Welcome back to the final White panel on Interracial Dating. Our panelists are:
Megan Carpentier, friend of the blog, formerly of Jezebel, now executive Editor of The Raw Story; Sam Menefee-Libey, friend of the blog, one time contributor, and blogger at Campus Progress; Jill Filipovic, friend of the blog, and Editor of Feministe; Porter, technologist and friend of Latoya; Lauren, founder of Feministe and long time friend of the blog; Allison, long time friend of the blog; and DC, Allison’s brother.
Have you ever been considered a race traitor for flirting with/dating/marrying someone outside of your race? Or, have you observed that behavior from others?
Megan: Back in 2007, I went out on a couple of dates with an African-American man that I met at a bar that was (at that point) on the front of a wave of DC gentrification — on our second date, we went to a decidedly interracial party in a then-gentrifying part of town: we left to “take a walk” (i.e., make out absurdly against various trees in between hand-holding and talking) and we got hollered at by two women on a porch who strongly felt that I shouldn’t be jacking “their” men — let’s just say they used some words that I won’t repeat and hadn’t ever had directed at me before, and which definitely killed my mood. Then they called him, effectively, a race traitor. It felt shitty all around, though I think he was madder at them for what they said to me than vice versa.
As Sam and I both hinted at above, in many white communities, expressing that thought is simply unacceptable and thinking it is even beyond the pale, really. So my sole experiences with it have been as the partner of the person to whom it’s been directed (the guy I just mentioned, my HS ex I mentioned earlier, a college boyfriend who was Latino whose mother was quite upset about my race). So while I understand the roots of the sentiment more as an adult than I did as a teenager, it still seems like a crap thing to say to anyone, regardless of their race.
Sam: I think most of us on this post are urban-dwelling twenty-something professionals, unlikely to encounter that kind of sentiment. It’s probably a question worth asking, it may just require a different sample set.
Jill: I’ve never been called a race traitor for dating someone non-white — at least not to my face. The closest I’ve seen is women expressing frustration with men from their same racial/religious/cultural groups routinely dating women who are outside of their racial/religious/cultural group — with the idea that those men are rejecting women who share their racial/religious/cultural characteristics (and to be clear, I don’t think that’s anywhere in the ballpark of calling someone a “race traitor”). Interestingly, most of the examples I can think of where there was some discomfort or critique of interracial dating have come from women — I don’t know if that’s because I just tend to socialize more heavily and more intimately with women, or because dating is still cast as a game where men hold most of the power and get to pick what “kind” of woman they want, or a little of both. But it seems notable.
Porter: To my knowledge, I haven’t been considered a race traitor. Perhaps it’s occurred but went unexpressed. Not having to worry much about that does feel like a fortunate case, at least somewhat. Not sure if that is white privilege. Probably, in part. Also, I think moving so much has made me a bit more immune to what most groups think of my demographic traits (even if I worry about being boring or uncool), except my parents, which may have taken me longer than many to be more detached from.
The Korean gal I dated in high school definitely got some race traitor pressure, for which I felt a bit guilty, and also, rather angry. Notably, the tight group of Korean kids (mostly male) didn’t coordinate behavior towards me. They weren’t exceptionally cold to me, nor particularly embracing. She heard it, not me.
I think I’ve witnessed more criticism of interfaith dating than interracial dating from my friends and social networks at an earlier age, which is a bit more surreptitious. While one’s faith, especially at a younger age, is inherited from parents like race is, a faith has the appearance of being more of a choice, and thus, easier to criticize some for and be scandalized by. Or, another take: since I was in largely white communities, they had to find SOMETHING to discriminate by!
Daniel: I’m not entirely sure who I would be a traitor to! Again, perhaps the answer may be because I grew up in a bubble where interracial relationships were part of “the norm” and that labeling didn’t happen so often. Who exactly would I be betraying though? I certainly don’t feel like I have an obligation to the “white” race in any way, and certainly not in my desire to have the partner of my choice. Perhaps this might be different in a more tight-knit community. For example, if I grew up with the framework of “everything about you is white” and it was an integral part of my existence, perhaps I would feel some guilt for introducing someone “other than white” into my life. Such an idea is quite terrifying to me, for I can’t honestly say that I know someone who is completely devoid of influences from other racial communities.
Allison: My community of friends and extended relatives doesn’t adhere to all of the dominant social norms. I’m white with friends and relatives of color,. In this circle, some of us are straight and some queer, some able-bodied and some disable. Some are working-class, some are more comfortable, and some are struggling to make ends meet. We’re all in this together. Through friendship and kinship with this community of complex, well-rounded individuals, I’ve experienced a profound awareness: when it comes to challenging a lifetime of internalized identity politics, the only person I have to worry about betraying is myself.
Anything else you’ve noticed that we didn’t cover above?
Megan: One thing I’ve noticed which has come up in a lot of the other panels is any discussion of class or its intersection with our dating choices? Which, not to generalize, may be because I wasn’t exactly born into class privilege, so it stands out to me a bit more, and it’s something I have struggled with in terms of dating as an adult. But Lauren and Jill both noted implicitly in their answers to the first question (and I alluded to as well at some point), racist stereotypes and assumptions about interracial dating often have a class component to them within white communities, even as — as the Esquire article and the writers on the Black Panel noted — dating outside your race in seen as a class privilege for particularly African-Americans. Which, to a certain degree, belies my experience when I am visiting my hometown and the surrounding areas: many of the interracial couples there aren’t college-educated and don’t come from money, but rather come from similar class-disprivileged backgrounds to one another. And not that those couples don’t encounter familial resistance or raised eyebrows on one side or the other or both, but it does make it somewhat easier for me to resist the characterization that interracial dating is exclusively a function of class privilege or “dating up,” though certain racial pairings remain less common.
In terms of class, all of the interracial relationships I’ve had (and many of my intraracial relationships) have been with people who come from class backgrounds similar to mine: first or maybe second generation to attend college, limited funds growing up, public schools, saddled with school debts to try to claw our way up the economic ladder (or who got to where they’re at by a less conventional means, be it military service or forsaking higher ed because the money wasn’t there). I’m more comfortable with someone else who expects to have to hustle and struggle to get ahead than someone who expects to just do well, which I often view as a function of growing up comfortably middle class or above and never struggling for money. It just some times feels like there’s a secret coded language among well-off people some times, to which because of my childhood economic status (and, to some degree, cultural traditions) I don’t have access, and which (when dating) leads to the same series of arguments, misunderstandings and lack of communication.
Anyway, I thought it was interesting that it hadn’t come up, especially reading the contributors to the other panels’ takes on the intersection of class privilege and race. I had never thought about it that way… but then when I thought about it in my life, I actually sort of had the opposite experience? Which perhaps speaks to my own class background and how I was raised more than anything else.
Allison: Both of the partners I referenced in this discussion were the teenage children of single mothers. We were all conscious of the fact that money was not in abundance, but we shared what we had when we had a little cash to go around. In both relationships, going out to eat meant I usually paid for the both of us because I’ve worked steadily since I was 16 and made sure to save what I could. It’s not too much different now that we’re all adults. The last time M and I had dinner, I paid. He works in television, but it’s more for experience than a high paycheck while he works his way up the ladder. He’s always appreciative of my generosity. In return, he’d always be the first to offer me a ride somewhere (I hate driving) or else surprise me with a visit from 4 hours away. We may not always have the same amount of money in the bank, but it’s never been a question for me that we’re equals.
Sam: I have a few lingering thoughts. One is that we didn’t actually talk with/to each other, which is disappointing. There are certainly things said I’d like to engage with, both to challenge, and to praise. We also didn’t really address the Essence article, which is totally fucked up (the article that is, not necessarily our not addressing it). The main thing that’s sticking out for me right now, though, is the dearth of systemic or political analysis here. It pops up here and there with a few sociological concepts, but it’s mostly implicit or lacking from our series of personal stories. Personal story telling is an incredibly important tool for political work, one that I both use and teach often in my work, but I feel like our stories, no matter how rich they are, aren’t really serving any particular, explicit, coherent agenda/point/argument/claim (or even several conflicting ones). The “So What?” seems to be somewhat elusive here.
I have some real anxiety about trying to supply any of this single-handedly, and I should note that, for now, I’m focusing my comments on this particular roundtable. I’m glad that white people, both het and queer, think about race when they date People of Color. I also think it’s a pretty low bar to clear. (I’m trying really hard not to snipe at any other contributors to this post. I’m writing this the night before the roundtable closes, likely after everyone has done their final read through and please note that this is in no way fair.) The questions that concern me when thinking about interracial dating are, in this arena what constitutes racial/social justice? These are really sticky questions in which its helpful to examine how we dealt with racialized dating dilemmas, but I think we need more here. I know that I hesitated to take up much space (until now that is) with long stories and as a result my experience is described in mostly broad and abstract terms that aren’t discernibly Queer or illustrative of any of the subtleties of the situations. I’m assuming that my fellow contributors also left their descriptions brief and somewhat truncated.
My point here is that there are some particular threads between our stories that we can tease out that are directly related to the Essence article. One is that race overlaps with and affects socio-economic class. There are many others, which, again, I’m hesitant to begin examining here because of the absence of other answers. For now, I’ll leave this to commenters to elaborate on.