The topic for the Nov. 12 Levy Lecture – and the title of her most recent book – was “Interracial Relationships between White Men and Black Women,” presented by Cheryl Judice, Ph.D.
At the onset of the lecture, Dr. Judice stated that this topic frequently stirs up strong emotions and the occasional nasty email or comment. Some people presume she is presenting her opinions or making disparaging remarks about black men.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Dr. Judice is a sociologist, and she is trained to observe social trends and ask questions about those observations. Her degree is from Northwestern and she serves as a practicum instructor in Human Development and Psychological Services in Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy.
She introduced the topic by asking the audience a few questions, not only to spur audience participation but to rebuff some preconceptions. Which part of the country has the highest concentration of mixed-race couples? That would be the Washington, D.C. and Virginia, where one out of every six couples identifies as interracial, a mere 52 years after the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Loving vs. Virginia, which struck down all the states’ laws banning interracial marriage.
Of married couples in the United States, what percentage are interracial, made up of a white person and someone of a different race, such as Latinx, Asian or black? Seventeen percent of all married couples identify as interracial, and that number is increasing every year. Of those, the greatest number are between whites and Latinx, followed by whites and Asians, and then whites and blacks. Nineteen percent of interracial marriages are between whites and blacks.
Homing in on the topic, Dr. Judice said that 15% of black men are married to white women, but only 4% of black women are married to white men. If anything, black women are late coming to this social option.
Which major religion encourages interracial marriage as one of the major tenets of their religious philosophy? The Baha’i believe that world peace can be achieved only if people are part of one global race.
Why are interracial relationships—and the lack of same-race options for black women—a topic of interest? Dr. Judice has a few theories. There is a numerical imbalance between black men and black women of marriageable age in the U.S. This dearth of available partners is a source of shame within the community and not easily discussed. But the marriage squeeze is real.
Some reasons for the lack of available men include economic instability, higher incarceration rates, poor health/health care challenges, and homelessness. There is an educational imbalance, too. According to the 2018 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 23% of black women versus 14% of black men earned bachelor’s degrees. These imbalances make it challenging for black women to “marry up;” the social science term for this is hypergamy.
It is an endemic problem: More women of all races are in college compared to men, which makes the gender imbalance more pronounced. The outnumbering starts at age 16 and by ages 25-29, for every three black women there are only two black men. Additionally, black men feel greater freedom to date outside their race compared to black women.
Dr. Judice’s research focuses “on the intersection of race, class and gender.” In 2008, her first book on this topic, “Interracial Marriages Between Black Women and White Men,” was the first academic text published on the topic. A few years ago she followed up with some of those couples and found that some of them had divorced.
For this new book, she interviewed 60 black women between the ages of 25 and 70 who are in committed relationships with white men. “The book contains 11 vignettes on the lives of black women dating white men; 14 interviews with black women who are married to white men, 10 interviews with black women who are divorced from white men, and 5 interviews with white men by themselves on why they date and/or marry black women,” Dr. Judice said.
What she found surprised and encouraged her. Most prominently, it is easier now, compared to even just a few years ago, for black women to date and be in long-term relationships with white men. The relationships seemed to be positive, respectful and loving, many lasting 10 years or more. The only race-related difficulty that was mentioned occurred if the couples had children together. If the children were light-skinned, the women were often mistaken for being the nanny. Ouch.
Questions and comments from the crowd verified the challenges of dating. Several audience members spoke of beautiful, well-educated, self-supporting daughters who are not dating—and not by choice. Another person mentioned a lovely friend, a junior at Northwestern, who had not been asked out on one date the first three years of school. These concerned parents and grandparents eventually stop asking questions about their children’s social lives.
Dr. Judice said she believes black women are at the forefront of a trend. And the trend is growing, which is a good thing. As Dr. Judice reminded the attentive crowd, “no society has ever thrived without a strong family structure.”
The next free Levy Lecture is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Dec. 10, when Anette Isaacs will discuss “Silent Heroes: the Resistance Movement in Nazi Germany.” Levy Lectures are held in the Linden Room of the Levy Senior Center, 300 Dodge Ave.