Constructing interracial couples: Multiple narratives and images

Erica Chito Childs, Fordham University


A review of research on “interracial” marriages and couples shows that approaches to this topic are directed toward questions about the couples and their motives for marrying; the studies' presuppositions are both individualistically and psychologically framed. They neglect to examine “interracial” marriages as phenomena whose social meanings emerge out of a collective (institutional, cultural, political) context, both social and historical. Using a multi-dimensional analysis that examines the group and institutional context of these unions, the social meanings of these unions and marriages are studied, asking: “What beliefs and practices ‘construct’ these couples as ‘interracial’´?” and, “What do these unions evoke in the groups and communities they live within?” The methods of the study include: in-depth interviews with fifteen black-white couples; focus group interviews with white and black churches and schools; a cultural analysis of popular depictions of interracial couples in films. These varied methods are drawn upon to discuss and to analyze the social significance of interracial unions and the meanings attached to these unions for some white and black communities. The study highlights the social experiences of the couples and the ways these people understand and interpret group and community responses to their marriages. An oppositional and racialized discourse against interracial relationships was found to characterize both white and black individuals and groups. However, its expression was found to vary among whites versus blacks. Even the couples themselves provided different interpretations of this oppositional discourse. Among the all the couples interviewed, three groups emerged: those who saw “race” as an overwhelming social reality circumscribing their lives; those who denied the importance of “race” in either society or in their own lives; and those whose responses were ambivalent with respect to the importance of race for others as well as for themselves. These group responses were not found to be related to social class or to the couples' levels of education.

Subject Area

Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology|African Americans

Recommended Citation

Childs, Erica Chito, "Constructing interracial couples: Multiple narratives and images" (2001). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3022793.