On Interracial Dating – The Mixed Race Panel (3 of 3)

Tyson and Shanina

Welcome back to the Mixed Race 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 VerySmartBrothasJen 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 FeministeKen, friend of the blog; and A.C., friend of the blog.

Unfortunately, often mixed people are seen as public property – the idea that anyone can walk up to a person and demand information on their parentage, background, nationality, or ethnicity.  A similar dynamic is also something seen in interracial dating, where a couple simply being together in public can prompt unwelcome verbal and nonverbal commentary from passerby. Why do you think it is considered socially acceptable to do these things?

Phil: The “where are you from? No, I mean originally?” question used to drive me nuts, but I’ve calmed down a bit and try to be a little more positive in responding to the curiosity in the question rather than the ignorance. But it really has happened less. Sometimes now it’s “what are you” but that is usually after someone knows me a bit. I’m happy to talk about my heritage if someone asks politely.

Jozen:  Not to toot my own horn, but I’m extremely comfortable in my own skin and since I look mixed, I think it throws some people for a loop. A lot of mixed people play this role of having some sort of identity struggle, or they like to play up all their ethnicities, but that’s not me at all. So if I’m around a bunch of black folks who are unmistakably black (and this is the case 99% of the time), and I’m not missing one beat, not acting like an outsider in anyway. This causes a person on the outside looking in to wonder what am I? When I break it down for them, the reaction I get is usually, “Oh, okay.” And that “Oh” is funny because it’s almost like they were wondering why I was acting the way that I do or talking the way that I do, whatever it is. The other thing is, the group of people who ask me most often who I am is black people. Without a doubt, black folks are the ones who ask me most, “What are you?” I usually chalk this up to them not seeing enough black people in their life to understand black people look all types of different from other black people, mixed or otherwise. So the question is understandable. When people ask me what I am, and usually that’s the way they say it “What are you?”, I just think to myself it’s because they’ve never seen someone who looks like me before. When I told my high school counselor I wanted to go to Howard University she said, “You know I always wanted to ask you, what are you mixed with?” So that’s kind of what I mean, I was comfortable in the choice I made for college, and I think that made my high school counselor with asking me a question that prior to, she was uncomfortable asking.

Liz: I think minorities have been treated like a commodity in this country long enough that it’s okay to talk to them any way you like.

LM: This tends not to occur to me as an individual until after I’ve begun some sort of conversation, and my voice, or the subject matter, or my manner, something other than my phenotype or shade of skin causes them to ask, “What are you?” or some variation.  I don’t mind.  I’ve gotten the question from when I was in elementary school, though back then I think it was more of an institutional question — a class learning from where people’s parents or other ancestors came.  (As I write this, I wonder first if my memory is right and second whether that sort of exercise would fly today (or if it’s commonplace).

In my relationships this has occurred but not much.  On the whole the public acknowledgement that I’ve noticed and my partners have discussed has been positive — a smile here and there, mostly.  There have been a handful of frowns over the years.  There was one time outside of Savannah, Georgia this past year when my wife and I saw outright rudeness that seemed based on our inter-racialness — people in a vacation condo complex turning their backs on us when we said hello.  But if anything we’ve encountered less of this than we’d have expected.

I don’t believe it’s socially acceptable at this point to react this way publicly.   Of course not everyone behaves in a socially acceptable way, and particularly in communities with less exposure to inter-racial couples I can imagine things being different.  And although I wish people in the United States — white people in particular — were better suited to talk about race publicly, doing so as a passerby ain’t the time.  I’m not against people being curious, but curiosity ought not be intrusive.

Jen: While I don’t always appreciate feedback or commentary from strangers, I have committed myself to anti-racism work and education. This means that I hold myself to a standard of no public fights, as little anger as possible, and mostly giving people the benefit of the doubt and trying to engage them. Looks and comments are the result of curiosity. And perhaps lack of exposure. You watch things to try to understand them. To study them. Sure, this feels rude sometimes, but I try to respond with kindness instead of hostility. If strangers look, I look back and smile. If strangers ask questions, I ask questions too. To “What are you,” I will reply, “I’m mixed, Chinese and White/Jewish – What did you think when you looked at me? And what are you curious about?”

N’jaila: People seem to think that my identity is up for argument. I had a former manager ask me to my face, “ Well , your father can’t be all that Asian, your too dark and big to be Asian.”  This man was mixed race himself, White and Puerto Rican.   Not only was this ignorant because there are millions of brown Asians and big Asians but the fact that he was trying to argue with someone about the circumstances of their birth. As if my existence is somehow a bit less valid because I didn’t come out some fair skinned choco-dipped geisha. There’s an unspoken rule that I have to be what people see me as.   I think that’s why I choose to identify as Blasian.  I’m not  a fraction of anything I’m a whole Blasian.

I’ve learned to just ignore the looks and one liners, but I do pay very close attention to my partner’s reaction. If someone makes a remark and a look of shame washes over his face I know that that relationship is doomed to failure.

People think that because something is odd to them they have permission to interrogate you. When I lived in Newark, NJ, which has a VERY low Asian population people would stop me and my then boyfriend on the street and ask us how we knew each other.  It would always make me laugh a bit when other Black women would say things like “I hope you two get married. The kids will be adorable!”   All I could think , “yeah or they can look just like me”.

Holly: I definitely get the “what are you?” questions, although less and less over the years. I assume that’s a little bit about being more around older, more circumspect people as opposed to naive college kids, and maybe a little bit about changing social attitudes. When it comes to partners, I’ve definitely experienced the confused/disapproving frown — although honestly, it’s always been hard to tell the difference between someone giving the stinkeye beacause of my race / lack of easily-identifiable race or someone giving me the stinkeye because I’m holding hands with a white girl. Or someone giving me the stinkeye because they perceive us as two girls holding hands! When it comes to conversations, where you can get a little more info than from a stinkeye… well, see above. I’m not always sure that people who WOULD say anything to me can even comprehend that I’m someone’s girlfriend.

Ken: I struggle with this one. To me it seems like the past five years really where people look at me and think to themselves, ‘You don’t fit my neat conceptions of human beings, so I need you to wear a t-shirt this lists who you are.’ The one I most often receive is, ‘You don’t look Jewish. Where does it come from?’ None of your business is where it comes from, unless I already know you. Because most people, even when they look and sound sincere, have ulterior motives for asking that are beyond mere curiosity. As for the unsolicited comments… well I think it’s just ignorance really. People ain’t brought up the way they used to be. As my mom says, ‘They don’t know any better. If they knew better, they’d do better.’ And since I am an educator by profession, I don’t always feel like turning my identity into a teachable moment on the bus/plane/sidewalk/party all the time.

What are your thoughts on the stories in the IR dating supplement (the side bar to the second Essence article?)

Liz: Three of the four couples seemed like they have some sort of identity issue, and I gave many of their responses a side-eye. While I think it’s great for people to date outside their race, I think it’s difficult at times tot ell who is doing it for genuine reasons, or from a place of pain with their own race. In the end, it’s none of my business and I’m not the dating police. People so that they want to do, but Essence didn’t seem to find much depth here.

Jen: Some of the comments leave me a little speechless and I wish that there was more depth instead of a couple of questions that merely scrape the surface. Some of the people sound very superficial and it’s hard to tell if that’s really the way they think or if it’s just the way they are being portrayed by Essence. One woman says that she likes it when people look at she and her partner because they are so beautiful, and earlier she talks about steering clear of black men because of the disappointing experiences she has had with other black men in the past. It’s clear that stereotypes of other races have played a part in some of the interviewees’ choices. Not everyone though. There is a mix of people – those who seem to buy into the stereotypes and others who question and challenge them. I always hope for journalists who try to deeply understand the experience. Too often we get fluffy stories that don’t do these relationships justice. There is so much to look at, but most go for the wow factor – comments that are going to get people’s attention. This isn’t always helpful in understanding interracial relationships in a three-dimensional way.

N’jaila: Can I just comment on how cringe inducing the little interviews with some  interracial couples were.  “Asian men are my match because of their family values, Black men were disappointing so I jumped ship”  Really ALL OF THEM?   Have you met ALL Black men or ALL Asian men to make such an assumption.  If I gave up on every race of man that ever disappointed me I would be a lesbian and listening to my LGBT friends talk about their dating lives I would assume that I would just have to give up human contact all together.

I think there is a big difference between being open to “something new” and looking for a partner of another race to solve what you perceived to be the innate deficiencies with people of your race. I really wish they would stop spotlighting people that like this , because I know people are going to judge me by these airheaded words.  I find the people that are the most vocal about their IR relationships are always the last people that should be having them.

Ken: I agree with you, N’jaila. There is that huge difference as to the motivation for being in / looking for an IR. I’d like to see more stories about people who were always ‘into something new’ or who merely have never limited themselves to dating one race.

Anything else you want to add, that we didn’t cover above?

Jozen: I guess it would be, don’t put your confusion about who I am onto me or any other mixed race people who are comfortable being themselves. Just the other day someone asked me, “What is with your obsession with black culture?” And it’s like, how do I even answer that. Is that person asking me in a roundabout way if I’m black or if I’m mixed? There are mixed people who aren’t trying to play both sides or mulitple sides, mulattoes who aren’t tragic, believe it or not. We identify culturally and socially with other people, and if we’re comfortable with that, it should be respected. If my comfort in my own skin confuses you and makes you wonder what I am, feel free to ask and don’t look so uncomfortable or sound so ignorant when doing so.

Jen: This is a great conversation! The only other thing I would say is: I encourage people to look a little deeper. Interracial relationships (similar to mixed race people) are still intriguing to people because of the visual impact of the mix of “races.” So we focus our attention on that which pops out – usually the things that we see. I hope that people will start to dig a little deeper. If interested in an interracial couple’s experience, try to learn about how they interact. What makes each partner love the other. Where their values overlap and where they deviate. It’s not always about racial difference. Same with mixed race people – learn about the person…not just the racial ingredients that have mixed to create the face they have.

Holly: There are some fascinating things you can do on the internet when it comes to multiracial stuff. Try googling “mixed-race babies” or “multiracial babies.” People want photos!! They want to know what these kids look like. Or they want to post photos of how cute their baby is, but they’re emphasizing the mixed-race part of it more than most people would emphasize their infant child’s race.I think part of this is the visual fascination, but part of it is from parents who can’t imagine what their kids might look like in an interracial relationship. They’re worried that the kids might look more like one parent than the other, etc. It’s like a little nexus of racial anxiety. Another good one is to do searches like “is (insert name of even remotely racially-ambiguous celebrity) mixed / multiracial” and see how popular those search terms are. People also ask the “what is” question about these celebrities a lot — I guess it’s just the famous-person level of “I need to categorize you!”

Liz: It’s funny I decided to be on the Mixed round table as opposed to the Black round table. Usually I don’t get to pick the “mixed” anything, so this was an interesting exercise. I wasn’t sure how Mixed my responses were, as they felt Black to me. Whatever that means.

N’jaila: Well I think the voices of mixed people that are seen as Black need to be heard too so people can figure out finally that we exist.

Ken:  Ditto N’jaila’s comment.

  • Pingback: Reflections on the Racialicious Roundtable - The Pursuit of Harpyness

  • Anonymous

    Seriously? You’re complaining about the pics? Have you tried to find royalty free pictures of people in various combinations of interracial relationships?

    Tyson Beckford is normally identified as black or mixed. From a personal ID standpoint, he appears to identify as black. His parentage is given as Chinese Jamaican/Black – this is why he is read different ways. Does one mixed race parent and one monoracially identified parent make you mixed? Depends.

    His girlfriend, however, identifies as I stated – as mixed:

    http://au.tv.yahoo.com/b/make-me-a-supermodel/75/shanina-shaik

  • http://www.OneInTheHandBlog.com Ashley

    My children (12, 10 and 4) are told that they don’t have to answer anyone’s question about their background that they don’t want to. So far, at least, I’ve found that they don’t mind answering these questions – at least this is what they tell me (and I believe them). We live in a neighborhood and they go to a school with other bi-racial kids as well as kids with a ton of other ethnicities and races, and they talk about backgrounds a lot, very casually.

    My kids have self-identified at different times as bi-racial, mixed, Black, Black and White, African American/Irish/Czech/German and who knows what else! I don’t think they’ve ever called themselves White. They all have very similar features but each has a different color of skin/hair/eyes as well as different hair textures. My middle child is obviously bi-racial to most people, the others are less obvious to those who aren’t as familiar with the myriad ways mutlti-racial kids “come out”.

  • http://www.blasianbytch.com BlasianBytch

    I’m sorry I’m Black and Asian… there is no “whiteness” benifit to identifying myself as Blasian or mixed.   There are man mixed people that have no white ancestry. 

    Its thinking like this that makes it very hard for mixed people that do “look black” to be comfortable with their identities. 

    • Anonymous

      But my point and tommiefremont’s points were not the same.  I was asking about why certain people are included in the multiracial discussion when they do not in fact have parents of different races.  Not about claiming privilege, white or otherwise by looking non-black or just by letting people know that you are not “all black.”

      I just question who is included in these conversations.  Not this roundtable in particular, but lately I’ve seen Naomi Campbell and Tyson Beckford included in them, and while I don’t know how they identify, but it was not my understanding that they had the same background as you, which is to actually have one Black parent and one Asian parent.  So for example, I would not question you using Tiger Woods or Lenny Kravitz in the picture above. But if you are going to use Tyson Beckford, then why not use any other black celebrity, since none of them are 100% African and you would start finding non-black relatives only a generation or two back.  I mean, why not use Vanessa Williams?  She’s not any less black than I am, but I know that her light skin and green eyes(that neither of her black parents have) make her a good example of multiraciality, whereas my dark skin and dark eyes are just read as “normal”.    

      To me, if you don’t read as anything other than black, than it is an important object lesson to people who think they can tell what someone is by looking at them.  That is actually a huge pet peeve of mine, and as I mentioned, you cannot tell anything since  people that I know who have a lot of recent non-black ancestry and in some cases have a white parent look like they could be related to Wesley Snipes.  I learned in high school genetics, and always tell other people, skin does not mix like paint.  

    • tommiefremont

      I didn’t mean to imply that biracial or multiracial could only include caucasian and black I just used that as an example. I have noticed the same phenomenon in mixed race people of  black and Asian heritage.   The need to make sure that everyone knows that they are not “just black”.  In terms of ethnicities I don’t think that there is any denying that blacks have less social capital than any other ethnic group certainly including Asians who are often referred to as honorary whites. 
      I am in favor of having everyone identify as they choose. Just an observation and not a criticism. 

      • http://www.blasianbytch.com BlasianBytch

        Possibly because we are not just Black. We are BLACK AND ASIAN.   That doesn’t mean that we look down on being Black, we are talking about the circumstances of our birth.  

        Asian Americans don’t have as much social standing as you give them credit for.  There are a very small group of Asians that are considered “honorary Whites” so to a select group of ignorant people. Someone who is Black and Cambodian isn’t anywhere near being part white. There is more to Asia than Japan , some parts of Korea and some parts of Northern China. 

  • Anonymous

    1. Many of the people who fight for the biracial or multiracial label are mixed POC. It isn’t just about claiming the benefits of whiteness.

    2. Brandann is often visually identified as white, though she does not identify as such since she is biracial. Her perspectives are in the “Outside the Constructs” panel.

  • Anonymous

    So many good points!

    Interracial relationships (similar to mixed race people) are still
    intriguing to people because of the visual impact of the mix of “races.”
    So we focus our attention on that which pops out – usually the things
    that we see. I hope that people will start to dig a little deeper.

    I completely agree. So often my relationship gets reduced to the skin colors involved. We’re “a cute couple” or would have “such adorable babies”, or (in a skeptical/mildly disapproving tone) “you don’t see a couple like you two every day”. It also seems like our relationship gets interpreted in blatantly sexual rather than romantic terms – one or both of us must have a fetish for the other, comments about him liking a glass of milk or me liking chocolate, we’ve even been wolf whistled at for some really mild PDA. I don’t know if this has to do with sexual stereotypes about black men and/or white women, but it is really annoying.

    There are some fascinating things you can do on the internet when it
    comes to multiracial stuff. Try googling “mixed-race babies” or
    “multiracial babies.” People want photos!! They want to know what these
    kids look like.

    *raises hand* Guilty! I have googled this. My boyfriend and I have both brought up the fact that it’s kinda hard for us to picture our theoretical future kids. Maybe some of the requests for pictures, or the way people describe the pictures they post, come from this impulse.

    • Anonymous

      Finally somebody vocalized what I have been trying to get at for some time about these interracial relationship panels. Or more specifically the comments after them. So many people are only framing things in sexual terms and mainly in terms that are beneficial to them (“its okay if i date outside my race, I’m looking for a mate but you other people are doing it because it’s exotic”) while only pointing out the faults/bad in others choices. 

      It really seems to come to people wanting to justify their choices but still hold some negative beliefs about others who engage in these behaviors. There is nothing wrong with pointing out the racism/sexism (definitely a aspect that isn’t addressed alot) that may arise from IR but let’s not ignore our own bias or standpoint when doing so. Because it can come off as condescending or worse, as finger pointing.

      • Anonymous

        You know I think people, particularly the WoC who have been commenting, have extremely valid points of view – and concrete negative experiences to draw upon – when they talk about being treated as exotic or as sex objects in interracial relationships, or not being seen as a possible partner at all. That is something I have never had to deal with so I will trust the people who’ve been there.

        I will say though, that the white panel was a complete mindfuck for me to read. People saying that they never particularly felt judged for their dating choices, except for that one time two people yelled at them from a porch? Well, that has not been my experience at all, personally. 

        • Anonymous

          Oh I would never say or insinuate that anyone’s experiences are not valid in this discussion. My only objection is that before one points a finger at another, they perform a type of self-reflection about their own actions/beliefs. Because we as humans, have a tendency to oversimplify and overgeneralize the actions of others, while allowing for great depth/nuance in our own.

  • Kat

    Who is the woman in the picture? Just curious.

  • Mickey

    @ N’Jaila – As you already know, there are plenty of mixed race celebs that look more Black (ie., Halle Berry, Lenny Kravitz, Lisa Bonet, Tiger Woods, just to name a few.) There has always been this stereotype that mixed people are supposed to look a certain way. I always say “Well, all white people do not look alike. All black people do not look alike. All Asians do not look alike. Why do you expect all mixed people to look alike?” You’ll see how quickly people catch onto what you are saying.

    • http://www.blasianbytch.com BlasianBytch

      Well when people think “mixed” they are more apt to accept Lisa Bonet than Tyson Beckford or Tiger Woods.  

      Its ignorant but some people just don’t want to let go of the notion that they can tell what a person is by looking at them. 

      • Anonymous

        This is true, but I have to ask, based on some discussions people have had in the past about having parents of two different races versus having ancestry that involves people of different races, but I wasn’t aware the Tyson Beckford was “half” Asian.  I get that he has Asian ancestry, I know a lot of Jamaicans that do, but they also have parents who are “black” by definition, and I thought that was the case for him and Naomi Campbell. 
        Not to split hairs, but people want to say that it’s much different when your parents are identified as two different things so when you start to single out people who are multiracial “ancestrally” it becomes confusing to people who just kind of accept it as part of our history but who are “black” by American definitions.  
        I just have trouble understanding why some people are separated out as being other and some are not if that makes any sense.  
        It also ties in with your comment about people thinking that they can tell what people are by looking at them, since I have friends who have a pretty good proportion of recent white European ancestry but are very, very dark-skinned black people (Wesley Snipes colored) and granted, they never “claim” it but I feel as though they are left out of these discussions (although I don’t think they care)  b/c they lack the looks that people mistakenly associate with being multiracial.  
        I guess it just seems as if everyone tells Black Americans that they are just black but makes a point of calling out everyone else’s diverse ancestry.