I recently got into a interesting conversation with a few White women I know, who happen to date Black or minority men, and it really highlighted a need to explore the complexities of such unions in greater depth. Though I do support the right to love anyone, regardless of color (or gender/gender identity), I also believe that the challenges of interracial relationships are often obscure and infrequently discussed. To put it bluntly, many White people simply have no idea what they are getting into when they begin relationships with people of color. To raise awareness of the issues such individuals may encounter, I decided to write this list. I hope it can be helpful!
1. If you don’t believe racism exists, don’t date interracially. While confined to the realms of “Whiteness,” a person can remain ignorant to the experiences of racism that constantly leave people of color feeling diminished and undervalued. This can sometimes translate into a lack of even awareness that racism exists and is experienced by others. A romantic relationship is supposed to provide a safe space for individuals to express their feelings and come to terms with their life experiences. For people of color who live in a White-dominated country, many of those experiences will be plagued by racism. A significant other who dismisses or trivializes those realities could never provide adequate support for their non-White partner in relationship. So, if you’re someone who believes we live in a post-racial society because we had a Black president, you probably won’t be the best long-term partner for a person of color.
2. Your partner is not the “exception to the rule”. The belief that men of color are “thugs” and thus somehow unworthy of white respect is a widespread belief that is often exploited by the media and politics. This creates bias towards Black and other minority men — a “rule” of inferiority — that is often deeply internalized by non-minorities. When White people find themselves in relationships with loving, caring partners who also happen to be Black or minority, but does not fit those often deeply internalized stereotypes, internal conflict can arise. And sadly, this conflict is often resolved by creating an “exception” of a partner while holding on to the deeply ingrained, racist notions. (“He’s not your typical Black guy.”) That, of course, is very problematic. No relationship can be built on or sustained without acknowledgment, acceptance and respect: including the respect of the race and background of the person you are with.
3. Your partner may be of another race, but your relationship does not exempt you from being racist or exploring White privilege. As I explained above, many can maintain prejudiced and even racist ideas while also having relationships with people of other races. These attitudes have been ingrained by a White supremacist/patriarchal society that has created a system of White normalization (i.e. privilege). The only way they can be overcome and dispelled are if they are confronted and challenged, not denied or avoided. Just because you’re dating a Black person does not mean it’s impossible for you to say/do racist things, and it doesn’t absolve you of recognizing your White privilege. Dating a POC is not a hall pass.
4. Be prepared to encounter ignorance, even from your own family and close friends. As discussed in point one, many non-minority people exist in a majority world where they infrequently encounter and experience racism. That privilege is revoked when you decide to date interracially. Many of the racist notions and opinions that may have otherwise seemed trivial carry far more weight in the presence of a non-White partner. And such displays of ignorance, sadly, tend to become a frequent part of your interaction with the world as you move through it beside a person of color, including when dealing with family, loved ones, coworkers and authority figures. Case in point: Recently, Black students walked out of their school in protest after a school official tweeted this a photo along with the caption “every white girl’s father’s worst nightmare or not.”
Aside from obvious ignorance and prejudice, White “curiosity” about “otherness” often leads to very uncomfortable conversations that can sour quickly. POC regularly field questions like “Can I touch your hair?”, “Why are Black people so loud?” or “What are you?” from White people. This same White curiosity will lead many to ask you some pretty ignorant questions about your partner so be prepared.
5. Society fetishizes mixed babies, but does not treat mixed-race individuals well. According to the Bureau of Justice Victimization report, biracial individuals are victimized at a rate three times that of Whites and two times the rate of Blacks. Though “mixed” individuals are often featured on magazine covers and in the media as being especially “exotic” or beautiful, America’s history of slavery and its resulting racial and social hierarchies have created a very divided world, where biracial people often find it extremely difficult to find a place.
6. You should explore the social stereotypes and fetishes associated with “blackness”/ “otherness,” but NOT play into them. We’re often unaware of the stereotypes that creep into our psyches, planted early and then fed throughout our lives. Many of these stereotypes create the lens through which we experience people of other races, especially since society tends to be racially segregated, disallowing first-hand experience of other ethnicities/races. Dangerously, it is with this lens that many come to understand their interest or “preference” for a particular race.
For example, a man who seeks an Asian female partner because he believes in stereotypes of Asian domesticity and submissiveness is playing into these stereotypes, and thus fetishizing his partner. Another example of fetishization was egregiously displayed by Khloe Kardashian’s tweet about her Black husband’s “big hands,” her reveal of his penis size and more recently her statement that the Kardashians “only like Black cock.” And then there’s Jean-Paul Goude — the photographer behind the now infamous Paper magazine cover of Kim Kardashian — who famously used his Black then-girlfriend, Grace Jones, to recreate hypersexualized/stereotyped imagery of Black women.
A relationship should be built on mutual respect of one another’s human dignity. A human is not merely a stereotype or a fetish and should not be seen or used in that way, especially not in a romantic partnership.
7. Opinions of interracial unions are changing, but not quickly enough everywhere. Interracial marriage was only recently decriminalized in 1967 (Loving v. Virginia). Before that date, it was actually illegal to marry outside of your race in the United States of America. Though we have legally progressed beyond such archaic beliefs, some 21 percent of Republican Alabama residents still believe that anti-miscegenation laws should be reenacted. A similar poll conducted in Mississippi found that 29 percent of local Republicans held the same belief. This points to a conservative social culture that still maintains that people of different races cannot come together and have wonderful relationships. Steer clear of such environments when in an interracial relationship unless you’re really prepared to deal with racists and their bullshit opinions. Such unions are most supported in the Western region of the United States, where 22 percent of new marriages are interracial. And contrary to popular belief, there are more southerners who marry outside of their race (13 percent) compared to northerners (11 percent).