On April 26, 2016, Old Navy sent out a tweet that drove the Twitter-Verse into a frenzy and rapidly sparked backlash from the loveliest of twitter trolls. “What was the cause of this venomous reaction?” you might be asking. It was a tweet for an Old Navy sale ad that featured a multi-cultural family consisting of a white male father, black mother, and a black child. This photo looked like any wonderful stock photo found in any advertisement in American retail, which always features youthful attractive happy people. America! Yay!
But there was one problem: this couple was interracial. The horror!
When I found out about this controversy, I thought two things. First, racism is still alive and well. Well, of course it is, dummies. Next, I thought, “There are people who still shop at Old Navy?”
In 2013, General Mills faced a similar controversy after posting a Cheerios commercial that featured a mixed-race family. The backlash came in the form of YouTube comments from people stating that viewing the video made them want to vomit and calling it disgusting. Social media is full of such wonderful human beings. But make no mistake: social media is a reflection of the larger society, although online usage is usually skewed towards a younger demographic (a.k.a millennials).
Young People Are Open-Minded, Right?
Aren’t young people supposed to be more open-minded than their racist forefathers? Well, according to a Pew Research Center report surveying adults aged 18-29 years old, nine out of ten approved of a family member marrying a person of an outside race. In 2013, Pew Research found that 12% of newlywed couples were of the mixed-raced variety. But those numbers were cut in half when looking at the total percentage of interracial marriages nationwide: that same study stated that about 6.3% of all married couples were interracial.
Nevertheless, it appears that the younger generation is slowly becoming more open to the idea of marriage, dating, and friendships across the color line. Interracial dating in the United States comes with a lot of baggage and assumptions. Each person brings their unique culture and all the socio-political factors of their respective racial background into a mixed-race relationship.
As an older millennial, I’ve dated outside my race on numerous occasions and a couple of stories stick out in my mind. In 2008, I was dating a Russian student who was a dance major at my university. She invited me to one of her dance recitals, and I wanted to meet with her afterward. She was against that because her parents would be attending that night. They were totally against her frolicking with a colored boy. Why oh why, do we import more racists? Good job, America!
Besides the racism from white folks, I had to deal with the disapproval from black folks. The random looks of disdain from fellow black people who figured I’d sold out for dating Becky (sorry, Beyonce).
It’s not just older folks who make ignorant assumptions. An intern at one of my first jobs out of grad school was surprised when I showed her a picture my current partner (the love of my life). This intern was a black woman who was around my age, early thirties. She was taken aback by the fact that my girlfriend was also black. She figured I would be with some wholesome type of white woman, due to my educational credentials and demeanor (a.k.a black nerd/hipster/hip-hophead).
I’m obviously not dating the Russian woman, and I’ll probably never see that intern again. Yet those stories show us that when it comes to interracial dating and marriage we have a lot of work to do.
In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court made a decision regarding the now famous Loving v. Virginia case that outlawed racist miscegenation laws across the country. For the first time ever, people of different racial groups could marry openly without fear of legal reprisal.
Laws don’t change social attitudes, though. To this day, we see racist backlash against mixed-race families in online ads.
Sexual Racism? What the Heck is That?
Obviously, not all is well when it comes to the land of interracial marriage and dating. The Daily Show did a piece on ‘sexual racism’. Wonderful! A new term for all you college students to learn and use to sound like smarty pants. To break down the term it simply means when a person chooses to be romantically linked to only a certain race of people or decides to date solely people within their own respective race.
The Daily Show skit is funny, and you should just watch for the beautiful sister Jessica Williams and her struggles to find a date. It highlights some interesting facts when it comes to dating and marriage across the color line. In the skit, OKCupid co-founder, Christian Rudder said, “We found that 82 percent of non-black men have some bias against black women… And Asian men get the fewest messages and the worst ratings of any group of guys.” Researchers reached this conclusion from analyzing the dating website’s data and algorithm.
The news doesn’t get much better. Another study, highlighted on the Daily Beast, revealed that sexual racism is just good old fashioned racism masked in the language of love and desire. A similar Pew Research Center study found that black men are much more likely to marry outside their race than black women. The opposite is true for Asian men in America. Asian American women are more than doubly likely to marry outside their respective race. If dating and marriage aren’t tough enough already, you single folks can add racism into the mix!
The original Old Navy ad that sparked the backlash featured comments like, “Old Navy hates white babies” or featured the #whitegenocide hashtag. These racist twitter trolls are a jolly bunch. YouTube is the king of racist comments; just watch Lana Del Rey‘s “National Anthem” music video that features black rapper ASAP Rocky has her love interest. You’ll see a whole host of commenters remarking about how Ms. Del Rey is “too pretty and pure to be with a black dude.” That’s one of the nicer comments.
The world of pornography is filled with a whole slew of racism and sexual fetishism, sexualizing people through the lenses of race and ethnicity. That’s another conversation for another time, though. I remember reading an article about an Asian-American woman who discovered her partner’s (a white man) hidden stash of Asian fetish themed porn. There’s a wonderful Salon article about the fetishizing of Asian women.
Sexual fetishizing did come to my mind the few times I’ve dated outside my race. It was the constant thought, “is this girl with me because I’m cool as a fan (which I am) or because she believes the sexual stereotypes surrounding black men?” We black men all have large hands…apparently.
Is There Any Hope?
Yes. The Pew Research Center report showed that 49% of American citizens under five are non-white. That means the future of American life is one that will feature a more diverse citizenry. Hopefully, more diversity will lead to people being forced to learn and respect people from different racial and cultural backgrounds.
Yet we don’t have to wait until 2030 to find hope. In response to the venomous and racist tweets in response the Old Navy ad, there was plenty of positive feedback. Many people from mixed-race families posted pictures and supported the ad with positive tweets.
The was an outpouring of people who were in mixed-race families and couples that took on the twitter trolls and showed people a deeper reflection of family in America. Long gone are the days of the white middle-class “Leave it to Beaver” nuclear family that existed only in the minds of 1950s Mad Men Hollywood execs.
There is no problem finding love with someone who doesn’t come from your racial background. If you vibe and have a mutual respect for each other, go ahead and build your relationship. If there’s no sexual fetishizing of a partner due to their racial background and you both care about each other, go ahead and make love, not war. Today in America, family and love come in all varieties. Racism is the tragic sin of America that will probably never go away, but I am hopeful that love sometimes can conquer hate.