Local interracial couples reflect trend

Such unions surged 28 percent nationally between 2000 an 2010, with growth especially evident in the western United States

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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photoRandi King and her fiance, Cornell Collins, take a walk with their baby, Mason, 8 months. "Color of skin doesn't matter to me," Collins said.

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As a young man, Camas resident Gregory Allen envisioned marrying another African-American. Christina Duncan, a member of the same athletic club as Allen, changed his mind.

"I felt she was too good of a person to let (race) get in the way," Allen said.

The couple married in 2002, contributing to a 28 percent surge in interracial marriage nationally between 2000 and 2010, according to the Census Bureau.

As race barriers erode and globalization increases, more and more Americans are marrying, making homes and having children with people of different races. Nearly one in 10 American couples are now interracial. The West leads the nation in the trend.

About 15 percent of all new marriages nationally in 2010 were between interracial couples, according to an analysis of Census estimates by Pew Research Center. In the West, interracial marriage is more common than in the rest of the nation. In 2010, nearly 22 percent of all new marriages in the West and 21.2 percent in Washington state were interracial, the Pew study found. The rate was

13.9 percent in the South, 12.6 percent in the Northeast and 11.1 percent in the Midwest.

Shrinking racial divides

Interracial marriage is more acceptable today than it was in past generations.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans say it would be acceptable if a member of their family were to marry someone outside their own racial or ethnic group, according to Pew. In 1986, only one-third of the public viewed intermarriage as acceptable for everyone, including members of their own family, according to Pew.

Other surveys show young people are more "colorblind" than their parents were, which, in turn, may make them more open to marrying someone of another race, said Lindsey Wilkinson, an assistant professor of sociology at Portland State University.

Cornell Collins, 32, of Vancouver, is one example. Collins, who is black, said he dated women of different races before meeting his fiancée Randi King, 24, who is white.

"Color of skin doesn't matter to me," Collins said. "Color is something we look at as humans, but it's not something I base my life on. For me, it's about whether a person is nice, the person is respectable, and there obviously has to be some kind of physical attraction."

Allen's wife, Christina, 38, said race was never an issue for her when she considered marrying Allen, 53. For Allen and some in his extended social circle, however, race was a concern.

"I had always expected to marry someone inside my race, so I did struggle with that a little bit," Allen said.

"I want to stress that definitely wasn't my parents' idea," he added. "They were always just, 'People are people.'"

Allen said he had contend with comments relayed from acquaintances, such as, "Why doesn't he marry a black woman?"

Ultimately, Allen said his love for Christina transcended those concerns. The couple now has a son, 8-year-old Quentin.

Just in the past 10 years, Allen said he's seen greater acceptance of interracial unions.

"When you look at society as a whole, I remember when you didn't see interracial couples on television, and it's commonplace now," Allen said.

And not just on TV. In Quentin's second-grade class at Prune Hill Elementary School, there are other children from interracial couples, said Christina Allen.

Building tolerance

Intermarriage may be a sign of weakening racial barriers, but it also works to continue that erosion, said Wilkinson of PSU. "It gives people a different perspective and builds tolerance," she said. "That's why sociologists focus on it so much."

Globalization, high mobility and the Internet also have played roles in expanding the opportunities for interaction on a global scale, revving rates of interracial marriage not just between different races across the nation but also between different races from the United States and other countries.

Today, people meet who might never have crossed paths before, on the Internet and in other scenarios directly or indirectly resulting from globalization.

"The people you date are the people you interact with," Wilkinson said. "It used to be you'd interact with who you grew up with, who lived in your neighborhood, who you went to school with or worked with. Now, who you interact with is not restricted to who you know in your neighborhood. Everything has opened up in terms of who you have the opportunity to interact with."

Despite the old adage that "opposites attract," similarities are often what draw two people together, Wilkinson said.

"People tend to marry people who are like themselves because they have a similar understanding of the world," she said.

Allen, who grew up in a black community in North Portland, agreed with that idea. He said his inclination to marry another African-American came from a desire to be with someone who knew what it was like to grow up black.

"I was more comfortable with something I knew," Allen said.

Small pool of choices

Minorities who live in an area where there is a small number in their racial group are more likely to enter into interracial marriages than those from larger minority populations, Wilkinson said.

"If you aren't able to find someone in your group, you have to look outside," she said.

Clark County is about 89 percent white, 7.6 percent Latino (half of whom are considered white), 5.5 percent Asian, 3 percent black, 2 percent American Indian and 1 percent Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, according to the Census, so the likelihood of one of the minorities marrying outside their race is greater.

Allen met his wife, Christina, at Health Experience Athletic Club in Vancouver.

"I tended to work a lot when I got my businesses off the ground," said Allen, who is co-founder of United Energy Inc. "My only free time was spent working out. I was around mostly whites. You end up socializing with the people who you work out with. That's how I met my wife."

In the 1970s, Allen was in a similar setting as one of the inner-city Portland black students who were bused to suburban schools to help integrate students and build understanding between the races. Allen, who ended up at Lakeridge High School in Lake Oswego, said he never dated any of the white girls at the school.

"It was something I never ever thought about or even considered," Allen said. "I ended up with the wife I've got because it was the final piece of saying, 'Hey, grow up.'"

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