Welcome to the Black panel on Interracial Dating. Our panelists are:
N’Jaila Rhee, the mastermind behind BlaysianBytch.com (link NSFW); Damon Young, better known as The Champ and one of two VerySmartBrothas; Ashley – longtime reader and friend of the blog; Cheryl Lynn, Digital Femme extraordinare, rabblerouser, and longtime friend of the blog; Andrea Plaid – our own Sexual Correspondent; Dani – long time friend of the blog; Sewere – long time commenter, one time contributor, and friend of the blog; Tami Winfrey Harris, long time contributor and editor of Love Isn’t Enough and What Tami Said; Kadian Pow, friend of the blog and occasional contributor, and Helena Andrews, author of Bitch is the New Black.
N’jaila: I always thought that interracial meant when a non-White dates a White person. I think there were a lot more positive representations of Black men with White women than the other way around.
Damon: It’s possible that Pittsburgh, Pa is a cultural vacuum. Actually, “possible” isn’t the right word. “More than fucking likely” fits a little bit better. I’m bringing this up because, while I’ve always been aware that people of different races could date, sleep with, and marry each other, it never really entered my consciousness as something that people actually did until I got to college. I even remember having a slight crush on a white classmate in 8th grade, but never approaching her or even mentioning it to anybody because, well, that’s just not what people did.
What made this feeling even weirder was that it wasn’t rooted in any racial hang-ups and/or neurosis. It — interracial dating — just didn’t compute as a possibility because I never saw any of my peers do it. I guess it’s kind of like the KFC Double Down in that way. I wouldn’t have fathomed that you could make a chicken/meat/chicken sandwich until I actually saw it done.
Ashley: I always joke that I didn’t “discover” race until I attended Howard University. Sure, I knew the different colors of the ‘racebow’, but I didn’t know what it meant for me or my peers. I grew up in a predominantly white suburb in Michigan (right outside of Detroit and not too far from 8 mile…). There were a ton of interracial relationships in my family. For the longest time I assumed my white aunts were just fair-skinned black women. Our family didn’t talk about race, but we were still “black” (if that makes sense). Meaning, you could catch anything from B.I.G to Bill Withers on the stereo on any given day. So the messages that I received were that it was, “all good.” I don’t recall any funny looks or whispered conversations about the interracial couples in our family. My uncles didn’t run to the family bbq expecting an award for bringing a woman of a different race around. It was something we were just all used to seeing.
Cheryl Lynn: The topic of interracial relationships wasn’t (and still isn’t) a topic that is discussed in my family. Still, I definitely got the impression that that there were interracial relationships that weren’t an issue and interracial relationships that were. Romantic relationships between blacks and Latinos were/are so common in my family and community that I often forget that they actually are interracial relationships. My family and friends have never frowned upon romantic relationships between blacks and whites…but it is a thing. It’s an elephant in the room. I remember the raised eyebrows when I went to the prom with a white guy. It was the only time I dated a white guy and the only time I ever got those raised eyebrows. Once I brought home an ethnically/racially ambiguous Asian guy. My mom was really sweet, but as soon as he left asked, “What is he?” I told her “He’s not white.” And that was all the answer she needed. But if you bring a white person home, there are little jokes, little looks. Nothing mean, but your relationship is marked as different. The one exception? If your significant other is gay. I guess there’s a minority requirement…but they don’t care what minority!
Andrea: My maternal family–especially my mom and aunts, who were the last two generations to see that “whites-only” sign racism in the US–let me know that it was not OK to get with the ofay. Other men of color were seen as “not quite” what the fam wanted to see me bring home to them. But my mom also said that, if she had her preference in seeing an interracial couple–like you, N’jaila, she thought of “interracial” as PoC and White pairings–she’d much rather see a Black woman with a White Man than a Black man with a White woman. In her mind, the Black woman is “getting hers.”
Mind you, none of these opinions mattered to me. I’ve been interracially dating and mating since my senior year in high school. My senior prom date was a White guy who asked me to go. I told my mom, and she adamantly said no. Determined to go to prom, I told my date to meet me there. I lied to Mom about going with anyone, insisting that I was going with my girl crew. She bought me the dress and accessories. I went and had a great time. Only when I casually displayed the prom photo did Mom figure it out. By then, what could she say? ::shrug:: My first kiss was with a White guy. My first sexual partner was a White guy. My ex-lovers have spanned and still span the “racebow” (love that phrase, Ashley!). The only person I ever loved deep down–and who loved me back–was a White woman. My long-term relationships, including my marriage, have been with White men. And no, I wasn’t moving up any socio-economic ladder with these pairings.
Dani: I went to a predominately white school, K-12. Of the maybe three boyfriends I had in high school, two were white and one was Iranian. I went to prom three times – twice with white boys and once with a Korean-American guy. This was all in the early- and mid-90s. No one in my family commented on this, as far as I remember. Neither did friends, as it was understood that the dominant culture at my school was not black. I can only remember one black boy in my grade the whole time I was in that district. In terms of family, my aunts who were married or otherwise attached to men were with black men, so that was presented as the norm. Being single was modeled as a normal, healthy thing, too. I remember looking through old photos with one of my aunts and coming across a picture of a white guy. She told me she had dated him in college. That would have been the 70s and she wasn’t talking about it in hushed tones or anything, so it didn’t seem particularly taboo. My mom and her sisters had grown up in the same predominately white school district I did, so having close friendships with white and non-black people wasn’t considered strange. Of course, dating people from school was something that I could do (though it wasn’t completely without problems) that wasn’t accepted for them in the 60s.
Tami: I’m not sure that I received any messages growing up about IR dating. There are some IR relationships in my family, but the assumption likely was that I would eventually marry a black man (and I have), but in my youth I was a kid with an obsession for New Wave and English boys, so I doubt anyone would have been surprised had I brought home someone of a different race. I always grew up open to the idea of IR dating and did date people of various races when I was single.
Sewere: I didn’t grow up in a multi-racial country but a lot of the messages I got about interracial relationships were very similar to the messages I got about inter-ethnic relationships, which was “Don’t. Ever.” The reason was always the same, cultural differences are too difficult to overcome.
N’jaila: I think there’s sometimes an assumption that dating White equates dating “up”, obviously this isn’t the case. I’ve heard a lot of non-Black people say that they don’t date Black people because of “cultural” issues which are usually racist assumptions that they can’t find a Black of the same educational background or in the same tax bracket. Some non-Blacks also assume that especially Black women will be loud , crass and a walking Rap video 24/7.
There are so many ways that people decide what is of “high class” and most of those definitions exclude Blackness even down to body types. “Ghetto Booties” “Bamma Black” are a few examples I can think of where Black bodies are degraded as innately low class. I think certain looks and types can date out a lot more easily than others.
I’ve always found it funny when non-Black men give examples of the Black women they would date. “Oh well, if I would date a black woman she would have to be like Beyonce” as if to say the run of the mill Black woman wouldn’t cut it. Apparently even though they work at the shoe section at Sears, a black woman would have to be a light bright millionaire to get with them. Puh-lease#
Damon: From the common (and completely off-base) stereotype that black men sprint to non-black women the moment we sign up for our 401k’s to the fact that all of the recent discussion about black women “dating out” seems to be targeted towards upper-middle class black women living in major metropolitan areas, the class elephant has been present for each of the last, I don’t know, 250 interracial relationship conversations I’ve been involved in. No one seems to give a damn about who non-degreed and/or working class people date (well, no one seems to give enough of a damn to have a multi-layered discussion about it).
Also, as N’jaila touched on above, there’s (reportedly) a strong correlation between a man’s social class and the physical features he desires most in a woman. Basically — and this is argued to be true among all races of men — the more money a man makes, the more likely that he’s going to be more attracted (and more likely to marry) taller and thinner women. Apparently, the theory states, lower status men tend to desire “thicker” women more because their thickness suggests a fertility than will allow her to have more children to help them work on the farm or some shit.
This may in fact just be some evolutionary psychology gobbledygook, but this theory might have relevance when trying to understand how class, race, sex, and dating are intertwined.
Ashley: I think class plays a huge role! It seems that the more money a black person has, the better their options are of dating outside of their race (if that’s what they want to do). I’ll argue, though, that non-blk folks can generally date outside of their race regardless of class. It seems like it’s just much easier.
Sewere: Definitely, there were implicit messages regarding interracial dating based on the false hierarchy of races i.e. white at the top, black at the bottom and everything else in-between. The general idea from what I can recall, was that dating someone white was generally better than someone who is black even though non-Nigerians were generally viewed as lacking grounded culture (whatever that meant).
Andrea: I completely agree that class plays a role in these conversations. I think it plays out largely, though, in terms of educational privilege (getting a bachelor’s degree and beyond), if not in terms of financial privilege (like working as a VP in a corporate environment and the disposable income that goes with that). That’s what Ralph Richard Banks meant by, “the reality is, if you’re a college-educated Black woman, you have less in common with the guy you grew up with from the neighborhood who’s driving the UPS truck and more in common with the White guy who sat next to you in history class in college.” Banks is, in arguing for (middle- and upper-middle class) Black women to “date/marry out,” for, really, keeping the social classes as they are. To him, that glue and gateway is that bachelor’s-and-beyond education. Wrapped in that is the idea the IR couple with similar educational backgrounds would “have more to talk about” and find out that they have more in common, which is seen as the basis of a possible relationship.
Tami: A magazine like Essence seeks to preserve the black middle to upper class. While there is plenty of disdain for the dating and procreation habits of the working and lower class, I’m not sure the “powers that be” really give a rat’s ass whether a single mom in Englewood, Chicago, gets married. This marriage thing is a “crisis” because it impacts the middle and higher classes and our ability to assimilate into the majority-white status quo.
Cheryl Lynn: Honestly? It doesn’t factor into the conversations I have at all. It’s funny. I’m surrounded by people in interracial relationships, but there’s very little dating outside of one’s socio-economic status–if any. And women who date outside of their class–who date “up”–are mocked as trophies. I’d feel a little awkward and out of place dating a very wealthy person who wasn’t black or Latino. But I feel like there would be enough of a shared connection culturally with a rich black or Latino man that I wouldn’t feel strange. But I’m coming from a very strange place. I was raised working class, went to private school with rich kids (scholarship), and in later years watched my parents “move on up” to “comfortable.” Long story short, I’d feel strange dating someone poor or rich that isn’t black. I can relate to working class or middle-class men.
Latoya: To break the mod wall for a sec – Class is huge for me, and it’s one of the reasons why I generally don’t get involved in these discussions. The “Educated Black Woman” they keep talking about isn’t me. I’d like to think I have some kind of gray matter up there, but I’m a college drop out. If it weren’t for grace, luck, and the internet, I’d be just like most of the folks in my fam and friends circles, clerking it for an hourly wage at some day gig and making it up to myself on the weekend. And the guy I am partnered with is also a college drop out (though he intends to finish), so we don’t fit the paradigm.
Helena: The class issue can be huge. I grew up partially in South Central, Los Angeles but went to a very diverse private school in downtown LA. I remember my cousins warning me not to bring home an “head bangers” which I assumed was code for crazy white people? Iono. But we only had ONE white kid in our class and he was from like New Zealand or something. My class was black, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Mexican, etc.
The issue also comes up with my family because we are acutely aware that my great great grandmother’s children were fathered by a white man. My great grandmother, who lived to 100 and who I knew well, looked white to white people. I remember visiting her in her “assisted living” facility and her telling us about how the old white man down the hall was bad-mouthing “those people” and she’s all like, “what people?” Anywho despite being very fair she married very dark skinned men, which I’m assuming was somewhat intentional on her part. Once she passed a family member called my grandmother to ask about my great grandmother’s father, who we know was white and who most likely owned members of our family. My grandmother was livid when this other family member said something to the tune of, “you can’t help who you love.” Love between master and slave was unthinkable to my grandmother.
Dani: In my experience, age and geography have been bigger factors than class, though I guess it’s all related. Through college and most of my 20s, all my serious boyfriends were black. As I’ve gotten older – in the last five years or so – that’s changed. In my late 20s and early 30s, I’ve moved a lot for work and have been part of several cities’ transient class, in which I’ve tended to spend time with people who are also not native to those cities and who do work similar to mine. In these circles, it’s been less likely that I meet black men, at least black men who aren’t colleagues. I also realize that a large part of not dating black men in recent years is related to having ended up on the West Coast, where interracial dating – especially among people who aren’t from here – is apparently required. During a phone conversation years ago, a black man who I had dated and who had moved to the Bay Area from the East Coast boasted about how much access he had to non-black women now that he was out west, and how much he was enjoying that. I remember asking who black women were with if black men were scrambling to be with white and Asian women and Latinas. He kind of snorted and said, “I don’t know. Each other, I guess.” He was going out of his way to be an asshole and I get that, but now that I live here, I see what he meant. Black men and women to seem to have a kind of aversion to each other out here. I still haven’t figured it out.
Kadian: I can’t ever remember my family discussing interracial relationships or even voicing an opinion. Perhaps because no one in my family ever dated outside their “race”? My family is Jamaican, and they pretty much have an issue with dating outside the culture. So even Black Americans are seen as culturally very different. However, the message that I received from the wider society/culture is that “interracial” pretty much means the romantic mixing of Blacks & Whites with no other real attention to other “racial” pairings. I do remember finding such pairings in film and television exciting, but somehow doomed to fail.