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La. interracial marriage: Is life tougher for biracial kids?

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 16, 2009


Louisiana justice of the peace Keith Bardwell's refused to marry a white woman and a black man reportedly because he believed that children of an interracial marriage would suffer socially.

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That view was once common in the United States, and might have had some basis decades ago when such marriages were taboo and multiracial families were sometimes ostracized. But today, not only are mixed-race children widely accepted but some research suggests they might even have some social advantages.

Researchers are finding that multiracial kids can sometimes be better socially adjusted than single-race offspring. And with the high-profile success of multiracial progeny such as Tiger Woods, Halle Berry, and President Obama (who at his first press conference as president described himself as a "mutt"), stereotypes about the split world of the "tragic mulatto" have long fallen by the wayside.

The American Civil Liberties Union is now threatening a lawsuit if Mr. Bardwell, veteran justice of the peace at Tangipahoa Parish, doesn't step down. The group calls Bardwell's refusal to issue a marriage licence to Beth Humphrey (who is white) and Terence McKay (who is black) both "tragic and illegal."

"I'm not a racist," Bardwell told a local newspaper. "I do ceremonies for black couples right here in my house. My main concern is for the children."

The 'tragic mulatto'

Refusing to issue marriage licenses for reasons of race has been illegal in the US since the Supreme Court in 1967 struck down anti-miscegenation laws in 16 states, mostly in the South.

Research on mixed-race children once focused on the social and psychological problems that can arise from not feeling like a full member of any racial group. That notion permeated early 20th century American literature through the figure of the "tragic mulatto," who did not fit in with either the black or white world.

As recently as 1968, the psychologist J.D. Teicher wrote, "Although the burden of the Negro child is recognized as a heavy one, that of the Negro-White child is seen to be even heavier."