David Bowie and Iman. Idina Menzel and Taye Diggs. Halle Berry and Gabriel Aubrey. All these celebrities have something in common with several Blazers: their part in a movement to tilt the view of interracial relationships.
It has become a common occurrence to glimpse the clasped hands of multiracial couples at Blair. While it may not appear unusual to students rushing to class through innumerable shades of faces, it reflects a trend extending far outside the hallways of Blair. Interracial dating - involving partners of two distinct races - and multiracial dating - involving partners of various racial backgrounds - have developed a strong presence in modern culture. In a country where interracial marriages were once banned in dozens of states, Barack Obama, whose mother is white and father is black, will be sworn in as America's first biracial President this January. And his election is emblematic of a broader trend. Between 1972 and 2000, the number of Americans age 26 and older in favor of legally banning interracial marriage dropped by 33 percent, according to the General Social Survey. Budding in an already diverse environment, Blair's interracial couples have come to represent the modern generation's adapting mindset on racial interaction.
Melting pot, melted hearts
At Blair, interaction between students of different races takes many forms, from classroom discussions to lunchtime gossip. According to senior Ashley Moore, this level of contact fosters a sense of understanding that is inherent to Blair's student community.
With a black and Puerto Rican father and a black and German mother, Moore says she has grown up in both school and household environments that embrace multiculturalism. When Moore met senior Edgar Alvarado, whose family is from Honduras, in a ninth grade tech class, she fell for him almost immediately. A year and a half later, Alvarado asked her out in Spanish over Instant Messenger (IM). They have been in a steady relationship since the end of their sophomore year, and Moore says there is no doubt in her mind that it will continue when she and Alvarado leave for college.
Though she stopped taking Spanish classes in school, Moore seeks out regular language lessons from Alvarado. She says that she is motivated by a desire to become connected with his family, as his grandparents speak hardly any English. Rather than blocking out cultural differences, she embraces the aspects of the relationship that are new to her. "The fact that we are from two different backgrounds makes it even better because you learn from each other," she says.
Amy Schoen, a certified professional life coach specializing in dating and relationships, stresses the importance of this kind of effort in an interracial bond. "It's definitely more challenging," she says. "You have to have respect for one another and one another's cultures."
This respect, says senior Kerry Cheng, begins on the most basic level of human affection: friendship. Cheng, who is Chinese-American, believes that the key to a colorblind attitude is diversity of association. "If you hang out with people of all different races, you're going to be fine with going out with someone like that," he says.
Accustomed to these far-reaching friendships, Cheng had no problem looking beyond skin color to let Indian senior Monica Ashok catch his eye. After developing a crush at the end of last school year, Cheng made an effort to keep in touch with Ashok over the summer. The two began to speak frequently over the phone as well as through IM and text messages, even when Cheng headed to Vermont for an internship. "I ended up with a $200 phone bill that month," he says with a laugh. As soon as he arrived back in Maryland in July, Cheng asked Ashok out on a non-cyber date to see "The Dark Knight." She said yes, and they have been together ever since.
Laughs and looks
For Cheng and Ashok, the diversity of the Washington, D.C., area provides a buffer against social prejudice. "You're just surrounded by people of all races and colors," says Cheng. "All of my schools have been really diverse."
Sophomore Anna Brune says that because she spends time around such a diverse group, she has never felt directly judged for her interracial relationships. Brune, who is white, says she is generally more attracted to races other than her own. Though some friends poke fun at her for the trend, the comments never go beyond gentle teasing. "They'll make jokes like, 'Oh, you like them black boys,'" she says. From her side, sophomore John Phan quips, "You like dark chocolate?" Brune turns to punch him, but is laughing nonetheless. Jokes aside, Brune says, her friends are entirely accepting of her dating habits, a quality which she says she would expect to find in a diverse city like Silver Spring.
But even with this diversity, Moore believes, ignorance tends to linger. Unlike Brune, she and Alvarado face real judgment from time to time. "We'll walk down the street and there will be a group of African-American guys or Hispanic guys, and they'll stare or snicker," she says. Moore says that the best response is to remain above this reaction, which she sees as a lack of understanding. "We don't let it get to us," she says.
But Schoen finds the reaction quite troubling. "There's definitely still some push toward trying to date within a race," says Schoen. "It's just a matter of asking, 'Is this kind of holding me back?'"
Generation of change
Over the past few decades, the typical answer to this question appears to have changed. Junior Xander Baldwin says he realizes that his dating experience has caused much less tension than the relationship between mother and father, the former of who is black and the latter, white. Baldwin and junior Joy Turner, whose father is black and mother Japanese, have been dating since spring of last year and say that they have encountered no outside prejudice. Turner attributes this in part to the comfortable atmosphere of Blair's racial scene, but says that it is the families' open-minded nature that makes the relationship possible. "Our parents really understand - they went through the same thing," she says. Though Baldwin and Turner feel perfectly comfortable holding hands on the way to class, Baldwin's parents could not say the same when hey dated in the 1980s.
As college sweethearts in Virginia, the two were forced to keep their relationship under the radar in order to escape ridicule and aggression, Baldwin says. "They weren't allowed to say they were in a relationship openly because something might come about," he says. "That was really hard for them." Turner sees Blair's many acceptance-based school clubs, like Diversity Workshop and the Gay-Straight Alliance, as signs of a newly developing cultural mind frame. "It's like the students saying, 'Hey, it's okay to be different,'" she says.
With each generation of mixed dating, however, racial identity increasingly overlaps. Turner says the fact that both she and Baldwin are biracial may play a role in their easy ride to acceptance. As this blend from inter- to multiracial relationships enters the picture, Schoen says, prejudice is beginning to fade.
A blended future
Though she still has clients who prefer to date within their race, Schoen says that the gap is narrowing between general social acceptance in communities like Blair and more skeptical attitudes toward relationships.
According to a Stanford University study based on Census figures, interracial marriages rose from one to six percent of all U.S. marriages between 1970 and 2000. Schoen believes that rather than through rallies and marches, this shift in interracial relationships has come mostly through simple, everyday communication. "The world is becoming smaller," she says. "We're not kept as isolated." In her mind, complete racial equality will ultimately be achieved when racial background no longer remains an obstruction to the timeless search for a soul mate. "Hopefully we're getting to a place where… [people] look at who they are and what they are rather than their skin color," she says.
Moore says she has similar hopes for an open-minded nation in the generations to come, but for now she wants only to focus on the relationship that grew from her own acceptance. "My family loves him, his family loves me, we love each other," she says. "That's all that matters."
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