Is love colorblind?

Stephen Schaper and Grace Addison, juniors in Media Studies and Secondary Education respectively, sit together outside of the Union for a portrait on April 19. Erica Magda

Stephen Schaper and Grace Addison, juniors in Media Studies and Secondary Education respectively, sit together outside of the Union for a portrait on April 19. Erica Magda

By Terrell Starr

When Quinetta Ingram met Joseph Dewese at Centennial High School in Champaign, Ill., in 1998, she had a feeling he would be her husband some day.

Only 17 at the time, Joseph said he was not thinking about marriage. But Quinetta, who was 15, said she was. “I kind of knew,” Quinetta recalled.

Quinetta, a 25-year-old medical technician and part-time Parkland College student, did not care that Joseph was white. Likewise, Joseph, 27, a firefighter and Parkland College student, did not care that she was black.

But his mother did.

When Joseph told his mother that his new girlfriend was black, he knew she would not react positively, but the extent of her reaction still caught him off guard.

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“She offered to buy me a car just so I would stop dating her,” Dewese said. “I told her no. Even if I did (say yes, she’d) buy me a car, then I’d just go and pick (Quinetta) up in it.”

While they have not been together exclusively through all nine years since Joseph’s reaction to his mother’s offer, the couple have been married for three years and have two children, Donovan, 4, and Zechariah, 6, the latter from a previous relationship of Quinetta’s.

Joseph’s mother has also come a long way since she first met Quinetta.

“We get along just fine now,” Quinetta said. “She’s grown a lot since then.”

United States Census data shows there were 126,000 marriages between black women and white men in 2004. This is a 31 percent increase from 2000, when there were 96,000 marriages. Census figures have found black men are more than twice as likely to marry outside of their race than black women.

Jennifer Hamer, an associate professor and interim director of African American Studies at the University, said dating and marriage prospects for black women within their race are made more difficult by the high numbers of black men who are incarcerated or employed in low-wage jobs.

Justice Department figures from 2006 show that of the 2 million U.S. men in either prison or jail, 41 percent are black. Findings from a 2007 Urban League report show unemployment was highest among black men at 9.5 percent, compared with 4 percent for white men. The report also found that black men earned less than three-quarters of the median annual earnings for white men.

An issue many black, college-educated women seeking college-educated black partners for marriage face is availability. While college enrollment numbers are improving for black men, black women continue to outpace them on college campuses, Department of Education figures show.

“Do black women want to marry?” Hamer said. “They definitely do. Do they want families? They definitely do. That’s no different than any other group. But they’re less likely to do so because of male availability.”

Kellina Craig-Henderson, an associate professor of sociology at Howard University, is conducting a study on black women who are in interracial relationships. She said her study has found black women are not as willing to date outside of their race because they are taught to “stick by their men.”

“(This) is regarded as the ideal goal for an intimate relationship with black women,” Craig-Henderson said. “To be with a black man. So generally, they are not socialized to think ‘outside the box’ or to be socialized to date outside of their race.”

Kamilah Taylor, graduate student in Computer Science, is a black woman who has dated outside her race. She said she understands Craig-Henderson’s findings may be true for some women. However, Taylor said she does not feel she or other black women should limit their options.

“I don’t know if the person that I find who’s right for me is going to be black, white or Asian,” Taylor said. “I don’t see the thing that I have to hold out for someone of a particular race.”

But Taylor also said she is familiar with Craig-Henderson’s comments that black women are taught to limit themselves to black men.

“I kind of heard this around the house. My parents wouldn’t outright say it, but they wouldn’t be very happy,” Taylor said. “They’d say: ‘Look at this woman. She’s educated, and look what she did. She went out and found a white man.’ They’d say the same thing about a black man who found a white woman. So I know this perception is out there.”

Taylor paused briefly, then added, “You know … it’s complicated.”

Selling Out

Quinetta Dewese doesn’t feel she or other black women are “selling out” or distancing themselves from the black community by developing romantic relationships with white men.

Grace Addison, junior in Education from Allen Park, Ill., doesn’t think so either. She and her boyfriend, Stephen Schaper, junior in Media, have been dating since high school and are seriously considering marriage.

Born to a white mother and a black father, Addison considers herself a black woman and prefaced most of her comments on interracial dating with “as black people, we should” or “as a black woman, I feel.”

Addison said she knows there are mixed feelings in the black community about interracial marriage and dating, but she is far from selling out by dating her white boyfriend.

“I understand why people would have that perception,” Addison said. “I disagree I would be selling out because I know Stephen shares the same concerns and the same values for my culture. In my relationship with him, I can still be an active member of the black community and still maintain those values,” she said. “I’m not a different person because I’m with him. I’m the same person.”

Many of the black women Craig-Henderson is interviewing for her study expressed concerns that some within the black community place a higher burden on black women to date within their race as compared with black men.

“It bothered many of the women that I have interviewed that there seemed to be some double standard in our society that when black women dated interracially, people said they sold out,” Craig-Henderson said. “But when black men dated interracially, that didn’t seem to be as much of a label or as much as a characterization of them.”

Quinetta said she also notices the double standard. When she is in public with her husband or children, she said some of the most disapproving attitudes and insensitive reactions come from black men.

“Don’t hate on me for something you do too,” Quinetta said, referring to black men she has encountered who make rude comments about her when in public with her husband or children.

Attitudes are changing?

Despite frequent discussion within the black community about interracial dating and marriage, polls consistently reveal that most blacks approve of such relationships.

Results from a 2007 Gallup poll show that 85 percent of black Americans support interracial marriages. In 1968, that number was 56 percent. Black Americans have historically supported interracial marriage at higher rates than white Americans, the same poll revealed.

Although the number of interracial marriages between black and white Americans is growing each year, the fact remains that most blacks marry other blacks, according to 2006 census figures. Of the roughly five million black Americans married in 2004, only 243,000 of the marriages were between a white and black person.

Hamer, associate professor and interim director of African American Studies, said the small number of interracial couples is linked to the lack of social interactions between races.

“Different races don’t shop in the same places,” Hamer said. “They don’t attend the same churches or religious institutions. We even go to separate schools. We still have, in many ways, a very separate society. So as long as you have that, you’re not going to see a high rate of interracial dating. You’ll see more interracial dating the greater equity you have in society.”

Craig-Henderson said while many of the black women in her study discussed occasional negative reactions from black people when in public with their white partners, most felt that a more tolerant future awaits them and their children. “The women I interviewed are generally optimistic about the fact that they had or were planning to have brown children, children that were mixed-race, and that mixed-raced children would be able to triumph in our society,” Craig-Henderson said.

Like the black women Craig-Henderson described in her study, Addison is also optimistic. She believes society is becoming more accepting of interracial couples, and black people – especially black women – should be more flexible about their attitudes regarding interracial dating and marriage.

“I think that those black women should not just be looking for black men,” Addison said. “They should look for men who share their values regardless of what color they are, and I think they should let black men do the same.”