There were millions of marriages in the United States in 1958 but just the one between Richard Loving, a White man, and Mary Jeter, a Black woman, resulted in the arrest of the newly weds and, ultimately a landmark Supreme Court case, Loving v Virginia.
The Virginia Racial Integrity Act of 1924 made it illegal for the couple marry in their home state. They had married legally in the District of Columbia, but were arrested when they returned home and eventually sentenced to a year in prison. They appealed to their convictions all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that laws barring interracial marriage are unconstitutional violations of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The anniversary of the ruling -June 12, 1967 – is now widely celebrated as Loving Day.
Fast forward to 2001. Interracial marriage had been legal for many years but simply dating across racial lines was far from the norm. Entrepreneur Robert Thompson, a White man dating a Black woman, recognized both the demand and the need for a dating website (this was years before the Apple Store when apps were limited to simple games on your flip phone) focused on interracial dating. Two decades later, InterracialDatingCentral has 10 million worldwide members, and 2 million social media followers in total, with 1.7 million on Facebook alone.
We asked Thompson his thoughts on interracial dating then and now, and if the trend has a larger significance.
What motivated you to co-found InterracialDatingCentral?
While working for a Silicon Valley startup in 2001, my buddy and I were playing around with ideas for our own startup. I had met my then-girlfriend on Match.com (she was Black, I am White and freckled). After my numerous experiences of being told things like “step off, white boy” (and other such lines) from women of other races, we decided that there was a need for a special dating site created specifically for people who wanted to date outside their race. We originally launched AfroRomance.com with that in mind in 2003. We followed that up a year later with InterracialDatingCentral.com to appeal to other races, not just Black and White.
You’re a self-described “ginger” from Australia who was living in California in the early 2000s when you started dating a Kenyan woman attending college in the Bay area, which is where you got the idea for an interracial dating site. How was that similar to, and different from, a relationship between a Caucasian American and an African-American?
It is similar – in that we are raised in different cultures, and so there is a need to be open and accepting of the differences and embrace the positive changes that brings to a relationship. In both cases there is a difference in skin tone, but in a practical sense that just means that she can stay in the sun a lot longer than me (I turn pink and freckle after 15 minutes).
It is different – depending on where you live and how accepting the people (friends, family, public at large) around you are of interracial relationships. My family has always been very accepting of my dating choices, judging on their character, not their color.
I found that living both in my birth city of Melbourne (Australia) and in the Bay Area (California), that people at large are quite accepting of interracial relationships. However, in many locations across the USA our members do experience less acceptance of interracial relationships, and so they find our online community of great help in identifying nearby singles who are open to dating other races.
You are now married to another Kenyan woman whom you met online, and you have two children. Are there particular challenges to an interracial marriage? And are there particular strengths?
There are some challenges as far as culture is concerned, but nothing major. It teaches us both to be tolerant of our differences. International travel to visit my wife’s family (my children’s grandparents and aunts and cousins) limits how often we are able to connect face to face, but technology helps break down the distance divide.
One of the great strengths of having a multicultural family has been that it has opened our children’s mind to become global citizens through exposure to different races, languages, and locations. Through their schooling they have been exposed to many other multiracial and multicultural families. They truly don’t see race. They see people for who they are and how they behave towards others.
Who is frequenting InterracialDatingCentral.com? Is it mostly people within the US, or more international?
IDC is a global community of people who are looking to find like-minded singles, who are open to dating other races and cultures. The USA is definitely our biggest market, followed by the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, and many other European and African countries.
What is their motive for frequenting the site? Are these people who are simply attracted to people of a different race?
People are motivated to join IDC to find other people who are open to dating outside their own race or culture, either exclusively or in addition to their own. Members also join to expand their dating options (outside of their own race/culture), or because they are attracted to the differences in exploring other physical or cultural experiences.
Do you see interracial romantic relationships and marriages as part of the solution to racial division in the US? Or is that simply a hopeful wish?
Yes, over time it is definitely helping to spread the message that we are all the same race – the human race. As more interracial relationships form over time, and evolve into multicultrural families with mixed children, more people with old-school attitudes will come into contact with them. Slowly, people will be judged more as individuals and not by preconceived ideas based on the color of their skin.