Junior Mikaela Carlson acknowledges the differences between various races. After all, it is well known that cultural conflicts have been a leading cause of racial bias ever since different civilizations came into contact with one another. Yet these same differences are part of the reason why Carlson said she looks beyond Caucasians in choosing her dating partners.
“We have different backgrounds in how we grew up and our family life,” Carlson said of her relationship with senior David Chiang, an Asian. “For example, family dinner is different and some little traditions are different, but it’s not a huge obstacle. It’s a good thing because I learn something new every day from him. It’s neat.”
Carlson’s views reflect the wider shift in attitudes toward interracial relationships over the last several generations. A poll taken in February 2010 by the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan organization that collects information on current issues, showed that 85 percent of “Millennials,” individuals ages 18 to 29, say they would be fine with a marriage to someone from any race. In particular, 93 percent of non-Asians said they would be fine with marrying an Asian-American, and 92 percent of non-whites approved of marrying white Americans.
According to Eric Grollman, a graduate student at the Indiana University Department of Sociology specializing in sexuality, gender, race and social psychology, the sharp increase in the number of interracial couples and marriages since the 1960s was caused by three factors: a decrease in negative attitudes toward interracial relationships, an increase in contact across racial lines and the fact that young adults are becoming more independent from their parents and families, often by moving to other states and attending college.
“Younger generations are growing up feeling less opposed to interacting, including dating, with people of a different race than themselves,” Grollman said. “I would suggest that this is due in part to changing racial attitudes, as well as greater exposure to diversity like attending college.”
Chiang, who began dating Carlson in the spring of last school year, said he did not distinguish between racial lines in his relationships.
“Personally, I feel that relationships between different races or ethnicities are quite similar to those of normal relationships,” Chiang said. “I don’t see the need or want to segregate myself in terms of interaction based on simple differences in origin.”
Carlson said her perspective on interracial relationships changed with age, and now she feels the same way about choosing her partner in a relationship.
“I actually don’t really consider race when I’m looking for someone,” she said. “Maybe I did in middle school, but once you’re in high school you mature and your standards are based more on who they are as a person. I don’t consider race all that much and I don’t believe you should. I mean, it’s there, but it shouldn’t be a deciding factor.”
According to Grollman, more and more of such relationships could be expected in the future. He said perspective changes regarding interracial dating in the past several generations would continue. In fact, according to the survey by the Pew Research Center, the 85 percent acceptance of interracial relationships by people ages 18 to 29 sharply contrasts with views of older generations. Seventy-three percent of 30 to 49 year-olds approved, 55 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds approved and just 38 percent of those ages 65 and older accepted such relationships.
“Given changes we’re seeing today from the 1960s, we will continue to see more and more interracial couples and marriages,” Grollman said. “But I don’t think that we’ll ever see as many interracial couples (as) we would expect if partner choice were random. That is, race still matters in terms of partner choice and whether we even find a person attractive. Though explicit racism is becoming less of an issue, we still see a preference for white skin as the standard of beauty and considering darker skin as ugly.”
Chiang said he believes newer generations are more inclined to look beyond members of their own race in entering relationships. He cited greater exposure to diversity at school and in society as a whole as a reason for this change.
“I feel it’s because we’ve matured in an environment that encourages and works well with diversity,” Chiang said. “If anything, it’s more that we learn to accept the idea just by being around it. My parents, being the older generation, of course have more conservative views, but they’re open to the idea and have given the freedom to act for myself. (They) display a more restrained acceptance. But, in my case, my parents have stepped back and allowed me to figure my relationships for myself.”
Carlson said her family’s exposure to diversity has influenced the way her parents and grandparents have viewed relationships between individuals of different races.
“My grandparents have traveled a lot and are pretty worldly, so they’re not partial to any race,” she said. “I know my parents had a high school made up of a lot less kids and less diversity than Carmel High School today. Our world today is definitely more accepting of races than it has been in history. (My parents) care more about how well he treats me and how polite and self-motivated he is.”
According to Chiang, his parents even encourage his interaction with people from diverse backgrounds. He said, “They do demonstrate an interest when they notice my interactions with (people) of different races. The bias is barely there because they’ve noted the changes of relationships throughout the years.”
According to Grollman, despite the general increase in numbers of interracial relationships, there are definite cultural incongruity issues that may arise in interracial relationships as opposed to other types.
“In the early 1990s, a huge study, the National Health and Social Life Survey, found that interracial couples, as well as couples with partners coming from different educational or social class backgrounds, were more likely to… (receive) negative reactions of parents and communities. So, people in interracial couples were less likely to introduce their partners to families and friends. And because they weren’t as included into every aspect of each other’s lives, they were more likely to break up.”
He added that while the scenario is less common today, interracial couples may still face unfavorable or even hostile reactions from family, friends and communities. Such responses sometimes contribute to the dissolution of relationships between individuals of different races.
Chiang said that while such cultural differences may exist, they are just another opportunity for the essential bonding that matures strong relationships.
“There are definitely some challenges with regards to culture differences,” he said. “For instance, customs and traditions may differ, but it’s the blending and mutual understanding that the relationship in many cases develops a much stronger bond.”