Exploring Multiracial Individuals’ Comfort with Intimate Interracial Relationships

Exploring Multiracial Individuals’ Comfort with Intimate Interracial Relationships

Journal of Social Issues
Volume 65, Number 1 (2009)
pp. 87–103

Courtney M. Bonam
Stanford University

Margaret Shih, Assistant Professor, Organizational Psychology
University of Michigan

This article explores the relationship between a heightened awareness of race as a social construct and comfort in interracial relationships across varying levels of intimacy among multiracial and monoracial individuals. Study 1 finds that multiracial individuals express higher levels of comfort in intimate interracial relationships than monoracial White and minority individuals. Study 2 finds that belief in race as a social construction mediates the differences between monoracial and multiracial individuals in their comfort in intimate interracial relationships.  Implications of these findings for interracial relationships are discussed.

Interracial relationships in the United States, while on the rise, are still relatively uncommon. Research finds people are more likely to live near (Massey & Denton, 1993; Zubrinsky Charles, 2003), marry (Crary, 2007; Fu, 2001; Lee & Fernandez, 1998; Qian & Lichter, 2001; Root, 2001; Tucker & Mitchell-Kernan, 1990), and develop friendships (Hallinan & Williams, 1989; Moody, 2001; Olfson et al., 2000; Quillian & Campbell, 2003; Tatum, 1997) with those who are ethnically and racially similar to themselves than those who are not. In addition, research suggests that the few interracial relationships that do form tend to be more superficial in nature than relationships between those from the same ethnic/racial background (Sigelman, Bledsoe, Welch, & Combs, 1996; Welch, Sigelman, Bledsoe, & Combs, 2001).  Towles-Schwen and Fazio (2003) found that people’s comfort with interracial relationships tends to be greater at lower levels of intimacy than at higher levels. This may impact the type of interactions that may occur in interracial relationships.  For example, Welch and colleagues (2001) found White families rarely enter the homes of their Black neighbors even though they may have frequent positive interactions and consider these families to be part of their social network.

While this evidence suggests people in the general population are less comfortable with more intimate interracial relationships, the bulk of this research has focused on monoracial populations.We propose these interracial relationship patterns are less likely to be observed among multiracial individuals.  Specifically, multiracial individuals will report more comfort with intimate interracial relationships than will monoracial people of White or minority descent…

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