Is love colorblind?Just three decades ago, Thurgood Marshall was only months away from appoint-ment to the Supreme Court when he suffered an indignity that today seems notjust outrageous but almost incomprehensible. He and his wife had found theirdream house in a Virginia suburb of Washington, D. C. , but could not lawfullylive together in that state: he was black and she was Asian. Fortunately forthe Marshalls, in January 1967 the Supreme Court struck down theanti-interracial-marriage laws in Virginia and 18 other states.
And in 1967these laws were not mere leftover scraps from an extinct era. Two yearsbefore, at the crest of the civil-rights revolution, a Gallup poll foundthat 72 per cent of Southern whites and 42 per cent of Northern whites stillwanted to ban interracial marriage. Let’s fast-forward to the present and another black-Asian couple: retiredGreen Beret Lieutenant Colonel Eldrick Woods Sr. and his Thai-born wife,Kultida. They are not hounded by the police — just by journalists desperateto write more adulatory articles about how well they raised their son Tiger. The colossal popularity of young Tiger Woods and the homage paid his parentsare remarkable evidence of white Americans’ change in attitude toward whatthey formerly denounced as miscegenation.Order now
In fact, Tiger’s famously mixedancestry (besides being black and Thai, he’s also Chinese, white, andAmerican Indian) is not merely tolerated by golf fans. More than a few seemto envision Tiger as a shining symbol of what America could become in apost-racial age. Interracial marriage is growing steadily. From the 1960 to the 1990 Census,white-Asian married couples increased almost tenfold, while black-whitecouples quadrupled.
The reasons are obvious: greater integration and thedecline of white racism. More subtly, interracial marriages are increasinglyrecognized as epitomizing what our society values most in a marriage: thetri- umph of true love over convenience and prudence. Nor is it surprisingthat white-Asian marriages outnumber black-white marriages: the socialdistance between whites and Asians is now far smaller than the distancebetween blacks and whites. What’s fascinating, however, is that in recentyears a startling number of nonwhites — especially Asian men and blackwomen — have become bitterly opposed to intermarriage. This is a painful topic to explore honestly, so nobody does. Still, it’simportant because interracial marriages are a leading indicator of what lifewill be like in the even more diverse and integrated twenty-first century.
Intermarriages show that integration can churn up unexpected racialconflicts by spotlighting enduring differences between the races. For example, probably the most disastrous mistake Marcia Clark made inprosecuting O. J. Simpson was to complacently allow Johnny Cochran to packthe jury with black women. As a feminist, Mrs.
Clark smugly assumed that allfemale jurors would identify with Nicole Simpson. She ignored pretrialresearch indicating that black women tended to see poor Nicole as The Enemy,one of those beautiful blondes who steal successful black men from theirblack first wives, and deserve whatever they get. The heart of the problem for Asian men and black women is that intermarriagedoes not treat every sex/race combination equally: on average, it hasoffered black men and Asian women new opportunities for finding mates amongwhites, while exposing Asian men and black women to new competition fromwhites. In the 1990 Census, 72 per cent of black-white couples consisted ofa black hus- band and a white wife. In contrast, white-Asian pairs showedthe reverse: 72 per cent consisted of a white husband and an Asian wife. Sexual relations outside of marriage are less fettered by issues of familyapproval and long-term practicality, and they appear to be even more skewed.
The 1992 Sex in America study of 3,432 people, as authoritative a work asany in a field where reliable data are scarce, found that ten times moresingle white women than single white men reported that their most recent sexpartner was black. Few whites comprehend the growing impact on minorities of these interracialhusband-wife disparities. One reason is that the effect on whites has beenbalanced. Although white women hunting for husbands, for example, suffermore competition from Asian women, they also enjoy increased access to blackmen. Further, the weight of numbers dilutes the effect on whites.
In 1990,1. 46 million Asian women were married, compared to only 1. 26 million Asianmen. This net drain of 0. 20 million white husbands into marriages to Asianwomen is too small to be noticed by the 75 million white women, except inLos Angeles and a few other cities with large Asian populations and highrates of inter- marriage. Yet, this 0.
20 million shortage of Asian wivesleaves a high propor- tion of frustrated Asian bachelors in its wake. Black women’s resentment of intermarriage is now a staple of daytime talkshows, hit movies like Waiting to Exhale, and magazine articles. Blacknovelist Bebe Moore Campbell described her and her tablemates’ reactionsupon seeing a black actor enter a restaurant with a blonde: In unison, wemoaned, we groaned, we rolled our eyes heavenward . . .
Then we all shookour heads as we lamented for the 10,000th time the perfidy of black men, andcursed trespassing white women who dared to ‘take our men. ‘ Like most guys,though, Asian men are reticent about admitting any frustrations in themating game. But anger over intermarriage is visible on Internet on-linediscussion groups for young Asians. The men, featuring aneven-greater-than-normal-for-the-Internet concentration of cranky bachelors,accuse the women of racism for dating white guys. For example, This disparity is a manifestation of a silent conspiracy by the racistwhite society and self-hating Asian to effect thegenocide of Asian Americans.
The women retort that the men are racist andsexist for getting sore about it. All they can agree upon is that MediaStereotypes and/or Low Self-Esteem must somehow be at fault. LET’S review other facts about intermarriage and how they violateconventional sociological theories. 1.
You would normally expect more black women than black men to marry whitesbecause far more black women are in daily contact with whites. First, amongblacks aged 20-39, there are about 10 per cent more women than men alive. Another tenth of the black men in these prime marrying years are literallylocked out of the marriage market by being locked up in jail, and maybetwice that number are on probation or parole. So, there may be nearly 14young black women for every 10 young black men who are alive and unentangledwith the law. Further, black women are far more prevalent than black men inuniversities (by 80 per cent in grad schools), in corporate offices, and inother places where members of the bourgeoisie, black or white, meet theirmates.
Despite these opportunities to meet white men, so many middle-class blackwomen have trouble landing satisfactory husbands that they have made Terry(Waiting to Exhale) McMillan, author of novels specifically about and forthem, into a best-selling brand name. Probably the most popular romanceadvice regularly offered to affluent black women of a certain age is to findtrue love in the brawny arms of a younger black man. Both Miss McMillan’s1996 best-seller How Stella Got Her Groove Back and the most celebrated ofall books by black women, Zora Neale Hurston’s 1937 classic Their Eyes WereWatch- ing God, are romance novels about well-to-do older women and somewhatdangerous younger men. Of course, as Miss Hurston herself later learned atage 49, when she (briefly) married a 23-year-old gym coach, that seldomworks out in real life.
2. Much more practical-sounding advice would be: Since there are so manyunmarried Asian men and black women, they should find solace for theirloneli- ness by marrying each other. Yet, when was the last time you saw anAsian man and a black woman together? Black-man/Asian-woman couples arestill quite unusual, but Asian-man/black-woman pairings are incomparablymore rare. Similar patterns appear in other contexts:3a.
Within races: Black men tend to most ardently pursue lighter-skinned,longer-haired black women (e. g. , Spike Lee’s School Daze). Yet black womentoday do not generally prefer fairer men. 3b.
In other countries: In Britain, 40 per cent of black men are married toor living with a white woman, versus only 21 per cent of black women marriedto or living with a white man. 3c. In art: Madame Butterfly, a white-man/Asian-woman tragedy, has beenpack- ing them in for a century, recently under the name Miss Saigon. Thegreatest black-man/white-woman story, Othello, has been an endless hit inboth Shakespeare’s and Verdi’s versions.
(To update Karl Marx’s dictum:Theater always repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as opera, and finallyas farce, as seen in that recent smash, O. J. , The Moor of Brentwood. ) MaybeShakespeare did know a thing or two about humanity: America’s leadingportrayer of Othello, James Earl Jones, has twice fallen in love with andmarried the white actress playing opposite him as Desdemona. 4.
The civil-rights revolution left husband-wife balances among interracialcouples more unequal. Back in 1960 white husbands were seen in 50 per centof black-white couples (versus only 28 per cent in 1990), and in only 62 percent of white-Asian couples (versus 72 per cent). Why? Discrimination,against black men and Asian women. In the Jim Crow South black men wishingto date white women faced pressures ranging from raised eyebrows to lynchmobs. In contrast, the relatively high proportion of Asian-man/white-womancouples in 1960 was a holdover caused by anti-Asian immigration laws thathad prevented women, most notably Chinese women, from joining the largelymale pioneer immigrants.
As late as 1930 Chinese-Americans were 80 per centmale. So, the limited number of Chinese men who found wives in the midtwentieth century included a relatively high fraction marrying white women. In other words, as legal and social discrimination have lessened, naturalinequalities have asserted themselves. 5. Keeping black men and white women apart was the main purpose of Jim Crow. Gunnar Myrdal’s landmark 1944 study found that Southern whites generallygrasped that keeping blacks down also retarded their own economic progress,but whites felt that was the price they had to pay to make black men lessattractive to white women.
To the extent that white racism persists, itshould limit the proportion of black-man/white-woman couples. SINCE these inequalities in interracial marriage are so contrary to conven-tional expectations, what causes them? Academia’s and the mass media’spreferred reaction has been to ignore husband-wife disproportions entirely. When the subject has raised its ugly head, though, they’ve typically tossedout arbitrary ideas to explain a single piece of the puzzle, rather thanaddress the entire yin and yang of black-white and white-Asian marriages. For example, a Japanese-American poetry professor in Minnesota has writtenextensively on his sexual troubles with white women. He blames theinternment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Presumably, thesimilarity of frustrations of Chinese-American men is just a coincidencecaused by, say, China losing the Opium War.
And the problems of Vietnamesemen stem from win- ning the Vietnam War, etc. But piecemeal rationalizationsare unappealing com- pared to a theory which might explain all the evidence. The general pattern to be explained is: blacks are more in demand ashusbands than as wives, and vice-versa for Asians. The question is, whataccounts for it?The usual sociological explanations for who marries whom (e. g.
,availability, class, and social approval) never work simultaneously forblacks and Asians. This isn’t surprising because these social-compatibilityfactors influence the total number of black-white or white-Asian marriagesmore than the hus- band-wife proportions within intermarriages. By emphasizing how society encourages us to marry people like ourselves,sociologists miss half the picture: by definition, heterosexual attractionthrives on differences. Although Henry Higgins and Colonel Pickering are socompatible that they break into song about it (Why Can’t a Woman Be Morelike a Man?), Higgins falls in love with Eliza Doolittle.
Oppositesattract. And certain race/sex pairings seem to be more opposite than others. The force driving these skewed husband-wife proportions appears to bedifferences in perceived sexual attractiveness. On average, black men tendto appear slightly more and Asian men slightly less masculine than whitemen, while Asian women are typically seen as slightly more and black womenas slightly less feminine than white women. Obviously, these are gross generalizations about the races. Nobody believesMichael Jackson could beat up kung-fu star Jackie Chan or that comedienneMargaret Cho is lovelier than Sports Illustrated swimsuit covergirl TyraBanks.
But life is a game of probabilities, not of abstract Platonicessences. So, what makes blacks more masculine-seeming and Asians morefeminine-seeming? Media stereotypes are sometimes invoked. TV constantlyshows black men slam-dunking, while it seems the only way an Asian man canget some coverage is to discover a cure for AIDS. Yet try channel-surfingfor minority women. You’ll see black women dancing, singing, joking, andromancing.
If, however, you even see an Asian woman, she’ll probably benewscasting — not the most alluring of roles. Conventional wisdom sometimes cites social conditioning as well. But whilethis is not implausible for American-born blacks, who come from a somewhathomogeneous culture, it’s insensitive to the diversity of cultures in whichAsians are raised. Contrast Koreans and Filipinos and Cambodian refugees andfifth-generation Japanese-Americans. It’s not clear they have much in commonculturally other than that in the West their women are more in demand asspouses than their men. One reasonable cultural explanation for the sexual attractiveness of blackmen today is the hypermasculinization of black life over the last fewdecades.
To cite a benign aspect of this trend, if you’ve followed theOlympics on TV since the 1960s you’ve seen sprinters’ victory celebrationsevolve from genteel exercises in restraint into orgies of fist-pumping,trash-talking black machismo. This showy masculinization of black behaviormay be in part a delayed reaction to the long campaign by Southern whitemales to portray them- selves as The Man and the black man as a boy. Butlet’s not be content to stop our analysis here. Why did Jim Crow whites tryso hard to demean black manhood? As we’ve seen, the chief reason was toprevent black men from impregnating white women. So, did all racist whites a century ago make keeping minorities away fromtheir women their highest priority? No. As noted earlier, the anti-Asianimmigration laws kept Asian women out, forcing many Asian immigrantbachelors to look for white women (with mixed success).
While white men werecertainly not crazy about this side effect, it seemed an acceptabletradeoff, since they feared Asian immigrants more as economic than as sexualcompetitors. But why did whites historically dread the masculine charms ofblacks more than those of Asians? Merely asking this question points outthat social conditioning is ultimately a superficial explanation of thedifferences among peoples. Yes, society socializes individuals, but whatsocializes society?There are only three fundamental causes for the myriad ways groups differ. The first is unsatisfying but no doubt important: random flukes of history.
The second, the favorite of Thomas Sowell and Jared Diamond, is differencesin geography and climate. The third is human biodiversity. Let’s look atthree physical differences between the races. 1) Asian men tend to beshorter than white and black men. Does this matter in the mating game? Oneof America’s leading hands-on researchers into this question, 7’1,280-pound basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain, reports that in his ampleexperience being tall and strong never hurt. Biological anthropologistsconfirm this, finding that tal- ler tends to be better in the eyes of mostwomen in just about all cultures.
Like most traits, height is determined bythe interaction of genetic and social factors (e. g. , nutrition). Forexample, the L. A.
Dodgers’ flamethrowing pitcher Hideo Nomo is listed as6’2, an almost unheard-of height for any Japanese man fifty years ago,owing to the near-starvation diets of the era. While the height gap betweenJapanese and whites narrowed significantly after World War II, this trendhas slowed in recent years as well-fed Japanese began bumping up againstgenetic limits. Furthermore, it can be rather cold comfort to a 5’7 Asianwho is competing for dates with white and black guys averaging 5’11 tohear, Your sons will grow up on average a couple of inches taller than you,assuming, of course, that you ever meet a girl and have any kids. Incontrast, consider a 5’1 Asian coed. Although she’d be happy with a 5’7boyfriend if she were in an all-Asian school, at UCLA she finds lots of boystemptingly much taller than that, but few are Asian. 2.
This general principle — the more racial integration there is, the moreimportant become physical differences among the races — can also be seenwith regard to hair length. The ability to grow long hair is a usefulindicator of youth and good health. (Ask anybody on chemotherapy. ) Sincewomen do not go bald and can generally grow longer hair than men, mostcultures associate longer hair with femininity. Although blacks’ hairdoesn’t grow as long as whites’ or Asians’ hair, that’s not a problem forblack women in all-black societies. After integration, though, hair oftenbecomes an intense concern for black women competing with longer-hairedwomen of other races.
While intellectuals in black-studies departments’ebony towers denounce Eurocentric standards of beauty, most black womenrespond more pragmatically. They one-up white women by buying straight fromthe source of the longest hair: the Wall Street Journal recently reported onthe booming business in furnishing African-American women with weaves andextensions harvested from the fol- licularly gifted women of China. 3. Muscularity may most sharply differentiate the races in terms of sexualattractiveness. Women like men who are stronger than they; men like womenwho are rounder and softer. The ending of segregation in sports has maderacial differences in muscularity harder to ignore.
Although the men’s100-meter dash is among the world’s most widely contested events, in thelast four Olympics all 32 finalists have been blacks of West Africandescent. Is muscularity quantifiable? PBS fitness expert Covert Bailey findsthat he needs to recom- mend different goals — in terms of percentage ofbody fat — to his clients of different races. The standard goal for adultblack men is 12 per cent body fat, versus 18 per cent for Asian men. Thegoals for women are 7 points higher than for men of the same race. Forinterracial couples, their gender gaps in body-fat goals correlateuncannily with their husband-wife proportions in the 1990 Census. The goalfor black men (12 per cent) is 10 points lower than the goal for white women(22 per cent), while the goal for white men (15 per cent) is only 4 pointslower than the goal for black women (19 per cent).
This 10:4 ratio is almostidentical to the 72:28 ratio seen in the Census. This corre- lates just aswell for white-Asian couples, too. Apparently, men want women who make themfeel more like men, and vice versa for women. Understanding the impact of genetic racial differences on American life is anecessity for anybody who wants to understand our increasingly complexsociety.
For example, the sense of betrayal felt by Asian men certainlymakes sense. After all, they tend to surpass the national average in thoselong-term virtues — industry, self-restraint, law-abidingness — thatsociety used to train young women to look for in a husband. Yet, now thatdiscrimination has finally declined enough for Asian men to expect to reapthe rewards for ful- filling traditional American standards of manliness,our culture has largely lost interest in indoctrinating young women to prizethose qualities. The frustrations of Asian men are a warning sign. When, in the names offree- dom and feminism, young women listen less to the hard-earned wisdom ofolder women about how to pick Mr. Right, they listen even more to theirhormones.
This allows cruder measures of a man’s worth — like the size ofhis muscles — to return to prominence. The result is not a feminist utopia,but a society in which genetically gifted guys can more easily get away withacting like Mr. Wrong. George Orwell noted, To see what is in front of one’s nose requires a con-stant struggle.
We can no longer afford to have our public policy governedby fashionable philosophies which insists upon ignoring the obvious. Therealities of interracial marriage, like those of professional sports, showthat diversity and integration turn out in practice to be fatal to thereign- ing assumption of racial uniformity. The courageous individuals ininterracial marriages have moved farthest past old hostilities. Yet, they’vediscovered not the featureless landscape of utter equality that waspredicted by progres- sive pundits, but a landscape rich with fascinatingracial patterns. Intellec- tuals should stop dreading the ever-increasingevidence of human biodiversity and start delighting in it.Social Issues