The Effects of Interracial Marriage on Children
Interracial marriage and children
How does interracial marriage impact and affect the lives of children? The Supreme Courts ruling in Loving vs. Virginia opened the way for people to legally marry outside of their race in the United States. Since the legal barrier to interracial marriage has dropped, the rise of these unions has increased. However, some of these marriages have a ...spouse with children from other relationships. My research question is what kind of social, emotional and cultural issues do they face? I also wanted to know what kind of issues stepparents could encounter and what could they do to alleviate these problems.
Race is a socio-historical concept that was developed by dominant colonizing powers to help explain the reasons for the subjugation and slavery of minority populations. According to Omi & Winant (1994:23) “Racial categories and the meaning of race are given concrete expressions by the specific social relations and historical context in which they are embedded.” Although slavery has disappeared in the U.S. and laws against discrimination are in place, preconceived notions about race still exist. We are familiar with the struggles of race and equality on the macro level. What about on the micro level? In relationships, what preconceived notions that children hold about race could impact the relationship?
Complications within the multiracial household
According to Chew, Eggebeen and Uhlenburg (1989:66) “In short, all else being equal, childhood in a multiracial household is altogether more complicated than childhood in a same-race childhood.” The study they conducted sought to compare the composition and attributes of multiracial households to same race households. They also measured cultural resources, economic resources, and social resources. The results of their study found that over half of children in multiracial households live in six states, California, Texas, New York, Illinois, Washington and Hawaii (Chew et al. 1989:72). One thing that was interesting was that the findings indicated that most of these children resided in urban areas and not rural areas. This is probably because exposure to other cultures and races is more likely to occur in areas with large populations. This may also indicate that in urban areas the phenomenon of being in a mixed marriage is not that uncommon as compared to rural areas. At the time of the study most of the children in mixed-race households were Asian-white, then Hispanic-white. The study also found children in multiracial households differ in race from one parent. Their findings also indicated that “multiracial households are more likely to have remarried parent(s) and working mothers than same-race households” (Chew et al. 1989:82).
Children in Asian and Hispanic households are more likely to have a parent who speaks a foreign language in the household. This may also indicate that children in these households will be exposed to the cultural practices of either one or both of the parents in respect to their ethnicity. In the study the results also showed that Hispanic-white children and Black-white children suffer more poverty than their white counterparts, while Asian-white children tend to live above the poverty line. The data suggest multiracial households are more likely to be a result of marriage between people of different races. It also indicates that a significant number of these families, outside of Asian-white, will be near or below the poverty line. In addition to cultural considerations that the parents must take in raising children in a multiracial household, the economical well-being of the household may also prove to be just as important.
Rates of interracial marriage increasing
What are the causal factors that could lead to the increase in the rates of interracial marriage? In a study conducted by Aldridge she found that “intermingling of young adults of different races at the high school and college levels is widely to be expected to be reflected over the long run in an increased rate of intermarriage” (1978:357). She also found that people living in close proximity, similar economic situations, people who have common experiences and recreational contacts increases the chances of interracial relationships and marriage. In this study Aldridge also corroborates the finding in the Chew article that people in urban areas engage in interracial relationships more than in rural areas (1978:360). She also found that people who get involved in interracial marriage were married previously. Aldridge also talks about the kind of obstacles and problems that these unions could pose for these couples. When blacks and whites are married to each other they “are shut out of social life in black circles being forced to seek friends and social intercourse in all white or other interracial environments” (1978:362). Although the adults experience a breakdown in their social circles, children of black white marriages are considered black by both white and black communities (1978:362). I believe that the factors causing interracial couples to leave old friendships to find others like them would result in a trickle down effect on the children. When kids have to stop playing with old friends because their parents don’t get along, they’re going find out why. The way that parents explain these sensitive issues may shape the way kids see race.
Not all interracial marriages are intercultural
Not all interracial marriages are intercultural. In the articled written by Baptiste, JR. he identifies the differences. He states that marriages can be racial (black-white), cultural (Taiwanese born Chinese married to an American born Chinese), or both cultural/racial (a black Nigerian married to a white American) (1984:374). In this article the author outlines specific problems related to culturally/racially different partners in stepfamilies. The differences that seem to cause significant problems are cultural, children’s difficulty in accepting and identifying with stepparent and negative attitudes and beliefs about race learned before the marriage (1984:374). He goes on to address additional factors that contribute to the problems faced by intramarried stepfamilies. The author has found that all major ethnic, racial and religious groups in our society find homogeneous marriage the most favorable arrangement (1984:374). He states “Unless partners in intermarried stepfamilies are able to sort out their differences…they face a situation that is more conflict prone than is true for their racially/culturally homogenous counterparts” (1984:374). The author has also found that because children do not have a role in the selection of the stepparent of their same race or background, that they may feel animosity towards their biological parent. This animosity could cause the child to make it difficult for the stepparent.
There is a network that influences the remarried family, and it’s called the Rem Suprasytem (1984:376). This system is comprised of different people and relationships that could potentially impact the marriage. This includes but not limited to friends, grandparents, ex-spouses and other relatives. This system has the potential to be negative or positive. In addition to the potential negative influences of the Rem Suprasystem, children may also introduce problems into the relationship because of their feelings about the marriage. If that wasn’t enough pressure for interracial marriages to endure, then there are peers who could also affect the way children see the union. In our society race is a stigmatizing feature, so children in multiracial families are more susceptible to the comments and effects of race than kids in homogeneous families. With all the potential pitfalls to interracial marriage, what are strategies that could help families and therapists deal with these crises? The author has come up with ten guidelines; however, I’ve narrowed it down to five that could apply to individuals and families:
- Resist ethnocentric biases
- Gain exposure to functional intermarried stepfamilies and a variety of members from racial/cultural groups.
- Be sensitive to societal pressures against intermarriage.
- Be accepting of intrafamilial culture differences.
- Learn about the family’s culture from the family. (1984:379). By weaving these guidelines into the fabric of the interracial family some of the problems that arise could be tackled and dealt with. However, if problems persist it is advisable to seek professional counseling so that these issues can be worked out with a professional therapist.
The role of the father
The prospect of entering an interracial marriage with children seems daunting indeed. However, in spite of the challenges this kind of relationship can bring, there are ways in which a potential stepfather can gain the trust and acceptance. According to Marsiglio, “a father, either biological or step, can contribute to his child’s well being indirectly by providing the child with what sociologists call social capital.” (2004: 318). When fathers and or stepfathers participate actively in the child’s life, they build social capital. This could entail visits to school teachers, coaches, neighbors and the child’s friends. By actively participating in the child’s life, the stepfather demonstrates through actions that he wishes to be a part of their lives. The stepfather also builds social capital by maintaining “relationship with the mother based on trust, mutual respect, and a sense of loyalty.” (2004:319). Being a stepfather isn’t easy, and if the biological father is still active in the child’s life, it could pose challenges. In some instances there may be no or little contact with the biological father. If the biological father does visit the children, then the stepdad may feel that his actions will be scrutinized. One way to reduce some friction is for the stepdad to work with the biological father so that he remains a part of the children’s life. Often the stepfather may intercede on behalf of the biological father, helping children come to grips with their anger and abandonment issues. In doing so they may earn the respect and trust of the biological father, thereby gaining an ally. All these factors build trust and social capital with the stepchildren. Building social capital may be one of the most powerful means of gaining acceptance from children. As the old adage goes “actions speak louder than words”.
There are many reasons for the increase in interracial marriage. People from different ethnicities, cultures, and similar backgrounds who live in close proximity to each other are more likely to date and marry. The likelihood increases in urban areas as compared to rural areas. A significant number of these are remarriages involve children from a previous relationship. Of these marriages, children of Asian-white marriages happen to live above the poverty line, with children from black-white and Hispanic-white living at or below the poverty line. Potential problems could arise from children in interracial families. Strategies to help work out these issues include making the Rem Suprasytem a positive influence in the child’s life. The stepfather could become a positive influence in the child’s life by creating social capital. By infusing himself into all aspects of the child environment he demonstrates that he’s not just there for the mommy, but for the kid’s as well.
© 2008 Augustine A. Zavala