In 1967, the Supreme Court declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional, making interracial marriage legal across the United States. In the same year, Captain Kirk (William Shatner) kissed Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) on Star Trek, which is often cited (although debated) as the first interracial kiss on television.
Since that time, racial representation on television has made significant strides, and continues to do so, even in 2016. Along with the promotion of diversity, interracial relationships and their depiction on television has increased over time. The desire for diversity, of course, is not solely a matter of racial equality, but also giving exposure to a variety of people with different experiences and backgrounds.
“Interracial” as a term can encapsulate a multitude of relationships between people, and ethnic identities further complicate both self-identification and external perceptions. “Interracial” can be used as an umbrella term to describe some multi-ethnic relationships. In this list, we have chosen to include relationships that are comprised of one character who is Hispanic and/or Latino and one character who is not Hispanic and/or Latino – their representation on television also promotes a diversity of exposure and experience.
This list includes shows that finished their run in 2015; a number of interracial couples made their debut on television this past year, and those couples are featured on a separate list. The shows are listed in the order of their original air date in an effort to illustrate how milestones were achieved over time. While this list features interracial couples, racial politics may not be a focal point of the relationship. Ultimately, any interracial relationship that is portrayed as a nuanced and loving relationship does break stereotypes and promote diverse relationships.
Here are 12 Interracial Couples On TV That Broke Stereotypes and helped pave the way for the modern world of television as we know it.
12. Ricky and Lucy from I Love Lucy (1951)
I Love Lucy is a timeless classic, but it was also revolutionary in that it depicted the first interracial couple to appear on television – in 1951. The sitcom starred real-life husband and wife team Desi Arnaz and the eponymous Lucille Ball. The show predates Kirk and Uhura’s famous Star Trek kiss by more than a decade, making the couple’s appearance on television all the more influential. During development and production, television executives wanted to cast someone else in the role of Lucy’s husband, but Ball threatened to abandon the project if Arnaz was not cast. Their off-camera romance helped make their on-screen love a reality for scores of adoring fans.
11. Tom and Helen Willis from The Jeffersons (1975)
Tom and Helen Willis were the neighbors of the Jefferson family and regular supporting characters on the ’70s sitcom. While Louise Jefferson (Isabel Sanford) is friendly with them both, her husband George (Sherman Hemsley) initially is hostile to Tom (Franklin Cover) and Helen (Roxie Roker), making crude remarks about their interracial relationship. Despite this, Tom and Helen remained loving towards each other, choosing to ignore these comments. They also had two grown biracial children, including a daughter named Jenny (Berlinda Tolbert) who would go on to marry Louise and George’s son, Lionel Jefferson (Mike Evans). The couple appeared in all eleven seasons of The Jeffersons.
10. Ronald and Ellen Freeman from True Colors (1990)
True Colors (1990) was a family sitcom that focused on an interracial couple and their biracial family, in contrast to The Jeffersons, which featured an interracial couple as part of the supporting cast. When Ronald Freeman (Frankie Faison, and later, Cleavon Little) and Ellen Davis (Stephanie Faracy) marry, they bring together their three teenage children from previous relationships into a single family in a single house.
While the show focused on more than race, it was not uncomfortable including race as a point of contention in its plot lines. Both Ronald and Ellen deal with criticism from their family (specifically Ellen’s mother) and the larger community because of their relationship. Ronald and Ellen faced this criticism together, showing how deep their devotion to each other was.
9. Lane Kim and Zack Van Gerbig from Gilmore Girls (2000)
In Gilmore Girls (2000), Rory Gilmore’s (Alexis Bledel) best friend, Lane Kim (Keiko Agena), secretly rebels against her parents’ strict Christian upbringing. Lane loves rock-n-roll music, which she is not permitted to listen to. After forming a rock band in secret, she ends up having relationships with two of her band mates, Dave Rygalski (Adam Brody) and Zack Van Gerbig (Todd Lowe), the latter of whom she goes on to marry and have children with.
Lane and Zack’s wedding ends up being in three parts: one Buddhist ceremony for her Korean grandmother, one Christian ceremony for her parents, and one rock-n-roll reception for Lane. Lane’s own individuality and rebellious nature contrast with many of stereotypes about Asian women, and the relationship dynamics between her and her husband helped in countering such small-minded views.
Lane has been confirmed for the upcoming Gilmore Girls Netflix revival.
8. David and Keith from Six Feet Under (2001)
The HBO drama Six Feet Under (2001) centered on the lives of the Fishers and their family-operated funeral home. One of the brothers, David (played by future Dexter star Michael C. Hall) struggles with his faith and sexuality, but he eventually settles down with his partner, Keith (Mathew St. Patrick), and they adopt two boys. Critics often cite Michael C. Hall’s portrayal of David as one of the first truly nuanced depictions of homosexual lead characters in a television series, but his relationship with Keith is also groundbreaking as one of the first interracial gay couples on television. Despite various internal and external strains on their relationship, the two men are partners in the truest sense of the word.
7. Carla and Turk from Scrubs (2001)
While a good deal of Scrubs‘ best moments take place in J.D.’s (Zach Braff) head, Turk (Donald Faison) and Carla’s (Judy Reyes) relationship served as the show’s true emotional center. Turk and Carla start dating at the beginning of the series, and over the course of the show, they marry and start a family together.
Turk is an African-American man who is one-eighth Japanese. Carla is Dominican, and Turk often teases her about her Hispanic heritage. He also mistakes her brother for a valet, causing her brother to dislike Turk. However, Turk also learns Spanish for Carla, and respects her decision to keep her Hispanic last name in order to preserve her cultural heritage.
6. Zoe and Wash from Firefly (2002)
The complex but compassionate dynamics of Zoe (Gina Torres) and Wash’s (Alan Tudyk) relationship made them beloved by fans. As both fly from planet to planet as part of the crew of Serenity, they also navigate married life.
Some characters observe that Zoe and Wash are an odd pairing. While Zoe is an emotionally-reserved, wary, and intensely focused woman with military precision, Wash is a fun-loving and people-friendly goofball who plays with toy dinosaurs. However, their mutual attraction and relationship dynamic is not a mystery to Wash or Zoe – they are life partners who compliment each other in all the ways that matter. They are often brutally honest with each other, which helps them to work through any problems that they have together.
5. The L Word (2004)
The L Word‘s ensemble cast featured multiple interracial relationships, specifically Bette (Jennifer Beals) and Tina (Laurel Holloman), along with Alice (Leisha Hailey) and Tasha (Rose Rollins). Despite the show’s name, it focused on the lives of a group of women of different sexual orientations, although it did feature a number of relationships between two women. Bette, a biracial woman who is arguably the show’s central character, is the product of an interracial relationship herself, and that identity is important to her journey and her relationships with others.
Critics have said that the show’s treatment of race was uneven throughout its run, but the series did not shy away from discussing sexuality, race, or discrimination at any point during its six year run.
4. Heroes (2006)
Heroes featured a diverse cast of characters from across the world. This led to a number of interracial relationships over the course of the show — this may not seem surprising, but the inevitability of interracial relationships on the show stands in stark contrast to even a decade prior, when such depictions were few and far between on the small screen. In the first season, Simone Deveaux (Tawny Cypress) dates Isaac Mendez (Santiago Cabrera) and, after the break up, has a relationsihp with Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia). Additionally, Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka) falls in love with Charlie Andrews (Jayma Mays).
3. Parks and Recreation (2009)
Amy Poehler’s Parks and Recreation, which just wrapped up a seven year run early last year, is a workplace sitcom centered on the lives of small-town government employees in Pawnee, Indiana. Poehler plays Leslie Knope, along with a diverse ensemble cast that includes Rashida Jones as Ann Perkins, Aziz Ansari as Tom Haverford, and Aubrey Plaza as April Ludgate. Ann dates Tom (briefly), in addition to Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) and Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe). Aside from his brief fling with Ann, Tom has relationships with his first wife, Wendy (Jama Wiliamson) and girlfriend, Lucy (Natalie Morales). April dates a Venezuelan named Eduardo, but eventually marries Andy.
Race is rarely discussed in the context of dating on Parks and Recreation, and some of the characters’ races are left ambiguous. Memorably, Leslie refers to Ann as the ideal representation of the American melting pot, which has to be one of the most fantastic compliments we’ve ever heard.
2. Crosby and Jasmine from Parenthood (2010)
Crosby (Dax Shepard) and Jasmine’s (Joy Bryant) relationship began with a one-night stand. Five years later, Crosby discovers that he has a son, Jabbar (Tyree Brown), from that night. Over the course of the show, the couple has their ups-and-downs — getting engaged, breaking up, getting engaged again, getting married, and finally, having a second child.
Parenthood is noteworthy because, in addition to having a detailed portrayal of an interracial relationship and family, it also dealt with some of the issues that are unique to parenting in an interracial household. For instance, when Jabbar hears the “n-word” in a rap song, his white father struggles to discuss the history of the word with his son. He even goes as far to likening it to “Voldemort” (“He Who Must Not Be Named”), which his wife then points out is not a fair comparison. The conversation does not stop there, of course, and Crosby and Jasmine work together in order to discuss racism with their son.
1. Brad and Jane from Happy Endings (2011)
Happy Endings (2011) is very much a Friends-style sitcom, but unlike the legendary series that preceded it, the cast of six characters from this ABC series included an interracial married couple, Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.) and Jane (Eliza Coupe). Brad and Jane were fan-favorites of the show, and their relationship was never made tumultuous simply to create episode plot lines.
In contrast to many sitcoms that use the strains of a marriage in order to get laughs, the two are deeply in love, supportive of each other, and frequently are shown discussing their active sex life. Their happy marriage is made all the more heartwarming when one considers the fact that just a few short decades ago, not only would such a relationship be an unthinkable inclusion on the small screen, but an illegal act in many parts of the United States.
There are an ever-increasing number of interracial couples that have appeared on television, so be sure to check out our list that includes interracial couples who appeared on shows in 2015. Those couples, however, are indebted to the series that came before. Were there any history-making or stereotype-defying couples that we missed? Let us know in the comments below!
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