Sociologist Tamari Kitossa and his research partner Kathy Deliovsky, also a Brock sociologist, are among of a handful of researchers in Canada who studies the experiences and realities of people in interracial unions as well as tracks the trends of these relationships.
Kitossa, an associate professor of sociology, is also an expert in racial profiling. He sat down with the Brock News recently to describe some of the findings of his interracial research.
TBN: Statistics Canada reports that the number of interracial unions has been increasing in recent years. Does this signal a rising acceptance of multiculturalism?
Kitossa: The assumption is that, because there are more interracial couples, it means that these unions are a proxy measure for racial tolerance in our society, but no one is really asking the people in those relationships about their experiences. Being in an interracial relationship, I can attest to the fact that it’s not all roses despite the notion that it appears that there’s a greater level of tolerance.
These unions are facing a number of challenges. We need to know what those challenges are in order to support those unions and educate Canadians on the realities of those relationships.
Since 1991, the numbers of people in these types of unions have been increasing, but there’s not much empirical investigation in terms of what’s happening in their lives. More research needs to be done, but there’s reluctance in Canada to collect information on the basis of race.
TBN: What are some of the challenges inter-racial unions face?
Kitossa: The experiences of interracial couples run on a continuum. On one extreme, the response might be acceptance and support from friends and family; in the middle, partners might experience polite rejection that one finds in rumour, innuendo, sarcastic comments, comments that the partners have not considered the implication of having children etc. On the farthest extreme, women in particular can experience being thrown out of their parents’ home and subject to violent assaults from male family members.
There have been cases in Canada of fathers killing their daughters and fathers hiring hitmen because their daughters’ choices are seen as questioning their parents culture and choices for them.
Strangers might be supportive. In the middle of this continuum they might make out-of-place remarks that are perceived as offensive. And on the farthest extreme, strangers might engage in a range of violence, ranging from landlords denying interracial couples an apartment to assaults such as cursing, spitting and hitting. There have been incidences of cross burnings on the lawn of interracial couples.
TBN: Are interracial unions a relatively new development?
Kitossa: Interracial couples have long existed in Canada, stretching back to the fur traders. Statistically, there were probably more interracial couples 300 years ago than there are now relative to the size of the population. It was a policy of the French traders and the English traders in the Hudson’s Bay Company to actually partner with Aboriginal women to gain access to the trade routes and engagement with those communities. We know that the Metis are one result of interracial coupling in Canada.
We need to reframe our lens to show that interracial couples have long been the reality in Canada and pre-Confederation. Aboriginal women are the first mothers of the continent. When we factor in slavery and immigration, we see that there’s a very long history of interracial mixing in Canada and throughout the Americas.
TBN: How prevalent are interracial unions in Canada?
Kitossa: Interracial unions make up about three to four per cent of all unions in Canada with people between the ages of 15 to 64 years. This is higher than in the United States, which has a rate of about two per cent.
The rates vary within communities. About 75 per cent of Japanese are in interracial unions. Aboriginal and African-Canadians also have high interracial mating, although not as high as the Japanese. The Chinese - who are the largest minority group in Canada - and South Asians have the lowest rates of interracial mating.
Also, interracial unions among people of colour are a smaller number than interracial couples involving people of European background with people of colour.
TBN: What are some of the factors that account for these different rates?
Kitossa: That’s one of the things we want to address in our research: are some unions more acceptable to certain communities than to others?
Hypothetically, we would say that the frequency of marriage between Japanese-Canadians and European-Canadians would indicate that those types of unions are more acceptable to both Japanese and to European-Canadians.
But what we need to do is to actually talk to these people to see if they’re experiencing a greater degree of acceptance or if there are some issues that are not being adequately addressed because the perception that there’s greater tolerance might actually be concealing the way the people are dealing with racism in their unions.
We know that Filipino and Chinese women tend to marry out more than Filipino and Chinese men. The assumption is that there’s more tolerance for marriage with Asian women by white males. Is that assumption driven by stereotypes of Asian women as being more passive, more conforming to ideals of femininity? So, to what extent are those negative assumptions actually a part of a positive manifestation of interracial coupling itself?
TBN: Any other findings from your research?
Kitossa: People who are in interracial unions tend to have higher levels of education, which means they’re more likely to meet in universities and colleges.
Interracial unions in some communities face additional stressors of poverty and class inequality.
Unions between African Canadians and European Canadians tend to be more common-law than marriage. Common-law unions have a great deal more stress on them, and so there is the problem of the dissolution of those unions.
I don’t know why there’s a higher rate of common-law unions. This gets to the point that we don’t have a lot of research data on interracial couples in Canada that is not statistically based. There is actually a lot that we don’t know.