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Interracial Marriages Amongst African Immigrants In Hungary Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 4079 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In many countries throughout the world, marriage is primarily an agreement between two families. An alliance through marriage between two successful families can enhance the power, prestige and well being of all the members in that family. Interracial marriage is a potential venue where both partners can enrich their world-view depending on one’s value and ability to accommodate cultural difference. The extent to which interracial marriages are accepted in our global society is a function of the cultural parameters within which these dynamics occur. It is apparent that the figurative shrinking of our globe seems to represent conditions that allow opportunity for the number of intercultural marriages to expand.

This paper seeks to provide an overview of interracial marriages, taking into consideration, its reasons, evolutionary historic nature and its importance to African immigrants.

History of Interracial Marriages

Before discussing how historical changes have influenced interracial relationships, it is imperative to examine how relationships have evolved throughout history. During Medieval times, the families of would be couple arranged their marriage. Much of society placed emphasis on wealth and land ownership. People did not often marry outside of their class. Therefore, it was the role of family to find a suitable partner to make the transition into matrimony (Amt, 1993:77). Also, love was not a factor in the decision making process (Stritof, 2001). In the middle Ages, marriage was seen as a sacrament. Therefore, the transition into marriage was made in order to prevent sin and to procreate as the Bible dictates (Shahar, 1983:15). However, during colonial times, the role of the family was altered. The transition into marriage shifted from the parent’s control to the individual’s control. In spite of this shift, though, the family did still largely influence whom the individual chose to marry. Children were guided and taught on how to choose the most suitable partner. During this time, romance became part of the marriage interest; it was an opportunity to love (Wilkins, 1998:502).

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Interracial relationships are historically determined. Interracial marriage started in the United State of America. Laws against interracial marriages date back to 1661. These laws were enacted to prevent whites from marrying outside their race. Individuals who married cross-culturally could be arrested (Schwalbe, 2001:23). These laws were not limited to African Americans, for example in Arizona whites and Native Americans were prohibited from marrying each other, on the other hand, in Montana whites could not marry Asian Americans (Schwartz, 2000:114).Similarly, in colonial Mexico, sexuality, marriage, and “superstitious” love and fertility rituals were subject to control by the Spanish inquisition (Stoler, 1989:134). Moran (2001:29), argued that anti-miscegenation laws established racial boundaries, racial purity, contained ambiguity, and preserved public recognition of sexual decency. Bardaglio (1999) holds that the anti-miscegenation law sought not so much to eliminate interracial sexual contact as to channel them. The main purpose of this law was to keep the black and white race apart. And it is for this reason that Stoler (1994:199) argued that the métissage (mixed blood) was conceived as a dangerous source of subversion, it was seen as a threat to white prestige, an embodiment of European degeneration and moral decay and represented, not only the dangers of foreign enemies at national borders, but the more pressing affront for European nation-states. This is what the German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1962:149) so aptly defined as undermining the essence of the nation, and its “interior frontiers”. Therefore, sexual meanings and intimacy are social and cultural constructs which are the main forces conditioning human relationships. It is in this light that, Zelizer in Purchase of Intimacy (2005:1) holds that taboo against romantic affaire in workplace and sex for hire both rests on the twinned belief that intimacy corrupts the economy and economy corrupt intimacy, intermarriage should be forbidden.

In addition to the above, Roger (1990:315), holds that the “United States is the only country in the New world which has carried its law against interracial marriage from its colonial period into its national one”. In this light, Garrison questioned the state’s right to interfere with the private realm of marriage and he argued that “marriage is not a province, and does not belong to the power of legislative assembly, therefore it is a wrong approach for the republican government to decide on the complexional affinity of those who choose to be united together in wedlock, and it may as rationally decree that corpulent and lean, tall and short, strong and weak persons shall not be married to each other as that there must be an agreement in the complexion of the parties” ( cf Washington 1986:84). The right to select one’s mate is one of the most ancient, most sacred of individual rights, and when the state interferes in this, except in the case of the mentally unfit, it but adds humour to the witticism (Roger, 1988:80)

However, in 1967, the Supreme Court Case Loving v. Virginia declared laws against interracial marriages as unconstitutional (Schwalbe, 2001). This allowed individuals to explore other relationship opportunities and thus the rise of interracial marriages. These laws limited the pool of eligible mates and the transition into marriage was directly affected. These laws displayed the views of society; therefore, individuals wishing to make transition into marriage often followed these laws in order to gain society’s approval and to avoid adversity.

Reason for interracial Marriages

As seen above, interracial relationship during the colonial era was considered a taboo or an abominable practice. Association with a European, talk less of marriage or dating a European woman was perceived as a challenge to European supremacy. Europeans regulated social conduct between races, so as to maintain racial purity. In spite of these regulatory mechanisms that were put in place, African immigrants still engaged in interracial marriages. The reasons for interracial marriages among immigrants vary from one person to another.

For example, in some cases, the criteria for citizenship acquisition vary considerably between European states. Within the E U., the minimum residency; before aliens are eligible to apply for citizenship varies from three (Belgium), eight (Hungary) and ten (Austria and Hungary) years (Babcock, 2006:12-23).Some states requires shorter periods for applicants from states with whom they have cultural or historic ties. There are also variations in the requirements that states impose on those wishing to become their citizens. This is both natural and permissible. But, those requirements are nonetheless framed by moral considerations, which define their scope and limit (Caren, 1989:13-49).Many states exclude third country nationals from significant social and economic benefits such as employment benefits and health insurance, even if they have lived in their new state for several years. Citizenship, therefore, if only for instrumental reasons, is clearly a status worth having. But it is also an intrinsically valuable status position, important as it signifies a person’s equality under the law, full civic inclusion and ultimately immunity from deportation. As result, third country nationals have adopted various mechanisms to remain within EU member states. Examples of these mechanisms include commodification of sexuality, finding a shelter, or a job (in the formal or informal economy or as family labour), achieve legal status based on marriage terms (e.g. arranged or contract marriages).

For instance, irregular immigrants attempt to legalise their residence with the help of various strategies. For most, illegal migrants apprehended by the authorities, entering the asylum process is the major form of legalising their stay in Hungary. In 1999, there were 11,500 asylum applications, with 5,100 submitted by citizens of former Yugoslavia and 6,000 by non Europeans. Thus, Hungary is primarily a transit country for asylum. Economic condition prevailing in Hungary can offer only a partial explanation to this phenomenon. Another equally important factor is the lengthy asylum procedures, and scarce opportunities for integration. For these reason, asylum seekers generally seeks protection elsewhere, many in other member countries of the E.U. Therefore, the most common reason for terminating an asylum procedure is that the applicant “disappears” (Ejalu, 2008).

Similarly, Bledsoe and Sow (2008), carried out a study in Germany, and they argued that, Cameroonians in Germany, engaged in interracial relationship in order to maintain family reunification. Cameroonian women, who stay in Germany, are often those who gain residence rights by bearing a child for a German man, who is willing to recognise the child officially, irrespective of any long term paternal obligations. Using the German Federal Statistical office figures on the children of unmarried parents, Fleisher found that, in 2004, although there were about twice as many Cameroonian men than women in Germany, many more were born to Cameroonian women, than to Cameroonian men, that is, an equivalent of 240: 92, respectively. Among married partners, 49 children born to parents who were both Cameroonians but 169 were born to a Cameroonian and German conjugal pair. Again, there were considerably more, proportionately, children born to a Cameroonian German marriages who were born to Cameroonian women and their German husbands, than Cameroonian men and their German wives.

In addition to the above, for Cameroonian men, the pathway to legal residence in Germany is entirely different. Most German women who strike up relationships with Cameroonian men are substantially older than their partners, and are unwilling or unable to have a child. As well, the likelihood of becoming a parent of a German child, independently of its mother, is almost out of question, for a Cameroonian man. Claiming residence by producing a German child is thus much rarer for a Cameroonian man, than a woman from Cameroon. For a Cameroon man, without a job, the best route to acquire residence, is contracting and sustaining marriage with a German woman for at least three year, after which he can obtain residence, although authorities continue to exert surveillance, and may investigates cases of divorces after years. Fleisher found that, in 2004, there were 163 bi-national marriages between a Cameroonian and a German in Germany, most of them Cameroonian men marrying German women-but just six marriages between Cameroonian men and women. The further complexity is that, many Cameroonian men desire children and want to return home eventually. Confronted with the logic of singularity on which family reunification rules of marriage rest, some men quietly retain marriage with a woman back home by which they have borne children, or ask their families members to find a wife, whom they visit periodically before their final return. This is because, a Cameroonian man may come to see marriage to a German woman as a temporary necessity and look to Cameroon for his main “family future”, he may come to see “traditional” or at least Cameroonian marriages as the base, and “formal” marriage in the west as the temporary distortion. (Fleischer,2003).

African immigrants may feel inferior due to a mental, physical, social handicap and enter an interracial relationship after determing that acceptance will be found only outside of a culture of birth. A marriage based on this motive may be consciously considered to be a second best or stand-in marriage interracial may be an act of aggression toward another race. Deviance and revenge by one partner can humiliate the in-law. They will either complement this need by feeling personally inferior or angry and rebellious against parents, culture and society (Blau, 1977:31). Leon (1984), suggests that idealism may be a motive of”liberal” marrying inter-culturally. Identification with the underdog, an inferiority complex, rebellion, and rescue could be an outgrowth of this idealism.

Importance of Interracial Marriages.

Throughout history, the structure of interracial relationships has seen a drastic evolution. What once was seen as non-normative and forbidden practice is now seen as common. Specifically speaking, there has been an increase in heterogamous, cross-cultural, relationships. This rise in interracial relationships can be attributed to the reversal of anti-miscegenation laws, the lack of potential mates, the breakdown of segregation, immigration and advancements in technology. These changes in romantic relationships and the transition to marriage have allowed people to explore alternative lifestyles and relationships. Noticeably, interracial romantic relationships and marriages have become commonplace.

According to Schwartz (2000:17) an increase in interracial marriages is as a result of immigration, increases the chances of meeting people from different racial backgrounds. For instance, the United States of America is considered a melting pot. The U.S.A. has many different races enmeshed into one society (Schwartz, 2007:23). This has allowed African immigrants to have many different types of romantic relationships/interracial marriages. Immigration has effected the transition into marriage by providing mates from many different backgrounds. Also, immigration has affected many people’s views on marriage by introducing people to new cultures. Interracial marriages among African immigrant is advantageous because it is seem as a gate way to integration and assimilation especially on the part on those immigrants who are being excluded from their societies

The degree of social control and the institutionalised discrimination is a function of existing relationships between the majority(host country and minority. An increase in the number of primarily relationship (indicated by interracial marriage) between these groups signals a dissolutions of discriminatory and subordinating practices and less incumbered entrance of minority into social institution of the majority group (Gordon, 1964:35). On the other hand, interracial marriages may indicate a weakening of ethnic cohesion and a loss of highly value ethnic culture (Murguia, 1982). Beaumont (1958[1835]:245), suggests that intermarriages are certainly the best, if not the unique, means of fusing the white and the black races. They are also the most obvious index of equality. While the U.S court of 1873 considered interracial marriages as “immoral”, others saw it as a cultural betrayal .Opponents of interracial dating contend that those who date or marry outside of their race are betraying their families and abandoning their cultural heritage. Many African immigrants believe interracial marriage erodes the solidarity of the African community. Lawrence Otis Graham feels that “interracial marriage undermines [African] ability to introduce our children to black role models who accept their racial identity with pride.” Graham also fears that biracial children will turn their backs on their black heritage when they discover that it is easier to live as a white person (cf Sollors, 2000:23-58).

On the other hand, proponents of interracial relationships contend that interracial romance is a step towards eliminating racial hatred. According to Mitali Perkins (2007:50), “Where exploitation and anger have separated the races in society, an interracial family called by God is a compelling example of the gospel of reconciliation.” Yvette Walker believes that

“Racism . . . will have to be bred out. We can’t make policies to change it. And certainly, in an interracial relationship the children are raised in a climate of tolerance.” She and others contend that the rising incidence of interracial children will eventually lead to a society where race will no longer matter because everyone will blend into one race, the human race. More importantly, assert many supporters of interracial relationships, colour should not matter when it comes to love. They echo Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous sentiment that people should be judged not “by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character…” (cf Perkins 2007:206)

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African immigrants believe that interracial marriages offer the best opportunities for couples and professionals to experience, learn, develop, and educate themselves. Empowerment traits for interracial marriage and intimacy are core ingredients in promoting positive relationships in order that each of the couples’ families might work towards achieving optimal interracial satisfaction and simultaneously cope with external forces such as nationality, community, family, and individual. (McFadden, 2002:220).

In the past, African immigrants were considered as inferior, Buirj (1993:176-179) argued that immigrants are lazy, incompetent, and inefficient because they lack both the cultural and symbolic capital. Michele Lamont (2000) recapitulates the negative feeling toward immigrants and reflects the continuing availability of cultural repertoires stressing the moral failure of immigrants. In the view of historian David Kennedy, in United States “on the one hand

“…immigrants were judged to be noble souls…whose talents and genius and love of liberty account for the magnificent American character. On the other hand… [they] were thought to be degraded, freeloading louts, a blight on the national character and a drain on the economy…”(cf Lamont, 2000:105).

Scientific opinion at present tends to admit that an African immigrant is not inferior in any essential character of mind; and is approximately equal to other races in his ability to acquire culture (Du Bois, 1899). Despite the long-entrenched, labels to racially categorise African population in history, a trend has emerged towards a more fluid view of racial identification. Schacht and Knox (2000:279) argued that due to an interracial marriage/dating relationship amongst immigrants, there has been a gradual, if not, socially recognised shift in how immigrants are perceived. They have gained recognition.

Moreover, interracial relationships are a step toward a more integrated and egalitarian society. For example, the future of Africans belongs to the person who is the product of many different cultures. Through interracial marriage, different cultures will develop their unique identities and come together in harmony. Benefits of interracial marriages would be that an African [immigrant] child would learn more tolerance and respect towards all races. Such children may be open to new ideas, and less hostile regarding one’s religious creed or nationality. Many wars are fought over both religion and patriotic fanaticism, and a child of mixed background is not going to really purely identify with either one of the other racial background, thus, the child is less susceptible to being nationalistic to a fanatical degree. (Innocent, Sirefman, 1992).

However, interracial marriages enable Africans immigrants to acquire citizenship and to engage in the political affairs of the host country. It is therefore a gateway for immigrants with citizenship status to shape and influence decisions at the national level. Thus, immigrants often view citizenship as crucial for the future prosperity of their children and their immediate relatives. The possibility of reuniting with family members is the major reason for acquiring citizenship. Citizenship also carries with it status and prestige among extended family members in the country of origin. Immigrants who have naturalised tell stories about how parents and relatives at home in Africa boast about their accomplishments. Praise and accolades are given to those who have become citizens’ (Arthur, 2000:24) Citizenship in other word, affects the shift in the cultural identities of immigrants (Afolabi, Falola, 2008: 49).

Furthermore, interracial marriage is seen as strategic for integration and a form of assimilation.

Park and Burgess (1969:735) define assimilation as a process of interpenetration and fusion in which person and groups acquire the memories, sentiments and aptitude of other groups and by sharing their experience and history, are incorporated with them in a common life ”the process of interpenetration” is arguably best examplied in intermarriage which is often seen as the final step in the assimilation process. For African immigrants, it is a gate way to better life. Intermarriage is a clear signal that minority groups have adopted the cultural patterns of the host or majority population, such as its language and customs. On the other hand, during the assimilation process, African immigrants tend to lose their distinctive characteristics as they pass through the stages of assimilation, eventually intermarrying with the majority population (Alba 2003; Gordon 1964: 89)

Theoretical Framework

Using the status exchange theory (Merton, 1941, Davis, 1941), I have argued that interracial marriages would frequently involve an exchange of status characteristics. Highly educated Africa immigrants would trade their educational status in order to reap the benefits associated with the racial status of a potential white spouse.’ Similarly, whites with low levels of education would trade their racial status for the educational status of a potential black spouse. Consequently, a black-white marriage is likely to involve a black spouse with greater education than the white spouse because these types of individuals would each have something to gain from the union. Interracial marriages involving white spouses with greater education than their black spouses would be much less likely because blacks would have nothing to offer their potential white spouse in return for the white spouse “marrying down” in terms of race. Both Merton and Davis believed that this process of status exchange was applicable only to black male-white female unions because a black man’s educational background would be more closely tied to future potential earnings and prestige than would a black woman’s education. Lacking empirical data to confirm this hypothesis, Merton provided the framework for a future test of the theory.

According to Merton, the correct procedure would be to compare the relative frequency of three types of interracial marriage: educationally homogamous unions (Group A), unions in which the white member marries “upward” (white hyper- gamy) in terms of education (Group B), and unions in which the white member marries “downward” (white hypogamy) in terms of education (Group C).2 Group B should be the most common type because it involves the expected exchange of status characteristics, and Group C should be the least common type. Numerous scholars have since shown that this test fails because most interracial marriages are educationally homogamous. Individuals have a strong tendency to marry partners of a similar educational background, and this tendency has been increasing over the last half-century (Schwartz and Mare 2005). Thus, to some extend educational status is not the only means used by African immigrants to engaged in interracial relationship but the desire to acquired integration through various means such as citizenship and resident permit is another reason for interracial marriages as already highlighted above.

To conclude, in spite some of the miscegenation laws put in placed in the past, the desire to acquired citizenship, resident permits are reason of the that have pushed Africans immigrants to engaged interracial marriages, in order to reap the benefits of the host country in which they find themselves.


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