Race and Relationships

Ryan Knapick and Josh Baker have been best friends since fifth grade. Colette Gregory entered the picture in high school. She and Josh are dating now. Knapick is white, Gregory is black and Baker is half-Hispanic. To them, race doesn’t matter.

“People are finding people with common interests and common perspectives and are putting race aside,” says Knapick, 22, a May graduate of Indiana University who works at a machine shop and lives with his parents in Munster, Ind.

He and his friends are among an estimated 46.3 million Americans ages 14 to 24 — the older segment of the most diverse generation in American society. (Most demographers say this “Millennial” generation began in the early 1980s, after Generation X.) These young people have friends of different races and also may date someone of another race.

This age group is more tolerant and open-minded than previous generations, according to an analysis of studies released last year by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, part of the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy. The center focuses on ages 15 to 25.

Another study by Teenage Research Unlimited in Northbrook, Ill., found six of 10 teens say their friends include members of diverse racial backgrounds.

Unlike their parents and grandparents, today’s teens and twentysomethings grew up with “diversity,” “multicultural” and “inclusion” as buzzwords. Many were required to take college courses in cultural diversity. Now the media fuel this colorblindness as movies, TV and advertising portray interracial friendship and romance.

Some attitudinal changes are based in demographics. About 33% of those under 18 are racial or ethnic minorities, and about 20% of elementary- and high school-age students are immigrants or children of immigrants, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Racial diversity is especially common in college friendships because that age group is exposed to a wider range of people, and college students have more opportunities to become friends with peers of other races, says Anthony Lising Antonio, an associate professor of education at Stanford University, who has conducted research on friendship diversity.

It’s not that young people are specifically seeking out friendships with other races, kids say.

“It goes beyond that to who you get along with,” says Karina Anglada, 17, a high school senior in Chicago whose parents are from Puerto Rico.

The ‘color-mute’ syndrome

Rebecca Bigler, 42, a psychology professor who directs the Gender and Racial Attitudes Lab at the University of Texas-Austin, traces such attitudes to baby boomer parents who may have set a tone for raising colorblind kids.

“It makes us feel racist if we acknowledge race, so we try not to, and we end up being color-mute,” she says. “Children learn from their parents that you don’t talk about race.”

Bigler is white. Her former husband, the father of her teenage son, is black. People talked about race when she was a child in the ’70s, she says, but now the younger generation — especially white kids — believe that racial injustice is “a thing of the past.”

“Society is still marked by racial inequality, and my worry is that it won’t get addressed,” she says.

Evidence of inequity is ubiquitous: A Department of Justice study released last year shows that blacks and Hispanics were more likely than whites to be searched, arrested and subjected to police use of force. And last month, the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University issued a report about inequality in American schools, even as the system becomes increasingly multiracial.

Where students go to school depends on where they live, which is dependent upon family wealth. The Harvard study found that segregation isn’t simply a black/white divide but a multiracial one, in which whites remain the most isolated group and the least likely to attend multiracial schools. California schools are the nation’s most segregated, the study found.

‘Common interests, not color’

Gregory, 24, knows that firsthand. She was born in Gary, Ind., and grew up in Los Angeles; she was the only black person in a private school in her Bel Air neighborhood. She returned to Indiana for high school, the same Catholic school Knapick and Baker attended.

“It’s more natural to me to be in a diverse setting and to be attracted to people because of common interests and not because of common color,” says Gregory, who works in fundraising at a Chicago theater company. She earned two degrees from Northwestern University.

Baker, 23, who graduated from Loyola University in Chicago and is an accounts manager for a Chicago consulting firm, says his high school’s diversity allowed him to be friends with whites, blacks and Hispanics. He says he’s Hispanic, like his mother. His father is white but is unsure of his heritage because he was adopted, Baker says.

Knapick, who is seeking work in his college major of criminal justice, bonded with Baker playing basketball, running track and as Boy Scouts. Both are Eagle Scouts and earned their honors at the same ceremony.

Some of the mixing is a result of record numbers of immigrants, both documented and undocumented, totaling more than 35 million over the past two decades and representing the largest wave of immigration in American history, says Marcelo Surez-Orozco, founder of the Harvard Immigration Project, now known as Immigration Studies @ NYU. He is a professor of globalization and education at New York University.

“We have more groups coming at a faster rate and changing our society with a speed we’ve never seen before,” he says.

In addition to immigrant families, the number of children from other countries adopted by U.S. parents has tripled from 1990 to 2005.  The fact that white parents are adopting babies from China, Guatemala or South Korea who don’t look like them reinforces the idea that race matters less. So does the fact that interracial marriages, though still not common, have increased from less than 1% of U.S. marriages in 1970 to almost 6% of marriages in the 2000 Census.

The tide began turning when the Supreme Court in 1967 struck down laws in 16 states forbidding marriage between blacks and whites.

No pressure to ‘choose sides’

A Gallup Poll on interracial dating in June found that 95% of 18- to 29-year-olds approve of blacks and whites dating. About 60% of that age group said they have dated someone of a different race.

Olivia Lin, 18, of Brooklyn, N.Y., is Asian; she’s dating someone who is Puerto Rican and says her family is “pretty open to it.” Lin, who will graduate in the spring with both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree, in the fall will attend Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., the only non-sectarian Jewish-sponsored college or university in the country.

High school freshman Aliya Whitaker, 14, of Montclair, N.J., says her mother is Jamaican and her father is African-American. Her mother encourages her to make friends with those of other races.

“She’s never told me to stick with my own people or choose sides,” Whitaker says. “When my friends have quinceaeras (Hispanic girls’ 15th-birthday celebrations) or bar mitzvahs (a Jewish coming-of-age ceremony for 13-year-olds), she encourages me to go.

“But she says: ‘Remember where you come from.’ ”

This post was originally written by Sharon Jayson in USA Today.   Click here to read the entire article.

Love is Love

I’m wearing a wristband from the Human Rights Awareness week that says “Love is Love”.   I like this quote because it is basically saying that love is not bound by culture, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or any other thing we humans use to separate one another.   I heard a student say last night that it is human nature to want to categorize and put each other into groups.   I don’t mind being part of a group.  What I do mind is people believing I shouldn’t talk to, be friends with, date, have sex with or marry someone outside of that group.

I don’t really write on my blog about my personal beliefs too often.   This blog is about helping students and anyone else who may read it deal with relationship or sexual issues.   However, in today’s post I want to share my perspective on love and relationships.  I’m of the mind set “live and let live”.   I have my own beliefs about things, but I don’t like to impose those beliefs onto others.  If what you’re doing makes you happy and it isn’t hurting me in any way, then it really isn’t my business.   Some people think as a counselor it is my job to tell people what to do.  It is not.  It is my job to listen to people’s stories and try to understand where they are coming from.  I then try to offer my knowledge on the subject to help a person understand why certain things may be happening in their life.  I may ask questions or offer speculations based on past experience.  It is then up to the person in my office to use that information to make their own decisions about things.  Unless I think someone may hurt themselves or someone else, I usually don’t tell people what to do with their lives.

Like I said, my main job is to listen.  I have heard hundreds of personal stories.  I have been given a gift of being able to put myself inside those stories and feel, in a way, how those people felt.  It has really given me a unique perspective on life.  I feel like I experience a lot of things second hand that I myself may never live through.  Kind of like reading a book or watching a movie.  I can get caught up in someone’s story.  Because of this I feel like I have been in all types of relationships.  I have seen love cross all kinds of lines and cause people do things way outside of their character.  Love is an enormously powerful emotion.  This is why it bothers me when people want to put restrictions on it.  In my mind the only restriction is to protect yourself from someone who is trying to hurt you.  You may still love them, but you don’t deserve to be hurt by someone emotionally, physically or sexually.  That is the only line I draw.

I have watched all different types of couples in love.  Never once have I seen a couple and determined how much they were able to love each other by their skin color, sexual orientation, gender, age, religious faith or cultural background.  If you’re black does that mean you would have the best relationship with another black person?   Maybe, but maybe not.  Maybe you would relate or get along better with someone of a different racial background.  When people say a man loving another man isn’t “right”, I wonder what does that mean?  Right?  When I think of love being “right” I think of it as not being hateful.  My love isn’t “right” if I am being mean to the person.  Or if I’m ignoring their needs.  Or if I’m impatient with them.  Or if I hold a grudge against them.  Those aren’t “right” ways to love someone.

However, saying that two men loving each other isn’t right.  Or that an Asian man can’t love an Irish woman.   Or that there is no way a person could fall in love with both a man or woman (meaning they are bisexual).  Or a Christian shouldn’t love someone Jewish.  Really?  Who am I to make those claims?  I get to choose who I want to love and that is it.  I don’t get to choose for anyone else or define for them what love is.  America is supposed to be the land of the free.  You should be free to love whoever you want.  Why does anyone else care?  I’m not sure how to answer that question.

I do agree that crossing certain boundaries isn’t always the best or right decision for everyone.  It may not be good for you to marry someone outside of your culture or religion.  Your religion or cultural background may be a huge part of your life and you want to share that with the person you marry.  That is great and you should follow through with that decision.  However, don’t think everyone else feels the same way.  You may not “get” how a woman can be attracted to another woman.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t right for those who are.  What may seem strange or different for you, may be normal or good for someone else.  You get to determine what works for you.   I don’t believe you can put a boundary on love for other people, it just doesn’t work that way.

If you don’t understand or are afraid of something, then ask.  Educate yourself.  Listen to someone’s story and really hear what they are saying.  I get that privilege every day.  It has helped me to become a very accepting person.  I know people who write to prisoners who have committed serious crimes and are never getting out of prison.  Yet they fall in love anyway.  I don’t think I could do that, but who am I to think that it can’t or shouldn’t happen to someone else?  Different isn’t wrong, it’s just different.

My point is to try to be open to possibilities.  Try to accept that love is beyond some boundaries that you may not be comfortable with.  Again, you may not be able to love someone who is very different from you, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t happen.  Work to be more tolerant and kind to others and accept love in whatever form it may take.  I’ll get off my soapbox now.  Thanks for reading.

Interracial Relationships

Complicated?  Interesting?  Challenging?  Fun?  I believe all those words apply when it comes to dating in general, not just to dating someone of a different race.  When you decide to date someone outside your racial or ethnic background it may just up the ante a  little bit.  I’m so glad that today it is much easier to date anyone you want to.  Some cultures may still frown on dating outside their own race and still encourage arranged marriages, but for the most part, it is easier to cross the boundary lines of race and culture these days.

I was very close to someone who’s mother was Irish and father was African-American.  He stated that growing up in the 1980’s was hard at times.  He would talk about not fitting in at school and getting made fun of because his skin was so light, yet he looked African-American.  He would talk about how hard it was for his Irish grandfather to accept his African-American father when his parents first got together in the mid 70’s.  His grandfather finally came around after his older sister was born.  Most interracial couples had to face a lot of opposition from both sides of the family to be together.  Today, it is more common place to see bi-racial people and it isn’t very shocking to know their parents are from two different races.  Our own president is bi-racial.  In fact, I think interracial couples create some very beautiful babies.  I’m encouraged to see many students at my university dating people from different races.  I think it opens our minds to possibilities and being more accepting of people no matter where they come from.

I have also realized from my experiences with interracial couples that their problems are mostly the same as couples who date within their own race.  My husband is Italian and I’m of German decent.  We noticed right away that even though both of our families are mostly blue-collar, they were very different in how they relate to one another.  Steve’s family is more welcoming and friendly, as well as more physically affectionate with one another.  My family is a little more stoic and will ask you what you want to drink when you walk in the door, no hugs allowed.  Even though we are the same race and no one makes comments that we look different, we do experience differences in our family and cultural backgrounds that make for some interesting conversations sometimes.                               

I think it is great to celebrate our differences, but also appreciate how alike we still are in so many ways.  My bi-racial friend and I were a lot alike even though we came from very different backgrounds.  Our personalities were alike and we had a lot of the same interests.  We didn’t have to be the same race to have common ground.  However, it was interesting to learn about the different experiences he had growing up compared to me.  I also learn a lot and enjoy counseling people from other races.  Some people would think I couldn’t relate to a person of a different race, and I’m not the best counselor for everyone, but usually race has nothing to do with it.  When it comes to life and relationships, we all tend to go through the same ups and downs.  In the hundreds of people I’ve counseled over the years from various backgrounds, races, cultures and even age, I have always been able to find at least one thing in common with every single one.

When I’ve worked with interracial couples, I have found what is important to pay attention to is mutual respect for each other.  Respecting the fact that it may take more time to break the news of your relationship to your families.  I also think it is important to remember that not all family members may be open to the idea.   Many of us have people in our family that are very old school.  They may take some time to come around.  I encourage my students to not be offended by their own or their partner’s family members who may not be so willing to accept the relationship.  Instead, I tell them to be an example to them of how strong an interracial relationship can be.  You may face some opposition from strangers in public as well.  Some people live in a world of fear and ignorance.  They don’t like change and feel threatened by something they don’t understand.  Don’t let others define the relationship for you.  Just because other people may have a problem with it, doesn’t mean you must have one.  Every couple has differences that they have to face.  You can celebrate or fear them.  It is up to you make that choice in the long run.

You can’t choose who you fall in love with or are attracted to.  As long as the person loves you and treats you well, that is all that really matters.  You may come up against some unique challenges at times but there are many people who have gone before you who can help you through it.  A great book on interracial dating and marriage is Kissing Outside The Lines by Diane Farr.  It is listed on my Great Books on Sex and Relationships Page along with other great reads.