My wife and I were married almost 30 years ago. Her family was white, from solid Wisconsin German stock. I was a Japanese American from California. I didn't think of our marriage as being that much out of the ordinary, but according to a Pew Research Center study, we were part of only 6.7% of new marriages that were interracial in the 1980s.
Flash forward to today. One in seven new marriages is interracial. The rate has more than doubled to 14.6% of new marriages. And more importantly, attitudes are changing.
Just 15 years before I was married, a landmark Supreme Court decision struck down the ban on interracial marriage. In 1967, the Loving versus Virginia case challenged 16 states that still had laws making it illegal to marry outside of one's race.
Mildred Delores Jeter was a black woman who, in 1958, married Richard Loving, a white man. They didn't know it was illegal for them to marry in Virginia. This was not just a traffic ticket illegal: They could be arrested with jail time. The soft-spoken couple did not see themselves are heroes of a racial revolution. "We loved each other and got married," Mildred said. She felt the Supreme Court cased was "God's work."
I grew up naively believing laws surrounding interracial marriages had been settled long before I was born. Only a few very backward states and regions clung to outdated beliefs and racist attitudes.
I was surprised to learn that during my parents' generation, anti-miscegenation laws in California were not changed until 1948. After World War II, 38 states still had such laws on their books.
We easily forget the historical context of a seemingly simple act of marriage. In the 1980s, when my wife and I announced our engagement, two-thirds of America had problems with our marriage. According to the Pew study entitled "Marrying Out," in 1986, 28% felt interracial marriages were not acceptable. Another 37% thought it was acceptable for others but not their own family, an appalling and insidious way of saying interracial marriages were wrong.
After we announced our engagement, I faced surprising attitudes. I heard a few family members express concern over our own marriage. They had claimed not to be racists, so long as it wasn't their family. Suddenly it was different. One worried about how "those kids" of mixed marriages turned out.
Today, our children can't imagine anyone in the family once held such opinions -- people's attitudes can change. Yet it's significant to remember and put things in perspective: Marrying out has evolved from being illegal to taboo to just unusual. Now it's even less unusual.
I remember the occasional looks, especially from older people who saw interracial couples as a rarity. My parents' and especially my grandparents' generation grew up in a world where everyone married people who looked like yourself.
Now, just a few generations later, beliefs have evolved. Instead of two-thirds of Americans against interracial marriages, 63% now say it would be fine if a member of their family were to marry someone from another race or group. And it's not just attitudes -- more than a third have a family member or close relative married to someone of a different race.
But race still matters. A third of America still sees lines drawn based on the color of your skin. And attitudes about different races carry deep seated prejudices.
More are still bothered by a family member marrying an African American versus a Hispanic American or Asian American. I can still recall stories from years ago and families whispering "marry anyone except a black."
Award-winning author and organic farmer David Mas Masumoto of Del Rey writes about the San Joaquin Valley and its people. Send email to him at email@example.com