News & Politics

Is This the Last Generation That Will Face Opposition to Interracial Marriage?

In her memoir, “Kissing Outside the Lines” actress and writer Diane Farr unveils the xenophobia and racism that continues to persist in, of all things, the realm of love.

In his 2003 book “Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity, and Adoption,” Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy says that interracial relationships should be a “focus of inquiry for anyone seriously interested in understanding and improving American society.'' Kennedy draws on history, literature, and policy to illustrate how intimate relationships are one of the last arenas in which racism is still tolerated in the United States.  

In her new memoir, “Kissing Outside the Lines: A True Story of Love and Race and Happily Ever After,” actress and writer Diane Farr arrives at the same conclusion, albeit with a few more funny family stories and drunken escapades. Farr writes about what happened when she, and others, decided to shack up with someone from a different race, unveiling the xenophobia and racism that continues to persist in, of all things, the realm of love.

 “But for all the social progress we have made over the last thirty years in public – in education and real estate, and business and friendship even – forward movement has not fully crossed over into the privacy of people’s homes, “Farr writes in her introduction, pointing out that sometimes even the most outwardly progressive parents recoil at the idea of their children marrying outside their race or religion.

Farr fell in love with a first-generation Korean-American man.  If this doesn’t sound like the scandal of the century, well, Farr didn’t think so either--until she met the in-laws. Farr recounts what it was like to be engaged to a man whose extensive family who had no interest in opening up their family to a half-Irish half-Italian woman from New York. 

Farr’s own story is, for the most part, funny and sweet and she ultimately forges a good relationship with her husband’s close-knit extended family. This is due, in no small part, to her determination to make things work, which drove her, among other things, to deliver a speech in Korean at their wedding. But for the other five couples profiled in her book, happily ever after proved a bit more elusive. 

There is white Lisa who had twin boys with black Dave, and whose mother thinks that biracial relationships are unfair to children. There is Jennifer whose evangelical parents cut of their relationship when things got serious with Hindu Sonu. And African American Natalia and Caucasian Jake who have avoided getting married because they feel the disapproval from Jake’s mom would cast a black cloud over the day.

On a brighter note, Farr also profiles Palestinian-English David and his Mexican-American wife Suzanne who are loved and supported by their families, and Israeli Ellie and Trinidian James whose persistence and patience led to acceptance.

“I have never heard from my friends or peers that interracial relationships are a bad idea – this is just something we hear from our families. As a kid you grow up learning everyone is equal, but then parents still feel comfortable acting otherwise,” Farr said, in an interview. 

The first laws banning interracial marriage between blacks and whites appeared in the late 17th century in Southern Colonies. By the early 20th century, 30 states banned interracial marriages, 16 of which still had such laws on the books when the Supreme Court declared such prohibitions unconstitutional in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia. 

Five weeks after newlyweds Mildred and Richard Loving wedded in 1958 sheriffs came to their home in rural Virginia and arrested them. Mildred was black and Richard was white, which meant they had violated Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statue the “Racial Integrity Act of 1924.” The appropriately named Lovings fought back and their case made its way to the Supreme Court, who sided with the couple stating that “the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.” (A new documentary on the case, “The Loving Story,” will be airing on HBO in February.)

Though it seems that in recent years Americans have come a long way when it comes to accepting love between different races. GOOD magazine recently took a poll and discovered that 85% percent of millennials support interracial marriage between all groups, and around 90% of the people surveyed said they would be okay with a loved one marrying someone from a different race. This is surely a sign of progress – even if 40% of republicans in Mississippi still think it should be illegal.

Farr, who interviewed 25 interracial couples while researching the book, believes that we are close to undoing the lingering biases. 

“We just need the dialogue, how to talk about it with our families, because the tension is still really just at home,” she said. “This is all about what we tell our kids – we are just one generation away from it being gone.”

As she relays in her story, it took Farr awhile to figure out how to talk about with her new in-laws, including when to stand up for herself, like when she must defend their choice to get married up in the California Sierras, and when to step back and accept differences. But now, she said, the fact that she is a white woman married to a Korean man hardly even registers now.

 “When we first started dating it felt cool and progressive, and then it all faded away and it was just us,” Farr said. “By the time we got married we were just pulling from different cultures for the fun of it.” 

Elissa Strauss is a freelance writer who lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is a journalist, essayist and blogger. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Salon, the Village Voice, The American Prospect, the New York Daily News, Tablet, and the Forward, where she is also a contributing editor to the Sisterhood blog.
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