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Interracial Intimacy and the U.S. Racial Structure: How Interracial Marriages Challenge and Reinforce Racial Boundaries


My dissertation examines how interracial couples challenge existing racial boundaries while also considering the implications the U.S. racial structure has on interracial intimacy. More specifically, I compare black-Latinx and Latinx-white interracial married couples to see how their race-based experiences vary depending on the racial composition within their union. To understand the different mechanisms through which the U.S. racial structure affects interracial marriage, I conducted interviews with 15 black-Latinx and 15 Latinx-white married couples. My research expands the current literature on interracial intimacy to include an understanding of dual-minority couples in contrast to the heavily studied white-nonwhite couples. In the first chapter I explain the history of interracial intimacy in the U.S. to contextualize the ramifications of current and historical race relations on interracial intimacy. I also detail my methodological approach, data analysis, research questions, and outline the organization of my dissertation. In Chapter 2, I examine how family members directly and indirectly transmit racialized messages about interracial intimacy, social position, and acceptability. These racialized messages, I find, directly affect rates of interracial intimacy and reinforce racial boundaries. In Chapter 3, I examine how parents racially identify their biracial children in an effort to better understand how phenotype, along with racial stratification, influence the racial identification process. I find that variations in skin tone affect whether parents choose to identify their children as monoracial, biracial, or take on a mixed family identity- all of which are tied to parents’ perceptions of how their children fit into the U.S. racial structure. In my final empirical chapter, I use interracial marriage as a framework to challenge traditional assimilation theories. I argue that interracial marriages challenge traditional assimilation theories but also reinforce racial boundaries, particularly when Latinx partners create a shared racial narrative and deny their spouses whiteness and when black-Latinx couples create a dual-minority shared racial narrative that relies heavily on their shared experiences of marginalization as racialized minorities. I argue that racial stratification not only continues to affect interracial intimacy but also show the various ways interracial intimacy challenges and reinforces racial boundaries.

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