What do tennis star Serena Williams, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and businesswoman Mellody Hobson have in common? They’re all married to white men.
But despite these real-world examples of interracial relationships, a 2010 Pew Research Center report found that black women are the least likely group of women to marry, especially outside of their own race.
That fact led one Northwestern University professor to write a book advocating for more black women to consider dating men outside their own race – specifically, white men – if they’re looking to get married.
“There are far more black women than there are black men in this country, and that’s been for some time,” said Cheryl Judice, a sociologist and adjunct faculty member in Northwestern University’s School of Education and Public Policy.
“Right from age 16 and forward, black women start outnumbering black men. For whites, that doesn’t happen until age 32,” she said. “As a result, if you don’t think about dating outside the race, then you very might well may wind up single.”
The book, “Interracial Relationships between Black Women and White Men,” includes real stories of romantic relationships – from dating, marriage to divorce – between black women and white men.
For example, there’s the story of Celeste, a 29-year-old woman who never considered dating outside her own race but when she did, she found her relationship with a white man to exceed her expectations.
Judice said it’s common for black women to not consider dating white men for a few reasons, including historical tensions and a lack of positive black female representation in the media.
“Can you think of any media … where black women have been touted as the most desirable romantic partners? Nowhere,” Judice said. “Generally speaking, the idolized version of an American beauty is a white woman who is thin and blonde and blue-eyed.”
And then there’s the story of Denise and Todd, a married couple whose marriage survived despite having different socioeconomic backgrounds and difficulties with families echoing harmful stereotypes.
Judice said she focused on relationships with white men because of history.
“Relationships with other men of color don’t hold the same historical dimensions,” she said. “Black women have never been enslaved by other group of men other than white men, so you have that whole history right there that makes these relationships [between black women and white men] the most different, the most daring.”
Despite this, Judice said race was not an important factor for most of the 120 people she interviewed for the book.
“The main thing that I found most interesting is that these people are just normal people,” she said. “Their stories – without including their race, in many cases –are typical of anybody else’s story: parents objecting, financial problems, sexual issues.”
Below, the introduction to Interracial Relationships Between Black Women and White Men.
Black women are the only group of women in America who cannot take for granted that if they seek marriage to a black man that there will be an ample supply of available men from which to choose. This is not a new problem; indeed, it goes back several decades but there hasn’t been much public discussion about how to resolve this issue. It is almost like the plight of black women looking for eligible partners is the elephant in the room. Between issues related to skin color, hair texture, and low self-esteem, it is more difficult for black women to talk about it publicly to draw attention to the problem. I am tired of meeting so many women who have suffered in silence and simply given up on having someone love them for who they are. I am writing this book because I have seen first-hand the sadness many black women live with who have never experienced a fulfilling romantic relationship. To be sure, many of these women lead productive and fulfilling lives without ever marrying, some even decide to have children without husbands, but a common thread I have observed among many is a wistfulness for a part of life which has been denied to them…a part of life all other groups of women take for granted.
I have set out in this book to explore the lives of black women who have chosen to cross the racial divide in their quest for personal happiness.
Most young girls grow up fantasizing about dating and marrying someone within their own racial/ethnic group, and indeed, approximately 87% of marriages in the U.S. are between people of the same racial/ethnic backgrounds. Black girls growing up today face a very different reality as illustrated by a few daunting statistics. First, the number of black females begin to outnumber black males by age 16; for whites, this does not happen until approximately age 32. Second, black men are more than twice as likely as black women to marry outside of the race, black women are the least likely group of women to marry outside of the race. Third, for every 100 college educated black females, there are approximately thirty-five to forty comparably educated black males. These statistics underscore a sobering reality that set the parameters for this book.
I became interested in the dating and marriage prospects of young black women thirty years ago. Living in Evanston, Illinois, I met numerous middle to upper middle class black families residing in several North Shore communities. These couples supplied their children with the privileges that their social and economic status afforded while living in predominantly white suburban areas. Recognizing that their children might feel somewhat isolated living in predominantly white suburbs, many of these families joined black social groups or black churches to expose their children to a broader African American culture. What happened to many of these children as they entered their teen and early adulthood years differed based on gender. Young black males who might be considered physically attractive, enjoyed a broad range of friends across race/ethnicity and gender, and active social lives. On the other hand, young black females, while they may have had strong friendships with white females, were not as likely to have equal numbers of white male friendships. Moreover, for some black females, as the dating years began, former friendships with white females began to fade. In sum, the social experiences of this group of black males and females took dramatically different routes as the teen years ended.
Fast forward to the late 20s and early 30s for this group of young African Americans and the following had occurred. Most of them had completed college, many were enrolled in or had completed professional, graduate, or trade school, and/or were beginning their careers. Some in this group were involved in relationships, but it was only the black males who were engaged or had married. Most of their black female counterparts were single, and often voiced concern, and were the subject of conversation particularly among their mothers. In conversations with many of the black mothers, they expressed their frustration about the dating and marriage prospects of their daughters, while the black mothers with sons noted that the males were pursued by women of various racial/ethnic groups. Now in their late 40s, it is not surprising that many of the black males eventually married outside of the race or were involved in long term relationships and had children, while their black female counterparts either remained single or married much later in life (late 30s to early 40s). Moreover, for some of the black women who eventually married, they were the second wives of their black husbands, oftentimes becoming stepmothers and/or married to men who were not from the middle to upper middle class in which they had grown up. Only one of the black males who married outside of the race was married to a woman that came from a lower socioeconomic background and none married women who had children from previous relationships.
My anecdotal observations of the dating and marriage patterns of middle class black children who grew up in Chicago’s predominantly white North Shore suburbs thirty years ago are not unique. Numerous conversations with middle class black families living in similar circumstances around the country confirmed my observations, although in more recent times, some of the distinctions in dating and marriage patterns that I initially observed have begun to diminish. Succinctly, middle class African Americans often experience different dating and marriage patterns, leaving black females with fewer dating and marriage options if they only seek partners within their racial/ethnic group.
The primary purpose of this book is to tell the stories of black women who are dating, married to, or divorced from white males. Recognizing that the marriage pattern of black women who are married to white men represents the smallest number of interracially married couples, and the most extreme end of the marriage spectrum, it is my hope that presenting their stories will cause more black women to intentionally seek to broaden their idea of suitable dating and marriage partners. This book is not intended to diminish black males - only to present another dating and marriage option for black women who wish to get married and who recognize that the continuing numerical imbalance between black men and black women in this country reduces the likelihood of marrying within their racial/ethnic group.
Second, this book gives voice to white men who are dating, married to, or divorced from black women. Their stories and perspectives provide balance to those of the women.
Finally, the stories in this book are limited to the dating and marriage lives of heterosexual middle class African American women and white men who cross the racial divide in their quest to achieve personal happiness. Additionally, I interviewed ten black women who are divorced from their white husbands. Sixty personal interviews were conducted for this book. The majority of interviews were with black women who are currently married to white men; half of whom were interviewed with their husbands. Eleven interviews were with women who were dating white males or who had been in relationships with white men, and four were with white males exclusively without their black girlfriends or wives. The majority of participants were between the ages of 21 and 55 and were interviewed in 2014 through 2017. It is my hope that the stories found within these pages will be thought-provoking and provide insight on what it means to interracially date or marry.