The Color Blind Heart
Post date: 2007-01-04
Jodene Morrell, a San Francisco teacher of German and Japanese heritage, stopped dating white men after a bad experience with her high school sweetheart.
``He thought it would be interesting to date an Asian woman because of the quiet, submissive image portrayed on `Shogun,' '' said Morrell, who instructs fourth-graders at a public school in Chinatown. ``I broke up with him because of that.''
Morrell, 26, is now married to Ernest Morrell, an African American man. And she says she faces even more prejudice: from whites who believe she ``married down,'' and from blacks who feel that she stole ``another good black man.''
``People have given us dirty stares and called us names,'' said Morrell. Once, in 1993, a middle-aged white woman walked up to the couple and said, ``Keep to your own race.''
The experiences of the Morrells and numerous other young people show that interracial dating can still be a minefield -- although interracial marriages nationally have more than quadrupled to 1.4 million since 1970.
Dozens of young people interviewed at Bay Area schools, colleges and shopping malls said they often encounter angry stares, racist comments, shock and disapproval from parents and peers when they date interracially -- especially
if the skin color of their partner is darker than theirs.
The fact that the younger generations -- unexposed to Jim Crow laws and other interracial bans of old -- are struggling with the issue, even in the Bay Area, indicates that skin color is at least as big a barrier as anything else when it comes to forming relationships.
Indeed, Morrell's mother -- who herself defied detractors by marrying outside her race -- initially urged her not to marry an African American.
``When I told my mom I was marrying Ernest, she broke into tears,'' Morrell said quietly. For the first time ever, she started talking about the difficulties of dating outside her race. ``She kept asking, `What about your kids?' But then I asked her, `What about me?' ''
Morrell's husband acknowledged that his mother told him at 18 that she was sad about so many ``professional black men marrying non-blacks.'' But his family now loves her very much.
Most experts and interracial couples would agree that there is a lot less open hostility in the Bay Area, a place known for its diversity and progressive attitudes. But nevertheless, Morrell says, things are far from perfect here.
``I think my perception was, `Wow,' there's a lot more interracial dating than in San Diego where we lived before,'' she said.
``But it's not as popular as people think. In fact, I think it's extremely difficult . . . and it will be a long time -- if ever -- before race is no longer an issue.''
At the fifth annual Hapa Issues Forum this spring, hundreds of multiracial students gathered at the University of California at Berkeley to debate ``the changing perceptions of mixed-race America.''
During an afternoon workshop on dating, a 52-year-old Japanese American woman told a circle of young people that she didn't think that things were all that different from the 1950s -- despite great advances in the civil rights movement.
``I did feel that there would be more open-mindedness,'' said the Berkeley woman, who asked that her name not be used. ``To some extent, yes. But in other respects, I feel there is an invisible line between racial groups.''
Indeed, a recent lunch hour at the racially diverse Galileo High School in San Francisco seemed divided along invisible racial lines.
Ariana, a light-skinned Nicaraguan, said that because there are so few Nicaraguans at Galileo, she sometimes sits with her friend, Randy Merritt, in an area of the courtyard seemingly reserved for African Americans.
Randy, who is black, and Ariana get along well with each other. But both agreed that if they dated they would get flak from other students of all races.
In addition, Ariana admitted that her mother would be very upset if she brought home someone black like Randy.
``I couldn't bring home a black boy,'' the 11th-grader said. ``Anybody else . . . white, Latino . . . that's OK.''
Randy said his parents would be much less of a problem if he dated outside his race. But he worried more about not being accepted by his peers at school.
``If I went over to the Asian side over there, they probably wouldn't accept me,'' Randy sighed.
Ariana feels this is the bottom line:
``If two (people of different races) are friends, they (peers) wouldn't trip. But if you take it to the next level . . . then people start talking. When I was dating a black guy, nobody said anything to my face. But I ended up hearing that other people thought I was trying to be black.''
Andrew Barlow, who's been teaching the history of race to UC Berkeley students for more than a decade, believes that some of the resistance to multiracial dating stems from the desire to have ``ethnic solidarity.''
Charles Byrd, publisher and editor of the online magazine ``Interracial Voice,'' believes such racial division makes little sense when so many people are mixed.
``It's silly, of course, because the (American culture) is essentially a mulatto one,'' said Byrd, who is white, black and Cherokee.
``Yet you find many trying their damnedest to maintain mutually exclusive racial and cultural designations.''
The history of slavery and segregation can affect -- and in some cases dictate -- attitudes on interracial dating, particularly for blacks and whites.
As late as 1967, some states had anti-miscegenation laws preventing interracial marriages. That year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled such laws unconstitutional.
Since then, the number of racially mixed marriages has gone up dramatically among Latinos, Asians and whites -- numbering more than 2 percent of the U.S. population, according to ``Interracial'' magazine. Even so, black- white unions remain much less common.
``It seems like interracial relationships between Latinos and whites are OK, but not with blacks and whites,'' said 16-year-old Jessica Navarro, a 10th-grader at Oakland Technical High School, which is predominantly black. ``One girl got called an Oreo for dating a white guy.''
Bateen Browning said he could never date a white woman because his mother would ``disown me,'' but the 20-year-old, black rap artist said he could date a woman of Asian descent.
``I could date a Filipina because my grandmother is Filipina,'' Browning said as he strolled through Richmond's Hilltop shopping mall with a friend.
The reason that blacks and whites remain the most controversial of the mixed matches is that America's history of slavery, segregation and bans on interracial marriages has made it difficult for many to forgive and forget, said San Rafael marriage counselor Joel Crohn.
``The trajectory of the browning of America is different for blacks,'' said Crohn, author of ``Mixed Marriages.'' ``They were forced over here by slavery, most stigmatized by society. It's really black-and-white relationships that are most difficult and most complicated.''
However, pressure from families, peers and society are not the only reasons things fall apart. Sometimes the couples simply can't handle the strains that interracial relationships must endure.
Yaa Asantewa ``Taunya'' Vonfeldt, an African American who grew up in the predominantly white town of Santa Rosa, broke through the black-white barrier six years ago when she fell in love with a white man and had a child with him.
At the time, Vonfeldt, 25 and a junior at San Francisco State University, thought love could conquer all. But after their son arrived, race began to divide the couple.
``My ex-boyfriend never really had to deal with (racial) discrimination until we had our son,'' Vonfeldt said. ``He couldn't believe that people would say bad things.''
Things got worse, she said, when her blue-eyed, curly haired son, Avery, started identifying himself only as African American.
``I tried to explain to my ex it's because he was never around,'' she said.
The two have since broken up.
That experience is among the reasons Vonfeldt has become somewhat politically militant in her view that blacks should not date outside their own people.
``I have too much respect for African men now,'' she said. ``Before, race was never an issue. Now I see the deterioration of the African community. For our community to be strong and proud, we need to stick together.''
Interracial couples often find that their own families can present some of the biggest obstacles to their relationships.
Chuck Warren, a soft-spoken African American student at San Francisco State University, has been dating Mary, who is Korean American, for nearly two years.
Although Chuck's family in the working-class town of Vallejo has no qualms about the relationship, Mary said it is hard for her parents to see beyond the media-fueled stereotypes of blacks as drug dealers, thieves or gang members.
``I'm pretty open about it,'' said the 22-year-old Mary. ``But I have a lot of problems with my parents. They don't really deal with it well.''
Chuck and Mary are not alone.
Santa Rosa Junior College student Larry Newsom said it was never tough to accept the family and friends of his former white girlfriends. But when they met his black family, that's when ``a lot of things knock heads.''
``When you bring someone outside your race to a family barbecue, it can be . . . tough,'' said Newsom, a 26-year-old psychology student who is now married to a black woman.
``Some of my (white) dates would feel so out of place, they . . . couldn't relate. That was a sign. If they couldn't feel comfortable with my family, I didn't think the relationship could go on.''
Despite all the pitfalls, dating across racial lines seems to be flourishing, even if not gaining wide-scale acceptance.
In Fairfield, a working-class and racially diverse town near Travis Air Force Base, Lindy Ford said she only knows ``one person who doesn't date black people.''
Ford, who is a 19-year-old white and Latina woman, is raising a son whose father is black. Although she admits her parents are not that supportive, she said her friends think it's no big deal because many are also dating interracially.
Interracial dating also seems to be gaining acceptance and popularity on the Internet, where there are literally dozens of Web sites dedicated to interracial dating, marriages and families.
In Los Angeles, Kymberly Jean is running a successful dating service called, Opposites Attract.
And in San Francisco, Gary of Men of All Colors Together said that membership is declining because the issue of interracial dating in the gay community is not as politically charged as it was 20 years ago.
``I think those difficulties are less of an issue because younger people have grown up with much more of a multicultural experience through Internet, television, education and other forms of the media,'' said Gary, who goes by his first name only.
``I feel that there are so many interracial couples now that I don't even think that race would be an issue,'' Mary said as she clutched Chuck's arm while the two strolled through Stonestown shopping mall.
``We're all the same,'' declared Chuck, ``under the skin.''