Interracial couples at Northwestern exemplify increasing tolerance nationwide

Audrey Cheng

As acceptance of interracial marriage rises in the United States, an increasing number of mixed-race couples are tying the knot, according to a report released Thursday by the Pew Research Center.

The report, titled “The Rise of Intermarriage,” was compiled after the Washington, D.C.-based think tank conducted several nationwide telephone surveys in late 2009.

“About 15 percent of all new marriages in the United States in 2010 were between spouses of a different race or ethnicity from one another, more than double the share in 1980 (6.7 percent),” according to the report.

More than four in 10 people also said intermarriage has been a change for the better in American society. Among 18-to-29-year-olds, that number was six in 10, a statistic that may be reflected among interracial couples at Northwestern.

Weinberg junior Pauline Park first started dating fellow Weinberg junior Weston Grimes in high school. Park is Korean-American and Grimes is white.

Park said although her friends accepted her interracial relationship, her parents were initially hesitant.

“I think coming from a minority, they were hoping that I would find someone that understands their culture,” Park said.

She said she hasn’t noticed a dramatic difference in her life while dating someone of another race.

“I’ve always been in both the Korean-American community and the larger community,” Park said. “It would make a difference for some people because they would have to get used a whole new dynamic of people.”

Weinberg junior Kyle Trimble, who is white, said he never met an Arab person before meeting his girlfriend, Daily staffer Sarah Daoud.

Trimble said he values the cultural differences between himself and Daoud, who is of Lebanese and Palestinian descent.

“Sarah is really accepting of other people’s lifestyleand for me, I’m just extremely interested in learning about her family and her culture and history,” Trimble said.

Trimble added that he has encountered some disapproval from members of the community.

“Sometimes we’re walking somewhere and Sarah will get a sharp look or shake of the head, but there has never been anything verbal,” Trimble said. “But I can’t think of anybody my age in a interracial relationship that has had an issue that they’ve brought it to me.”

Reuel Rogers, a professor of political science at NU, said research suggests growing support for interracial marriage and provides evidence that American attitudes on race have liberalized over time.

“The younger generation is certainly more open-minded about interracial marriages,” Rogers said.

But Rogers added that the rise in the numbers of interracial marriage is not a solid indicator of racial progress and improvement in racial attitude.

“I think there is far too much emphasis on it because the numbers are relatively small,” Rogers said. “There are more pressing issues that have to deal with racial inequality that I would rather see greater focus on. This is one indication, but it would be a mistake to take this as a sign as overall racial progress in the country, because if we look at other indicators that have more meaning for the larger swab of minority populations in this country, we can see that there are still glaring racial disparities and inequalities that we need to attend to.”

McCormick freshman Jesse Zhang said although he is accepting of interracial relationships, he wouldn’t want to be in one himself.

“I just believe that marrying in your own race preserves cultural identity,” Zhang said. “A lot is based off of family and social customs is something that is more desirable. I would prefer to marry an Asian.”

But Zhang is part of the shrinking crowd of Americans not open to choosing intermarriage – 63 percent of people surveyed said it “would be fine” if a member of their family was involved in an interracial relationship, according to the Pew study. Additionally, 35 percent of Americans say an immediate family member or close relative is currently married to someone of a different race.

As tolerance of intermarriage spreads across the country, Ald. Delores Holmes (5th) said Evanston has long been an open-minding community.

“Evanston has been a voluntary, desegregated community for years,” Holmes said. “When I was the director at Family Focus in 1976, there were interracial couples then. I think people choose who they want, and I think Evanston is very accepting of that, of whoever you love, whether it’s a same-sex couple or interracial couple.”

Weinberg senior Naveed Heydari, who is of Persian and Ecuadorian descent, said he was attracted to his white girlfriend particularly because she is of a different race.

“I think you always look for something new that you aren’t used to,” Heydari said. “Growing up, going to parties of Persians, I would see a lot of Persian girls. Seeing something new made it unique to me.”

He said his parents are generally accepting of his relationship, focusing more about family morals than issues of race.

Weinberg junior Anthony Iglesias, who is Latino, said his parents have also been accepting of his relationships with people of dissimilar family backgrounds from his own.

“Every relationship that I’ve been in, my girlfriend’s background, in terms of wealth, has always been way higher than my family’s class background,” Iglesias said. “My parents are always very satisfied and they understand that the people that I choose to be with are acceptable by their class and race.”

Iglesias also said misconceptions exist about interracial relationships.

“A lot of people have asked me about subjects that … are based upon a lot of really rigid stereotypes, but none of my relationships have really focused on race,” Iglesias said. “We do have a sense that there are some people who struggle with the idea of an interracial relationship.”

Overall, Heydari said communities such as NU are quite accepting of interracial couples.

“It’s the new norm,” he said.

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