Dating across the lines

Alissa Ricci

“Race” is fast becoming a gray concept in the United States, without clear black and white categories. Caucasians are still the largest racial group represented, but multiracial people make up the second largest, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Many people are now dating or marrying partners of different races, and interracial relationships can be seen between all races, not just black and white couples. The interchange between cultural expectations, dating and race has a complicated history that played out in its own unique way at Villanova just last spring.

Mameisia “Mimi” Kabia, a black junior pre-med student, noticed that there were not many interracial couples on campus and wanted to find out why. She thought that maybe people were shy or feared being shunned by the student population. So she decided to do an experiment to test what it would be like to be part of an interracial couple at Villanova.

Enter Matt Dicken, a friend of Mimi’s who was a senior and a member of the football team. One day after class, Mimi asked Matt if he’d like to try an experiment with her: to pretend to be an interracial couple on Villanova’s campus for a week and gauge reactions. Matt said, “Sure, why not?” and grabbed Mimi’s hand as they walked out of Tolentine Hall together.

Mimi and Matt found that they received more reactions and comments from friends and acquaintances than from students they didn’t know.

“Strangers didn’t seem to want to look,” Mimi says.

Perhaps students did not find it unusual at all or did not know the pseudo-couple and therefore respected their privacy. People who did not know Mimi and Matt expressed their curiosity and perhaps disapproval through stares, but no verbal comments were made.

However, friends of the couple had stronger and more direct feedback. Matt noted that his friends did not take the relationship seriously at first.

“They teased me about it, telling me, ‘Once you go black, you never go back,’ and asking me, ‘Are you really going out with her? Are you serious?'” he says.

Some of Matt’s friends were dating women of a different race, so Matt did not expect any backlash.

“One guy, a close friend of mine who’s younger, just looked at me with this stare and shook his head,” Matt says. “It was so weird because I’ve never gotten any kind of reaction from him. We’ve always been on a joking basis as friends.” Matt interpreted his friend’s gesture as non-verbal disapproval.

Mimi received many reactions from other black women on campus.

“They were asking me, ‘How can I get a white guy?'” she says.

She notes that her white and Asian friends wanted to know if dating a white guy was different for her in a positive way. Overall, Mimi’s female friends accepted the relationship.

When Mimi told one of her black male friends that she was dating Matt, his humorous remark was, “Oh, we lost another one.”

Even though her friend was joking, his comment demonstrated an awareness of the growing number of black women who are dating white men.

When asked why their friends may have reacted in the ways they did, Matt responded, “When you’re friends with people, they know who you’re dating or interested in. But I just showed up with this girl, so they were taken by surprise.”

Mimi recalls that she didn’t even know Matt on a personal level prior to asking him to take part in the experiment. The two knew each other only as acquaintances from class.

After a week of pretending to be a couple, Mimi and Matt ended the experiment. They told their friends what they had been doing, and most accepted the announcement without any strong criticisms.

The two say that a few of Matt’s friends claimed that they knew he had been messing around. Many of Mimi’s friends were disappointed that she wasn’t dating a white man.

Either way, reactions among the student population at large were weak, which might indicate what polls are showing: with each generation, diversity and tolerance are increasingly stronger values for young people. More than our grandparents or even our parents, today’s college-age people live in a time when they meet and interact with people of different races and cultures on a day-to-day basis.

According to a recent Pew Poll testing racial attitudes, 83 percent of Americans agree that “It’s all right for blacks and whites to date.”

But the United States and its citizens have not always felt this way. Most people are unaware that laws prohibiting interracial marriage were in effect in more than half of American states until 1967.

Loving v. Virginia was a landmark case in which an interracial couple, Mildred and Richard Loving, fought to keep their marriage legally recognized in Virginia and to banish race-based legal prohibitions on marriage between a white and a non-white. The law they challenged was called the Racial Integrity Act, which claimed to exist for the purpose of “racial purity.” Because of their win, anti-miscegenation laws across America were no longer considered constitutional and banned thereafter.

Decades later, that famous court case makes a difference in the lives of all people in the United States.

We live in a world where people are progressing beyond looking at physical characteristics to focus on the character attributes of potential marriage partners, friends and co-workers, realizing that people of mixed race will continue to be part of U.S. population’s melting pot.

On Aug. 13, the U.S. Census Bureau projected that 54 percent of Americans will be part of a minority group by the year 2050. (The Census Bureau defines minorities as everyone except for non-Hispanic, single-race whites, according to an article by CNN writer David Goldman.) This means that Mimi and Matt’s experiment will possibly become an everyday reality when most of us are around 60 years old.

Mildred Loving’s words represent the heart of the matter and present a vision for the future: “We loved each other and got married. We are not marrying the state. The law should allow a person to marry anyone he wants.”