On Interracial Dating – The Outside of the Constructs Panel (2 of 2)

Irene Bedard and Husband Deni

Welcome back to the Outside of the Constructs panel on Interracial Dating.

Our panelists are: Cecelia, friend of the blog and blogger at AnishinaabekweJulie, friend of Cecelia; Brandann, friend of the blog and occassional contributorLyza, friend of Cecelia; Andrew, blogger at KABOBFestMay, blogger at KABOBfest;Fatemeh, Racialious crew and Editor of Muslimah Media WatchEl, long time friend of the blog; andRichard, friend of Cecelia.

Since minorities are seen in different lights (and with different accompanying stereotypes), what types of reactions have people had toward you and your partners? How are white partners perceived, as opposed to minority partners? Were any partners considered “off-limits” or “forbidden?”

Cecelia: I have been fortunate to be in spaces where I have not had odd reactions towards me and my partners. Generally, people have been interested in my Ojibway/Anishinaabe heritage in a very respectful way. Friends of the past and current friends have been very mindful and culturally sensitive towards me and my partners. In some cases where there have been comments made about me or my partner we were quick to stop the assault before it got bad.

White partners weren’t perceived as good because generally these folks [as individuals] were no good. They often did not take ownership for their various privileges even though they said they would attempt to. Where as minority partners were seen as good because they were good people. No partners were considered as off limits.

Julie: When with white males, I would get the side-eye from other asians (they would be wary of me) but would get the approving nod from all whites, or other white/asian couples. Reactions from non-asian PoCs were along the lines of: “asian girl with white male, nothing new”. When cozy with other PoCs, I would be considered less than, different by anyone with oppressive tendencies, be they marginalized or not, and targeted.

White partners meant that I was less targeted for outright racist comments (but there was no end to the subtle ones). PoC partners meant that we were both targets (let the bulls out!), or that we were ‘so cute’ (let the condescension begin…).

White partners earned me the honorary white badge but since it’s not what I wanted, it didn’t matter. I preferred the approval of my asian peers. With asians, it was ok to be a PoC, and by extension, all marginalized bodies became visible. With whites, it was never ok to be unapologetically PoC/handicapped/marginalized except to provide exotic flavor.

Forbidden to date lesbian and very forbidden to be trans.

Brandann: We’re a military family, and I think that adds an extra layer of stereotype, if you’ll bear with me for a moment. One of the most common interracial couples among military families, at least in our circles, is White Man/Asian Woman, which carries so many ugly stereotypes that it has basically become a trope, in my mind. We are read as the opposite of that, since I am read as white, much to my irritation.

Among the military I think there is a construct of gender and masculinity that does not exist outside in the civilian world, and often Asian men become shunted into a very narrow box of this stereotype. I think “white” is certainly seen as superior, even with all the military’s efforts to be racially sensitive, and despite the fact that Asian men are the largest and fastest growing demographic in the military. A white woman and Asian man flip the stereotype and I’ve noticed a lot of people have, in my opinion, a difficult time accepting this.

May: I have been told that one of the biggest cultural taboos in regards to dating in the Arab American community is that of a relationship between an Arab female and a black male. Someone has even told me, “good luck trying to find an Arab guy who will marry you if you have been with a black man.” To further enforce the point, I know an Arab American female who “admitted” to dating a black male and made recipients of that information swear to keep the information mums lest it hurt her future marriage prospects. Although marrying someone who is white is also frowned upon, it is not on the same grounds for familial or cultural excommunication.

Andrew: Like I mentioned before, white women have always seemed “off limits” to me, other Arab men, and men of color more generally. I have also been told – and have witnessed firsthand – that the biggest cultural taboo an Arab woman could make is to hook up with and/or date a black man. Once, my friend told me that although she feels more attracted to black men than she does Arab men, she would never consider getting into a relationship with a brother simply because she is afraid of her family and her community. She admitted that while her parents may eventually capitulate and accept an interracial relationship with a black man, her community would be so judgmental and malicious that her family would have no choice but to either disown her leave the community.

Such attitudes are especially prevalent in Dearborn and Detroit, where tension between blacks and Arabs is often high. I have also heard of Arab men attacking black men that have dated Arab women, although I cannot say that these stories are totally true.

El: Within Persian culture, the most acceptable non-Persian mate would be a white person. After that, it probably goes east Asian, Latino, and lastly, black (probably the most “off-limits” or “forbidden”). Outside of that context, when people do have reactions to my partners and I, it’s been on the “good for you” tip (which can be a little weird in of itself – I mean, we are dating individuals, not entire races, right?). On the other end, I’m hyper-self aware and I know how folks perceive white women dating black men. And because I’m not white but brown (and often get mistaken as Latina), I feel as if folks critical of white female-black male relationships are also critical of my relationships, just not to the same degree.

If you have not dated interracially, what has contributed to the reasons why not?

Richard: My experiences in not dating interracially were definitely not intentional, although not entirely avoided either. Growing up in NYC I was absolutely exposed to the gamut of colors and backgrounds and my earliest childhood crushes were all non Asian as there were so few cultural peers in my small private school. I could also definitely be described as having an extended awkward streak so it wasn’t until senior year in HS that I was able to catch the eye of a paramour. This happened to coincide with the advancing Asian-American Pride movement of the late 90’s; therefore, my friends and acquaintances all inevitably were Asian so my social life was reflected as such. Post college I continued meeting a majority of my friends through Asian Awareness clubs and participating in the ongoing efforts at bringing solidarity to the cause, this kept me firmly entrenched in a yellow hued conclave. My passions, hobbies, activities and tastes were all formed with this predilection so it was inevitable that my deepest and most meaningful connections were made most easily with other Asians.

Growing up my parents always had the expectation that I would wed non-Asian and thus would remind me of that sporadically. Did this encourage my preferences in dating or socializing with non-Asians? Not particularly, as they also did a fantastic job of surrounding me with a good balance of Chinese influences in the face of an assimilating world. Food, language, entertainment, traditions and vacations all remained Asian in nature so my bias continued in that direction. I couldn’t say that it was either a conscious decision or not to date exclusively Asian, but that is how it happened. My natural tendencies, circumstances and circle of peers diverged and branched thus. I believe that ultimately if I had gotten along with and related better to a more diverse and varied group I would have dated outside of my race. It seemed to have been a perfect combination of nature and nurture that allowed me to explore and cultivate my own preferences as to whom and how I wanted to date.

This is for the Indigenous folks I included on the thread, as well as people who might be from cultures not well represented in our racial categories. Black Enterprise had a study which showed that the indigenous outmarriage rate was 50% – and this was something that wasn’t covered often, considering that most studies do not gather data about these populations. How is the dating conversation complicated by colonialism/genocide, and what are the considerations from an indigenous perspective?

Cecelia: I definitely only want to date Native men from here on out. I have known this since I was a teenager but dated inter-racially in my, teens, early and mid twenties. Now that I am looking for a partner I seek someone who embraces my Ojibway/Anishinaabe culture and life-ways that I embrace. This would be a traditional Anishinaabe man. In regards to colonialism/genocide the whole idea of getting rid of the “Indian” problem was for the blood quantum levels to dip until we were no more. It has just happened that we would marry out. Now we can marry in or partner in. Native people seek to be in community and therefore often date people from their community or other communities. I am speaking for rural reservation communities not urban Native communities. Urban Native communities are intermingling more with other cultures and populations. It has only been recently, within the past 20 years, where Native people have been able to take pride in their culture. Marrying out was a way to blend in more and often the only option due to factors such as urban relocation for jobs. But, regardless on your blood quantum or how much Native you are, you were still Native in a culture that made you feel shameful, guilty and invisible. Still not easy out there for us but I think that strengthening our communities can take place and therefore this means that our romantic, significant and lifelong partner relationships can be strengthened as well. We don’t have to hide or have shame in who we are as Native people. It all depends on the individual but I do know a lot of Native people who only want to be with a Native person. Again, strengthen the individual, strengthen partners, healthy relationships, healthy families, healthy communities, empowered communities, healed communities, stronger, more proud Native people, all tribes and from all directions.

Brandann: My personal experience as an indigenous woman has been that our tribes are very closely related to one another in our region. Even had I been living in the area more during my post-high school days, I would have been hard-pressed to find someone my age whom I was not related to who was also indigenous. I’ve viewed reservations as both a necessary evil and a tool of the Master, so to speak. They are opportunities for community building, but they also reek of colonization of Native people, to me. People shunted from their own land to scraps held out to them. Add to this the systematic whitewashing of “savages” by colonizers, and you have a situation where outmarrying was forced.

Outmarrying, though, was not avoidable to many people in my family, because of the close community ties. As much as I would have enjoyed the opportunity to exclusively date partners within my own race, the small area and strong family ties make this difficult, if not impossible. It niggles at me a bit, knowing that my heritage, at least visibly, is slowly wiped from the face of myself and my children, I know that it is the individual identity and not the quantum of your blood that marks your heritage.

  • Ani

    Interesting panel!  About out-marriage could it be that indigenous people are less likely to get legally married? I’m not American but I live in a settler colonial state. Marriage isn’t our tradition so it doesn’t mean anything to me, it never occured to me to get married. I don’t even recogize the authority of this state to exist nevermind interfere with my relationship. Most couples I know aren’t married including my parents and grandparents who have been together for >60 years. I don’t know if it is the same in America but marriage could be irrelevant to statistics if marriage isn’t a local cultural tradition. In fact I thought that might be the case for African American marriage statistics too, common-law marriage for working class people has always been traditional in Britain and other parts of Europe, but perhaps America is more conservative.

  • Kat

    Less happy with this image, given how abusive Deni was to Irene Bedard in their marriage. Or was that intended (White male =bad)?