out of whack, not our family.”
Interracial marriage stats
Among the study’s other findings:
Black men are twice as likely to intermarry as Black women while Asian women are much more likely to do so than Asian men.
The most common racial or ethnic pairing among newlywed intermarried couples is a Hispanic person married to a White person (42 percent). The next most common are couples in which one spouse is White and the other Asian (15 percent), and then where one spouse is White and one is multiracial (12 percent).
Intermarriage is slightly more common among the college educated, especially for Hispanics.
Nearly half of married, college-educated Hispanic Americans are intermarried, compared with 16 percent for those with a high school diploma or less education.
Thirty-nine percent of Americans polled think intermarriage is a good thing, 9 percent think it’s a bad thing and the rest said it doesn’t make a difference.