Academic journal article Indo - Pacific Journal of Phenomenology

The Lived Experience of Discrimination of White Women in Committed Interracial Relationships with Black Men

Academic journal article Indo - Pacific Journal of Phenomenology

The Lived Experience of Discrimination of White Women in Committed Interracial Relationships with Black Men

Article excerpt

Introduction

In South Africa, discrimination against interracial marriages has, historically, been both normative and legal. From a socio-political perspective, white men got the message that white women needed protection from involuntary intimacy with black men (Hyslop, 1995). Construed beliefs of this nature informed the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act No. 55 of 1949 and the Immorality Act No. 23 of 1957, which banned interracial marriages and criminalised interracial sexual intercourse (Van der Merwe & Du Plessis, 2004). These laws were abolished in 1985 by the Immorality and Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Amendment Act No. 72 of 1985 (Van der Merwe & Du Plessis, 2004). Since the proclamation of this law, South African statistics indicate that, even though committed interracial relationships remain infrequent, there is a noticeable increase in these relationships (Amoateng, 2004; Jacobson, Amoateng, & Heaton, 2004). Nonetheless, same-race relationships remain the unwritten rule in South Africa, and interracial couples still face many difficulties (Ratele & Duncan, 2003). Research pertaining to interracial marriages in western countries such as the United States (Batson, Qian, & Lichter, 2006; Hibbler & Shinew, 2002; Schoen & Cheng, 2006), Australia (Ellinghaus, 2002) and Canada (Uskul, Lalonde, & Cheng, 2007) has been elaborate. However, Troy, Lewis-Smith, and Laurenceau (2006) and Killian (2001) indicate that the phenomenon of interracial marriages remains understudied. In South Africa, specifically, research investigating interracial marriages has been limited to date (Jacobson et al., 2004; Mojapelo-Batka, 2008).

Many of the studies conducted in first world countries have been quantitative in nature and investigated black-white interracial relationships in terms of societal attitudes towards interracial unions (Hudson & Hines-Hudson, 1999), the coping strategies of interracial couples (Foeman & Nance, 1999; Hill & Thomas, 2000), support or opposition from families and society (Zebroski, 1999), the experience of prejudice (Schafer, 2008), and marital satisfaction and relationship adjustment (Leslie & Letiecq, 2004; Lewandowski & Jackson, 2001). Qualitative studies of interracial relationships have explored leisure activities and familial and societal responses to the manifestation of committed interracial relationships (Hibbler & Shinew, 2002; Hill & Thomas, 2000; Rosenblatt, Karis, & Powell, 1995; Yancey, 2002). Qualitative research informed by the lived experiences of individuals in interracial relationships is scarce (Jacobson et al., 2004; Killian, 2001; Mojapelo-Batka, 2008). Research indicates a need to explore how intergroup phenomena, such as discrimination, impact on individuals in committed interracial relationships, and how the quality of such relationships is influenced (Lehmiller & Agnew, 2006; Schafer, 2008). Within the unique macro context of post-apartheid South Africa, research that explores social reactions that interracial couples experience is encouraged (Mojapelo-Batka, 2008). For the purposes of this paper, discrimination related to being in a committed interracial relationship is conceptualized as a micro-contextual manifestation of the macro-contextual variable of societal racism (Leslie & Letiecq, 2004).

White women who married black men used to be pathologised in South Africa (Jacobson et al., 2004). However, the increasing independence of women in recent times has permitted them to marry whom they choose (Root, 2001). From this perspective, Root views interracial marriage as a vehicle for examining the social structures that informed and shaped race and gender relations. The scarcity of qualitative research exploring the lived experiences of women in interracial marriages, and the anticipated value of understanding how the experience of discrimination impacts on psychological and relational health, were the impetus for the current study. …

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