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On Interracial Math

November 18, 2008

This is going to be a short post. Short, because there’s not a whole lot to say about the matter – but that doesn’t make it any less important.

Over the years, I’ve often heard people speak of interracial relationships and mixed children as a key to “changing the world” and making current racial designations obsolete within the next 50 years. I’ve already discussed – at length – why I disagree, but I just want to ask one simple question regarding these magical multi-racial babies and their interracial parents:

Who do mixed (specifically white-plus-another-race) folks end up dating or having kids with most often: white people, other mixed people, people sharing the race of their non-white parent, or another race entirely?

Now, really think before answering.

Guess what? Biracial kids are more likely to end up having white partners than any of the other groups.* And it’s not too shocking really.

The reasons? First of all, there are more white people in this country than there are any other race, so if you’re somebody that crosses different racial barriers, you’re still more likely, statistically-speaking, to run into white people – therefore a higher chance of randomly ending up with a white person.

Of course, it’s not just random. Because biracial kids with one white parent generally grow up more immersed in white culture than their other culture. Part of this is the fact that we live in the U.S., which is dominated by white culture. But it’s also because white culture is more “acceptable” and “normal,” and the white partners are less able to actively subdue their own “normality” to enable their child to have an even immersion in both racial cultures of their parents. So – if a kid is raised in white culture, white people are who they are going to be around more often, and have more in common with, culturally, than another race – thus making it more likely for them to date white people.

Also, biracial kids are seen as more “acceptable” partners for white people than mono-racial “others.” We’re “exotic” and all that, a more comfortable middle ground for white people that want to “date dangerously,” but don’t really want to cross the racial line. We’re less-threatening and more user-friendly, and so white people are more likely to be attracted to (and be okay with dating) us than somebody “more ethnic.”

The end result? Within three generations, the descendants of an interracial union are basically white (I don’t believe in the “one-drop” rule when we’re talking fourths or smaller), making them more likely to date other white people, etc. So that – really – the majority of interracial relationships between a white partner and another race are the first step in white-washing the non-white partners racial lineage. So, in spite of all these arguments to the contrary, many interracial relationships are actually reducing racial diversity and color in the long-run. Now ain’t that a crazy concept?

And for those who don’t buy my argument – do a bit of snooping around, and tell me what you find. Find families of bi-racial (white and non-white) couples and see what the grandchildren look like. Personally, my cousins have pretty much drained all the Chinese blood from our family line, already. My brother is marrying a white girl. A large number of the mixed kids I knew back in the Bay have married white people (in fact, all the ones that I am aware of that have gotten married).

One possible exception to this rule is biracial (white/black) women. Partly, this is due to the fact that biracial folks with black heritage are a lot more likely to be considered just “black” on a general level. More importantly, it involves various racial stereotypes about black women, etc. which makes this the one exception where my proposed trend may not fall out (although I’m not entirely sure about that).

So, look around. Read up on some statistics. Do the math. And please don’t tell me that interracial dating is a cure for racism until you have some proof. Because I’m not buying.

* I had actual numbers on this at one point, but lost them – anybody?

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18 comments

  1. Interesting, and as a mixed-race Korean American I completely see this phenomenon happening, in my own life as well.


  2. it is the reality, and I see that in my family as well. my aunts have a total of 12 biracial chilren with their white husbands. 10 are already married to whites. Now what is also noticed that biracial girls girls are the last to marry whites males. yes from that side fo the family the entire african hertage is GONE.

    I am not saying this is wrong, but biracial individuals are more likely to marry a white person. I hear them talk about their children, and i am surprised that they are looking for “little african” features in them.

    As far as diversity goes, we loose in the equation because we are a much smaller minority. The other barrier is also that mix race individuals relate a bit better to their “white” looking children than they would do with full black chilren. Some of my relatives denied this with force, but they left a long trail of clues,they could barely hide the fact they appreciate just a a small quantity of africaness.


  3. Now that you mention it, I have tended to notice that. I’d be curious to know what tends to happen with non-white biracial children.


  4. I found your blog through Racialicious. I actually wanted to respond to something you wrote months ago (which is semi-related). On July 13th, you wrote this: “However, in no other community have I seen such a feeling of betrayal when a bi-racial person claims “mixed” over “black.” This debate has raged all over the place, and – for now – I don’t mean to discuss it”

    I wasn’t able to find your follow-up discussion, but I just wanted to add my perspective. I’ll begin by saying that I’m 24 and grew up in Birmingham, AL. I’ve never noticed antipathy towards people with White parents who called themselves biracial. I have noticed (sometimes in myself), however, negative attitudes towards people with “Black” parents or grandparents who claimed White or “Indian” (Native American) ancestry. You’ve touched on this before, but I think it can be connected to colorism.

    When I was a pre-teen and younger, I remember feeling like an African-American would never be considered beautiful unless she was light-skinned or part White. If she was light-skinned without being biracial or had “good” hair or light eyes, people always attributed her “beauty” to her somehow being part White (and, to a much lesser extent, Native American). In popular culture, no one’s a better example of this than Vanessa L. Williams. It didn’t matter if her parents and grandparents were Black and not biracial (like Williams, for instance). There had to be some explanation; a person could never be “just Black” and beautiful. A person could never be “just Black” and good enough.

    I think that’s where a lot of the resentment comes from. I’ll reiterate that I’ve never noticed this antipathy towards people with White parents or grandparents. I’ll also state that – as a 10 year old – I didn’t know a lot of Black kids who could truly trace their (or someone else’s) family lineage. In other words, what is going through a Black child’s mind when she attributes another non-biracial Black child’s beauty to being part White (when she has no way of knowing how much non-African, if any, ancestry the “beautiful” child has)? What is the impetus besides an American belief that being “part White” or “part Indian” or part anything is preferable to being “just Black?”

    On the flip side, take the supermodel Liya Kebede. If you Googled her, you might recognize her face. She’s gorgeous and Ethiopian. She’s not light-skinned, so people don’t “explain” her beauty with Whiteness. They do, however, claim she doesn’t look Black. If an Ethiopian woman (who likely has less European ancestry than an African-American) “doesn’t have Black features,” then who does?!?! By the way, did you ever hear about Vogue Italia’s recent all Black issue (which featured Kebede)? I’m waiting for an anthropologist to study the various responses!

    Thanks again for your great work, and I look forward to your future posts. Although I’m not sure I’ve succeeded, I’ve tried to make this post as succinct as possible!


  5. Ash,

    You forgot to mention that ETHIOPIANS are not seen as Africans to begin with.They “qualify” as black only when the mainstream requires it. It is not neccessarely their fault.

    I remember reading the comic TINTIN as a child and noticed how the author describe ethiopians as whites with a black skin, the comic was written in 1928.

    There is not such a thing as “black features”, we should learn to use the correct analogy it is either Bantou or Nilotic features.Within that realm we can also use a vast arrays of descriptive terms that reflect the true heritage of every person.
    Most of us have not been taught how to describe a person of african descent. We have a limited vocabulary most times it is charicatural.


  6. This is one of those sad-but-true moments when it would have been nice to have you all DISAGREE with me on this one . . . Oh, well.

    Anyway, Ashley – it’s not just within African-American circles that mixed kids are often considered “more beautiful” or something of that nature. I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard people talk about how beautiful mixed people are, how “exotic” we look, etc. as if we don’t run the same spectrum as everybody else.

    A girl once asked me, “how come all hapa (mixed Asian/white) people are SO NICE?”

    I had an answer that would have changed her mind on that one, but I didn’t use it . . .


  7. chatnoir, I didn’t realize that Ethiopians weren’t seen as African; that’s interesting. Do you have a few more examples? I don’t know if I made it clear, but I realize that Africa is ethnically diverse, that there are no universal Black features. I just brought up Kebede because she’s one of the few African – as opposed to African-American – celebrities in the mainstream. I just think it speaks volumes that beautiful Black people – no matter where they’re from – are seen as “not really Black” in some way. I actually had a story about Iman as well, but my post was getting too long! This is an approximation of an online conversation:

    X: Despite her being African, I’ve always thought she had White features.
    Y: Why do you say that?
    X: Her high cheekbones and nose.
    Y: Those features aren’t uncommon in Somalia and other parts of Africa.
    Z: I agree. A lot, maybe 40%, of Somali have those White features.
    Y: If 40% of Somali have those features, then why are they considered “White features”?!?!?

    That conversation has always stayed with me.

    CVT, I know. I read The Fashion Spot, a popular forum, because the posters there scan lots of magazine articles and I can read them for free! But, whenever people talk about beauty, you come up against ignorance. I’ll add that these posters are often White, but not necessarily White AND American. You’re privy to international prejudices as well! I’ve given up on certain threads – for example, Ziyi Zhang – because of it. Some people do not understand that “exotic” is not a compliment! Or that “There are prettier Asian girls than her” is super offensive. To their credit, some posters do push back against the nonsense. And Jessica Alba is taken to task for her various “I’m not really Latina” statements. That’s something, I guess.


  8. Wait!!!! What are the stereotypes for biracial black women?! I AM ONE! What are people thinking about me that I’m not aware of? Should I marry a a black man or a white man? Which choice is less racially charged? YOU CAN’T LEAVE ME HANGING!


  9. CVT, I promise that I’m not trying to hijack your blog! But your last post made me think of something. I work in a small bookstore which carries the title Part Asian, 100% Hapa.
    http://www.chroniclebooks.com/index/main,book-info/store,books/products_id,5532/title,Part-Asian-100-Hapa/

    On a few occasions, I’ve seen White customers (usually around 20 years old) flip through the pictures and try to “guess” the people’s ethnicity. “I knew she was part Japanese!” “She looks more Korean than Japanese!” I just want to scream “You’re missing the point!” On another note, I’d wager that at least 60% of Asian-American or hapa people who flipped through the book ended up purchasing it (based on my own unscientific research). It seems to resonate pretty strongly, even with those who only look at a few pages.


  10. I don’t by this nonsense about how interracial marriage somehow will end racism either.

    To be blunt, the people making this “argument” are essentially suggesting that whom you f*ck is an alternative for actual anti-racist political struggle.

    It’s been pointed out that nations like Brazil have significant numbers of people with multiracial backgrounds, but that has not ended racism or the racial hierarchy in that country at all.

    As for the issue of bi/multiracial people being “exotic,” I’ve noticed this tendency also. It reminds me of how many Americans will exoticize Asian people through their Orientalist racism.

    It’s kinda creepy that bi/multiracial people are almost being fetishized like they are some kind of wondrous specimen or exotic animal.


  11. uglyblackjohn – wow. that was both racist and sexist. i don’t know what the comment moderation rules are here, but did you really think that was acceptable to say? i’m amazed and disgusted.

    it’s interesting that in your head, a discussion of mixed people immediately became…

    1. a discussion only about women, and specifically a place to rate women’s looks.
    2. an ok place to disrespect an entire subset of mixed women.


  12. Seitzk – currently, I don’t moderate comments, allowing them to post real-time. And, so far, that has worked out relatively well. As far as uglyblackjohn goes, he has been a regular commenter, and I have read his blog, as well, and his comments have been insightful and in line with the kind of dialogue I’m trying to foster here.

    That said – uglyblackjohn – if you get a chance to respond to Seitzk’s comments, I hope you would. There does seem to be a bit of a cognitive leap from the other comments to yours . . .

    And Elora – my friend Ms. Sis may be better suited to tell you all the stereotypes about bi-racial black women. However, to my understanding, you’re “supposed” to only date black men. Definitely want to stay away from Asian men. White men are only going to go for you if they feel that you’re “exotic,” but some Latin@ men might think you’re “one of them” and go for you, as well.

    *the above all said with tongue firmly in cheek*

    Finally, Ashley – as long as you continue to have insightful things to add, you can hijack my blog all you want. As for “Part Asian, 100% Hapa,” my Chinese aunt bought that for her mixed grandchildren, and I got a hold of it. Definitely felt good to flip through that one (while my white dad absolutely did NOT get it).


  13. CVT – I appreciate that this is your space, and that you know this commenter, but just because previous comments of his have been insightful does not mask the ugliness of this particular comment.


  14. Seitzk –

    I was not saying that the comments were “fine” because of his previous comments, but instead to give him a chance to respond, in hopes of an explanation (or at least a dialogue to foster some learning). That said, I hear you, and I will be removing those particular comments (while still hoping that you receive a response in the future).

    This is the first time I’ve had to directly moderate any comments here, so forgive me if I’m not too clear on how to go about doing so (I want to foster dialogue, but I don’t want folks to be offended, either . . .).


  15. Interesting post. I didn’t realize that the majority of mixed people marry white partners. That hasn’t been my experience, but that’s probably because my only biracial friends are black-white/Mexican women.

    I’ve always found the hypothesizing over how racial mixing will improve the U.S. sort of silly. We’re not going to sex our way into racial harmony. As you pointed out, all one needs to do is look at South America to see that the added categories still lead to same result: light skin = good, dark skin = bad.

    BTW, found your blog through the link at Racialicious.


  16. Kalane – Welcome!

    And, again, I should clarify that I’m specifically referring to bi-racial folks with one full-white parent. Also, since I no longer have the data, I should say “MANY bi-racial (white and “other”) people marry white” to be more responsible with my words. I still believe it to be the majority, and saw some stats to say that that was the case – but until I can cite that, I need to be careful.


  17. That was interesting, as well as the comments.

    I would add that, sometimes, a mixed person would feel awkward about his multipled (2 or more) origins and would tend to marry a person who’s not mixed. I knew a girl (half Moroccan half White) who wanted her future children to be “full Moroccan”. She didn’t want them to be mixed again, not knowing “who/what” they are. And in her case, she wasn’t into White guys. I have to say that where I live there’s plenty of people of various ethnicities, so if you’re mixed and live in a city, you really have the choice when dating.

    Barack Obama is proof that some mixed Black guys do like Black girls. Even they may be a minority among mixed Black guys… yes, mixed Black women have it harder in the US because of the stereotypes. Not really where I live (I’m European).

    I also agree with the persons here who said that Ethipian people don’t have White features, they’re African and African beauty should be acknowledged for real, in its diversity. This is a continent, not a country! Most of (if not all) African American and Caribbean people are from West Africa, which means they inherited only a certain type of features. This is also why many White and Asian people are kinda ignorant and think that most Black people have big lips, very kinky hair and flat nose. I’ve seen very dark African girls who didn’t match these stereotypes.


  18. Oops, sorry, I got distracted with the dinner and I missed my point in my last sentence.
    I actually meant “what non Black people say/think is that a ‘real’ Black person should have these attributes, plus rather dark skin, if not they will be viewed as being mixed (slavery, etc)”. The slavery past doesn’t apply to African people. There are African who have rather fair skin, like light brown.
    Also, I’m puzzled regarding Ethiopian people…I heard they were mixed with Arab people. But I do think that there’s diversity in Africa without race mixing.



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