pageok
pageok
pageok
Jewish Attitudes Toward Intermarriage With Blacks:

Atlantic blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates has two interesting posts discussing data on Jewish attitudes towards intermarriage with blacks (see here and here). He points to General Social Survey data indicating that 38% of Jews would "oppose" or "strongly oppose" a close relative marrying a black person. Coates worries that this data is an indication worsening relations between the two groups.

Opposition to interracial marriage is often an indicator of racism. In this case, however, I think it mostly reflects the more general opposition of many Jews to any intermarriage with gentiles. The 38% of Jews who say they would oppose a close relative's decision to marry a black is similar to the 39% who, in a 2000 American Jewish Committee survey (question 42), said they agree with the statement that "it would pain me if my child married a gentile." It is true, of course, that there are black Jews, including a large Ethiopian Jewish population in Israel. In the US, however, the black percentage of the Jewish population is negligible. So opposition to intermarriage with blacks may simply be based on a shorthand assumption by Jewish survey respondents that virtually all blacks are gentiles. Further evidence supporting this proposition is the fact that the same GSS survey shows that 30% of Jews "oppose" or "strongly oppose" intermarriage with Hispanics, and 29% with Asians. Relations between Jews and Asian-Americans are quite good.

Coates compares the 22% of Jews who say they would favor or strongly favor a relative's intermarriage with blacks to the 72% who similar favor such intermarriage with generic "whites." However, Jewish survey respondents most likely view the category of "white" as including Jews, while seeing the category of "black" as one that is almost exclusively gentile. They could not very well oppose marriage with "whites" without also opposing marriage with Jews (the overwhelming majority of whom - in the US - are themselves "white," as most Americans use the term).

Part of the problem here is that Jews are both an ethnic group and a religious group; these two facets of Jewish identity are distinct, but often overlapping. Those Jews who oppose intermarriage tend to be among the most religious, and therefore the most committed to marrying someone of the same faith. For example, an analysis of the 2000 AJC survey showed that 64% of Orthodox Jews said they "strongly disapprove" of intermarriage with gentiles, compared with much smaller percentages of Reform and Conservative Jews. Polls that measure Jewish attitudes towards interracial marriage are to a large extent actually measuring attitudes toward interfaith marriage.

To avoid misunderstanding, I should note that I have little doubt that some Jews oppose intermarriage with blacks out of racism. But the true number is likely to be far smaller than 38%. I suppose I should also mention that I am an ethnic Jew engaged to a gentile, and that I have at various times in the past dated non-Jews who are also non-white. However, my case is just one of many examples of the point I made in the post. Although I am ethnically Jewish, I am not religious, and my engagement will not actually lead to an interfaith marriage because our attitudes towards religion are actually very similar despite the ethnic difference. Intergroup marriages that are also interfaith marriages tend to be more difficult and attract greater opposition.

NOTE: I use the word "black" here in preference to "African-American" because that is the term used in the GSS poll cited by Coates. I do not intend by this to take a position on the longstanding debate over which is the more appropriate term to use.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. General White Attitudes Towards Intermarriage with Blacks:
  2. More on Black-Jewish Marriage:
  3. Jewish Attitudes Toward Intermarriage With Blacks:
tvk:
Yes, the 38% figure is probably too high, in that it doesn't account for the marrying-out-of-the-religion concern. But doesn't the significant difference in opposition between marrying non-Jewish Black people (38%) and non-Jewish Asian people (29%) say quite a lot? Apparently, at least 9% of respondents are not being motivated by the marrying-out-of-the-religion concern, since the number of Asian Jews is, to my knowledge, also negligible.
6.3.2009 1:00am
Ilya Somin:
Yes, the 38% figure is probably too high, in that it doesn't account for the marrying-out-of-the-religion concern. But doesn't the significant difference in opposition between marrying non-Jewish Black people (38%) and non-Jewish Asian people (29%) say quite a lot? Apparently, at least 9% of respondents are not being motivated by the marrying-out-of-the-religion concern, since the number of Asian Jews is, to my knowledge, also negligible.

That may be true. At least some of the 9% are probably motivated by racism. However, it should be noted that there are probably more Asian Jews in the US than black ones, especially if you consider Sephardic Jews from the Middle East as "Asian." Also, it's not clear whether the difference between the 38% and 29% figures is statistically significant in light of the small number of Jewish respondents in the GSS.
6.3.2009 1:04am
Ricardo (mail):
However, it should be noted that there are probably more Asian Jews in the US than black ones, especially if you consider Sephardic Jews from the Middle East as "Asian." Also, it's not clear whether the difference between the 38% and 29% figures is statistically significant in light of the small number of Jewish respondents in the GSS.

In American parlance, Asian almost always means East Asian (unlike in the UK). That's why surveys like these routinely separate Indians and Arabs or Middle-Easterners from "Asians" when referring to ethnic group. Since it is the same sample answering both questions, issues of statistical significance don't really arise in the way they do when comparing samples. There are clearly some specific individuals in the GSS who answered "disapprove" on the "black" question and who answered differently on the "Asian" question. Maybe they are overrepresented by GSS but the number is clearly not zero.
6.3.2009 1:33am
Ilya Somin:
issues of statistical significance don't really arise in the way they do when comparing samples. There are clearly some specific individuals in the GSS who answered "disapprove" on the "black" question and who answered differently on the "Asian" question. Maybe they are overrepresented by GSS but the number is clearly not zero.

Statistical significance is indeed relevant in this case. It may not be relevant if all you want to do is assess the attitudes of those particular survey respondents. But it is relevant if the real goal is to assess the extent to which the 9% difference really reflects the views of Jews in the general population. If you had a survey with 5 Jews, 2 of whom expressed racist views, that would tell you a lot about the views of those individuals but very little about Jews in the US as a whole, because the sample is too small.
6.3.2009 1:39am
Jim at FSU (mail):
Maybe Jews oppose intermarriage with black people because they're worried that whatever is wrong with the black community could be passed on to the children.

Native born American blacks and American jews have pretty divergent cultures. It might cause difficulties in marriage and child rearing.
6.3.2009 1:48am
Jim at FSU (mail):
Also, I'm sure that the percentage would change if you were asking about marrying a particular black person that is known to the interviewee, as opposed to asking about marrying black people in general.

Jews and blacks aren't really known to associate with one another very much, so they may have all sorts of unrealistic assumptions about what the other group is like.
6.3.2009 1:50am
Ricardo (mail):
If you had a survey with 5 Jews, 2 of whom expressed racist views, that would tell you a lot about the views of those individuals but very little about Jews in the US as a whole, because the sample is too small.

Pick 5 marbles out of a container having N marbles. Observe that 2 are red and 3 are green. That's enough to tell you the proportion of red marbles is the container is not zero. Any reasonable confidence interval you impose on the proportion will not include 0. Furthermore, your best estimate of the proportion of red marbles will be your point estimate: 40%. That's all I'm trying to get at here. The actual confidence interval will depend quite a bit on N and on any potential sample selection bias but will never include the proportion of 0.
6.3.2009 1:52am
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):
Obviously someone needs to commission a poll of Jews with the following question:


If your daughter announced her engagement to Yaphet Kotto, how would you respond?

A) A movie star, a prince, and a Jew? What's not to love?

B) Well, I'm sure he's a great guy and all, but are you sure he's the right one for you?
6.3.2009 2:24am
Ilya Somin:
Pick 5 marbles out of a container having N marbles. Observe that 2 are red and 3 are green. That's enough to tell you the proportion of red marbles is the container is not zero. Any reasonable confidence interval you impose on the proportion will not include 0. Furthermore, your best estimate of the proportion of red marbles will be your point estimate: 40%. That's all I'm trying to get at here. The actual confidence interval will depend quite a bit on N and on any potential sample selection bias but will never include the proportion of 0.

This is entirely correct. HOwever, note that the likelihood that the 5 marbles accurately represent the distribution of colors in the container as a whole greatly decreases the larger the N. In the case of the GSS survey, the container includes an N of some 4-5 million American Jewish adults.
6.3.2009 2:50am
iolanthe (mail):
There seems to be a presumption underlying the post that it's more legitimate to be opposed to marrying gentiles than blacks. Have I understood this correctly?

Not entirely sure that I agree with this: I think people should feel free to adopt both positions but would equally see both as rather narrow minded.
6.3.2009 7:18am
Daniel Chapman (mail):
"I think people should feel free to adopt both positions but would equally see both as rather narrow minded."

0
6.3.2009 7:26am
Lev Gerlovin:
A major explanatory factor in the difference between 38% and 29% is likely experience. Jews and Asians HAVE been inter-marrying for a few decades now, and almost all Jews know someone who is married to or dating an Asian man or woman. There simply isn't that base of experience in the Jewish community with blacks. It's the same rationale for why, in survey after survey, folks who are familiar with gay people are more likely to support gay marriage.

Now, the question may be WHY Jews and Asians have been marrying for years. It's because they have been side by side at the same top-end academic institutions (most notably the MITs of the world), software companies, research labs, and law firms. Without making a judgment on it, blacks simply have not been represented at these places, so Jews have not had the same opportunity to develop a familiarity with them.
6.3.2009 8:15am
Sid the warmonger (mail) (www):
Prof Somin,

Best wishes to you and your fiance.
6.3.2009 8:19am
Patent Lawyer:
To combine this with the Jewish Joke theme from today's other posts:

A Southern town in the 1960s was doing its best to keep its schools segregated, but one Jewish father was trying to follow the law and support desegregation. The school board leaders went to this father, and their spokesman said,

"Mr. Cohen, I realize your family hasn't been around here that long, but we have a deep history here; the Negro population just isn't as intelligent as we are, and we've always had the schools segregated. What makes you think we should change that?"

"Well, I intend to follow the law; our courts have said that we must desegregate. And we're all human beings, are we not?"

"But Mr. Cohen, you have a daughter in our school. Would you want her sitting next to a Negro boy?"

"I have no problem with that, and we must be willing to change and tolerate all sorts of people."

"Would you let her date a Negro? Marry a Negro?"

"Why, gentlemen...I wouldn't let her marry any of you goyim!"
6.3.2009 8:25am
TruePath (mail) (www):


This is entirely correct. HOwever, note that the likelihood that the 5 marbles accurately represent the distribution of colors in the container as a whole greatly decreases the larger the N. In the case of the GSS survey, the container includes an N of some 4-5 million American Jewish adults.


Actually as long as N isn't *very* close to the sample size it really doesn't affect the probability (assuming some reasonable background distribution) very much at all. The sample size makes a large difference but population size is much less important.
6.3.2009 8:44am
keypusher64 (mail):
Blacks seem to look with less favor on a close relative marrying a Jew than a generic white. from the GSS link:

Blacks: Would you be in favor of a close relative marrying a(n)…

S.F Favor Neutral Oppose S. Oppose
Jew 14 18 50 10 9

N.W. 9 8 57 16 11
S.W. 15 11 45 12 18
White 30 21 40 6 3

Curiously, blacks are also less favorably inclined toward seeing a close relative marry either a northern white or a southern white, as opposed to a generic white.

The conclusion is obvious: people are stupid. Me too, as shown by my pathetic formatting of the poll results.
6.3.2009 9:03am
Jim Copland (www):
I think Ilya's assessment is largely right. My wife, who is black, had mostly Jewish boyfriends in high school and college (largely a function of the populations of those schools, Horace Mann and Johns Hopkins). She did encounter families who opposed their sons dating her, but she perceived that as an issue of religion, not race. (Such was not obviously not the case in confronting such difficulties with non-Jewish white boyfriends.)

The black vs. Asian discrepancy in the survey results is interesting but I'm not sure how much it tells you. I think David's follow-up post is probably the right explanation. In my view, a black-white couple doesn't face many difficulties in most parts of the country these days, but older folks, who remember older times, likely have different perceptions and worries. The survey is worded in such a way as to pick up some of that noise; it says "favor," and other wordings would likely get different results.
6.3.2009 9:14am
Jim Copland (www):
P.S.: Of course I, like Ilya, do not mean to imply that some of the survey respondents are not in fact racist. I just think that the survey doesn't allow for really accurate measurement, because the issues of race and religion are necessarily conflated.
6.3.2009 9:41am
yankev (mail):

Not entirely sure that I agree with this: I think people should feel free to adopt both positions but would equally see both as rather narrow minded.
Perhaps, but the Jewish religion does not prohibit a Jew from marrying a Jew of another race (I know of a few interracial Jewish marriages), but the Torah does prohibit Jews from marrying a non-Jew of whatever race.

Friends of mine have 5 adopted children -- three (all of whom were converted after adoption) born to Indian families in various Latin American countries, one born to a Jewish Ethiopian girl in North America, and one born to a young third or fourth generation Jewish black woman in the US. I doubt they would be pleased if one of their kids married a non-Jew of any race.

Male Cohanim (the sub-tribe of priests, descended from Moses' brother Aaron) are prohibited from marrying first generation converts of any race. Other Jews are permitted to marry converts, again, without distinction as to race.

When you realize the mission that the Torah gives the Jewish people at all, there is nothing narrow minded about this at all. If you do not believe in that mission, then yes, I can see where it would appear to be narrow minded.
6.3.2009 9:43am
Hunter McDaniel (mail):
I guess not too much has changed in this respect in the 40 years since Janis Ian sang "Society's Child".
6.3.2009 10:35am
Eric Rasmusen (mail) (www):
Does anybody know what the actual intermarriage rate is? BOtht hat, and the question answer would be interesting-- and interesting to compare. They show the difference between what people think they should say, and what they actually do.

It would also be interesting to see how the difference between the percentage answers to each question vary across ages and gropus.
6.3.2009 11:55am
Ilya Somin:
Does anybody know what the actual intermarriage rate is? BOtht hat, and the question answer would be interesting-- and interesting to compare. They show the difference between what people think they should say, and what they actually do.

About 50% of all Jews who marry these days marry non-Jews. I don't know how many of these are intermarriages with blacks (probably only a small fraction). I have seen data suggesting that about 10-20% of marriages involving blacks in recent years are with non-blacks. Again, I don't know how many are with Jews (probably very few because Jews are such a small proportion of the total populatoin - about 2%).
6.3.2009 1:12pm
Rod Blaine (mail):

> "I suppose I should also mention that I am an ethnic Jew engaged to a gentile, and that I have at various times in the past dated non-Jews..."
\
People, people, let's get back to the real issue here - the intriguing possibility of the existence of Sominian love-poetry.

Alluring green is your eyeshade, my love

Beautiful your hips, like the flanks of the graceful doe that is protected as a species by a US Act that undoubtedly exceeds the proper scope of the federal commerce power

Your feminine mystique equalling, if not exceeding, my fascination with the economic history of the United Federation of Planets...

IF somincompatibilityquotient > 75%
IF sominfiance = jewish
IF sominfiance = gentile
THEN wedlock
6.3.2009 8:25pm

Post as: [Register] [Log In]

Account:
Password:
Remember info?

If you have a comment about spelling, typos, or format errors, please e-mail the poster directly rather than posting a comment.

Comment Policy: We reserve the right to edit or delete comments, and in extreme cases to ban commenters, at our discretion. Comments must be relevant and civil (and, especially, free of name-calling). We think of comment threads like dinner parties at our homes. If you make the party unpleasant for us or for others, we'd rather you went elsewhere. We're happy to see a wide range of viewpoints, but we want all of them to be expressed as politely as possible.

We realize that such a comment policy can never be evenly enforced, because we can't possibly monitor every comment equally well. Hundreds of comments are posted every day here, and we don't read them all. Those we read, we read with different degrees of attention, and in different moods. We try to be fair, but we make no promises.

And remember, it's a big Internet. If you think we were mistaken in removing your post (or, in extreme cases, in removing you) -- or if you prefer a more free-for-all approach -- there are surely plenty of ways you can still get your views out.