When Columbia Pictures found out what the film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” was about, they didn’t want to do it, recalled. And they did everything they could to stop filming,” recalled, Katharine Houghton, the actress who played the female half of the America’s first on screen bi-racial couple.
“They kept saying, ‘Nobody’s going to ever come and see this film. We’re going to lose millions of dollars on this film,’” Houghton told the Associated Press in an article celebrating the 50th anniversary of the historic film.
The studio was wrong. The movie made more money for Columbia than any film before it, earned 10 Oscar nominations — winning two — and landed among the 100 greatest movies selected by the American Film Institute.
The film, with its radical-for-its-time interracial romance, marked the first time a White actress and a Black actor kissed in a major motion picture. Some movie theaters in the South refused to show it.
Fifty years later, things have changed on screen and in real life. Fans see its effects in modern films, like Jordan Peele’s new hit, “Get Out,” and in commercials for Cheerios and Chase Bank celebrating interracial couples. Real life also shows how far America has come with 15.1% of new marriages in 2010 involving couples of different races or ethnicities.
While things have come a long way, we all know racism still exist, even in dating.
According to Pew Research Center data, the share of all interracial or interethnic marriages in America is at a historic high of 8.4%. , according to Pew Research Center data. Compare that with 1980, when less than 7% of new marriages took place between interracial couples and the share of overall marriages was just 3%.
Growing numbers have come with growing acceptance. In 1987, Pew found that only 13% of Americans completely agreed that interracial dating was acceptable; that share grew to 56% in 2009. Young people are even more open-minded: Roughly 9 in 10 millennials said they’d be OK with a family member marrying someone of another race or ethnicity.
But the significance of the change goes beyond simple acceptance. When Pew asked about the impact of interracial marriage on society, 43% of Americans said more intermarriage has been a change for the better.
Interracial relationships aren’t a panacea to end racism, of course; nor can any type of relationship be over-generalized as better than another. But interracial relationships are actively helping make America a more diverse, accepting place. Here’s how.
The more visible high-profile interracial couples are, the more normalized they become.
Witnessing interracial couples in pop culture hasn’t immediately rid Americans of racist ideas, but it helps. Remember how shocking it was when the interracial couple of Olivia and Fitz appeared on our TV Screens in Scandal. It was pretty shocking viewing even in 2012 when it first debuted. Now, after 5 years of watching the show, the fact that Olivia and Fitz are an interracial couple is far less important to the most viewers than the shows next outrageous storyline.
Then there’s the persistent presence of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West on our magazine covers show how it’s done in real life. Just as negative racial portrayals contribute to negative stereotypes, more positive visibility for cross-race couples in media makes a difference. We learn through seeing and observing models, as psychologists have shown; the fancy scientific term is “social cognitive theory.”
“Symbolic communication influences human thought, affect, and action,” psychologist Albert Bandura wrote in 2001, and symbolic communication includes mass media. “Human nature is a vast potentiality that can be fashioned by direct and observational experience.”
When it comes to cross-race relations in your friend base and family… people are able to focus on the unique qualities of individuals, rather than on the groups they belong to.”
Which means having a more diverse social circle or a person of different race in your immediate family can be an antidote to prejudice and stereotyping. Match.com spoke with several mixed-race partners and found that the couples’ own families grew more accepting and less prejudiced the more they had regular contact with their children’s spouses.
It’s Not All Good
Conventional wisdom and past academic research has suggested that interracial relationships fare worse than same-race ones. The occasional confused look is the least of the challenges faced by couples in interracial and intercultural marriages. Being raised in different cultures means couples have to negotiate different communication patterns, agree on what they want for their mixed-race children, and learn to accept new traditions.
While these forces are real, studies indicate both positive and negatives of interracial attractions. Several studies show that the differences between interracial couples don’t necessarily strain the relationship itself. Moreover, the palpable differences between two people can be a positive force: Research from 1997 found that “individuals involved in interracial romantic relationships report they value each other’s differences as providing novelty and contributing to self-expansion.”
Some more than others
One outcome of interracial is multiracial families. In 2000, the first year the U.S. Census Bureau allowed Americans to check more than one race on their forms, 6.8 million did so. In 2010, that number was up to nearly 9 million. By 2050, it’s predicted that 54% of the U.S. population will be minorities.
Despite this growing trend, Blacks still aren’t the favored race when it comes to interracial dating.
OkCupid data recently revealed that while users claim to be open-minded, racial background makes a difference for matching. And not all races approach interracial dating in the same way.
Moreover, there are certain races that suffered more from these judgments than others. The OkCupid data shows that Black men and women both face the biggest “penalties” from daters of other races, an unfortunate sign of continued discrimination against Blacks. The OkCupid data showed similar results for same-sex couples, albeit with slightly less pronounced biases. Recent research shows that biracial singles are the most desired ethnicity when it comes to online dating.
Interracial dating is on the rise, but it hasn’t ended racism. According to sociologist Jennifer Lee, author of The Diversity Paradox, the OkCupid data is in line with broader demographic data. “Racial boundaries are fading more rapidly for today’s new immigrant groups than for Black Americans,” she said, as more Asians and Latinos seem to benefit from cross-race acceptance. Even as we make progress, certain prejudices and long-standing misperceptions persist.
But we’re getting there, Lee said: “Increased intermarriage and interracial dating indicate that the racial boundaries that have long separated groups are slowly beginning to fade.” America is changing, and cross-racial connections are just one powerful force helping us on the way.