When my husband bought me a cute “just because” card a few weeks ago featuring a married couple, he wanted it to represent us so he colored the woman’s face in. Apparently, if you’re looking for a greeting card for your same-sex relationship, Target has you covered. But if you’re looking for a greeting card that illustrates your interracial, heterose*ual relationship, well…get out your crayons.
Though, statistically speaking, interracial relationships are more common than same-sex ones, it seems that homosexual couples enjoy a disproportionately large amount of representation in the media while interracial couples are relatively nonexistent.
If you let television tell it (and the greeting card section of your local store), the instances of people marrying outside of their race are rare. However, the Pew Research Center reported that in 2010, one in twelve married couples were interracial. The share of new marriages between spouses of a different race or ethnicity rose to 15 percent that year while the percentage of interracial married couples in general rose to an all-time high of 8.4 percent. (Keep in mind that this data includes only married couples, not the growing segment of unmarried cohabiters.)
In contrast, Gallup found that 3.4% of adults say “yes” when asked if they identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or tran*gender. The research-based performance-management consulting company acknowledged that the number may not reflect reality because some are probably not willing to identify themselves as LGBT. Still, if every single person were truthful about their sexual orientation, would the percentage jump high enough to warrant the proliferation of gay couples in the media and the dearth of interracial couples? Gallup reported that less than five percent of individuals (not couples) are LGBT, yet it’s hardly an exaggeration to say that nearly every new television show nowadays has a gay character.
Are same-sex couples more likely to get screen time because more people are comfortable with homosexual relationships than they are with interracial ones?
Consider the commentary surrounding the popular ABC television show “Scandal” starring Kerry Washington. Olivia Pope’s relationship with President Grant has been fodder for the blogosphere since the beginning of Season One. Not because she’s having the worst kept secret affair with the President of the United States, but because he’s White and she’s Black. As a result, few compare their relationship to Monica Lewinsky’s sexcapades with President Clinton, or Marilyn Monroe’s rumored affair with JFK. Instead, solely because of race, blogger after blogger insists this is a modern day Sally Hemmings/Thomas Jefferson situation. Some bloggers have even maintained that the Olivia/Fitz relationship isn’t believable because their affair is interracial.
You know whose relationship I find unbelievable on that show? Cyrus and James. Initially, I thought they were father and son. But apparently, the male Chief of Staff is married to a male journalist in a nation where nine states prohibit gay marriage by statue and 30 states’ prohibit it in their constitutions. This is the reality of the country we live in, yet it’s Fitz and Olivia’s relationship that warrants an epic side eye for credibility. Cyrus and James can celebrate their engagement and talk about adoption, but when Harrison looked at Abby for one second too long, Twitter erupted with disapproval.
Granted, “Scandal” is just one show, but enough for me to suspect that people don’t support interracial couplings the way they support homosexuality.
Interracial couples would absolutely experience more support in real life if they were at least proportionately portrayed on television. How do I know? Because this has been the experience of same-sex marriage. In fact, I would argue that the lingering prohibition of gay marriage is part of the reason that gay couples are cast more than interracial ones. Unlike anti-miscegenation laws that were declared unconstitutional more than 40 years ago (though several had remained codified until as recently as 2000), gay marriage is still not legal across the country. So Hollywood producers, writers and directors have taken it upon themselves to make people more comfortable with the gay couples around them by showing more gay couples on television. Putting these relationships onscreen in high numbers isn’t about accurate representation. It’s about normalization.
As a result, same sex relationships are assumed to be more common than they really are. Recently, Gallup found that U.S. adults, on average, estimate that 25% of Americans are gay or lesbian. That’s way higher than reality, but that’s what we see on TV. If Hollywood can make a point of showcasing normal, loving, homosexual relationships, then why can’t they show more normal, loving interracial relationships?
America is becoming more of an integrated, multiracial society, but that’s not what we’re seeing. Instead, we are subject to these Hollywood writers and producers fantasy lands that include no minorities whatsoever. There are certainly a few more interracial couples on TV than there were years ago, but in no way do those numbers match that of the same-sex relationships we see despite the fact that interracial couplings are more prevalent in real life.
Even the emoticons on my iPhone illustrate ignorance of the truth that a person is more likely to love someone of a different race than they are to love someone of the same gender. The only “couple” emoticons choices are a White heterose*ual couple or a White homosexual one. The emoticon creators haven’t even acknowledged Black iPhone users, yet they’ve got the White homosexuals covered. It is so bizarre.
Maybe I only notice these things because I’m in an interracial relationship, but there are definitely a powerful few working overtime to shape national attitudes about homosexuality and make sure gay couples are represented. However, for those of us in interracial relationships, well we just have to color each others’ faces in.