Welcome back to the Mixed panel on Interracial Dating. Our panelists are:
Phil Djwa, technologist; Jozen Cummings, creator of the Until I Get Married blog; LM, long time commenter and friend of the blog; Liz, friend of the blog and co-founder of VerySmartBrothas; Jen Chau, Founder and Executive Director of Swirl and co-founder of Mixed Media Watch and Racialicious; N’Jaila Rhee, the mastermind behind BlaysianBytch.com(link NSFW); Holly, contributor at Feministe; Ken, friend of the blog; and A.C., friend of the blog.
Phil: That’s a funny way to put it. I guess so, but it seems more common now, so less of an issue. My wife jokes that I am whiter than she is. Still, I think for me, differences are there. No one can quite tell what I am, or what my kids are, so there is some ambiguity there. I remember being in Hawaii and thinking/feeling I had come home because of all the people looking like me. I don’t suffer the same things my parents did, and that makes it seem less of an issue. Racism expressed directly to my face is pretty rare now, it’s been years, but sometimes I feel it even if it isn’t overt.
Jozen: Short answer: Hell no. Long answer: HHHHHEEEEEEELLLLLLLL NOOOOO! But no really, this is probably the most ridiculous stereotype I’ve heard about mixed race people. If I end up with a woman who is mixed race it’s probably cause I thought she was fine, however that came about really doesn’t matter.
LM: Sure. But the degree to which this matters depends a lot on the experiences of the people in the relationship, and to go to the other extreme a good argument can be made that just about every relationship is of mixed race.
Liz: Yeah, technically speaking. I’m very proud of both my cultures and don’t see myself excusing my Navajo side with my future family.
Jen: Yes, though I never quite understood the need to point this out. There is a woe-is-me quality to it, a la “Aw geez. I am alone in the world, no one is just like me, racially, so I am doomed to only interracial date.”
First of all, interracial dating is fabulous. Just ask the women out there writing books about it recently….Secondly, there are a ton of people like me out there. I tried to date a Jewish and Chinese guy once and everyone thought he was my brother, so… pros and cons. Seriously speaking, though, I think that things like socio-economic class, values, and belief system, can sometimes trump race when contending with differences in a relationship. Sure, anyone you date is probably going to have a different “racial” make-up than you if you are mixed, but I think there are probably other differences that wind up being more meaningful than the fact that you are from different “races.”
N’jaila: I think this goes for those that “look” mixed. I think even though I’m part Asian dating an Asian man feels to me like an interracial relationship because we are judged by those outside the relationship as a completely different. I think a lot of people feel that people’s races should be dictated by what others perceive them as, and not how the person self identifies. I have friends that are half White half Black and a lot of times if they don’t “look” mixed. People act negatively to them dating one race or the other.
Truth be told my dating experience is going to be unique from others mixed or not. I look Black, but my mindset will be different from an American “full Black” woman because there’s the Caribbean and Asian influence in my thinking. Mixed people are a very large and varied group, so while I may feel that I’m dating “out” no matter who I’m with I’m sure there are many that don’t.
For me my parents made me proud of my culture, more so than my color, or racial classification. So in all honesty when I date someone raised as a West Indian I don’t feel I’m in a mixed relationship.
Personally I try not to think of my relationships as interracial , but as relationships.
Holly: I think I said this once, just to point out how non-exceptional a discussion about “interracial dating” is for multiracial people — but I do think everyone’s answers here point out something interesting about cultural difference. That’s the thing that I’ve tended to notice really makes a relationship feel more “interracial” and it comes up in a lot of conversations about interracial dating. Like LM says, almost any relationship could be considered of “mixed race” and I’d interpret this to be about all sorts of cultural differences. Still, some are more significant than others. I once dated someone with ALMOST the same ethnic background as me, except that she was a mixed sansei (third generation) whereas I’m a mixed nisei (second generation). Her parents were born and grew up here and were pretty well-versed in American culture — and that made for a pretty significant difference in orientation towards Japanese culture. This kind of cultural difference — which is all about race and our relationship to it — actually felt like more of an “interracial relationship” difference than say, regional or religious differences, since I’ve dated people who are more or less religious, from the South or the East or the West, etc. It’s really the cultural differences that stand out. In a broad classification of “people of color” I usually check the “Asian” box. I’ve dated other Asians of a few different ethnicities / background — Chinese, Laotian, Sindhi — but because we all grew up in the homogenous white US, I kind of suspect that any of us would “have more in common” culturally with a white person than we would with each other. We’re all steeping in the white culture constantly. What we do have in common, however, is an experience of being outsiders and being targets of racism and prejudice in one way or another.
Phil: No, though I wonder if my bias is towards white women, as I have never dated anyone Chinese. Maybe coincidence, but maybe not. As I’ve mentioned, I think that the reality was I didn’t meet a lot of Chinese women growing up, and the only images I got of them were strange (through movies, the rare news piece). I think religion played more of a role in my world. Dating a Jewish girl caused some angst for both of us, as we knew we couldn’t be together in the long term. My friends were mostly white, so dating white women wasn’t an issue.
Jozen: Dating non black women can be awkward, because of where my cultural allegiances are. But what’s funny is I’ve had some black women I dated tell me they feel like with me they’re in an interracial relationship, and I always remind them, I’m black, just not the type they’re used to. Most of my peers might react differently if I dated anybody but a black woman, but it probably wouldn’t bother me much. I’m kind of aware of how I look mixed to most people, so I handle the idea that someone is in an interracial relationship all cause they’re dating me with some humor, but I myself don’t really date outside of one of my races.
LM: The first time I was interested in a black girl I was perhaps 14 or 15, and I felt equal amounts apprehension because 1) she was a girl and I was extremely shy, and 2) she was black and I didn’t see a lot of black-white pairings (my Puerto Rican-ness wasn’t a factor at this point, for some reason). It was summer in Oak Bluffs, on Martha’s Vineyard, where the racial environment wasn’t particularly oppressive, but I still felt that there might be some sort of stigma. I talked to my mother about this, and she assured me that there’d be no opposition from her or my father, but there was still the problem of actually approaching the girl. I did one day in a doughnut shop when she was surrounded by two or three uncles. Whatever my approach it was so weak that no outright rejection was necessary. This wasn’t someone I’d talked to, just a girl I’d seen around town almost every day. The same thing happened with another girl that summer, a white girl whose parents owned a stationery shop, but my fear and ultimate failure was not exacerbated by any racial concerns.
A handful of years later, much more confident in general and having been through my first serious relationship, I briefly dated a black girl who worked with me at a Vineyard supermarket and was about to go off to Spelman University. The attraction was mutual and for a handful of nights we were an item around town. But we were both a bit hesitant about holding hands or showing affection in public, and at least some small part of this had to do with the stares we might get.
In both these cases, having spent my summers working and without many friends, there really weren’t peers around to comment.
It was different in college. I had been fairly popular in high school and I made friends and accumulated acquaintances in college easily. By early in my sophomore year my high school relationship, with a Jewish girl whose mother’s concern about my Catholic upbringing I hadn’t noticed, was over. My college friends were predominantly black Brooklynites, many but not all originally from Caribbean nations like Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados. I drew my romantic interests from my wide group of friends but was extremely picky. So there was constantly talk about how I liked black women and they liked me — and it came from the friends I was around every day. It wasn’t negative and gave me no pause except for my distrust of the notion of a racial preference. In high school I’d liked girls with backgrounds from the Philippines, India, Pakistan, China, Korea… I’d liked the blonde freckled girl in seventh grade in Puerto Rico and I had a crush on Steffi Graf and her long legs… I’d had crushes on the light-skinned and dark-skinned Puerto Rican natives in my classes down there too. I liked women! But I noticed that it seemed most of the women I was interested in were black. I attributed some of this to being around black people most of the time, but I also felt a cultural turn of sorts — where any partner of mine would have to be comfortable in predominantly black surroundings a lot of the time. This could be theoretically be someone who wasn’t black, but I didn’t see many hanging out with me and the other people I was around most of the time.
Jen: I thought we just established that all of my relationships have been interracial? Yes. I have dated interracially. The only fears I had were around my family reactions – whether or not they would accept the man I was dating. It didn’t stop me, but I definitely thought long and hard about when I would introduce them to my family and how. At this point, I’m 34 and my parents just want me to settle down, so race doesn’t matter as much anymore. Desperation-to-have-me-get-married aside, I do think that they have learned along with me (and my brothers) that the most important thing is for us to be with partners who love, respect and support us. They see that this is much more important than our partners’ racial/ethnic make-up.
With regards to peers – depending on whom I was with at the time, I would either get props or receive jabs. I always say that the choices mixed race people make in who they partner with becomes a very political one. When I’ve dated men of color, other people of color saw me as “being down.” I’ve only dated one white man and had one friend who incessantly teased me about this during the course of that relationship. I must have missed the memo about being an anti-racist activist and not being allowed to date white. Who you date as a mixed person winds up telling people something about you – even if it’s not true or on point. Because I was dating this white man, this one friend (maybe others that I was unaware of?) started questioning my commitment to the cause. I couldn’t believe that so much about my identity changed in other people’s eyes because of who he was. Stereotypes and assumptions abound! Needless to say, once I started to date my current partner, a man of color, she exclaimed, “Oh! You’re back!” To be welcomed back into the community…thank goodness I’ve gotten myself straightened out!
N’jaila: I’ve always feared being too much and not enough. Exotic enough for sex, too Black to take home to your parents. There’s a fear that I can’t be taken seriously because of the way I look. If I had lighter skin, a thinner body type, different hair texture I know some people would be more open to me as a mixed women, but I have none of those things and I get coded as a certain type and a certain class of woman. Its frustrating to have so many barriers in front of you while trying to date people within or outside your culture.
I think the biggest mistake that I’ve made is always assuming the worst. I was involved with a Native Korean man and I was so fearful of meeting his parents. I just assumed that they could never possibly accept us as a couple. The first thing they said when they saw me was, “ oh she’ll have boys!” They were completely open to the idea of having me as a daughter in law. I think they were more upset about that relationship ending than he or I was.
JC, I do know how it feels to have others question your motives depending on your partner. People assume that I don’t want to be Black because I’m dating an Asian or that there’s something lacking in my commitment to Black issues. On the flip side people that see me being vocal about Black issues feel that I can in no way care or have a real investment in fighting racism against Asians or that I date Asians so I can control their ideas of Blackness. Some people want you to pick a side and there really isn’t a way to do that. At least not for me.
Holly: I always had a chip on my shoulder about this — probably because I felt from early on like “well, whoever I end up dating, I’m always going to be weird somehow, either because of my white half or my asian half.” Or for any number of other reasons — gender, queerness, general unacceptability, etc. I don’t think I’m really “legible” as a possible partner for many of the people that I’ve dated or been in long-term relationships, for a lot of overlapping reasons, I’m just a kind of confusing blur on the photograph, you know? I can honestly say that for my entire life, nobody has ever asked me about this or made any comment to me, parents included. That may be because I never dated a black guy during high school like my sister did, which generated more controversy. I’ve mostly dated white people and east asians and south asians, a few other mixed people of various ancestry, and I suppose maybe that just seemed like what a mutt like me would do?
Ken: I was going to say no to this until reading N’jaila’s response. I’ve had that same fear in the gay community — exotic enough for a hook-up but not relationship material (more on that later). Other than that, I suppose I haven’t had any. The majority of my partners have and will be even phenotypically quite different from me, and all of my friends and family have known that for some time. It was never an issue with peers.
Phil: No, but I am curious about asking my wife. Sometimes I get a funny look when meeting my wife’s acquaintances, but I think it might be more that I am younger than her. Because our kids are mixed, it really seems natural that one of us must be non-white. It’s different for our kids now as well because while we live in the same city, the percentage of Chinese now in my daughter’s school is more than 80% so it is a very different landscape for her. My wife has said that she doesn’t see much impact with me being brown, but I will ask her again.
Jozen: Some black women I have dated said their friends would ask questions about me, but again, no one is surprised I date black women. I’ve never dated an Asian or Latina woman so I don’t know what the reaction would be, and though I have dated a couple of white women, it’s never been too serious so that whole meeting of the friends thing never happened. In regards to any partners considered “off-limits” or “forbidden”, there was never any of that. Like not only was there none of that, but there was none of the opposite. My Japanese grandmother has never pushed onto me meeting a nice Japanese girl, and no one has ever said I should be dating a Puerto Rican or black woman. What I can appreciate about my family is they’ve never drawn those kinds of lines in the sand. All they care about is finding a woman who makes me happy.
Jen: I think I’ve spoken to this a bit already. I will just add that I never really noticed many reactions when I have dated black men, Asian men, mixed men, Latino men. It was almost like I was expected to be with a man of color. Not just because I identify as a woman of color, but because of my activist leanings. I noticed the most looks while I was with the one lone white man I dated. To be fair, it’s quite possible that I was more sensitive to reactions at this time. I expected them, anticipated them, then learned to ignore them. I do think that people made assumptions about us given that we were white man and mixed Asian woman. I heard more about white dudes with Asian fetishes during that two and a half year period than I have heard in my life. Jokes asking my ex if he had one…anecdotes of having heard others guys talk about having them…asking me what the attraction was all about. The only other annoying reactions were when I dated the mixed guy – hearing time and time again, “oh, I thought he was your brother,” or “you guys look eerily alike.” That didn’t last long (for many reasons).
N’jaila: I paid for my college education being forbidden fruit. There’s been a lot of snide comments and joke at my expense. I think the first assumption is that there can’t possibly be a reason for me and an Asian or White guy to be together unless I’m some sort of gold digger or hooker.
I’ve only been out with one White man in my life, but I notice when I’m with men that seem brown the stares and eye rolls from others almost stop. As if its not even the race but the skin tone difference that dictates how uncomfortable a relationship makes others feel.
Holly: Nobody has ever made any kind of comment to me about the race of my partner unless I was the one who initiated the topic of conversation. My only guess is that this has to do with two overlapping factors: people who don’t know me well, or who have relatively ignorant ideas about race, are often too confused about how to categorize me to make easy stereotypes. This has also been true at various points in my life with regards to gender! My most common experience is that people don’t even understand that I’m the date / girlfriend / partner / whatever of the person that I’m with. I guess I just don’t look like someone’s girlfriend, and that’s a mixture of race and gender. I’m not a matched pair with just about anyone in terms of race. And I’ve often seen evidence, or had outright comments, to the effect that my gender doesn’t seem quite right to be dating the person that I’m with; I’m not butch enough to be that femme’s girlfriend, I’m not masculine enough to be that straight girl’s boyfriend, I don’t look enough like a lesbian to be on a date with a woman, and on and on. All this stuff adds up into making me an unintelligible blur, at least for people who don’t know me or don’t know me well. Those that do know me well… they’re generally polite enough or police their own “politically problematic behavior” well enough that they don’t blunder into conversations about my race or my dates’ race.
Ken: I haven’t noticed anything related specifically to me and my partner, but in my current Left Coast gay community there is certainly an interracial dating hierarchy with whites at the top, followed by Asians, then Latins, then blacks. Poor Natives don’t even get a mention. Mixed-race folks’ dating success depends on what the mix is and (moreso on) outward appearance (the whiter, the ‘better’).
Liz: Ha, it’s not for lack of trying. I don’t have anything against dating interracially. I’m open to it and welcome it. I guess in many ways I understand that if it weren’t for an interracial couple, I would not exist. I just think I’m attracted to Black men mostly, so that’s the racial makeup of who I date.