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):
- General White Attitudes Towards Intermarriage with Blacks:
- More on Black-Jewish Marriage:
- Jewish Attitudes Toward Intermarriage With Blacks: