Welcome back 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’ve dated mostly Asian and Asian American men, which apparently makes me a freak of nature. Even my Asian and Indian girlfriends have made me feel like there was something wrong with me for dating Asian. Black women and Asian men are not supposed to date and my mom didn’t get the memo and passed on her strange mutation to me. There are times I feel especially alienated when my friends or coworkers ask the race of one of my dates and laugh at me when I say “Asian”.
There is a fear that I’m too Black and too Asian to be anything than an exotic romp. Black women’s sexualities’ are either way over amplified or completely disregarded. Mammy or Jezebel, either situation leaves me out of the dating pool for many men.
I think for me its also more complicated because I work in the adult industry. A lot of people assume that I’m dating a non-Black man because no Black man in his right mind would want to “turn a ho into a housewife”. I think sometimes you can get so wrapped up in how you assume or fear a man will see you that it ends a relationship before it can begin.
Cheryl Lynn: I date interracially, but I often forget when I am. My friends and family don’t make it an issue at all. The neighborhoods I reside in don’t make it an issue. The only time it was an issue was when I dated someone who passed for white. We accidentally stumbled through an Italian festival in NYC and a white woman looked at me, rolled her eyes , and loudly asked “Why’d he bring her here?” We got the hell out of there pretty fast. I went to a rib joint with the same guy and got a few weird looks from a group of black guys. When I started speaking to my date, one of the dudes actually said “Oh, it’s okay. He’s Puerto Rican!” Seeing some of the nonsense that my friends who are in black/white couples have had to deal with makes me a bit wary of dating white men. I actually told a friend that I couldn’t be bothered with dating interracially after seeing the trouble she went through. My friend laughed and said, “You are in an interracial relationship right now!” I’d completely forgotten! He wasn’t white.
Andrea: I’d be lying if I said no. In quite a few of my past IR relationships, especially with White men, I was “their first time” or some validation of how “not White” (meaning “not boring/status quo/racist”) they are. It’s gotten to the point were I simply ask if this is their first time dating interracially, especially dating a Black woman. This lets me know what I’m getting into or am up against. In my current relationship, I’m dating a White man who I met at an interracial-dating site. In his profile he said (and I quote): “ I’ve dated a number of, and have always been most attracted to, black women–so interracial dating is not a try-out or a new experience for me.” Which heartened me. We’re still working out some stickier points about race and racism in our relationship, where I have to do some gentle anti-racism conversations around humor, for example–but we’re getting along so far.
As for my peers… ::shrug:: They pretty much know how I roll as far as dating and mating. Quite a few of them have dated/mated interracially or are doing so now, so they just look at me. I think they’re more amazed I’m into polyamory and burlesque than into interracial dating.
Helena: I went to winter formal with a Korean guy and I went to prom with the quarterback who was Filipino. I asked him because I’d had the hugest crush on him for more than a year. My aunts and cousins came over to house before prom to help me get dressed (we call this a “champagne party” in Cali) and they weren’t at all shocked that my date was Asian. They were impressed that he rolled up in a Beemer.
But once I got to college it seemed as if dating outside your race was much more taboo. I mean you couldn’t even kick it with other folks without being seen as a fake. I was used to eating kalbi and calling my Chinese best friend’s mom Auntie Diana, so the self-segregation in college threw me for a loop. It got so bad–me hanging with white people–that a friend, who’d eventually pledge a black sorority with me, pulled me aside to tell me that word on campus was that I “wasn’t black.” Like, huh?
Then sophomore year I actually dated a white guy for a hot week. We joked about race all the time. I think it made us feel mature and so over it. Once he asked me if I’d like to be the roast beef in his white bread sandwich. Seriously. We held hands and ate at a campus cafe together maybe two times and the streets started talking. One of my older guy friends, who my mother asked to look out for me, pulled me aside and told me that it wasn’t cool for me to date the white dude. We broke up, eventually. Because he played air guitar and it was college not because folks had a problem with it. But I still remember thinking that black men had a problem with seeing me with this white man. That was in 2000.
Tami: I dated white and Asian men casually and also had a yearlong relationship with a white guy. Like Andrea, I’ve had the experience of navigating relationships with men who have never dated black women–sometimes wading through stereotypes and exoticizing. I also connected with some really good guys. None of them ever met my parents. That wasn’t by design, though.
Ultimately, the greater barrier in my longest IR relationship was class and not race. He was raised in and continued to identify with white, ethnic, working-class Chicago. I grew up the child of degreed black professionals in a suburban environment. Our outlooks and our goals were too far apart, no matter how much we liked each other. But, as someone mentioned above, I’m not sure class would have been as much a barrier, if we had race in common. That feels strange to say.
Sewere: My general concern around interracial dating has always been having the patience to deal with a privileged partner. I realize the older I get the less willing I am to go through racism 101 with a partner, to explain to someone why I don’t want to be around racist family, why I wouldn’t want my kids around racist family members. I’m not even sure I have the patience to break down the deeper level racism or intersectional stuff, just because I think I expect that someone who wants to have a relationship with a person of color, should have already done some heavy lifting. More important, this doesn’t just apply to white folks, it applies to people of color as well, i.e. I expect that a Nigerian should be aware of intersecting discrimination and privileges vis-à-vis other folks of color.
The funny thing is I expect the same of African-American folks regarding approaching the diversity of Africa and Africans. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had to break down attitudes influenced by colonial racism (starting with the Africa as a country misconception). I know this might seem like an unrealistic level of expectations, but honestly, I think people should be capable of treating others as full humans. If I get the impression the person I’m dating isn’t willing to understand how privilege works and isn’t willing to challenge herself or be challenged, then I end it.
Dani: I can’t say I’ve really had fears. When I’ve been with someone who’s not black, I’ve been living in places where I have a kind of anonymity. It’s not like I’m in my hometown and people who’ve known me my whole life are offering their opinions of my dating choices. More importantly, my family and longtime friends know that being open to people of different races is part of who I’ve always been. It’s how I was raised. When I took a boyfriend who is Latino but kind of racially ambiguous home to meet my family, I remember one of my cousins asking, “What is he? Mexican?” But it was out of genuine curiosity. It wasn’t like some veiled slur. But I have to admit, one of the many reasons I have a lot of pride in my family is that we’re a strong *black* family. I struggle with what, if anything, this phrase means as some of my cousins and I partner with non-black people. And it makes me parse the phrase and think hard about the ways in which the “strong” and the “black” have been connected in my mind all these years.
Kadian: I can’t say that I have ever been fearful about entering a relationship due to differences in “race”. I have only had three real relationships in my life. Two of them are white, one is a woman to whom I’m currently married. My first relationship was with a “wigga” type (why, God, why?). Anyway, I knew his parents because they went to my church and they were cool. The fact that my ex-boyfriends former wife was also Black encouraged me further. However, I was a bit disconcerted once in the relationship because our connection to Black culture was very different from a class perspective. I was in college at the time, so it was also a long-distance relationship. My friends did not show shock that I was dating a White guy, but they were displeased with the type of White guy. It was as if they were saying “If you’re going to date white, you should have picked up something better than that”. The relationship ended after six months, not because he was White, but–to be frank–because he was poor, lacked ambition, and wasn’t that great in bed.
Dating a white woman came with all kinds of complications, but the “woman” part actually trumped the “White” part for most of my friends and family. The fact that she is not from the US also added an element of allure. Because she’s British and I am Jamaican, we are culturally more on par than the White “wigga” I dated previously. My family also seemed to find relief in the fact that she is British for similar reasons…after they got over the fact that she’s a woman.
N’jaila: That’s pretty much my calling card. I think a lot of my partners and boyfriends felt like I was something dangerous and unattainable. When I was younger I was a complacent fetish object. I figured “at least he likes me until he finds something Blacker, kinkier or more like Beyonce.”
I remember when I was a freshman in college I was dating this Japanese man, a foreign student. He had a very odd fixation on all things Black. From a almost cult-like obsession with rappers and basketball players to an extensive collection of “vintage” Black pornography. I felt like I was just the interactive part of his collection. Looking back I’m pretty ashamed that I put up with that for as long as I did simply because, “he liked me” and well at least he liked Black people instead of looking down on us.
I think the only group of men I’ve felt alienated from was White men. Many of my Black male friends would make jokes that my college campus was an “elephant’s graveyard” because there were so many Black women with White men. What they meant was White men on my campus were taking the Black women that no one else wanted. To be seen with a White man in their eyes was to accept that Black men had given up on you and you just had to scavenge for what ever you could find. I always felt there’s a bit of true feelings in jest.
I’ve always felt the perception was a Black man was with a non-Black woman because she desired him so, a Black woman was with a non-Black man because she was desperate.
Cheryl Lynn: Nothing is off-limits. Still, if I brought home a white man? There would be jokes. Oh, how there would be jokes! The only limits I have are self-imposed. I like the men that like me. At first that limit was set to black and Latino men. Then the limit was changed to allow Native American men and Pacific Islanders as a broader selection of men started asking me out. Now that I’ve moved to a white/Asian neighborhood, I occasionally find South Asian dudes checking me out. I’m still trying to get used to that! The limit might change again.
Helena: I agree with Cheryl. If I brought a white man home there would be jokes for days. I mean they’d talk about him to his face and expect him to either laugh it off or join in. The crazy thing is that even though all I’ve ever brought home in my adult dating life is black men, if anybody were to date a white man in my family it’d be me. Or at least that’s what they think. It’s part of me being “east coast” now I think. They assume that every college educated person north east of the Mason Dixon is mixing it up. But since college all I’ve dated is black men with the occasional Nuyorican, which weirdly I never counted as “interracial dating.” But in Los Angeles if I dated a Mexican man it’d be very interracial.
Andrea: I don’t recall any men of color being “off-limits” to me. As I said earlier, other men of color were/are simply seen by my family as not fitting into the Black/White schema that’s set up as the standard for IR relationships. So, it really wasn’t “off-limits” so much as “not considered”–other men of color were/are invisible to my family, especially my mom. My friends…like I said, they know how I roll, so they wouldn’t be surprised by any race or ethnicity of man in my life.
Sewere: The first strong reaction to dating a non-Nigerian I got was from my mother who was opposed to it. The funny thing was that it started out with a picture of me and a great friend of mine, who is Thai-American. We weren’t even dating but my mother saw a picture of us together and immediately assumed we were dating. I didn’t dissuade her of the dating part but I quickly tore down that misconception as soon as it raised its ugly head. I basically took the time to explain to her why such views were abhorrent and why she sounded almost the same as the people who mistreated her children because of our ethnicity. It wasn’t an easy job and I know it isn’t entirely over but I do know dating someone who isn’t Nigerian is going to be an uphill battle.
Now the rest of my family think I’m Mr. United Nations because I’ve dated a diversity of women but I was really heartened when my sister noticed that the common thread with all the women I’ve had serious relationships with is that they’ve all been compassionate and kind women. Unfortunately, the only other negative reactions I’ve had have been from a co-worker and a friend of a cousin (which I’ve discussed here before), and I think I’ve said before although they were both black women, I think I can appreciate the complexities of black women’s experiences of being rejected by the world and the sense of betrayal (if I can use that phrase) of being rejected by black men.
Dani: I was recently in Latin America with my boyfriend, whose family is from the country we were visiting. He spent a lot of his childhood there, goes back every few years, etc. In terms of phenotype, he is white – white ethnic, yes, but white. His parents immigrated to the States as adults and he identifies as Latino. Talking with him about race and ethnicity and language and culture and access to passing has been a real eye-opener for me, and it’s clarified for me the way in which “blackness” continues to hold its own distinct place beneath the “people of color” umbrella. We live in the Bay Area, where pairings of black women and white men are common. But when we were on vacation, I got what Paul Mooney would call my nigger wake-up call. We were detained by a military police officer who had observed my boyfriend smoking what he was convinced was marijuana (it was a cigarillo) and in turn responded by trying to prove I was either selling drugs or a prostitute. (Why else would the two of us be together?) The day before, he had gotten a knowing laugh and a “That’s not your girlfriend” when he told a black woman trying to sell him mango on the beach that he wanted to wait till his girlfriend got back to see what I wanted. We were stared at — especially while on the Caribbean coast where black people comprise upwards of 70% of the population – simply because the way we interacted confused people. We both look like we could be from that country. But there, people who look like him and people who look like me don’t often have open, intimate relationships unless the person who looks like me is getting paid for her time.
Kadian: My current partner and I always illicit strange reactions. We’re of different racial backgrounds; from different countries and cultures; and we’re also two women with an age gap of 24 years. So yeah, unless we’re at a gay event, people usually don’t assume that we are together, certainly not romantically. I am most frustrated when we are in a predominately White or upper class environment because some people tend to address my partner rather than me. This has happened to us both in the US and UK. A few months ago, we went out to eat in the UK. I went up to the maitre’d to let him know that I had made a reservation. The maitre’d then proceeded to address my White partner. Even after she told the maitre’d that I made the reservation, he continued to speak to her rather than me. It’s like I wasn’t there. We’ve also been in stores where we’ve been treated as if we are two separate strangers who happened to come in at the same time. It doesn’t matter how close I stand to her, how much I smile at her or make googley eyes. I’m getting tired of saying “I’m with her.”
On a lighter note, I had an amusing experience walking down the street with my partner as we approached a group of good-looking Black men. As we passed, one of them stopped me and started to ask for my name. Before I could answer, my partner turned around to look at him. He noticed the look and said, “oh, are you with her?” I smiled and said, “yes”. He apologized and joined his friends. That’s one of the more respectful reactions I have had. On the streets of DC, this kind of thing happened frequently, but was often filled with more hostility and cursing. A lot of it is about gender as much as it is about race. I constantly wonder how many of those men would have approached me if my partner was a White man rather than a White woman.
As for minorities that are “off-limits”/”forbidden”–pretending that I’m not married–I would be less likely to pursue a relationship with a South Asian man. Having a deep understanding of many South Asian cultures (even being part Indian myself), the cultural differences and racial perceptions of Blacks is too much of a headache to deal with. The impression that I have received from friends is that Blacks are acceptable as friends, but we don’t become family members.