Tag Archives: Interracial Dating Roundtable

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… Continue reading

On Interracial Dating – The Beyond Marriage Panel (1 of 2)

Ashton and Zoe in Guess Who

Welcome to the Beyond Marriage Panel.

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 Enough; Nonso Christian Ugbode, friend of the blog and occasional contributor; and Lisa Factora-Borchers, friend of the blog and blogger/author at My Ecdysis.

A lot of the articles focusing on black women (and to a large extent, problems in the black community) as things that can be solved by a marriage ceremony. Should marriage be considered a solution?

LM: Marriage is a byproduct of a healthy, committed relationship — at least in the life I’m trying to live. Of course people get married for all kinds of other reasons too, some of which don’t even include that notion. No matter what, for a marriage to have legs, work is going to be involved… and to the extent that happens, it’s a healthy phenomenon. But people can do this without being married, per se, and I fear too many people focus on a wedding ceremony or piece of paper instead of building a healthy relationship based on shared values and goals.

Andrea: Considering that marriage isn’t a legal option for some women–I’m thinking of cisgender lesbians and trans women–it’s certainly can’t be considered a solution for all women. That’s what these articles about Us Negresses and Our Marriage Problem™ seem to conveniently forget. Another inconvenient truth these pieces continue to forget is the concept of agency: some of us man-loving Black women may not want to marry. A simple phrase would do the trick: “x% of Black women who want to marry and are able to marry have yet to do so.” So that takes out those of us who can’t or just don’t want to. A third inconvenient truth is marrying another Black person isn’t the solution for Black communities, either. A majority of married couples in Black communities are monoracial–and that’s still not working out as far as fighting poverty, getting better schools for Black children, guaranteeing better sexual and reproductive health for Black people, and the rest of what plagues Black communities. On a microlevel, Blackness is no guarantee that two Black people will get along. Perfect example: my mom. She very much believes this narrative of Black Love Conquers All™–and has only dated and twice married Black men. She’s just divorced my now ex-stepfather. However, marrying interracially is no panecea, either: I have a white ex-husband.

CV: Merriam-Webster defines marriage as “the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law”. Of course there are nuances, specifically with regard to whether the person one is united to is of the same or opposite sex. The marriage ceremony, for me, is just that-a ceremony, and I don’t think that alone will solve any issues with black women and our community. However, there is something to be said for that actual marriage and the work and commitment it involves towards the fulfillment of shared ideals and goals, which I believe does go a long way.

Tami: I think there is too much talk about marriage going on and not enough talk about building healthy relationships and how people get their romantic needs met. As Andrea points out, not every black woman can or wants to get married. And black-on-black coupling is not a guarantee of marital success. So, I think a more productive conversation for a magazine geared at black women to have is how black women can build healthy romantic lives within traditional marriage, as well as outside of it. Or perhaps we could simply stop viewing anything short of traditional marriage as a woman’s failure. I do understand that many black women do want to get married. I did. But this hyper-focus on walking down the aisle seems unhealthy. It preferences a ceremony over personal well-being.

Nonso: There’s not a lot of talk about the effects of bad marriages; both on the couples in them, and the potential offspring of that marriage. The logic perhaps being “even if the union was incompatible at best, at least the kids started in a ‘complete’ home.” Being the offspring of a marriage that only kinda worked and then collapsed, I have always actively dismissed marriage from a very young age. And of course add the same-sex loving angle and the journey to that altar just always seemed liked too much work to me. I’ve never really seen marriage presented as a solution, so much as that final key you need to make it into society. Once you had that key you were the Jeffersons moving up, or any number of pop culture definitions of family, for the most part marriage is presented as a prerequisite for family. Continue reading

On Interracial Dating – The South Asian Panel (3 of 3)

Harold and Kumar

Welcome back to the final South Asian Panel on Interracial Dating. Our panelists are:

RB, long time reader and friend of the blog; Anna JohnSepia Mutineer and friend of the blog; Honey Mae, friend of the blog; Lisa Factora-Borchers, blogger at My EcdysisNeesha MemingerYA Author and occasional contributorHarbeer, Racialicious reader and friend of a friend of the blog; and Rohin Guha, author of Relief Work and a blogger.

In pop culture depictions, depictions of South Asian Americans are rare – recently, the characters on television are presented as (1) hopelessly single or (2) partnered with white people. Films representing South Asians are often imported. How does this impact the communities view on dating? How does it influence the idea of the “ideal partner?”

Rohin: I think you’re right, in that there’s a notable scarcity of accurate depictions of South Asian Americans, with Mindy Kaling’s character on The Office serving as one of the more accurate depictions.

I also think you’re on-point with those observations. And I think the reason South Asians are presented as “hopelessly single” is because making them asexual makes them an easy fit for the model minority archetype. “She’s too busy for love because she pursuing her M.D.!”

But maybe all of these representations are sending any number of irresponsible messages to the effect of, “You might not be American enough unless you fit either of these prescribed roles.” Scarier: There are South Asian Americans who are currently buying into these characterizations.

RB: First of all, I would disagree that depictions of South Asian Americans are rare. Considering the fact we constitute less than one percent of the population, I would argue that we’re increasingly well-represented in the media industry. With that being said, the quality of those depictions is still open for debate. Yes, many South Asians on-screen still end up in the arms of white folks, especially attractive women. It seems obvious that this is because 1. Most American TV shows and movies are marketed towards white people and 2. Indians are slowly being viewed as one of the more “acceptable” candidates for interracial relationships with whites, likely because of our generally above-average socio-economic status.

But I don’t think you can blame Hollywood for the fact most Indians would prefer a white partner to one that’s black or Latino. Preference for fair-skin is deeply ingrained in Indian society, a remnant of thousands of years of occupation and a lasting colonial hangover. Watch any Bollywood movie and the actors could pass for Persian, Latin or even white in some cases. I’m sure there are Indian kids sitting at home watching these shows and thinking that finding a hot white guy/girl would constitute success. That is tragic, but sadly also brings them in line with most of the U.S. population.

Anna: Well it certainly benefits the fair and lovelies. The female protagonists are never as “black” as I am. It’s interesting, in Bollywood, female stars are pasty. On “E.R.”, when they finally got an Indian doctor on that show, Parminder Nagra was fabulously brown. I love America. Incidentally, I believe her character married a black doctor, not a white person.

Honey: I really think it depends on generation, geography, and community. And I don’t agree that the depictions of SAA are always partnered with White people. I often see them partnered with another Asian person — which is just as annoying as seeing them patternly partnered with a White person.

In my communities and family, there is no “ideal partner.” It’s understood that our diaspora is complex, our dreams our complex, therefore dating is tremendously complex.

Neesha: See, dating is a huge issue in the South Asian community as a whole. The big question is still, “Are you allowed to date?” whether you’re an adult, or a teen still living at home. More parents are okay with dating, I think, now than ever before, but the dating – as far as I know (it’s been ages since I’ve even had to think about dating) is still pretty monitored and the parents still have a lot of input. But I do have a younger brother and he is dating – mostly white women because of where he lives. My parents are surprisingly okay with this. It could be because he’s the youngest of three and they’re getting older and mellower. Because for my middle brother it was still a colossal battle to date white women.

Harbeer: I ignore pop culture and people who are heavily influenced by it. (I’m old! And I like nerds who’ve lived wild lives.)

Is there anything else you want to discuss that we did not cover above?

Rohin: Honestly, people like who they like. Sometimes that might be you, but most of the time, probably not!

RB: I think a lot of South Asian people come to the dating issue with a lot baggage. When you are young there are only so many opportunities to interact with large group of your brown peers and after a certain age those interactions inevitably come accompanied by a certain amount of appraisal and sexual tension. Being rejected from a group you expect to accept you as you are is probably one of the most traumatic experiences one can go through.

Still, my general experience is that most Indian people seem to prefer to date within their race but are sometimes held back by their perceptions of what “other” desi folks are like. Almost every Indian kid thinks they are somehow “different” and that other Indians would never “get them.” My experience is that those are the people who 1. are mostly like to date outside their race and 2. have the least experience in India or among large groups of Indian people, which are inevitably more diverse than one would ever expect.

Neesha: Like Anna, a lot of my partner choice all throughout my dating years had to do with the way I grew up. The light/dark thing. I hated feeling like the ugly dark girl. I was that in my family. I was that in my community. I didn’t want to be that with my partner. The first time I ever even considered the possibility that I might actually be attractive to anyone was when I visited Jamaica. The first time anyone ever told me I was pretty was there – an immigration official. And he was looking at a picture of me as a little girl, when I was facing the most hostile racism I’d ever experienced in Canada from white folks, and when I was feeling the ugliest within my family and community. I think partner choice is incredibly complex – who we’re attracted to and why is based on so, so many factors.

Harbeer: I think Desi parents who want their offspring to partner up with Desis do themselves and their cause a big disservice by having us all grow up with this conception that we’re all each other’s de-sexualized “brothers and sisters.”

On Interracial Dating – The South Asian Panel (2 of 3)

Fire

Welcome back to the South Asian Panel on Interracial Dating. Our panelists are:

RB, long time reader and friend of the blog; Anna John, Sepia Mutineer and friend of the blog; Honey Mae, friend of the blog; Lisa Factora-Borchers, blogger at My Ecdysis, Neesha Meminger, YA Author and occasional contributor; Harbeer, Racialicious reader and friend of a friend of the blog; and Rohin Guha, author of Relief Work and a blogger.

If you have dated interracially, did you have any fears of misgivings going into the situation? Did you peers react to you differently?
Rohin: I typically don’t have any reservations about dating non-Indian men; it’s no different than dating Indian men in the sense that everyone is kind of scared and insecure, but if you talk a lot, you can work through those issues. And as most of my friends were non-Indians, they didn’t care whether I was dating an Indian man or a non-Indian man–as long as we both got along well.

What I do have misgivings about, though, is what a centerpiece skin color remains in contemporary gay culture and what that means for South Asians who are dating within this community. A conversation I had out in a bar in Chelsea not too long ago:

Random Man: Hi!
Me: Hello!
Random Man: What are you?
Me: I’m sorry?
Random Man: Like, where are you from?
Me: I live in Brooklyn.
Random Man: No, I mean, where were you born?
Me: Just outside of Detroit, actually.
Random Man: I mean, where are your parents from?

I ultimately gave him the answer he had been trolling for–”India!”–and then cast him the sharpest daggers I could. Not because I was ashamed of saying, “India!” but because he didn’t clearly stop to consider how bizarre it sounded to ask a complete stranger where his parents emigrated from.

RB: Honestly, I have dated a bit interracially when I was young and it was never that big a deal. Part of it is being brought up as one of the only Indian people in my area I was used to being mostly friends with white and black people, so I didn’t think it unusual. I’m sure there are girls that have been less interested because of the fact I’m Indian but they were smart enough not to say anything about it.

Anna: In my nearly twenty years of dating (!) I’ve only dated interracially twice; both times it was a disaster. I was nervous each time, because it was outside my comfort zone and yet in a way, it wasn’t. The first situation, in 1998, involved a Persian guy that I had known throughout college. While he was fair-skinned, he was definitely not “white”. The second situation, in 1999 almost doesn’t count, because I had a mild crush on an “Indian guy in scrubs” for weeks before I met him…only to discover that he was Palestinian, not South Asian. So I tend to have a rather strict type: dark hair, dark eyes, olive or brown skin. Still, it felt like unknown territory, after exclusively dating only Desi men.

1998 taught me about the nasty strains of racism within the Persian community towards South Asians and our dark, dirty, skin, our crude, uncivilized ways. This guy, who had been a friend for years, who “coded” white the entire time I knew him (which, to be accurate, I did, too, with my sorority, lack of membership in the Indian students club etc) suddenly defaulted to the ugliest dynamic possible. A lot of it had to do with my skin, which had been appealing as he flirted with me constantly for four years until we actually dated– then I was…dark.

1999 was a similar situation. Both of these men felt like Indian girls were somehow “easier” or more disposable. We didn’t deserve love or respect. I don’t know where the fuck this stereotype originates from, but it’s disgusting. Neither “relationship” survived for more than two weeks. My spine kept interfering.

My peers didn’t care about the interracial aspect of my entanglements, they were more concerned about the excessive assholery. Their peers didn’t treat me with the same respect they accorded women who were their “own” kind. Classy. Assholes. Continue reading

On Interracial Dating – The South Asian Panel (1 of 3)

Priya and Leonard
Welcome to the South Asian Panel on Interracial Dating.

Our panelists are:

RB, long time reader and friend of the blog; Anna John, Sepia Mutineer and friend of the blog; Honey Mae, friend of the blog; Lisa Factora-Borchers, blogger at My Ecdysis, Neesha Meminger, YA Author and occasional contributor; Harbeer, Racialicious reader and friend of a friend of the blog; and Rohin Guha, author of Relief Work and a blogger.

What types of messages did you receive about interracial relationships growing up?

Rohin: Well, it depends.

For heterosexual interracial relationships, there really were no messages. And that is probably for the best. When I was younger, I’m sure there was probably the expectation that I would date and ultimately marry someone who was not only Indian, but also Bengali too. But as I grew older and my interests diverged from those of friends I knew through cultural circles, it became more realistic to expect otherwise. I grew up around writers, musicians, and artists. This meant many of my friends simply weren’t Indian.

I also noticed that older members of my generation were then beginning to date and marry non-Indians. And their parents frequently appeared welcoming. I feel like there was a tacit agreement: My family and our relatives settled in a land where predicating the terms of marriage on a single race could’ve literally spawned a generation of spinsters. With a little time, many learned to curb their expectations.

But then I came out, so the stakes the changed. The more trying part became tackling the construct of interracial same-sex relationship. Nobody in my family spoke about it because nobody knew how to talk about it. There just too much “otherness.” While a heterosexual interracial relationship isn’t exactly the stuff of heartbreaking scandal, a homosexual interracial relationship apparently was.

RB (28-years old, South Asian American, Male Racialicious Reader): It wasn’t really something that was discussed much in our house, or dating generally. There was always the unspoken preference for one of “our people”, but what that meant exactly would be difficult to pinpoint. My parents are both South Indian, but speak different languages. Both sets of grandparents eloped and married out of their communities. So finding someone who has exactly the same background as myself would be fairly difficult to begin with.

With that being said, my parents never explicitly told me not to date any particular racial group. Our family doesn’t subscribe to some of the more antiquated notions like color prejudice so black or white amounted to basically the same thing. Interestingly, they seem to think North Indians are basically just as foreign as other Asian countries. Mostly it was emphasized to me that education, character and family background are far more important than someone’s ethnicity.

Anna: “Don’t even think about it.” I grew up in a very strict, Orthodox family; my parents were Malayalee/South Indian immigrants. Interracial relationships were forbidden, disrespectful, ungrateful and in the case of one of my cousins who married “out”, a sure-fire way to get disowned. My father railed for days about his disobedient, immoral niece. The subtext of his rage was clear: “this better not be you in a few years”.

Honey: I grew up in the Philippines. At the time, there seemed to be this understanding that interracial relationships had a certain kind of status, depending on the race of the spouse.

  • marrying white/fair-skinned leads to social/class mobility. This seems to be the most desired combination. Probably vestiges of Spanish & American colonization. You can still see this in the current obsession for skin whiteners and pop culture celebrities endorsing these products, or looking white in the Philippines.
  • marrying foreigners can lead to opportunities to leave the country (Philippines), and earning currency that is at least double that of the Philippine peso. Remittances to the Philippines via migrant workers/immigrants to family is a billion dollar industry.
  • hapa children have a kind of cache, esp bet. Filipino/White couples. They are the standard of beauty esp. in pop/celebrity culture. Fair skin, more caucasian features, etc.
  • alternately, filipino/black hapa children (esp bet filipina and black “G.I.’s”) are discrimated against. This is consistent with a pervasive internal racism in the culture that considers dark skin as lower class. I’ve had to deal with all sorts of discriminatory remarks for having dark skin.

I am not aware of discussions around interracial relationships within the Filipino culture that examines these messages, except in academia and outside of the Philippines.

There is also discrimination towards “those women” that choose to marry foreigners.

When I moved to Canada as a teen, I didn’t meet a lot of Filipinos. We lived in a predominantly white suburban area.

Lisa: I was raised in Catholic schools and in predominantly White areas. There weren’t messages because there weren’t any alternatives or options. You had one choice and one choice alone. Same sex crushes or even curiosity was unheard of. As a brown girl, I didn’t see any other options – not in school, not in media, not in peer circles. It was the same face for me growing up – from celebrities to the boys who made my heart flutter : they were White because I wasn’t exposed to other alternatives. There were such strong messages about race, religion, status, class and education and, as a young girl, I believed them to be true. I didn’t question it despite that tiny voice inside me that knew something was wrong.

Ironically, it wasn’t until highschool and a mentor told me that she didn’t believe in interracial dating that I woke up. She said she just didn’t see it as right, good, appropriate for any person of one race to be with another person of another race, no excuses. I looked at my Brown skin and felt humiliated. I wanted to ask, “What about me?” I could count the number of non-White students in my highschool and they were all friends, but no one I wanted to date. It was my breaking point. I screamed inside and knew that there was more to life, and dating, than what was around me, but I had to figure it out on my own. The message was that interracial dating was countercultural and to do that, I’d have to do it on my own.

Neesha: I was not allowed to date. Period. I was expected to have an arranged marriage to an Indian, Punjabi, Sikh boy of the appropriate caste. Interracial dating/marriage never even entered my parents’ radar*, never mind forbidding me from it. They were so worried I might actually TALK to an Indian, Punjabi, Sikh boy of the appropriate caste who was not related to me by blood, that they couldn’t even fathom the idea of me dating a girl, or dating a boy who wasn’t even Indian, let alone of an entirely different racial category.

(*The only time/s it did were as cautionary tales: “Gurpreet [not her real name] ran off with a white boy and her father and uncles hunted her down and shot her in the face.” I heard many of these sorts of “honor” stories growing up. And the stories were always about Indian girls and white boys. It was almost as if there was no expectation that I could possibly date a black boy/girl – because you’re supposed to move up on the social ladder, right? Why would anyone want to move down? And in places like the Caribbean, parts of Africa, Britain, etc., where South Asians and black people are often in close quarters, there is a lot of trying to differentiate between “us” and “them” to the powers that be.) Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Interracial Dating – The Outside the Constructs Panel (1 of 2)

Khloe and Lamar

Welcome to the Outside of the Constructs panel. This one is a little strange as compared to the others. Originally, this was to be the panel for Indigenous people, but then I expanded it to include people who are normally outside of U.S. racial constructs. But then, we didn’t get very much response originally, and I asked for help recruiting. Cecelia responded, but she invited a mess of folks – but who didn’t fit the original idea for this panel. I was going to move Lyza, Julie, and Richard’s responses – but then I realized their experiences probably fit a bit better here, since they were radically different from other responses on the White and Asian panels. So, it all worked out.

Our panelists are: Cecelia, friend of the blog; Julie, friend of Cecelia; Brandann, friend of the blog and occassional contributor; Lyza, friend of Cecelia; Andrew, blogger at KABOBFest; May, blogger at KABOBfest and Sawaha Sumra; Fatemeh, Racialious crew and Editor of Muslimah Media Watch; El, long time friend of the blog; and Richard, friend of Cecelia.

What types of messages did you receive about interracial relationships growing up?

Cecelia: My parents are an interracial couple. My Dad is Ojibway/Anishinaabe (enrolled tribal member in the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community) and French and my Mother is various European heritages, the majority of her is Scandinavian (Norwegian and Swedish) and German. When my parents started dated my Mother’s Father said to her, “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Despite the one negative message from my Grandfather my parents tried their best, with all of the complications, family issues and life stresses, their overall message on their interracial dating was a positive one. My Dad grew up in Highland Park, MI which was what he called “mixed” and not diverse. He once described the neighborhood he grew up in by having “all the colors.” My Mother grew up in a working class, product of Ford and auto industry, mostly white inner ring suburb of Detroit. They moved to a more lower middle class neighborhood of an inner ring suburb and the compilation of their upbringings gave me a positive message about interracial dating, even despite our struggles as a family and individuals inside the family unit. Because of our various struggles from generational trauma, historical trauma and PTSD from being survivors of genocide on the Native side, I came to the conclusion that most relationships would be a struggle. This struggle can change as well heal. If our liberation and return to culture, language and traditions as Native people means feeling our ancestors pain then it may manifest in struggle within our family and therefore the interracial relationship of my parents.

My family on my Dad’s side is multi-racial, so mixing was already in the family and our family gatherings had all of us mingling which was most always a positive space for me. I am really thankful for my family being so awesome and open-minded! Some messages I received from my Dad (which he said weekly, if not daily): “the white man messed up everything,” and/or “don’t trust whitey.” Therefore, I wasn’t very trusting of white males in relationships, although I have had my share, I have retired dating white males because my Fathers statement that was ingrained in me since I was a child has proven true in the dating world. Sadly, I had to test the waters to prove his statements to be true.

Julie: Light-skinned = good. Dark-skinned = bad. Gay/lesbian also = bad. The races fell into those guidelines.

I grew up Vietnamese in a predominantly white area where they pulled eyes at me and made fun of my parent’s height and accents. As a displaced people who were just trying to survive, and as we watched other PoCs in our neighborhood/family turning to drugs and guns, assimilation seemed like the key to our well-being. I was surrounded by the ‘goodness’ of white people (some were pretty nice, but ignorant) and was brought up to appreciate them and to adopt their ideas, including their racist ones.
I may have received these messages, but more than what I was ‘sold’, was the fact that I was a target for racism (Seventeen Magazine was definitely not written with PoC in mind) and thus differentiated. I grew wary of white people and started gravitating to other races for my friendships (mostly latino and asian) in my late teens.

Brandann: I grew up mixed-race, and only slightly conscious of what that meant. I am assuming that my being a product of a mixed-race relationship meant that my family didn’t frown upon the idea of interracial dating or relationships.

I’m Ojibwe/Anishinaabe and European by descent, registered with the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. If there were problems with such relationships, there was no indication of it from my immediate family. Though, as I got older and understood racial identity better (things such as the endearing nickname my father’s father gave me, which was a bit of a jab at my mixed-heritage but meant to be affectionate), I noticed that other people within my own community had ideas about what was right and what was less-than. Relationships between two Native people, at least in my own limited experience, were looked upon more favorably than those between Native and non-Natives.

The only time race ever arose as an issue was when I met my husband, who is Asian. My grandfather is a Korean War veteran, and I personally had fears that it would be an issue, however right or wrong that fear was. Turns out, it was never something I needed to worry about. He was accepted with open arms.

Lyza: Growing up in a rural farm community, where my mom grew up in a suburb of Grand Rapids and my dad grew up on a farm in Rockford, MI(which back when he grew up there it didn’t have the reputation it does today), allowed me to have a simple growing up experience that was for the most part homogeneous(white working class to middle class) in nature of where we lived. My mom was very intentional(coming from a Civil Rights and Feminism background) when it came to making my brother and I aware that the world was not homogeneous in nature she would yearly take us out of class to walk downtown Grand Rapids during the Martin Luther King Jr. day parade, as well as have literature and different avenues where we would be challenged with how we viewed the world from where we lived.

I thank my mom for being so progressive and going against the norm of ignorance that was prevalent in the community that we grew up in. My dad came from another generation where rural was rural and the only people of color in town were generally from the city and didn’t plan on staying any time soon. When I was in my early twenties I dated a Latino man that I worked with and after a date where he dropped me off at the home and met my family my dad sat me down and asked me what my intentions were with him and if I planned on dating him seriously. This comment disturbed me because of the undertone of racism that happened to ooze out of the comment. That was when I realized that there was a standard when it came to dating, and I was at a point in my life where I decided that was not acceptable. Within the past 3 years my father has changed his world view considerably with some hard life lessons that have come his way as well as my consistent challenging of how the world really “is” with all of the double standards.

My Grandpa (mom’s side) has been very adamant that interracial dating is unacceptable, however his deep seeded racism comes from generationalism and growing up in Benton Harbor pre and post WWII era. I constantly challenge his worldview by giving him an opportunity to explain why he has these views towards specific groups of people and offer him a different POV. Bringing some of my friends with diverse backgrounds to family events has allowed him to be around people that challenge where his fears and racism hold so closely to his belief system.

Andrew: I grew up in Ann Arbor, MI after having spent the first four years of my life in New York City. My mother immigrated from Lebanon in the late 70s and my father’s family, also Lebanese, has been in the United States since the beginning of the 20th century. On a personal level, both of my parents have always disregarded cultural traditions in favor of their own interpretations of what’s right and wrong or how people should and should not behave. For example, my mother was 31 when she married, which is virtually unheard of in a culture that pressures its women to marry young, and was the first woman to leave her village in Lebanon. Although there are far fewer social expectations imposed on men than on women in Arab culture, my father seemed to buck the trend by maintaining an air of humility despite his charm, intelligence, and professional success.

As a result, despite the fact that my upbringing was definitely defined by my Arab identity, I was always encouraged to challenge and confront cultural norms and traditions, and push social and personal boundaries within reason. When it came to sex and relationships, my parents never shied away from having conversations with me about relationships and sexuality, yet they rarely came off as nosey or intrusive. They have always encouraged me to view dating as a process through which I develop a better understanding of myself and what it is I’m looking for in a partner. Although I haven’t seriously dated a woman that isn’t Arab, I am confident that my parents would support an interracial relationship.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about my extended family. My grandmother (father’s mother) enjoyed being racist and would regularly claim that she was no Arab; she was Phoenician. She never missed an opportunity to obsess over the kinds of people her grandchildren would date and eventually marry, regularly encouraging all of us to date within our Arab Orthodox Christian community. Such attitudes are reinforced by the rest of my father’s family which, interestingly enough, embrace culturally traditional values and lifestyles despite being third and fourth generation Arab Americans.

On my mother’s side, I grew up knowing that interracial relationships were frowned upon and not taken seriously. This obviously did not extend to Europeans; my cousin was once married to a French woman. I should add, though, that my family is definitely more concerned with religion than they are race when it comes to relationships. This is because they assume that their children will not marry/date outside of the Arab community, and so they focus on religious identity. My Shiite Muslim (now ex) girlfriend definitely ruffled a few of their feathers, but I was never openly confronted about my relationship with her. As a man, I recognize that I enjoy significant privilege and am not subject to the kind of scrutiny Arab women must endure.

May: As a US born and raised to Syrian Sunni Muslim parents, I grew up watching both sides of my family interracially/ethnically marry—it was almost exclusively my uncles though, and to mostly white European women. As Syrians are regarded as the white people of the Arab world, I would venture to say that these kinds of unions were not only considered culturally acceptable, but a reinforcement of an aspirational whiteness.

Further complicating the fact that both my parents are Syrian (my father with a Bedouin background) was the culturally enclavish way I was raised. We lived on a cul-de-sac with all my father’s family populating the six model homes that the track housing in the sleepy Southern California suburb was based on. Thus not only was I encouraged to maintain a link with my “roots” but I was also expected to only have my cousins as my friends. As my father once retorted when I asked to attend a schoolmate’s sleepover party, “Friends? why do you need friends? You have cousins!” So you can imagine the jingoistic way marriage was regarded/viewed. Continue reading