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The Color of Love:  Interracial Relationships in the 21st Century

By K. Dawn Rutledge Jones

     While it didn’t take the Holmes’ long to accept the fact that their black daughter was going to marry a white man, it took the Olsens’ a little longer to adjust.

     When Dwann Holmes-Olsen, 29, and Shane Olsen, 30, met at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, they had no idea they would make a love connection. While both had engaged in previous interracial dating experiences neither expected an interracial union. And neither did their parents.

Pictured:  Dwann Holmes-Olsen, Shane Olsen, and daughter Autumn

     Shane says his mother simply “overreacted” to what she thought other people would think.

     “They thought people would look down on it (interracial marriage),” admits Shane of his parent’s reaction. “They were trying to protect me.”

     Although Shane’s parents eventually accepted the union, their reaction to it is still common among many people when in comes to interracial relationships, says Dr. Larry E. Davis, a professor of social work and psychology in the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, Miss. and author of Black and Single: Meeting and Choosing A Partner Who’s Right For You.

     “There is a softening of attitudes as it relates to interracial relationships, but we really are, perhaps more so than any other minority group, in a direct on-going struggle with the white race,” says Davis. “For example, racial profiling largely affects black people. This continuous struggle hurts amicable relationships ñ the level and intensity of black and white conflict.”

     “Attitudes have changed toward interracial relationships and marriage,” Shane says. “Many people who choose to date outside their race, a lot of it depends on their individual character, morals and beliefs. If they’re the type of person who can deal with it and don’t care what other people think ñ then the relationship, interracial or not, will be just fine. If they are self-conscious about what people think ñ then don’t even do it.”

     Romantic relationships among blacks and whites continue to come under fire. Despite lifted barriers more than 30 years ago by the Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virginia, that said laws forbidding’interracial’ marriage were unconstitutional, some people still can’t seem to see love because they’re looking at color.

     “It really doesn’t make any sense to me of all this talk about interracial relationships,” says Davis. “Black people are already a multiracial people, so almost any relationship for us is interracial. The sad thing about it is some people (blacks) marry someone white for the sake of it, and then there are others just marrying white people to get away from black people all together. That doesn’t make a lot of room to explore good, healthy relationships with others.”

     Statistics show there are now more than 1.5 million interracial couples in the United States compared to 150,000 in 1960. From 1970 to 1991, the number of mixed-race married couples increased from 310,000 to 994,000. This trend is taking place among all racial and ethnic groups.

     Dwann and Shane, who dated four years before getting married, understands such statistics show attitudes are changing even though the negative attitudes toward interracial relationships still exist.

     “We really haven’t experience a lot of negativity,” says Dwann, owner of D&C Productions and Urban Flavor Publications. “We’ve lived in Nebraska, Alabama and now Tennessee, and it’s been fairly positive.”

     “What I’ve noticed is that black people tend to say more, while white people tend to stare more,” says Shane.

     Dwann agrees adding, “White people ask questions to find out your background. For the most part, black people either are shocked or don’t care.”

     In his book, Davis points out that interracial relationships are often blown out of perspective. He explains while interracial dating and marriages are on the rise, the number of blacks dating non-blacks is small and there is an extremely low rate of interracial marriages (about 2 percent for black women and 5 percent for black men). Hispanic Americans have an interracial marriage rate of approximately 40 percent, for Asian Americans it is estimated to be as high as 60 percent and more than half of Native Americans are believed to marry interracially.

     Those blacks, who interracially date non-whites, are even viewed more favorably than those blacks who date whites. However, three-quarters of interracial marriage among blacks still occur between black and whites, according to Davis.

     “While there is certainly more discussion of black males dating white females, I think white men are beginning to recognize the attributes of black women more,” Davis says.

     Davis adds that black women are faced with limited romantic possibilities. His book references the age bracket from 18 to 40, explaining there are only between seven and eight black men for every 10 black women. He also says more heterosexual black men are lost to prison, drugs and death than are “lost” to white partners. He further explains that these odds, including increases in education among black women, makes a significant gap in the number of professional black men to professional black women.

     “There are a quarter of a million black men in jail and more than that unemployed,” says Davis. “There are so few black men for black women, I don’t get upset about black women dating outside of their race at all.

     “Also white men are marrying more professional black women and black men are more likely to marry non-professional white women; historically, because African-Americans have had to bring more to the table. White males are from a higher racial cast and black males are from a lower racial cast, therefore, they require less from the relationship.”

     In an effort to better understand the differences in their racial and ethnic backgrounds, Dwann and Shane continue to work on compromises to not only allow themselves to become more appreciative of one another, but to expose their three-year-old daughter, Autumn, to her unique and diverse heritage.

     One such compromise is that Shane attends a predominately black Baptist church with his wife. They have attended black churches since they’ve been a couple.

     Shane admits that attending a predominately black church is certainly different from what he was used to, but he says it gives him an opportunity to be the minority and it’s good for his daughter.

     “I’m very comfortable with it,” he says of attending the church. “But I’m no sure most Caucasians would be. It’s a big church, but they have embraced me. Dwann and Autumn are already exposed to the white side daily through work and school. When we go to church, I see that as her time to connect to the African-American community. I look at it as my turn to be a minority and see what she goes through.”

     With the 21st Century in full gear, it is expected that interracial dating and marriages will become commonplace. The Olsens’ advice is simply ‘don’t knock it,’til you try it.’

     “Don’t be afraid to date outside your race,” Shane says. “You may not know what you’re missing.”

 

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