Interracial comfort is described as the comfort level that a person feels around members of a race different from his or her own. Interracial comfort can be measured as awareness of the person, the presence or absence of anxiety about the other person, and the ability to go about the task at hand without being so cognizant of the other person’s race. Interracial comfort can be applied to friendships, work, dating, relationships and marriage, or meeting complete strangers on the street. Oftentimes people have different ideas about their own interracial comfort based on the role that the person from a different race is playing; for example, a person may experience a different comfort level working with a person from a race different from his or her own versus his or her ideas about dating or marrying a person from a race different from his or her own.
Our ideas about interracial friendships undoubtedly begin at home and can be reinforced or challenged when we enter school. School environment is clearly a factor in developing interracial friendships. Students who attend small, diverse schools will probably have more opportunities to form friendships with students of various races than will students who attend very large schools, because the larger the school is, the more opportunities there are to socialize with people who are of similar background. Another aspect of school-related interracial comfort is participating in teams, either academic or athletic, which allows for group success, cooperative learning, and an increase in multicultural sensitivity.
Interracial comfort in the area of dating and romance has been increasingly accepted throughout the United States and has increased as attitudes about members of diverse racial groups have changed. As people move from interracial dating into interracial marriage, ideas seem to shift. Until the mid-1960s, interracial marriage was a felony. The perceptions held by society seem to have shifted to allow interracial unions to exist; however, prejudice and stereotypes contribute to negative perceptions of couples who have married interracially. Some people believe that interracial marriages destroy traditions normally held by the family. Some argue that interracial marriages will not last because of incompatibility caused by racial differences. U.S. Census data from 2000 indicate that citizens reported 1,432,908 Latino/a-Caucasian marriages, 504,119 Asian American-Caucasian marriages, 287,576 African American-Caucasian marriages; 97,822 Latino/a-African American marriages, 40,317 Asian American-Latino/a marriages, and 31,271 Asian American-African American marriages.
It is clear that social norms provide the backdrop for interracial comfort for many people. It is also clear that early experiences can alter perceptions that people hold about members of racial groups other than their own. Interracial comfort appears to be something that needs to be explored throughout the life span, starting with positive school experiences and progressing through work and social experiences held by the individual.
- U.S. Census Bureau. (2000). [Census data]. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/main/www/cen2000.html