On Interracial Dating – The Beyond Marriage Panel (2 of 2)

Noah's Arc

Our panelists are: LM, long time commenter and friend of the blog; CV, LM’s partner; Andrea Plaid, our sexual correspondent; Tami of What Tami Said and Love Isn’t EnoughNonso Christian Ugbode, friend of the blog and occasional contributor; and Lisa Factora-Borchers, friend of the blog and blogger/author at My Ecdysis.

If you did not marry interracially, but dated interracially, what types of messages did you receive around your choice in partners?

LM: My first memory of anyone commenting on my dating preferences or experiences in the context of race came from friends in college, all of them black.  They said that I preferred black women.  I dismissed the notion.  Part of this was that I hadn’t dated a lot and had been interested in all kinds of girls/women.  Part of this was my Pollyanna-ish thought that to avoid the subject — of race in general — was the right thing to do.  By then, maybe my sophomore or junior year at a large state university in New York, I did have a hard time seeing myself in a serious relationship with a woman who wasn’t black — and I wasn’t seeking any casual relationships.  Still, I figured the fact that most of my romantic interests on campus were black women sprang naturally from the fact that most of my close friendships on campus were with students of color, most of them from the black diaspora.  I still think that.  I’ve never faced significant opposition, overt or not, from family, friends or others around who I’ve been with.  My parents were a mixed marriage, though I don’t believe they considered this an obstacle:  my father white, born in New England of Scotch-Irish heritage so many generations back that he insisted that no hyphens belonged in his “American” label; my mother Puerto Rican, with an off-the-boat Irish father and American Irish step-father — and herself phenotypically white so that with an Irish last name of course only one in 1,000 people would ever guess she was Puerto Rican before she spoke Spanish… and then perhaps 1 in 250.

Andrea: Wait, I still date interracially! LOL

The messages I received growing up were mixed: marry Black (this assumed cis men) and have Black children. (One of my aunts went as far to say that if I brought a “mixed” baby to her, she’s refuse to be bothered with the child. My other aunt looked at her and said. “Yes, you would.” That shut that down quick.) My mom, as pro-Black marriage as she was, also said that if she saw a Black woman on the arm of a White man, she’s know the woman was “getting hers” and “stepping up” economically. But the assumption was that the White man in question was not, in her words, “white trash,” so there’s a definite class component in what my mom thought in terms of interracial relationships. As far as other races/ethnicities of men, they were “aight” in Mom’s opinion, which meant “a very distant thought” or “not quite.”

CV: As a first-generation American (my parents were born/raised in West Africa), there was a subtle hope that I would marry someone from either my parents’ tribe or at least country.  However, growing up here in New York, I was exposed to so many different people and found myself occasionally attracted to men who didn’t necessarily look like men in my family. It was when we moved to a predominately black neighborhood that I began getting teased for it, and was accused of being an “Oreo” for being more attracted to John Stamos in Full House vs. John Amos from Good Times. In high school and college I became a “militant” (quotes emphasized) and hated all things white-in hindsight, more as an attempt to fit in, than honoring what I truly felt.  It was only when I was in my late 20s that I began to re-embrace what I believed to be my inherently more worldly views, and that began to translate to my dating choices too.

I have remained friends with one of my mentors from an internship I held years ago, right after college, and, when I told her I several years ago that I was seeing an ex of mine, I clearly remember her responding with something like “but you’re African, I just can’t see you with this guy, I’ve always seen you with a tall, big and strong black man”.  Then, when I married my husband, who is not only white, but shorter than me, I remember her being happy for me, but being a bit surprised there too.  We don’t speak much anymore…

Tami: My parents never gave me any messages about dating within my race. And while they probably expected me to marry a black man, given my rabid high school crushes on pale, skinny English rock stars, the fact that I might be attracted to a white guy would not have been shocking. My parents never met any of the non-black men that I dated. That’s not by design; it just happened that way.

I did meet the parents of one white boyfriend. They were cordial, as were his friends. But frankly, a significant barrier between us was not race but class. He came from a white, ethnic, urban, working class background. I was raised by multi-degreed, black professionals in the suburbs. Our professional and social lives were very different. An example, I think, that there is so much more to relationships than the blackness or not blackness of your partner.

If marriage is not an option open to you, but you have a long term partner, how have these dynamics played out over time?

LM: I grew up thinking I’d be married in my early 20s and have kids a few years later.  Didn’t turn out that way.  By the time my wife and I got married I’d come to view marriage itself as less important than the commitment of our relationship, entwined though the ideas are.  My girlfriend, then fiancee, now wife, was more attached to the idea that marriage was important.  We had a great wedding day but we both agree it didn’t change much about how we are with each other.

As a person no longer categorized as “single,” what do you make of all these articles?

LM: Same thing as when I was single — that for individuals, any sort of recommendations based on broad sociological study have limited utility, and if mined too deeply for advice too specific to that person can take one’s eye off the reality that these are individual relationships.  The broad studies have their place, no question — but by definition they follow, not lead, what’s happening on the ground, and at best can explain what someone is experiencing or observing in his/her own life.  Developing a relationship isn’t like picking a pair of jeans.

Tami: Preach, LM! So much this. I am what I understand is more rare than a unicorn–a black woman happily married to a black man. Stop the presses! It always occurs to me that I never followed the sort of advice found in these articles and, as far as I can tell, neither did my married friends. None of them “acted like a lady and thought like a man” or searched for non-black partners purely out of desperation. Hell, so much of all this is chance anyway. I’m not sure that I am married because of any special trick or set of rules. I just happened to be waiting at the University of Chicago train stop at the same time as a handsome former sailor from Jersey with nice legs and a bucket of Garrett’s popcorn and we got to talking. Had one of us taken a later train or stood a little further up the platform, we may never have met, and I may have been writing this as a single woman or a woman in a different sort of marriage.

All of this hand-wringing hinges upon the idea of women as products rather than consumers in the dating market. The men are doing the buying and we need make ourselves as attractive and valuable as possible to prove our worth. If no one is “buying,” you’ve failed. There is no notion of black women being the ones actively selecting a mate (or not), based on what works best with our lives. In fact, we are cautioned against being “too picky,” as the Essence article points out. While I think the piece contains some valid assessments, it just seems like the latest in a long line of articles creating a crisis and lecturing black women on what we need to fix. In this case, we’re allegedly too narrow in our dating choices.

CV: Quite frankly, I stopped reading these articles a while ago, because I find them boring and repetitive. It’s so much more complex than what can be covered in a few pages in a magazine.

Andrea: After a while I roll my eyes. These articles so deeply play into the insecurities built into the salvific wish, romance-novel idealization, and myths about maturity: heck, I fell for a bit of it. I got married partly out of the 30s Panic: I didn’t think I was “mature” unless I got married by age 30. I met that goal…only to be a divorceé by the time I was 33. So, I had to re-evaluate what I thought about marriage and partnering. I really don’t find marriage fascinating or something I “need” to do to have a partner in my life. In fact, I don’t necessarily think monogamy is the partnering solution for everyone–which is another thing these articles rarely talk about except in the most salacious yet dismissive terms.

Lisa: I’m with CV here.  I stop reading anything about marriage.  Those who are married across lines of racial or cultural difference know the truth is so much deeper, and it likely won’t come up in any research or report.

Is there anything else you notice, that we did not touch on above?

Andrea: I think what’s at work is a particular meme that is rarely, if ever, addressed in these kinds of pieces: that Black women are unattractive (and least as marriage partners) and stupid. In this particular article–even with assurance stating otherwise–these types of articles seem to say that Black women are unwanted romantically and marriage-wise and we’re so thickheaded that we need “experts” to tell us what to do. (Since Steve Harvey gets poo-poo’d by a certain segment of Black women, we now have to get this article to grab that segment of Black women. What this article amounts to is making Black men want to marry us by having men of other races desire us. Basically, it’s the Make Men Jealous ploy on a racialized tip.) The fact that it’s Essence, a magazine that is advertised to be for “Today’s Black Woman,” is playing on these centuries-old stereotypes galls me. And no, I’m not  going to blame the recent hiring of White staffers in key roles on this piece.

Tami: I agree, Andrea. While I am not surprised that Essence published this feature, I find myself disappointed. The women’s magazine I want is one that puts the lie to the whole black women’s marriage crisis and tells women to honor themselves and live their lives boldly, not twist and contract to be in a position to best get a man. But then, it’s hard to sell to people who feel too good about themselves. Better to ensure black women that there is something wrong with them (unmarriagable) so they will buy the books and magazines and workshops to “fix” it.

  • ThatDeborahGirl

    When I first read the title of Steve Harvey’s book “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man,” I swear, my first thought was “Why don’t you get a clue and act like you have some damned sense!” I knew it was a book I’d never read if the title alone was that offensive. But it speaks to a school of thought that seems to be taking us backwards. It’s not enough to revere “old time values” regarding relationships such as sincerity, honesty, monogamy – we must also revere and revert to old time thinking which means that women can be educated and work as much as a man as long as we still act in the old ways of being submissive and pretend to “stay in our place” even if we’re running things. The idea is to “let a man, be a man” regardless of how much it hinders or outright hobbles a woman. I would rather stay single until I die rather than date a man of any race, color or creed with such backwards notions about what a woman “should be”.

  • Anonymous

    Word.

  • ahimsa

    Thanks for all the panels on interracial dating and marriage. Interesting reading!

    @LM “… for individuals, any sort of recommendations based on broad sociological study have limited utility, and if mined too deeply for advice too specific to that person can take one’s eye off the reality that these are individual relationships.”

    This is so true. I am a white American woman married to a man who was born and raised in India. We’ve been married more than 25 years so it was a bit more unusual back then. It was much more common for Indian immigrants (mostly men back then) to go home to India and have their parents help them set up an arranged marriage.

    We had no problems with either of our families accepting our marriage. My biggest concern about cultural differences was that I did not want to have children. I knew that it was okay with my husband but I worried that it might cause a problem with the rest of his family. Fortunately, all my in-laws have always been wonderful to me, no pressure, no judgment.

    Yes, it is important to be aware of any cultural differences related to race, religion, and country of origin. But my husband and I had more in common, especially shared ideals and values, than any of the guys that I had dated before. Most of those guys, but not all, were white (I won’t make a list, not trying to get a “cookie”). And all but one were US citizens.

    In short, demographics may provide some useful information but individuals just don’t fit into neat little boxes. Being from the same country or race does not automatically make someone more compatible. And I agree with Tami that so much of dating is luck! Or karma. :-)

    Oh, one last comment about how women are seen as products in the dating market, not consumers. I was the one who asked my husband out to dinner, not the other way around, back in 1983. And now it’s 2011 and women are still getting advice about how to act in order to “get a man.” WTF? I don’t read these magazines so I had no idea this attitude was still out there. It just makes me sick that these outdated stereotypes still exist.

  • Anonymous

    The message I got from my father growing up was that any black woman with a white man was a “white man’s whore.” That’s what he used to call Lola Falana, Lena Horne and other black women from his generation who married white men.

    For some reason though he was fine with the white boyfriends I brought home during college. :-)

    I ended up being happily married to a black man with the same background as me (middle class, private school) and same sensibilities (hippie). It’s been 13 years now, and I honestly can’t imagine a relationship this sympatico with a man of any other race. He’s black, non-mainstream and so am I, an experience that not too many can relate to.

    That said, if I ever found myself single again, I’d be open to men of any ethnicity. As long as he were cool.

  • Matt Pizzuti

    I hope this conversation will touch on the issue of racism in LGBT culture and the hyperfixation on whiteness you sometime find, at least observably in men.

    I’m a white gay guy and my partner is Latino.  One thing I have observed is that, in both gay men of color as well as white gay men, you often find an open preference for white partners, accompanied with this “excuse” to never challenge or question it: “if I could choose who I was attracted to, I would have been straight, so since I obviously can’t, its not my fault that I prefer white guys.”

    I’m sure straight people say things like that too, but in a community that is already bringing a smaller dating pool – in some communities the LGBT population is no bigger than a high school – that has to have an exacerbated troublesome effect on people of color and what they see as their prospects of finding love.  Not to mention an inherent sense of being less-valued, and in many cases being queer separates people from their original communities, so the LGBT community’s ability to be a welcoming place is very important, in my sense. 

    I hope to be able to look at some conversations about how to deal with this.

  • Nonya

    Real question is: who still reads Essence?  I don’t!  Stopped years ago…

    • Anonymous

      Apparently, enough people to warrant such a response.  I don’t read Essence nowadays, either, but I do know that the magazine still holds a certain amount of cache, as a magazine with brand recognition goes.  So, the real answer is: though you and I may not read it, there are some others that do–enough of these others are still keeping Essence in brand-name status. 

      • Anonymous

        From a writer’s perspective – the circulation of Essence is on par with the circulation of Elle. Last time I checked, they both reached 1.3 million households with a similar pass through rate. In addition, they are the only black magazine that pays on par or damn close to their white counterparts. So they are not only surviving, but thriving.

        • Anonymous

          @racialicious:disqus –thanks for the back-up info! :-) Good to know…
          @Nonya–Latoya just gave you the dollars-and-cents answer to your question. 

  • http://commentarybyval.blogspot.com/ Val

      “The fact that it’s Essence, a magazine that is advertised to be for “Today’s Black Woman,” is playing on these centuries-old stereotypes galls me. And no, I’m not  going to blame the recent hiring of White staffers in key roles on this piece.” – Andrea

    Why not? Essence has a White male managing editor now. Don’t you think that makes a difference in the kind of articles Essence publishes as well as the angle of the articles? I certainly wouldn’t discount the influence of a White man at a White owned publication like Essence.

    • Anonymous

      Considering that Essence has been writing these “Black Wimmenz Gotta Marry NOW!” pieces when the editorial management team was all Black–and back then, they were slooooowly but surely running IR pieces that were in the “go for yours, sistahs” vein–is why I’m not going to jump up and say “Whitey did this to Essence!”

      • http://commentarybyval.blogspot.com/ Val

        But Essence has been White owned for over a decade now. Maybe I’m wrong but I don’t remember reading this kind of stuff before Time, Inc. was in charge. 

        And it’s really not about ” Whitey did this to Essence” it’s just understanding that Essence as a White owned publication does not exist in some sort of pure vacuum. The same influences that create odd pieces about Black women at CNN and ABC  or the Washington Post are also at work at Essence.

        • Anonymous

          Well, maybe you aren’t old enough to but when I was in college in the early 90′s, they were definitely doing this (we used to save those old copies).  
          Only back then they did more of the Tyler Perry “you uppity black college girls shouldn’t think that you are too good for an illiterate parolee who has 5 illegitimate children.”  You know, you are out of line for expecting to have a man who can read, who can make money, and who hasn’t been to prison.  
          A lot of us stopped subscribing to Essence way back then b/c of the tone and message that a lot of the articles took.  I can’t even remember the last time I even bought one from the newsstand.  
          But they definitely had features on black women with white husbands too.  
          We get picked on by black people and by non-black people.  I think that is Andrea’s point.  

          • Anonymous

            Thank you, nicthommi. That’s exactly my point.
             
            Again, It’s a little too easy to say once x, which/who is perceived as an “outsider,” shows up is when “everything changed.” Having read Essence in my late teens, 20s, and 30s–and I’m 42 now–and having read the IR pieces in Essence in an attempt to see some sort of…for a lack of a better way of saying it, validation, I’ve seen the tone of these pieces change over 20+ years. So, yes, I was reading Essence when Susan Taylor and her mostly to all-Black staff were writing these stories. And, yes, there has been a shift in how stories about IRs have been written, and that shift is more pro-IR. Like you and I agree on, Essence was definitely working the Tyler Perry Marriage Mantra (TPMM) as they were moving to their pro-IR stance. And the magazine’s current position seems to have jettisoned the TPMM and went for blatant pro-IR, as witnessed by the article that spurred this whole series.

            And it is from that history of reading the magazine, @openid-41089:disqus, that I speak of how Essence changed long before they hired White people to be on their management team. That’s why I won’t say having White people owning and managing Essence changed the magazine’s stance. Because it wasn’t those acts alone that shifted the magazine’s stance. Again, it’s been going on, slowly–perhaps imperceptibly to some–for a good while.

      • Anonymous

        Even when Essence wrote about the possibility of  BW dating interracially, it was always portrayed as a last resort and because we couldn’t land the all-coveted BM.  That maybe some of us treat men equally as suitors was out of the question.