Update: Does the Presence of a White Individual Influence Public Perception of Inter-Racial Relationships?

Over the course of the summer I have been studying inter-racial relationships alongside Professor Voyer in an attempt to discover whether or not approval rates are lower for particular inter-racial couples than they are for others and, more specifically, to answer how the presence or absence of a white individual influences the view society has towards these relationships. In order to do so, I adopted the visual method of videography and recruited four actors to form two confederate inter-racial couples, one in which a white individual was present (white female, black male) and the other in which a white individual was absent (Hispanic female, black male). I filmed the confederate couples on Saturday, July 19th and August 2nd at Madison Square Park, keeping the day of the week, time, and place constant in order to ensure consistent results. Couples were filmed engaging in scripted public displays of affection and public reactions such as smiling, staring, glares, verbal cues or complete avoidance were documented using a handheld video camera. Careful consideration was taken in choosing what public displays of affection the actors would perform in order to avoid capturing negative sanctions towards the displays of affection rather than reactions towards the racial composition of the couple itself.

Currently, I am in the coding process; analyzing all the footage and assigning summative and essence-capturing attributes to the visual data in hopes in discovering any repetitive patterns, both within and across the data collected for each couple. Once all codes are assigned, I will then be able to draw a conclusion on how the presence or absence of a white individual influences perception towards inter-racial relationships. After holding these two days of filming, I do believe that the white-minority couple received much more scrutiny from the public than the minority-minority couple, however, reviewing the footage may prove otherwise as it may reveal reactions from the public that I overlooked or failed to notice while filming, making this a crucial component of the research process.

Two particular reactions stood out to me the most during filming, both involving the white-minority couple. While filming the couple eating, an elderly Asian woman entered the area and, upon seeing the couple, immediately began staring intensely. When she passed them, she then proceeded to turn around and continue staring. Furthermore, when a middle aged white woman walked pass the couple walking hand-in-hand, she turned around, bent over and glared at their held hands as if she could not believe what she was seeing and needed to verify whether they were truly holding hands. These two negative reactions towards the couple support the idea that inter-racial relationships in which a white individual is present is perceived more harshly than minority-minority relationships due to conceptions of “whiteness” and “white privilege”. Whether or not this idea holds true will be revealed once the coding process is complete.

One of the main challenges I faced in this study was dealing with the presence of the video camera. Cameras draw much attention from the public and so, I have to be sure to consider this when reviewing the footage and drawing conclusions. Another challenge I faced was recruiting actors. My goal was to form two white-minority and two minority-minority couples as I was interested in manipulating gender to further determine how this variable affects the perception of inter-racial relationships. Unfortunately, I was unable to find all the actors I needed with the allotted time but this is something that I hope to study in the future.

Being chosen to participate in the Provost Student-Faculty Research Program this summer has allowed me to use and apply all I have learned as a Sociology/Anthropology major, something I am very grateful for. It is one thing to read about intriguing and significant research questions and projects done by sociologists but it’s another to pose your own question and carry out your own research from beginning to end. I have gained much more confidence in the knowledge I possess for researching and investigating the social world, confidence that will be sure to help me in all future research I do.

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.