It is common to see racially mixed couples in shopping malls, restaurants and discos in Bangkok and in other cities in Thailand. The typical couple is a Thai woman with a farang man. Though there are certainly lots of examples of Thai men with farang women. In many of my books starting with A Killing Smile I have written about racially mixed couples, their problems, conflicts, their source of anxiety, and the cultural roadblocks they often encounter in Thailand.
Slate has an article by Ray Fisman: An Economist goes to the Bar looking at how racial characteristics factor into the decision to date and marry. Here are some of Fisman’s conclusions:
“Women of all the races we studied revealed a strong preference for men of their own race: White women were more likely to choose white men; black women preferred black men; East Asian women preferred East Asian men; Hispanic women preferred Hispanic men. But men don't seem to discriminate based on race when it comes to dating. A woman's race had no effect on the men's choices.
“Two wrinkles on this: We found no evidence of the stereotype of a white male preference for East Asian women. However, we also found that East Asian women did not discriminate against white men (only against black and Hispanic men). As a result, the white man-Asian woman pairing was the most common form of interracial dating—but because of the women's neutrality, not the men's pronounced preference.”
The Slate article refers to a recent study titled Racial Preferences in Dating which is based on a speed dating experiment with graduate students attending Columbia University. The results of the study reveal some interesting data:
-Females exhibit stronger racial preferences than males.
-Only 4% of marriages in the United States are between partners of different race.
-Inter-racial matches may be rare, therefore, simply because members of different races interact relatively infrequently.
-Our results indicate that even in a population of relatively progressive individuals
we observe strong racial preferences.
Whoever is in charge of immigration policy ought to have a look at this study. The deep-seated prejudice based on race is one of those dirty secrets. One would suspect that a study in most countries would show that the tribal impulse to form relationships with members of the same tribe is the norm. The stuff of drama follows from interpersonal conflict. Add to that interracial conflict, and you have the spark that ignites the narratives in books such as To Kill A Mockingbird and A Time to Kill. With all the technological marvels at hand, we still have yet to confront the most basic of truths: everyone alive today can trace a common ancestor that came out of Africa around 60,000 years ago.
We live in small, isolated enclaves enclosed with prevailing tribal myths and taboos and race often becomes the most visible, tangible way of defining who is my brother and who is my enemy. If a relative enlightened society – a racially mixed one as well – with a history of civil right and anti-discrimination laws retains the basic racism of the tribe, one might assume that in less enlightened societies the racial barriers to marriage are even higher.
A tip of the hat to J.A. Paulos for drawing the Slate article to my attention.