Tuesday, June 13, at 11 a.m. ET
Black Men in Interracial Relationships
Tuesday, June 13, 2006; 11:00 AM
Kellina Craig-Henderson, professor of psychology at Howard University, discussed her new book, Black Men in Interracial Relationships," which examines the role race plays in relationships between black men and women of other races. Craig-Henderson was online Tuesday, June 13 at 11 a.m. ET.
Washington Post writer Neely Tucker celebrates Loving Day, which commemorates the 1967 Supreme Court decision legalizing interracial marriage in his story: "Loving Day Recalls a Time When the Union of a Man And a Woman Was Banned."
The transcript follows:
Inglewood, Calif.: A common reaction of African American women when seeing African American men who are in interracial relationships (especially European American women) is anger. As a person whose entire family (on both sides) has been mixed race for many generations now - I choose to distance myself from such attitudes because they dishonor my family history which includes Mexican, Native American and Anglo. My mother is Afro Mexican and her native language is Spanish. My African American grandfather migrated to Mexico looking for work in 1890. He learned Spanish and met and married my Mexican grandmother before coming back to the U.S. The history of mixture is similar on my father's side and the family into which I married. I believe is it counterproductive and a point of unnecessary stress for African American women to agonize over this issue. As African American women we need to channel these feelings and understand them. There are Black men out there for us if we are willing to think outside the box - I did not say compromise our values and principles - but we may find partners where we least expect. -And- possibly entertain the idea that our partner may be someone who is not Black.
Kellina Craig-Henderson: Yes, I agree, and you are very fortunate to have had so many diverse experiences. I believe that the source of a lot of anger (on both sides) are the stereotypes people have about others. I encourage you to read my book. After doing so, I think you'll find that the issue and discussion as I have treated it is not about being an angry Black woman.
Washington, D.C.: What are the true statistics of black men dating non-white women? I have seen stats that claim it's roughly 5%, but anecdotal evidence makes it appear much more significant than that.
Kellina Craig-Henderson: US census data tells us that of the estimated 246,000 B/W marriages that took place in 1992, more than half were between Black men and White women. Although more recent trends reflect an increase in the numbers of Black women in these types of interracial relationships, the numbers of Black men's involvement continues to outpace that of Black women.
It is important to keep in mind that we are talking about a relatively small (though visible, and growing) minority. In addition, keep in mind that these estimates do not include those who are simply dating.
Bremo Bluff, Va.: This is 2006, and the issue of gays gaining the right to marry is being discussed at the highest levels of government.
There are male/male and female/female interacial relationships that are just as important. Why limit your discussion to male/female relationships? Please share what you learned there as well.
Kellina Craig-Henderson: My discussion was determined (and necessarily limited) by the research scope. In this case, the qualitative analysis I conducted focused exclusively on AA men. As I noted at the outset of the book, I had some very personal reasons for doing so. However, I would venture to speculate that at least some of the dynamics observed with respect to race, its significance, and the privilege that White racial status continues to have in our society would operate similarly for male/male and female/female relationships.
Reston, Va.: Can you please get to the root of why so many Black men in the DC area seem to only want to date outside of their race when there are literally hundreds of well educated gainfully employed Black woman available?
Kellina Craig-Henderson: Good question. But really, the numbers of Black men in interracial relationships in the DC area are no greater than those in other large metropolitan area. I would say however that the numbers educated gainfully employed Black woman available are disproportionately greater here. The latter has to do with a few things including their increased rate of participation in government.
Charlotte, N.C.: Interracial relationships used to be hard for me to observe, but I think if you can find someone that you have a wonderful relationship with, then you have scored a touch down! A lot of people are running around and are afraid to commit. I think if we, as a black race, looked at that issue, it might tell us alot.
I think alot of us are afraid to commit!
Kellina Craig-Henderson: I agree that a lot of people avoid commitment, though I don't have any reason to believe that this unique to African Americans.
Observations from a Latina/Black woman: I am from a Spanish-speaking Caribbean island...in my case, that means I am both black and Latina. So, I feel that I have a special insight in this topic. This is because I have noticed again and again that when African-American men learn that I am not just black, but also speak Spanish and come from a different culture their interest in me increases exponentially. I just feel that African-American men feel like they have a "prize" in their hands if they are not dating a plain jane African-American woman, but instead someone exotic that somehow elevates their status.
I have noticed that for them it's important to brag they are not just with a black woman, but also a Latina from the Caribbean AND who speaks Spanish...they are besides themselves!!!
Kellina Craig-Henderson: Very interesting what you refer to is the extent to which being "Black" in the US is undervalued, and even denigrated. One young man I interviewed for the book talked about the way that most of friends who were Black all seemed to feel obligated to qualify their ethnicity and racial status by pointing to ways that they were "mixed." There is something very perverse about a society that leads its people to feel bad about themselves so much so that it becomes important to be something other than who they may really be. So, I would agree, that for some Black men with "mixed" women there is a certain delight in vicariously being something other than just an African American
Washington, D.C.: When dating a woman other than a Black woman, why do Black men always use the same, sorry excuse of Black women being too strong? What does that mean?
Kellina Craig-Henderson: Of course, not all Black men offer that kind of excuse. But, you are certainly correct in noting that it is a common refrain. (BTW - I also often hear that Black women are too angry.) It is very strange that an attribute such as "strength" becomes something negative and is devalued when it is used to describe Black women. When people (usually Black men) say that Black women are too strong, they are expressing deep-seated ambivalence about their role vis'a'vis Black women, about the historical realities that made their ability to defend and protect Black women extremely difficult, as well as contemporary differences between Black men and Black women in opportunities. Its obviously a very heavy issue. The project I am currently working on that focuses on Black women in interracial relationships discusses this latter point in detail.
Washington, D.C.: Out of all ethnic groups, black women complain about black men the most. Why is that and why do you see so many broken homes (ie. father not around, black single mothers/grandmas being the mom, etc.) in the black community?
Kellina Craig-Henderson: I doubt that Black women complain about Black men any more than the millions of White women with White men complain about their men. There is a heightened attention to Black people and things they do and say because minority status makes one more noticeable this a perceptual reality. Any attempt to genuinely explain the state of affairs for the Black family has to take account of existing disparities in job opportunity, educational attainment, occupational achievement, AND the continuing existence of racial discrimination.
Charlotte, N.C.: The question that I did not see asked or answered was are white women the only ones available in his surroundings? A white woman is the only person that is available in some circumstances to the black man. Some of the men are at schools or are in social settings were black women are not, so then, what are they supposed to do?
I am a black female who is beginning to look outside my race for a lot of things.
Kellina Craig-Henderson: Actually its an interesting point that you raise and this issue about homogenous environments where few other Blacks are present is indeed a real one. BUT, because of the way that the cards are currently stacked in US society, it is more often the case that Black women will find themselves in those settings as solos (i.e., when few other Blacks, and even fewer Black men are present). There were several men that I interviewed who described situations like this. People need people... interracial relationships in those types of situations are certainly understandable. A fair amount of sociological attention has addressed the question of ratios and speculated about just how many minorities need to present in a setting for out-race dating and marriage to occur. I discuss this briefly in the book.
Ypsilanti, Mich.: I have been in interracial relationships off and on for the past 20 years. I have no shame in admitting so, though most sisters view my dating patterns as a betrayal. Many people say there is no difference and that love is blind; I differ with this opinion. My experiences have shown me that non-Black women are not as negative or as emotionally combative as the Black women I have dated. At the end of the day, I want to turn to a woman that is not going to beat me down emotionally, as far too many Black women I have dated have done. Non-Black women are not as negative as Black women, generally more health conscious, and are more accepting of the male being the dominant person in the relationship and for those reasons, I choose to date non-Black women.
Kellina Craig-Henderson: Good for you. Its important to find love where you can. I would only encourage you to think about the less than charitable conditions that have characterized the experiences of most Black women in America. It certainly hasn't been an easy road. Far from that of the collective experience of non-Black women, Black women (to use your term) "get beat down" every single day. The "sisters' who view your dating patterns as betrayal correctly recognize this.
Washington, D.C.: I am a black man who has never dated a woman of another race, but what I have seen from some of the black women I have been around is that when we were in public places they would say something negative about seeing a black man with a white woman, but did not see a real problem with a black woman with a white man. Is that something you have seen or researched? If so, why is this situation seen as different?
Kellina Craig-Henderson: Well, this question often comes up, and some say it is a double standard. My opinion is that it has more to do with the disproportionate ratios of Black men and women who have something to bring to the proverbial table. There is much discussion and some good recent books that attest to the rather bleak circumstances facing many Black men. When Black women see them in relationships with non-Black women, they often can't help but think about those disproportionate numbers. There is often the thought that "there goes another one..." I have discussed this tendency at length in my book.
Washington, D.C.: If this is such an issue then why is it so much more common to see a black woman dating a white guy (comedy or drama) on tv or in the movies than it is to see a black man dating a white woman? This societal question is what we really should be asking.
Kellina Craig-Henderson: One of the reasons is that the people who make most mainstream movies, sitcoms, etc. continue to be White men. They craft "reality" as depicted in their films from their perspective. The White man is usually the powerful and desirable person in the film. Women in general are still viewed sexually more often than not, and the few Black women who get to star in mainstream films are viewed like most women, as the "prize." The victor of the film always gets the prize. America is still not entirely comfortable with depictions of interracial sex, and particularly with Black men and White women. What's more Black men continue to be represented in these films in some way that is less than desirable (thieves, gangsters, etc.) All of these factors interact to answer your query.
Springfield, Va.: Interesting. I look forward to reading the book. Do you find that black men who date non-black women are willing to date black women, but happen to become involved with a non-black woman? Or, is the case that black men have selected their partners based partially on the fact that they are non-black women?
Kellina Craig-Henderson: In my research, I found both. In fact, that is why I concluded that for every Black man who consciously sought out a non-Black woman to date and marry, there was another Black man who could honestly claim happenstance in his interracial realtionship. I hope you enjoy the book.
Washington, D.C.: I am a black male in my mid 20s. I was born and raised in West Virginia. The black population in the entire state is somewhere around 3%. Growing up, I was always involved in interracial relationships. There were not very many black girls to choose from. After graduating college 2 years ago I moved to DC, a city with beautiful black women, and I still find myself in interracial relationships. I used to think that I was just attracted to nice looking girls no matter what their race is, but now I am realizing that I am attracted to white girls more than any other race. Do you think this has anything to do with the way I grew up?
Kellina Craig-Henderson: Yes, our early socialization experiences exert a powerful influence on the choices we make later in life (emphasis on choice). At the same time, you are a product of our society. It is one that unfortunately has a racial hierarchy in which White women are revered relative to Black women. The popular images that surround each of us (tv, movies, videos, etc.) bombard us with this message daily.
Columbia, Tenn.: I am a Black man and have solely dated light-skinned Black women with "good hair." Many Black people continue to have an issue with the color complex, but I admit to it. I am simply not attracted to dark-skinned women with kinky hair. I don't consider it self-hate because lighter skinned Black women are just as Black as their darker sisters. I am brave enough to admit that I prefer the "redbone" with good hair, and given a choice, I would date a Hispanic woman before I would date a dark-skinned Black woman.
Kellina Craig-Henderson: Your candor is appreciated though somewhat painful. I've heard remarks such as yours previously, and more than anything it reflects the egregious assault White America has waged on Black people's psyche for the last 4 centuries. Good luck in overcoming your issues... you're missing out on a world of possibilities.
Arlington, Va.: I'm a WM who finds BF attractive. The Wash Post write-up stated your view like so: "Craig-Henderson addresses the questions many black women might ask when they see an interracial couple: Why someone who looks like her?" That seems so negative though. Why is an interracial attraction/relationship any different than a man being attracted to a blonde or a lady attracted to Italian looks?
Kellina Craig-Henderson: Well, in all honesty, the review didn't actually quote me as saying that. But the writer was getting at the extent to which questions about why more Black men (particularly among the elite) seem to be in interracial relationships motivated me to do the study. You're right that it really shouldn't be an issue, but it is because we live in a society where race continues to matter. Life expereinces and opportunities are still driven by race (and class). For example, on average Black men's life expectancies are nearly 6 years less than White men.
Washington, D.C.: I guess I take issue with the angry black woman stereotype. I am a black woman who has not considered race in my dating practices. I don't mind black men dating outside of their race; however I've been told several times by black men that they don't date black women. I currently see it as a strange sort of racism that seems to indicate some type of self loathing, though I am not well versed on the subject. I think your book sounds very interesting and that it might shed light on the issue for me. Do you have any advice for women like me who are starting to get discouraged because it seems that fewer men of any race are looking at black women as desirable?
Kellina Craig-Henderson: Gosh, I wish I did. But, you are quite insightful in your observations. I think if you read through some of the book you might get a better sense about what is really going on with at least some Black men in those relationships. As much as possible I tried to personalize the experiences of the men I interviewed. Also, its important to keep in mind that we are talking about a relative minority of Black men. Keep the faith.
Olney, Md.: In your book do you discuss the anger that many white men have when they see Black male/White female relationships?
Kellina Craig-Henderson: Yes, I do discuss it in a section on "other people's reactions." It came up with several of the men I interviewed. One man who was married to a White women spoke about the "coolness" in reactions from White men, even those who worked with him. He said that he wouldn't want to find himself in a situation with them... according to him it had to do with that "other issue" (i.e., beliefs about physical endowment).
Washington, D.C.: As a 30 year old Afro-American male living in "chocolate city", I can attest to the fact that it is extremely hard to find a compatible woman in my race. Most black women that have come across are more interested in what material wealth I have rather than discovering the person that I am. The odds are stacked against us, because they expect a list of things: Car, a certain amount of income, the ability to spend it on them. If we don't meet these superficial, but apparently important requirements, we get kicked to the curb for the next man. I see a lot of black women say they want a good black man, but when they have one, 9 times out of 10, they don't know what to do with one. Could this be due to the fact that a majority of blacks today have come from broken homes and don't have that family unit to look up to as an example?
Kellina Craig-Henderson: Its a good question, and one that I don't have a quick answer for. I've heard your comment expressed by other frustrated Black men. Keep looking though...there are scores of Black women out there who are not only about the material trappings.
Arlington, Va.: Why does it seem like AA women only want to be with AA men after they have made it? Recently, a conversation amongst guys with whom I grew up came to this topic because we are now fathers of AA young women and girls. One of my friends remarked on how the fine sisters would not consider having relationships with us when we were young and had nothing but potential--we weren't the best dancers, didn't wear the latest fashions, or have the smoothest rap. As a result, we dated interracially because that is where we had the greatest level of acceptance. For the most part, we were young men focused on academics, sports, and life after school/college. However now they deem us worthy and the situation is different because they view us as having achieved success, maintaining committed relationships, and being engaged parents. Lately, one of the women that disregarded us in our youth remarked that she had missed what she was looking for when it was right at her doorstep years ago. We are concerned because we don't want our daughters to have the attitude that we encountered during our youth or the laments of our lady friend in their adulthood. Is our culture teaching our young women to value qualities in men that don't correspond with developing solid meaning relationships? Ironically, all of us except one married AA women after graduating from college.
Kellina Craig-Henderson: Hmmm.. I think a lot of what you refer to does begin at home. It sounds like you have created a stable caring environment for your children. Its important for them to know that what matters in a person is what is on the inside. Keep bringing that point home because there are so many other influences that youth today have to contend with. For example, they watch TV and see that the "cool" kids are not necessarily the nice ones, etc. As parents you have the opportunity and responsbility to contribute to your children's character.
Washington, D.C.: I haven't read your book, but is your opinion that interracial relationships are a bad thing? Don't you think its an important step towards getting rid of racism that people are having relationships with members of other races and that if we all stick within our race racism wil persist?
Kellina Craig-Henderson: Please read the book. But to answer your question: No, I don't mean to imply that they are a bad thing.
Washington, D.C.: Do you think a person's willingness to be in an interracial relationship reflect's their social/economic status?
I'm a BF married to a WM, and it seems to me that most WM will usually only date well-educated well-to-do black women. THey don't seem to care about how dark their skin color is, or how "kinky" the hair is. They seem to relate to a BF's intellect and/or economic status.
Do you find this as well?
Kellina Craig-Henderson: I am working on a project now that focuses on Black women in these relationships. I hope to be able to answer your questions.
Rockville, Md.: I have stopped dating Black women because of their inability to appreciate anything they do not see as ethnically Black. I took a Black woman to the theater and she fell asleep during the ballet. When I awoke her at intermission, she stood in the hallway criticizing other women's dresses and pointing out men she thought were on the Down Low. Another woman I dated admitted she did not like to read and only liked to watch TV. Why should I waste time dating Black women when this is how far too many behave?
Kellina Craig-Henderson: I think you need to get out more, and expand your network of Black women you date. Black women come in all shapes and sizes, some love opera, some ski and some dig rap.
Washington, D.C.: I understand black men's interest in white women, but what about the white women? What is their motivation for getting involved with a black man?
Kellina Craig-Henderson: good question. Today's popular images have elevated the attractiveness of Black men. They are depicted as physically attractive, strong, talented, athletic, etc. Why wouldn't White women find them to attractive?
Washington, D.C.: I am an Af-Am woman and I don't care who Af-Am men date. But what I do care about is this notion that we are all fat, angry, uncultured and saddled with multiple children and "baby daddies". I don't have ONE FRIEND who has a child out of wedlock. My black girlfriends own property, have advanced degrees, travel the world and enjoy cultural arts. Maybe, my brothers, you ought to look beyond the superficial (is she a dime? is she hot like Beyonce or JLo) and you might find a black woman -- of that's what you want -- with similar interests, status and appeal.
Kellina Craig-Henderson: Yes, I agree.
Columbus, Ohio: Hello. I am a Black man and recently watched the film, "Something New." Although, the premise is a little different than Spike Lee's, "Jungle Fever," in terms of the emphasis being placed on the development/struggle of an inter-racial relationship. There was still the element of curiousity. How much do you think the excitement/curosity factor plays in the ensuing relationship??? Thanks.
Kellina Craig-Henderson: A lot, on both sides. Some people are curious - especially when they've had little to no interactions with others from different cultures and races.
Anonymous: "Keep looking though...there are scores of Black women out there who are not only about the material trappings."
This whole conversation is so depressing. And then to read your comment above, is such a let down. Basically to that man you are telling him to bypass and overlook any good woman who is accepting him for who he is, to continue to search for that woman, only in the black form?
Kellina Craig-Henderson: That certainly wasn't my intention to imply that. I only wished to say that you can't pass judge on the 18 million Black women out there on the basis of an unhappy experience with one.
Charlottesville, Va.: As an Asian American man, I can relate to the sentiments of African American women. Do you have any insight into any similarities or differences between the situation of African American men and Asian American women?
Kellina Craig-Henderson: No, I don't, but that ceratinly is a good question.
Washington, D.C.: For the men that do cite the "problems" of Black women as a reason why they only date non-black women, I am wondering why they feel the need to make generalizations and apply them only to Black women. Yes, Black women have their "issues," but so does every other woman of any other race. Did any of the men that you studied give a reason as to why they feel that they are accurate in believing that these "problems" are possessed by mainly Black women and are not characteristics of many non-black women?
Kellina Craig-Henderson: Its a normal tendency to see the world through our own lenses. Unfortunately, unless pressed, people rarely look outside of their own expereinces when making judgments about others.
Atlanta, Ga.: Why do a lot of the successful black men pick white versus black women as their partners?
Kellina Craig-Henderson: Please read the book... this was one of the big questions that motivated me to do the study.
State College, Pa.: Dear Kellina,
I have dated many women in my life, of all races, and I have been married twice, both times to white women.
I always approached, thanks to my parents, people based on mutual interests. While in college, this led me to seeing more white women because my black sisters at that time were not interested in "doing different things". This was early 80s and I wanted to meet all kinds of people and have friends that covered the spectrum of races and I have best friends to this day that cross those lines.
By exposing myself, I limited the contact I had with black females becasue of the isolationist practices in place. Not all of them mind you, but a vast majority. So I learned to like who hung out at the same places I did. Sometimes black women were there, many times they were not.
It was not until I was much older, and already in love, that more black women started to come out of ther shell. As I was living in a college town, they were all younger than myself and therefore I was getting a lot more attention as the "older, educated brother". I always wondered where they were when I was 18-22?
That being said, it is a shame in the black community when we put down each other for finding love, outside of our color. It is especially painful when most of these same people profess to love God so much and are always touting Church.
If they truly believed in God's way they would realize there is not black or white or asian or indian heaven, but just heaven. Therefore follow the good book that we so like to quote. "Do on earth as you would in Heaven" and then there will be no issues for you to place on other's relationships.
Kellina Craig-Henderson: Yes, thank you. That is true. Indeed, in some "true" Christian churches one can see a greater than average number of interracial couples. Presumably because they've put Christ first in their choice of a mate, and put the other stuff on the back burner.
Washington, D.C.: Why is it acceptable to try to date only someone of the same skin color? This closed minded attitude is terribly out of sync with our times. Are we going to go back to miscegenation laws to "help" the situation? Would that make black women feel better?
Kellina Craig-Henderson: No, I certainly don't think so. By no means is that the gist of my study or analysis.
Silver Spring, Md.: Why do so many black women have a double standard when it comes to interacial dating? When a black woman dates outside of her race she is considered "progressive" but when a black man dates outside of his race he's a "sellout".
Kellina Craig-Henderson: The numbers of available mates are dramatically different for Black men and women... this has much to do with Black women's reactions to seeing Black men in interracial relationships and feeling like "there goes another one."
Chicago, Ill.: I think I used to be a little bothered seeing black guys date white females, especially in high school and college, which were for me, predominately white. But lately my attitude is changed. Everyone is lucky to get love where they can find it. I've recently begun dating outside of my race and I feel like, black or white, as long as the guy can treat me with respect, I really don't care. When I was a little girl, I always thought I'd be marrying a black man when I grew up. Now I just want to be with someone who can treat me right. I hope the men you interviewed can claim such.
Kellina Craig-Henderson: Yes, you're right, everyone is lucky to get love. At least some of the men I interviewed certainly articulated this point.
Washington, D.C.: Sadly, as a man of mixed race who has dated black women, I have to agree with the Black Latina posting earlier. From my own experience, I found myself unconsciously valuing my relationship with an educated black woman from Africa much more than an educated black woman from Atlanta. I also recognized I did have more "status" -- of course, I didn't come to these realizations until years afterward, but more clearly recognize the impacts now.
Kellina Craig-Henderson: Very insightful, thank you for sharing that.
Silver Spring, Md. via Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.: I'm a proud man who has dated sistas exclusively. When I'm out and about and happen to come across a brotha with white lady on his arm, when eyes connect for the proverbial black man head-nod, the brotha always appears to exhibit a sense of shame as if he's wondering what I'm thinking of him. It says a lot about you as a strong black man if you cannot appreciate a strong sista to be by your side (in my opinion).
In your study/research on this topic did you find Black men attitudes toward dating "only" non-Black women exclusively was due in part to self-hatred, the embracement of white supremacist myths of beauty, and/or some post-slavery psychological baggage?
Kellina Craig-Henderson: All of the above and more. In the book, I came up with a typology of sorts that tries to describe the different type of Black men in interracial realtionships.
Baltimore, Md: I am black, as is my wife. I've never dated a white woman, nor have I ever been interested. However, my wife's son, age 24, has only dated white girls/women. He says "he doesn't want to deal with the drama of black women." I say he's weak and doesn't know how to handle the cultural/historic strength of black women. I've also been told by other black men who date white women, that white women are uninhibited sexually. Their words, "they do whatever you want." I say those men a deficient in making black women comfortable so that they might be less inhibited. I know it's a lot to think about. Your thoughts please.
Kellina Craig-Henderson: Not sure how to respond, other than to say that I like what you say.
Kellina Craig-Henderson: Hi everyone, I have to sign off now, but I've really enjoyed the insightful and candid input. If I didn't respond to you personally, I apologize, but I was only allotted the hour for the chat. I hope you will each buy the book, and enjoy reading it. I am in the DC area and I am happy to come talk to groups about the topic. Thanks for your interest!!!
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