When Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was born to a white
mother and a black father in 1961, marriage between blacks and whites
was illegal in some parts of the United States. That's no longer the
case, but as VOA's Susan Logue reports, public attitudes toward
interracial families are still changing.
who is black, has been married to Nancy Burnett, who is white, for nine
years. "When we are outside in the community, we know other people
perceive us as a black and white couple," Spearman says. "In the house,
we're just a couple and we're thinking of the challenges and
opportunities any couple would have."
In the Virginia suburb
where they live, their marriage would have been illegal prior to 1967.
That's when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that laws prohibiting
interracial marriage violate the civil liberties guaranteed by the U.S.
Richard and Mildred Loving, who were also
residents of Virginia, had led that legal battle. "That was a lot of
courage by that couple," Spearman says. "It was a testament to love,
courage and the legal profession to pave the way for the changes that
have taken place in (the past) 40 years."
Burnett, who were both previously married, say if they had met earlier,
they would have married then. But Burnett, who has a 21-year-old
daughter from her first marriage, which was to a white man, says it
might have been more challenging.
"I can't predict how my family
at that time - whether they would have been able to accept that
difference, that they now accept," she says. Burnett, who grew up in a
small town in East Tennessee, says her family belonged to a country
club where "you could not be a member if you were of color. All of the
people who served and worked in the club were black and all of the
people who were members were white."
Despite a change in laws, segregation continues
Of course, that was 40 years ago and times have changed. Spearman
says he feels quite welcome when the couple goes to Tennessee to visit
with Burnett's family. But both say they don't see many blacks and
whites mingling socially, even in suburban Washington,D.C.
will go to different places of worship and there is no racial mixture,"
Burnett says. "We live in a neighborhood that has one other family of
"It is quite visible that there is quite a bit of segregation," Spearman notes, "not so much intentionally now, but it occurs."
Lerman, 40, knows what it is like to be the only person of color in her
neighborhood. The daughter of a Nigerian father and a white American
mother, Lerman was adopted and raised by a white Jewish couple in
Lerman, who points out that she was born the
same year the Lovings won there case in the U.S. Supreme Court, grew up
in the midst of busing. "Black students were bused into the town where
I grew up that was 99 percent white."
Although she was
biracial, she chose to represent herself as black. "I look like a
black person, and to a lot of people I was the only black person they
knew, so for me I always felt black. Being biracial was something a
lot of people did not get."Celebrities help change attitudes
That is changing. Even before Americans became familiar with
Barack Obama, Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry and golf superstar
Tiger Woods, who are both multie-racial, were changing Americans'
attitudes toward race.
"This concept of black and white is a
very artificial construct in the United States," says Alex Diaz-Asper,
Lerman's husband. "It never was just a black and white culture."
Diaz-Asper, whose family emigrated from Cuba to the United States, is fair-skinned.
are starting to recognize that we are not just two races, we are
multiple races in this country," he says. "We always have been."Raising the next generation of multi-cultural Americans
and Lerman have twin three-year-old boys, whom they are raising with a
strong emphasis on Latino culture and language. Alejandro has curly
dark hair, brown eyes and brown skin. Miguel has straight light-brown
hair, blue eyes, and pale skin.
"Their unifying identity is
being Latin," Lerman says. "We do get reactions because of how they
look, obviously being such a contrast. Usually it is people who are
white who will say 'How did that happen? You've got one for Mom and
one for Dad.'"
Such comments are rare in the multi-cultural
Washington neighborhood where the family lives. Lerman believes both
boys will have a more positive experience growing up than she did.
"I'm hopeful they will feel more connected to American society in
general than I did. And that they will feel less that they need to be
In 2000, the U.S. Census bureau took one step in
that direction. For the first time, Americans filling out the Census
survey forms were allowed to check more than one box to define their
race. More than six and a half million Americans did. And in the
eight years since then, 25 percent more Americans have identified
themselves as belonging to two or more races.