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The Changing Face Of Seeing Race
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The Changing Face Of Seeing Race

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The Changing Face Of Seeing Race
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST: Here's another shift in demographics. Black and white Americans are marrying each other more than ever before. And according to a recent Gallup poll, a record number of people approve of interracial marriage.

Still, as we hear from NPR's Alex Kellogg, it's not entirely mainstream yet.

ALEX KELLOGG, BYLINE: Let's go back to 1967. That was the year interracial marriage made headlines. Just take this Hollywood classic.


KELLOGG: "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" was a new kind of love story for Hollywood. The movie was about a black man who wanted to marry a white woman, a huge taboo at the time. Just listen to the character Sidney Poitier played. Here, he's talking to his future wife about what her parents may think of their relationship.



SIDNEY POITIER: (as John Prentice) You may be in for a bigger shock of your young life.

KATHARINE HOUGHTON: (as Joey Drayton) After 23 years living in the same house with them, don't you think I know my own mother and father?

POITIER: (as John Prentice) Hope so.

HOUGHTON: There's no problem.

KELLOGG: Well, there was a bit of problem. For starters, her parents were uncomfortable with the idea, as were his. According to a Gallup Poll from that time, just 20 percent of Americans thought it was okay for a white person to marry a black person. The father of Poitier's character delivers that message to him loud and clear in the film.


ROY GLENN: (as Mr. Prentice) Have you thought what people would say about you? Why, in 16 or 17 states you'd be breaking the law. You'd be criminals. And say they change the law, that don't change the way people feel about this thing.

KELLOGG: Actually, things did change starting that year. In June 1967, the Supreme Court ruled that all laws barring marriages between blacks and whites were unconstitutional. Two trailblazers from Virginia challenged these antiquated laws. Their names were, of all things, Mr. and Mrs. Loving. After their court victory, Mildred Loving told ABC News why she wanted to fight back.

MILDRED LOVING: I say I think that marrying who you want to is a right that no man should have anything to do with. It's a God-given right, I think.

KELLOGG: Today, inter-racial marriage is fairly common. According to latest government data available, about seven percent of all marriages in the U.S. are between people of two different races or ethnicities.

Glen Owen has seen the changes take place with his own eyes. Owen happens to be white. His wife is black.

GLEN OWEN: You see interracial couples in commercials now. You never would've seen that even five years ago. I think those walls are definitely coming down.

KELLOGG: But Owen has vivid memories of things being very different. Owen grew up in a small town about an hour north of Atlanta in the 1980s. And he says he'll never forget what happened when black guys at his school dated white girls.

OWEN: The principal got involved and called them in and talked to them and parents got involved, and they really tried to put a stop to it. And there would be couples that, you know, you wouldn't go to the prom together because that would've been scandalous.

KELLOGG: But it's rarely scandalous today. Owen went back to his old high school for a football game a few years ago. He was happy to see a handful of interracial couples in the crowd. But that doesn't mean everything is peaches just yet.

Take Beth McKay and her husband, Terence. Beth McKay is white, her husband is black. The McKays became national news when a justice of the peace in Louisiana refused to marry them in 2009. His excuse? Interracial marriages just don't work.

BETH MCKAY: It was devastating. It was shocking. It really was. I think that that's just the best word to describe it.


MCKAY: We were just, like, totally shocked.

KELLOGG: Not long after, the Justice of the Peace lost his job and the McKays were married by somebody else. But she says that wasn't the last time she faced racism. When she's in all-white environments, she says it's pretty common for her to hear people's biases come out.

MCKAY: Whenever I'm around people and they don't know that my husband is black, that's when I get their honest opinions. When they see other people, they make comments and stuff.

KELLOGG: Comments that sometimes offend her. But she says that regardless of what biases people harbor, she says, she's glad to have such an intimate perspective on race in America - a perspective she says she would not have if she hadn't married someone of a different race.

Alex Kellogg, NPR News, Washington.

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