Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Reconstituting Racial Histories and Identities: The Narratives of Interracial Couples

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Reconstituting Racial Histories and Identities: The Narratives of Interracial Couples

Article excerpt

This study explores the process by which interracial spouses construct narratives about their racial histories, identities, and experiences in their relationship together. Ten black-white couples were interviewed individually and conjointly. The results reflected interracial spouses' experience of their life together their perception of others ' perceptions of them, and their unique processes of negotiating racial, gender and class differences. Black spouses, compared with white spouses, demonstrated a greater awareness of and sensitivity to social resistance to interracial couples, and black spouses ' familial and personal histories were sometimes relegated to silence in the couple relationship. I discuss recommendations for marriage and family therapists working with interracial spouses.

Halfway through our individual interview, Robert pauses, clears his throat, and, in a more subdued voice, proceeds to talk about a vacation he took with his wife:

Robert: We camped out the whole trip, and one night we hear guns going off, and these thoughts are going through my mind: I'm down here in Tennessee, camping out with a white woman in the middle of nowhere.

Interviewer: Like what kind of thoughts?

Robert.' Well, they could come up on us and see a black man with a white woman, and, well, lynching. I tried to put them out of my mind, but those kinds of thoughts just kept coming back. I didn't tell her until we got home.

Research studies grounded in the words and experiences of interracial couples are rare. Despite the decades-old conventional wisdom that homogeneity of spousal backgrounds makes for more satisfying and stable relationships, we know little about interracial couples. In recent decades, interracial marriages in the United States have increased in frequency (Kanijn, 1993; Surra, 1990), with the number of black-white marriages quadrupling since 1970 (Domokos-Cheng Ham, 1995). How do interracial spouses experience their relationship together? Do they see themselves as "interracial"? What struggles and challenges do they face?

This study explores how interracial spouses perceive and negotiate partner differences with regard to race, gender, and class. This study focuses on black-white, heterosexual, married couples' in the United States because the preponderance of state laws that prohibited miscegenation specifically focused on the racial groupings of "blacks" and "whites," which reflects a particular societal resistance toward the mixing of these groups (Porterfield, 1982; Spickard, 1989). Indeed, it has been argued (Azoulay, 1997; Hardy & Laszloffy, 1994) that the discourse of race in the United States is founded on the dichotomy, and polarity, of black and white. This article presents the narratives of interracial spouses regarding social resistance to their relationship, history, and identity and discusses implications for family therapists working with interracial couples.

This study is guided by ecosystemic (Auerswald, 1985; Keeney, 1982) and narrative (White & Epston, 1990) theoretical frameworks. Individuals, couples, and families and their problems are embedded within larger social structures and contexts that influence the values, beliefs, daily practices, and narratives of people and groups of people. Oppressive social structures such as patriarchy and institutions of sexism, racism, and classism impose imbalances of power and privilege and constrain possibilities for alternative, growth-enhancing, and satisfying interactions in peoples' lives. For instance, racism positions persons of different racial and ethnic origins in a web of exploitation and oppression, just as patriarchy also locates women and men as inferior and superior in an invidious asymmetry. Accordingly, differences between persons may both originate and manifest themselves at a variety of systemic levels, and it is important that the interaction of these different levels be considered and understood. …

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