The Role of Race in Dating Among Americans

“Whiteness” has proven to provide both material and symbolic privilege, from access to better education and neighborhoods to higher notions of beauty and intelligence. As recent discussion shows, this “White privilege” is leading more individuals to identify as White and join the White mainstream- 1.2 million Americans who previously identified as “Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin” on the 2000 census changed their ethnic identification to “White” on the 2010 census. The increasing number of Hispanics opting to identify themselves as White shows the influence whiteness holds over many aspects of society. I began to ask myself, then, does whiteness influence perception of inter-racial relationships in society and if so, how so?

With a growth in the number of racial and ethnic identities residing in the United States and greater interaction between these different racial and ethnic groups, an increase in the amount of inter-racial mixing and relationships has occurred in society. This has become evident to me as many of my friends, as well as I myself, are in inter-racial relationships. I have become increasingly interested in learning more about inter-racial dating and relationships and their perception in society. More specifically, as the inter-racial couples I know vary in terms of racial mix, I found myself interested in discovering how the race of the individuals involved influences society’s perception and acceptance. Inter-racial couples are often perceived less favorably than intra-racial couples, but among inter-racial couples, are approval rates lower for particular couples than they are for others? Through research, I seek to identify how one phenomenon, human reaction and associated behavior, varies in response to variation in another phenomenon, race of individuals involved, and attempt to answer how the presence or absence of a white individual influences the view society has towards inter-racial relationships.

To answer my research questions, I plan on using a methodology that is not as common among sociologists but is what I believe will be most successful in collecting data that is both valid and reliable. I plan to document social approval and disapproval of inter-racial couples by placing confederate couples engaging in public displays of affection in public spaces. I will then use videography to document public reactions such as smiling, staring, glares, verbal cues or complete avoidance. The racial mix of the couple will be varied to compare the nature and frequency of reactions among the different types of inter-racial couples, making the people walking through the public spaces the subjects of my research and the observed public behavior in these public spaces my data. My hypothesis is that society’s approval of inter-racial relationships will be lower for White/minority couples than minority/minority couples. Therefore, that is to say that I believe the presence or absence of a White individual affects the perception society has towards inter-racial dating and relationships.

As Gillian Rose mentions in her work Visual Methodolgies: An Introduction to the Interpretation of Visual Materials, the visual is central to the cultural construction of social life in contemporary Western societies (2007). Images, photographs and video express visuality; they do not simply act as windows into the social world but rather they interpret the world and display it in very particular ways. As the visual is a major part of social life, visual methods have the power to capture and express things that words cannot and thus serves as a unique and valuable way to answer questions about the social world. Furthermore, visual methods are useful in avoiding any bias that could exist if any other method is implemented. With all this in consideration, I have much confidence in my chosen method and I look forward to carrying out this study and seeing how racial mix of inter-racial couples influences society’s perception and acceptance of inter-racial dating and relationships.

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