Do Americans unanimously support interracial marriage?

Acceptance of interracial marriage is at an all-time high, with a vast majority of people accepting black-white marriages, according to a recent survey. But how much can we trust the numbers?

A USA Today/Gallup poll suggests that Americans are nearly unanimous in their support of unions between blacks and whites, with 86 percent approving of such marriages. In 1958 approval of marriages between whites and so-called “colored people” was at a mere 4 percent. That was during the days of Jim Crow, when so-called “miscegenation” laws to maintain racial purity still remained on the books in a number of Southern states.

It wasn’t until 1967 that the U.S. Supreme Court deemed those laws unconstitutional in the Loving v. Virginia case. The case, which represents a defining moment of the civil rights era, is named for Mildred and Richard Loving, a black woman and a white man who were convicted of violating Virginia’s law criminalizing their union. June 10 is known as Loving Day, to celebrate the day the nation’s high court came down with its decision.

In 1983, 43 percent of people approved black-white marriages. Twenty years ago just under 50 percent basked them and a majority (64 percent) gave the nod to interracial marriage for the first time in 1997.

But a nearly 40 percent jump in acceptance in two decades is extraordinary, if the stats are to be believed.

Although a high majority of all demographics approve of interracial marriage in this study, the poll reveals differences in attitudes based on race, age, geography, education and political orientation.

Blacks always expressed greater approval than whites, and today 96 percent of blacks approve, according to the survey, as opposed to 84 percent of whites.

Millenials, those Americans in the 18 to 29 age group, are the most tolerant, with 97 percent approval. These high numbers mirror an earlier Pew study studying millennial attitudes on interracial friendships, dating and marriage.

Seniors in the Gallup poll were least tolerant with 66 percent approval. People living in the East (90 percent) and West (91 percent) were more likely than those living in the Midwest (86 percent) and South (79 percent).

The higher one’s education, the likelier he or she will support blacks and whites getting hitched. Liberals and moderates are more accepting than conservatives (95, 90 and 78 percent, respectively) as Democrats (88 percent) and Independents (89 percent) are more accepting than Republicans (77 percent).

According to the pollsters, the results reflect both an across-the-board acceptance of an interracial jumping of the broom, as well as a younger generation replacing a dying-off, less tolerant older generation. And it is worth noting that people have had an opportunity to elect and experience the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama. The president is the product of an interracial marriage — a Kenyan father and a white mother. Meanwhile, the 2010 census shows that interracial marriages have increased since 2000 to 4.5 million, accounting for 8 percent of marriages in the U.S.

Changing attitudes on the matter are consistent with evolving acceptance of same-sex marriage, which is now at a majority approval, but significantly lower at 53 percent.

With apparent record acceptance of black-white unions, as black women are urged to entertain an interracial fix for black marriage, it would appear that the mixed marriage debate is a done deal. Or is it? Have we found the end to inequality, or is it possible that people are merely being politically correct with pollsters and not expressing their true opinions?

Maybe there is a Bradley Effect play here, the term used to describe the discrepancies between opinion polls and election results when a white candidate runs against a candidate of color. The term comes from former Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley, who in 1982 was polled as the favorite to win for governor of California, but lost the election to his white opponent.

Although things have changed, not everyone is holding hands and singing songs together.

After all, a Pew study from 2008 which found that a record 14.6 percent of new marriages were between spouses of different races also suggested that race still matters. While 6 in 10 respondents in the study approved of one of their family members marrying someone of a different race or ethnic group, blacks also appear to be the last choice when it comes to a family member’s openness towards such marriages. Other studies have found blacks the least desirable dating and marriage partners as well. So in other words, there appears to be a racial pecking order, even with regard to mixed unions.

Then there are the more blatant expressions of racial animosity lingering in the land. For example, 46 percent of Mississippi Republican voters believe that interracial marriage should be against the law, while only 40 percent believe it should be legal. And that’s 44 years after the Loving decision. This is a state that had segregated high school proms as recently as a few years ago.

A few months ago, Herman Cain, a black Tea Party presidential candidate and former pizza mogul, said that President Obama is not a “strong black man” like Martin Luther King. In an apparent example of pandering to the exclusively white right-wing base that votes in Republican primaries, Cain suggested Obama is not a real black man because of his interracial parentage.

“A real black man is not timid about making the right decisions,” Cain told the New York Times Magazine. The candidate continued by saying “it is documented that his mother was white and his father was from Africa. If he wants to call himself black, fine. If he wants to call himself African American, fine. I’m not going down this color road.”

In 2009, Keith Bardwell, a Louisiana justice of the peace denied a marriage license to an interracial couple, and eventually resigned from his post. “I’m not a racist. I just don’t believe in mixing the races that way,” Bardwell told the Associated Press. “I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom. I treat them just like everyone else.” Bardwell claimed he was thinking of the children. “There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage,” Bardwell said. “I think those children suffer and I won’t help put them through it.”

Sometimes, even in 2011, there are acts of violence. In Arkansas, a neo-Nazi skinhead pleaded guilty to firebombing an interracial couple’s home over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. The man, who faces 15 years to life when he is sentenced in December, was yelling racial slurs while looking for his lighter, according to authorities. And in 2008, race was offered as the possible motive for the murder of a white Marine sergeant and his black wife in California — by four black officers who had worked under him. The four men reportedly bound and gagged the couple, then attempted to burn down their house. Racially offensive remarks were found spray painted in the slain couple’s home.

Also that year, Donovan Patrick Williams, an avowed white supremacist, was arrested for shooting at a black man and his white girlfriend in their car outside a Wal-Mart in Greenville, North Carolina.

As one-half of an interracial married couple — I am African-American, as you probably know by now, and my wife is white — I can’t say I think a great deal about how many people approve of me and my life choices. And I don’t think much about how people perceive my toddler son. All I know is that he’s cute, funny and dearly loved. In our circle of friends, acquaintances, coworkers and old classmates, it really doesn’t matter. Sometimes, surely, interracial families are subject to stares and comments from others, but that is not the day-to-day focus. People are way too busy living life.

Surely, for interracial married couples, times have changed since the Loving decision and, also in the same year, Sidney Poitier’s film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? That 1967 film tells the story of a white liberal couple grappling with their daughter’s engagement to a brother.

And certainly much has changed even in the past two decades. It is plausible, perhaps likely, that a majority of Americans approve of interracial marriages. But nevertheless, let us not be mistaken, racism is alive and well in America. And that reality is as plain as black and white.