Terms for mixed race couples?
June 8, 2009 8:34 PM   Subscribe

What are the most appropriate terms for referring to couples of mixed race/ethnicity? Multicultural? Mixed Race? Bicultural? Multiethnic?

Just to clarify, I mean couples where the partners are different ethnicities, not that each one individually is mixed race. Please excuse me if I have used any of these terms in an offensive manner.
posted by roaring beast to Society & Culture (42 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
"Interracial" is the best term I know of.

"Multicultural" is a particularly bad description since you don't really mean to refer to different "cultures." A black and white person could grow up in very similar circumstances and thus share a culture. And you can't assume that two white people have the same culture.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:40 PM on June 8, 2009

posted by thisjax at 8:41 PM on June 8, 2009

A 'couple'.
posted by Brockles at 8:42 PM on June 8, 2009 [18 favorites]

[Person's name] and [Person's name]?
posted by applemeat at 8:46 PM on June 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by lunasol at 8:50 PM on June 8, 2009

"Miscegenation" was the name of the old crime in the US laws against it.

As it's a matter of such long and painful history there probably isn't a universal term for what you mean. So much of the terminology is bound up in specifically regional race relations---and as Brockles implies, bound up in the assumption that race is an important factor in a couple---that appropriateness is always going to be something residing in the specific circumstances, not the general. If you want to refer to the phenomenon you can't get away from addressing the past and the context; and you're probably safest by spelling out exactly what you mean, as you've done in the second sentence of your question.

My grandparents' generation, for instance, had a deep and abiding horror for "mixed marriages": they meant nothing more than those marriages between Catholics and Protestants.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:51 PM on June 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm with Brockles. Why refer to it at all?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:51 PM on June 8, 2009

I find the responses here odd. The poster is not saying "please tell me what to call these couples I find strange and unsettling, so that I might better Otherize them." S/he is asking what is the socially acceptable term for a type of couple.

Obviously, that will be different in different contexts, and the OP probably should have specified the cultural context (ie, country, region) but it's a legitimate question.

Why refer to it at all?

Why not? It's not racist to refer to the fact that two people are of different races.
posted by lunasol at 9:11 PM on June 8, 2009 [5 favorites]

I'm not sure if there's an appropriate term for it any more. Maybe "mixed marriage"? That refers to culture and religion as much to race, which I think is appropriate as the definitional power of race decreases.

I think the term "interracial" is outmoded, and harkens back to a time when "races didn't mix." See, I even had to put that in quotes, because at this point in time talking about "races mixing" just strikes me as bizarre.

Here's a thought question: what kinds of couples are you thinking of? A white anglo and an african american? That would be the classic interracial couple. How about a white anglo and someone of chinese descent? A white anglo and a white hispanic person? Would that be interracial? Maybe it would be multicultural, but I wouldn't really think of it as interracial.

So I'd go with "mixed marriage" which is nice and inclusive in the way that things are generally pretty mixed up these days.
posted by alms at 9:31 PM on June 8, 2009

It's not racist to refer to the fact that two people are of different races.

I'm not saying it's racist. I'm saying it shouldn't be noteworthy. I'm saying that maybe it shouldn't be referred to because it doesn't really matter.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:41 PM on June 8, 2009

"Interracial relationship" is the way to say it. But if you can avoid saying it, do your best to. It's way cooler not to make a big deal about it. When I hear people talking about someone's "interracial relationship" I privately think they sound like unsophisticated idiots who have lived in homogenous societies all their lives and can't see past skin colour and OMG so exotic!! Lame and annoying. (And I'm speaking as someone who's in one, and whose very birth was the product of one.)
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:45 PM on June 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm Canadian (I guess I'm "white") and my wife is Japanese, so I suppose, all things being equal, we prefer the term "intercultural couple". However, it never comes up (I feel really lucky to live in Canada). We absolutely prefer "Kokuryu and Ms. KokuRyu" and ignore all the shitty, stupid, shallow, fucked-up thinking that has to assign race to everything. We're all just people, and culture and language signify more than skin colour. I should say that if you can lean another language and the ways of the culture, then there are *no* differences.

We also loathe people who call our children "mixed race".
posted by KokuRyu at 9:47 PM on June 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Well, I think we've established that calling a couple "interracial" or any related term is a bit dangerous in most contexts.

The fact remains that when speaking of the phenomenon in general, in the US the usual term is "interracial."

As in "A significant change in southern culture since even the 1980s has been the increasing acceptance of interracial relationships" or "Interracial marriages were prohibited in several states before Loving" or "Much like interracial marriages, once taboo, rapidly gained acceptance, same-sex marriage is gaining acceptance."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:16 PM on June 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Interracial would be my preferred term. like pseudo, i'm a product of one, and i've been in many 'interracial relationships'

kudos to you, lunasol. You hit on the reason why the poster is asking the question (I'm sorta annoyed with the posters coming out with this 'race doesn't matter so you don't need to have a term for what you're asking' line of thought.
posted by waylaid at 10:19 PM on June 8, 2009

My family is transracial, transcultural, and transnational. So there are some options. But, as others have stated, we much prefer simply being a "family."
posted by bluedaisy at 10:23 PM on June 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Mr. Palmcorder and I prefer the term "race traitors," with "mutt-marriage" a close second.


I guess if someone has to refer to it (and almost nobody does in practice-- though granted, my ethnicity isn't all that visually obvious), the best term would probably be "intercultural."
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 10:42 PM on June 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm not saying it's racist. I'm saying it shouldn't be noteworthy. I'm saying that maybe it shouldn't be referred to because it doesn't really matter.

Oh, come on. What if he wanted to say, for instance, "it shouldn't be noteworthy for a couple to be interracial"? It's a useful concept that deserves a word, even if you think humanity has somehow advanced to the point where no one makes a big deal out of racial distinctions.
posted by decagon at 11:10 PM on June 8, 2009 [4 favorites]

Ask the couple what they prefer.
posted by cmgonzalez at 11:10 PM on June 8, 2009

In the event that you do have a particular couple or couples in mind, I vote for "find out what they prefer." I have almost no connection to My Cultural Heritage, and find some people's insistence that I do or should incredibly irritating. While I acknowledge the attempt at sensitivity or whatever, I would find someone referencing my relationship in this manner somewhat offensive simply for feeling a need to point it out at all.
posted by Su at 12:15 AM on June 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I find it hard to express some things using shorthand ends up being insulting to somebody, almost always.

If it's a marriage between people from different nations, I'd say, for example, 'X is Canadian and her husband Y is Somali' or something of the kind. I might say 'international marriage' perhaps.

If it was a matter of two Canadians (or whatever) with different ethnicities, I just wouldn't bother mentioning it unless I was specifically asked, and then I'd use the same phrasing I describe above, referring to the nation they or their family came from, not their 'race'. Offering the information unsolicited, which feels like the only situation where I would need to use words like 'biracial' or 'multiethnic' or whatever, is not something I personally would do.

Different people have different sensitivities to this. That's just my take.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:34 AM on June 9, 2009


I know you meant no offense by asking. That said, I think the correct phrase is "the couple". I only support one of the above answers with a label if you refer to other couples as "the white couple", or "the black couple".

Older people sometimes ask me about my heritage...and when I ask them theirs, I get "oh...I'm a normal American". That makes me think that they think I'm NOT normal, or not an American. Sure thats not the same as the question you're asking...but labeling a couple as "multi-cultural" or "ethnically diverse" leads to stuff like that where it will be "normal" and "multi-ethnic". Guess who has the advantage and which is the freak ticket?

I don't mean to go off on you, because I know you meant no malice...but the more differences people are keen to point out, the more differences will remain.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:46 AM on June 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

When I was dating someone of a different race, I thought of and referred to us as an interracial couple in situations where our races were relevant. I think I remember others using the same term to describe us (occasionally, when relevant - obviously people did not just go around identifying us as 'that interracial couple' all the time.) I don't think I ever heard us called any of the other terms you're suggesting, but I wouldn't have minded.
posted by Stacey at 2:59 AM on June 9, 2009

I've always used Interracial relationship. I am in one, and I'm the product of one. It's certainly almost never the first thing that pops into my mind about my relationship, or my parents', but sometimes the term is handy.

FWIW, I refer to myself as mixed, which usually comes up when I say "I'm from ____. Yeah, I don't look like I am because I'm mixed."
posted by quirks at 3:22 AM on June 9, 2009

I'm an all-American Euromutt married to a Chinese woman of northern stock.

I usually don't bother mentioning my wife's origins unless it pertains to the conversation at hand, and she follows the same rule. I get very pissy when people make assumptions about her or I based on our origins, and I even get a little prickly when people feel the need to bring it up without a proper reason. A lot of people in the same situation as we have said they agree.

So there's the thing to realize. The key to socially acceptable mention of this fact isn't what word you use, it's more when you mention it. And that takes a lot of tact. If you say she complains and doesn't do housework because she's Chinese, then you need to shut up. If you want to explain why she has no idea who Scrooge McDuck is, ok.

In general conversation, we just use "mixed-culture" or "mixed-race", respectively and with attention paid to what I actually mean, to refer to that category of couples. But again, it's not so much how you refer to them, it's what you say about them. Honestly, it really doesn't bear mentioning if I tell you that I prefer pizza while my wife prefers dumplings. Yes this is the case, in many ways both of us are walking stereotypes; but if you don't mention the ethnic background, that fact can just be taken on its own. Ok, this guy likes pizza, she likes dumplings. Let's assume you know a Jewish girl, from a rich family, who throws hissy fits, likes to shop, and is picky and unrealistic about men. She's a walking J.A.P. stereotype, fine, but so what? She's "a girl, from a rich family, who throws hissy fits, likes to shop, and is picky and unrealistic about men", and it's easier for all of us concerned if we just let her be that instead of throwing "Jewish" and all the cultural baggage (both positive and negative) that that label carries with it. It's much, much easier, and much more polite, to have conversations about people without bringing cultural labels into it.
posted by saysthis at 4:32 AM on June 9, 2009

We were at an art perfomance created by an immigrant rights activist artist in which the attendees were made enter it in "subversive" order. As in, illegal immigrants first, non-whites after, blah, blah, blah and whites last. I got in before the rest of the whites because I am part of an interracial couple. That's how they announced it. None of the other terms were offensive so I supposed this one wasn't either (in the USA, I'm not sure if it's appropriate elsewhere or not).

(being european and ethnicity - which sounds better to me if you need to mention it at all - being something you can't record on a database in my country for no matter what motive, I still don't understand why my husband belongs to a different "race" but at least he saved me a seat)
posted by lucia__is__dada at 4:39 AM on June 9, 2009

nth a couple
posted by micklaw at 4:40 AM on June 9, 2009

Sorry, I said 'I find it hard to express some things using shorthand ends up being insulting to somebody, almost always' which doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It should have been something like 'I find that trying to express some things using shorthand ends up being insulting to somebody, almost always.'
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:23 AM on June 9, 2009

My family's from Sri Lanka, my wife's is from England. I use the term "interracial". For example: "I still haven't worked out exactly why, but one of the reasons I like it here is because there are so many other interracial couples".
I've been to places where I've actually heard people expressing disapproval and bitterly muttered disgust at the fact that I'd be holding hands with a white woman; and I'm being as polite as I can be right now when I ask that people please refrain from telling me that there's no need to ask for an inoffensive way to refer to the cultural differences between me and my wife because it "doesn't really matter".
posted by bunglin jones at 5:24 AM on June 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Didn't mean to get so derail-y and grumpy there. Apologies
posted by bunglin jones at 5:29 AM on June 9, 2009

Look, the poster is not saying: "When I meet a couple in which the partners are of different races, what do I call them to their face?" or "What do I yell at them as they go down the street?" The question is: What is the correct term when referring to such a thing?

Now, how about I give you some contexts in which one might use such a term and you all, in all your utter cool and obsequious matter-of-factness, decree whether they're acceptable:

-- The phenomenon of interracial marriage was once unusual but now commonplace.
-- They found their life as an interracial couple less worrisome in social settings than they feared it would be.
-- My grandfather still acts surprised at interracial couples, but within five minutes he treated my friends as his friends.

I suppose that to show off my sensitivity I should substitute "the couple" in the above sentences, but — hey, not making any sense is no big deal among friends, right?
posted by argybarg at 6:04 AM on June 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses everyone. As an Asian American, I have received my share of offensive and inappropriate questions ("Where are you from?" "What are you?") so I can understand the objections to this question being asked. But there are times when one needs to refer to race (ROU and argybar's examples are fitting), so I would like to do it in the most appropriate manner. Thanks.
posted by roaring beast at 6:59 AM on June 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

It depends on the context, entirely. If you're being clinical, sure you can go with multiethnic or something equally dry. If you're trying to put a humorous, positive spin on something in the face of old school puritans, go with "flavor pack."

Americans have a weird undercurrent of "purity" at times. But damn if we don't love some flavor packs. They're a unit, but they're unique! They're tasty in different ways! Imagine the combinations! FLAVOR PACK!
posted by adipocere at 7:33 AM on June 9, 2009

"ask the couple"

Yeah, let's all ask the couple again and again. They'll love that. OMG DO NOT ASK THE COUPLE unless you actually know them well and have established a real relationship with them. I don't want some random strangers asking me "what term I prefer" every day. Do you people think race is all I want to talk about? I don't *want* to educate you!

There is no faster route for me to think you're a boring hick than to ask me ANYTHING about my race and the interracialness of my relationship and what word you should use to categorize it. I will immediately start edging away from you.

The correct answer is "try really hard to have conversations where it's not an issue, as if you just see them as people in a relationship and their skin colour differences aren't the most interesting noteworthy thing about them."

Jeez. Ask me about my damn hobbies. I have two adorable cats. Ask about them. Hell, one's brown and one's white, we can talk about my interracial cats.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:41 AM on June 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't want some random strangers asking me "what term I prefer"

And many of us are totally fine with those questions. I get them a lot myself, even from strangers. I'd rather you found out what I prefer. It's harmless to ask.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:23 AM on June 9, 2009

I'm mixed race (Mexican and Caucasian), so every relationship I've been in has been both interracial and homogeneous.

When I think about it, I use the term "mixed race couple" in my head. I do not think about it often.

None of these term offend me, but it also doesn't offend me when my boyfriend (who I affectionately call my Southern White Boy) jokingly threatens to beat me with the pocha paddle, so I'm a terrible example.
posted by Juliet Banana at 10:24 AM on June 9, 2009

FTR, I'm of Indian heritage; my partner is of West European descent.

I'll throw my vote in for interracial, or even mixed-race. I really don't care as long as the phrase is kindly meant. But no, please don't come up to us and ask just to be pc.
posted by pointless_incessant_barking at 12:39 PM on June 9, 2009

nthing "mixed race" -- that's how I will sometimes describe myself and my wife; as in, when sharing the story of our car breaking down in the middle of nowhere on a recent trip, I told people, "We know not everyone is cool with the idea of mixed race couples, so we were a bit nervous."

But we also use biracial a lot too. Seldom interracial (we don't find it offensive, just too many syllables. :-) )
posted by lord_wolf at 1:52 PM on June 9, 2009

Biracial or interracial.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:07 PM on June 9, 2009

Also, sometimes there is a need for terms to use when not talking about a particular couple--in the abstract, say, in a theoretical discussion.

I've mostly heard interracial, and have described myself as part of an interracial couple before.
posted by Pax at 8:31 AM on June 10, 2009

(sorry, should have previewed).

Also, my ex and I used to joke about getting T-shirts like "sellout" and "yes, it's true what they say" and walk around wearing them.
posted by Pax at 8:33 AM on June 10, 2009

When we threw our housewarming party, some guests went to the across-the-street neighbor's house by mistake.

"You mean the mixed couple? " he asked, not in a derogatory way, but descriptive, to confirm who the hosts of the party were.

We laughed about that, mostly because we hadn't really thought of our couple-dom in that way, but it's stuck. And it's descriptive when it needs to be, and doesn't have (what I feel) is a negative connotation. So that's what we use!
posted by Pocahontas at 8:35 AM on June 10, 2009

I guess the only problem with "biracial couple" or "mixed-race couple" is that I'm already a "biracial person" or "mixed-race person". So when I date another biracial person, I'd call *that* a biracial couple or a mixed-race couple- where both people in the couple are biracial or mixed race.

So if the two members of the couple are each people who hail from *different* races, I'd think it's more accurate to call that couple "interracial" because the couplehood crosses between two races.

Biracial Person + Biracial Person = Biracial Couple
Mixed-race person + Mixed-race person = Mixed-race Couple
Brown person + Yellow person = Interracial Couple
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:07 AM on June 10, 2009

« Older Quotes from the ultimate role model.   |   You got a permit for that cannon Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.