Sunday, April 29, 2007

Do Interracial Couples Make Better Parents? One Study Says "Yes"

It’s beginning to look a lot like Brazil in the United States, at least on paper. 6.8 million people declared their multiracial heritage (of 2 or more races) on the 2000 Census, universities are working diligently to fortify their diversity programs, and multiculturalism found its way into politics when in 2003, 36.1% of California voters wanted to pass the "Racial Privacy Initiative," a state proposition that would ban racial classification and that many hoped would lead to a "colorblind" society. Researchers are certainly not exempt from the push to make America a "melting pot" once again. In fact, studies recently released regarding interracial relationships seem to support the idea that everyone CAN "just get along" and yield quite beneficial results. Yet some of these studies tend to ignore greater factors that influence race relations in the United States and impediments to certain groups when they try to become a part of the burgeoning multicultural/racial/ethnic society in America, rendering their findings and government advocacy for colorblindness somewhat superficial and misleading.

In the January issue of the American Journal of Sociology, professors cum social scientists Simon Cheng of the University of Connecticut and Brian Powell of Indiana University, announced their findings regarding biracial families in the United States in an article entitled "Under and Beyond Constraints: Resource Allocation to Young Children from Biracial Families." "Biracial" parents in this instance refers not to people of multiracial backgrounds as parents, but parents in which one partner is a different race from the other, whereas "monoracial" parents refer to parents who are of the same race. According to the research conducted among a little over 1100 couples, biracial parents are "more likely than their monoracial counterparts" to provide their children with expensive amenities like "home computer[s], private schooling, and educational books and cds" and to encourage them to participate in extra-curricular activities like "dance, music, or art lessons outside of school and . . . trips to the zoo, library, and other cultural venues."

This information is quite positive, and can be interpreted as an indication that interracial relationships have a positive future as marriages and that said relationships are not nearly as frightening a prospect as racist hate-mongers have suggested for centuries. It also provides encouraging data to counter the belief that bi- and multi-racial children have a definite future as confused, unhappy, and "tragic" figures in society as many films and literature would like for us to belief. In the dissemination of the research findings, however, several factors are lost, and the data itself comes as not-so-happy news to certain groups, particularly blacks.

The researchers hypothesize that interracial parents may invest more time in their child-rearing in order to counter the social challenges they face as an interracial couple, or, in other words, to disprove stereotypes regarding the instability of multiracial families. It is also suggested that the parents dedicate a significant amount of time and attention to their child in order to provide a healthy home life, and, in turn, provide a more positive environment for a child that may experience ostracism, discrimination, and exclusion as a result of their interracial background. When reading the information about the study and its pool of respondents, it’s impossible not to ponder whether or not economic and religious background, nationality, age, and even the period of time the couple had been together before having children were included in the demographic reporting for the research. Its blatant absence from articles about the study is disturbing. A good example of this is found in the study’s reference to Latinos, as Latino-white coupling made up more than half of the study pool. The term "Latino," however, is used here incorrectly as a race. Latino is technically an ethnicity, one defined primarily by way of place of origin and cultural components like language, food, and art. The Latino community includes people who could be classified as white, black, Asian, indigenous, and/or of a multiracial background (which accounts for a majority of the Latino population globally as well as in this country). So it is very possible that to the naked eye, these so-called "interracial couples" are actually monoracial couples, only divided by culture. If that is the case, many monoracial couples could be considered "interracial," for example, a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant married to an Israeli Jewish partner or a black person from the United States with a black spouse from Angola. Why are these factors not taken into account in the study?

When the study notes the one "exception" to what is referred to as the "biracial advantage" as being black father/white mother families, a red flag goes up. Families with a black father and a white mother are said to "invest fewer resources into kids than do black monoracial couples and white monoracial couples." The study simply chalks this up to the their belief that black-white couples experience more racism from their respective families and the general public, yet considering the practically annual reports that convey black men as an "endangered species," such as "The State of Black America 2007: Portrait of the Black Male" published by the National Urban League earlier this month, assertions by a Westchester school district that saving black boys was "morally imperative," and statements made by British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s blaming of black youths as responsible for the rise in crime in England, it is surprising that the study did not consider the issues that black men face with regard to economic and social inequality.

For example, according to the NUL study, "Black men are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as white men and make only 74% as much a year." It is quite possible that many black father/white mother couples are unable to provide as much for their children due in part to economic reasons that were not discussed in the research findings. However, the study saves its credibility by asserting that black/white couples often face more social prejudice, usually due to the great divide on the social continuum between blacks and whites in addition to the great degree of stereotypes that already accompany black/white interracial coupling, particularly couples comprised of black men and white women, despite their being far more common as relationships between black women and white men (blacks are the least likely to marry "outside of their race," but black men do so more than black women, with currently about 70% of black/white marriages being between black men and white women).

Despite its demographic shortcomings, the study is refreshing in that it encourages people of many different races to confront stereotypes regarding interracial couples, especially those regarding black men and white women, one that falls under frequent scrutiny - whether the criticism is regarding motivations behind the commencement of such a relationship, the competency of white mothers raising children of color, and/or the couple's economic stability. It is almost certain that some people will use the study to confirm their beliefs that black men/white women interracial couples fail with regard to the aforementioned "tests," but it is also very possible that another set of people will regard the study in a more positive light in that it provides some evidence with regard to the direction in America is moving when it comes to race. It could "help" or "hurt" the idea of a multicultural utopia for which many people hope, all depending on which side of the existing color-line one sits. But with so many Americans checking more than one box on the census, there is a possibility that discussions regarding interracial couples and their parenting methods will be a non-issue in the near future. Only time will tell.

-Wendi Muse

For more about interracial couples, check out an NPR interview with author Debra Dickerson & activist Carmen Van Kerckhove:


Wendi Muse said...

The study correlates "good parenting" with parents' encouraging and sponsoring the involvement of their children in numerous extracurricular activities. Is this criteria enough to support "positive" parenting, or is this simply a sign that the parents are economically secure enough to support their child in such a way? Or even that the parents just want the child to be super involved so they will have more time to themselves? I also question what this study means for monoracial parents. Lastly, considering that the study showed that black male/white female couples do not fall into the category of "good parents" according to the studies criteria, what effect will the data have on already negative stereotypes of black male/white female couples?

Sometimes, I think that sometimes we rely too much on research to dictate our social attitudes. Blacks are identified as more or less social pariahs by researchers, but that doesn't make me think less of myself or label all blacks as uneducated or lazy. Haven't we learned that the researchers themselves are not free from harboring stereotypes and framing their research to support such thoughts, even if not done consciously? After all, the very movement to define race was a racist one that relied on xenophobic and white supremacist notions to categorize humans. So it's important that we not read all research, or press reporting on such research, as absolute truth. A lab coat does not a god make.

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Yeah I believe that this could be too, that's to bad many people still doesn't feel like this... and keep avoiding the reality.

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Interesting point of view, I think that in a general view it may got nothing to do being a good parent and being an interracial couple, it is all about the attitude.

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