Where Are Politics’ Interracial Couples?

More Americans are open to mixed marriages, but few government officials marry outside their race.

Bill de Blasio and Chirlane McCray (Paul Zimmerman/WireImage/Getty Images)
Bill de Blasio and Chirlane McCray (Paul Zimmerman/WireImage/Getty Images)

Studies show that interracial relationships are gaining increasing acceptance with younger generations and that nearly all millennials do not take issue with such unions. Many observers noted that Rep. Paul Ryan is the first member of a major party ticket to disclose an interracial relationship, and at age 42, he also happens to be the first member of a major party ticket who is a member of Generation X. (Some have mentioned in comparison that President Obama had a white girlfriend at one time, but since his mother was also white, it doesn’t make such a disclosure quite as noteworthy.)

Ryan is not alone. Thirty-seven-year-old Republican mayor-turned-GOP congressional candidate Mia Love, who is speaking at this week’s Republican National Convention, is also a member of Generation X and has also dated interracially, and subsequently married. Love is black, while her husband is white.

Basil Smikle, a New York-based political consultant who once worked for Hillary Clinton, speculated that couples like Love’s and de Blasio’s may have an easier time than others, and not just because the public is growing more open-minded. Smikle theorized that black men with white spouses are likely to have the toughest time of all mixed race matches in a campaign. “I think for an African-American male candidate with a white spouse there is a credibility hurdle that he will need to overcome with black voters that another candidate would not face,” he said.

He explained that while black voters may look at a black woman married to a white man and assume perhaps she simply did not meet the right black man, they see an accomplished black man married to a white woman and assume perhaps he married a trophy wife. This makes visiting black churches and other locales to which black candidates often go a challenge. For instance, as a candidate for the senate in Tennessee, Rep. Harold Ford was the target of an ad featuring a white woman suggestively telling him to “call me,” which many viewed as a racially coded reference to his interracial relationships. Ford later explored running for the senate in New York, but by that time his white girlfriend had become his wife.

Though New York is not Tennessee, it still would have presented a challenge for him, Smikle explained. “I don’t think it is something he could not have overcome,” he added. Yet Smikle did conclude that “If Obama had a white wife it is unlikely he would be president.”

Despite the challenges their unique family may bring in the political sphere, de Blasio and his wife are optimistic about where our country is headed when it comes to race. They recalled that they met weeks after the racially charged Crown Heights riots in New York, and it was love at first sight. Yet after the Spike Lee film Jungle Fever was released that year they were harassed by a group of teens that cornered them while shouting, “jungle fever.”

Now, two decades later they are preparing to possibly become New York’s first family. “Today we feel broadly respected and embraced with a few exceptions,” he said. His wife pointed out, though, that there are still times when people see their family together and treat them like they couldn’t possibly be a family, what both of them referred to as “awkwardness.”

“The day I look forward to is when we are a country without awkwardness, where people just accept people in every configuration,” de Blasio said. “You would think that by having a biracial president that would be the end of the chapter and we could all go home now, but nothing could be further from the truth. We have a long way to go.”

Keli Goff is The Root’s political correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.