by Racialicious Special Correspondent Wendi Muse
In a recent discussion about the content of Ciara’s video “Love, Sex, Magic,” in which the songstress collaborated with Justin Timberlake, many readers commented that the video itself served as a classic example of race baiting via sex and sexuality on the small screen. The video demonstrated what some considered a clear example of exotification and sexual exploitation of black women for the fodder of a white male audience. And again, in recent weeks, came the criticism of comments made by Kate, of the TLC show about adventures in parenting Jon and Kate Plus 8, who declared her attraction to, and arguably, fetishization (in the connotative sense) of Asian and Asian-American men.
These accounts garnered considerable attention from tv audiences, gossip column connoisseurs, and critical race theorist alike. Yet despite the aforementioned controversy, few considered the experiences of the interracial couples “on the ground.” In many instances, interracial relationships exist as some conversation piece or pivotal point for people who talk about race, but there is little attention paid to the simple fact that, like any other relationship, interracial relationships deserve the respect and courtesy of same-race relationships, respect in this sense meaning the right to exist sans accusations of racial essentialism and an excessive amount of societal self-projecting solely on the basis of the relationship being interracial.
In simply beginning an interracial relationship in the United States, one often suffers a considerable amount of social pressure, be it from family members, friends, or co-workers. When the presence of an interracial relationship is noted, its very existence at times solicits a barrage of questions in the minds of onlookers, one firing after the other. The questions range from the simple, “how did they meet?” to the complex, “do they really love each other or are they just together because they wish to rebel against social norms?” to the intrusive, “how is the sex?” Some of these questions are customary when considering any relationship, yet with interracial relationships, there seems to be an exceptional increase in curiosity, one that certainly rivals that of intraracial pairings.
And while there are plenty of unuttered questions, there is an equal, if not greater, number of unspoken answers, guesses and assumptions as to the many aspects of the relationship. In relation to interracial couples, the participants are rarely given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their reasons for being together in the first place, at least not in the same way as intraracial couples. For example, if one were to date someone of the same racial background, the issue of essentialism, the idea that one has chosen his or her partner solely on the basis of race and the characteristics one attributes to said race, is rarely considered. Thus we have the double standard. People of the same race could very well be dating each other for calculated reasons, one of them being race, yet this is rarely considered and applied to such couples. Only interracial couples fall victim to such assumptions.