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Trayvon Sparks New Racial Questions

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club  March 27, 2012 09:58 AM

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If the death of Trayvon Martin has started a national discussion about race, get ready for some tough talking points.

Among them: a spate of recent polling about interracial marriage.

Not so long ago, a white man named Richard Perry Loving wanted to marry a black woman named Mildred Jeter (left). They left Virginia - where interracial marriage was then illegal - and traveled to Washington D.C. to get married.

Back in Virginia, they were arrested and pled guilty to breaking the law.

That was 1959.

Eight years later, when Loving and Jeter’s case reached the Supreme Court, every single member of the Court ruled in the couple’s favor, believing that Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage was discriminatory and unconstitutional.

But unanimity on the Supreme Court does not translate into unanimity across the nation.

“As recently as 1994,” according to Gallup, “less than half of Americans approved” of marriage between blacks and whites.

By 2007, 75% of whites approved of interracial marriages (the percentage was considerably higher among blacks - 85%).

And this month, when Public Policy Polling asked Republican primary voters in Illinois their view on interracial marriage, the numbers were similar. Three in four said they thought interracial marriage should be legal.

But look at the flip side of that number.

Fully 25% of respondents either believed that interracial marriage should be illegal (16%) or were unsure (9%).

The numbers were even starker during a poll in Mississippi a couple of weeks ago, which appeared to show that 46% of the state’s likely Republican voters either believe interracial marriage should be illegal or aren't sure.

What do these poll results say about a national conversation on race? About the prejudices touched on in the discussion of Trayvon Martin?

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About the author

Kara Miller is an Assistant Professor of English, specializing in journalism, at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. She also serves as a guest panelist on WGBH-TV's “Beat the Press” and contributes to 89.7 FM WGBH (NPR). More »

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