Welcome 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; LB, friend of the blog; Jen 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 Feministe; Ken, friend of the blog; and A.C., friend of the blog.What types of messages did you receive about interracial relationships growing up?
Phil: My mother was white from Canada and my father Chinese-Indonesian. It was a funny combination of totally being normalized and also sticking out. My family was interracial, but no one else was. It seemed totally normal inside the family, but I couldn’t see any other examples of it locally. I remember meeting the only other Chinese family in the neighbourhood and realizing they were “like me”. I learned later from my parents that they had quite a bit of turmoil in finding a home to rent at first and had received funny looks etc. My mom, who is white, would go to meet the realtor and my dad would only come later after they had agreed to rent it. For myself, dating white women as opposed to Chinese was pretty natural as there were not a lot of Chinese people at my school at the time. There was a lot of casual racism, “Hey Chink” and that kind of stuff, but my extended family was supportive of my mother’s choice, so it didn’t seem to matter.
Jozen: It felt normal in my family. My mom and my uncles who raised me grew up with a Puerto Rican father and a Japanese grandmother. So my family was in on this whole interracial relationship thing early, like dating back to the 1940s. My father who was never around was Puerto Rican and Black, but soon after I was born, my mom married the man who would adopt me as his son and he was white and they had my sister, so she’s mixed. All my uncles married and had children with women from other races, so if there was any type of message about interracial relationships it was that it was not only okay, but kind of normal. There was no beating of the chest about the diversity within the family, it’s just how we live our lives. More than interracial relationships, we all were different people, different values, and I think culturally there was some disconnect within the families, but that’s more of a generational thing than it was a race thing. My Korean cousins were never called out for acting Korean, Filipino cousins weren’t treated differently than our black cousins. It was all mixed up but the conflicts resided in other things outside of race, like most families.
LM: I didn’t, at least not out loud. I came from a white father and Puerto Rican mother, and that background was viewed as “mixed” by anyone who asked about it. But my mother, though she identified strongly with Puerto Rican heritage, looked “white.” So did I. Furthermore, her last name came from her straight-off-the-boat Irish father and she was fluent in both English and Spanish. (To speak English fluently and look white with freckles, as she did, was to have her Puerto Rican-ness doubted — by white people.)
There was enough of a stigma tied to being Puerto Rican — not in our house but what I picked up from muttering cabdrivers and pop culture — that I suspected a) if my mom and I didn’t look white, we might have been treated differently, and b) within my family at least, the concept of inter-group relationships was OK. On this second point, I understood that in reality, there might be opposition to such relationships based on more obvious surface differences. But even as a pre-teen, I figured no one but the two people in a relationship ought to have a say in the matter.
LB: I’m half Black, half-Navajo, however I was raised culturally in a Black home, as my Navajo mother was adopted by a Black family and removed from the reservation. That being said, I definitely received some mixed messages regarding interracial relationships. My mother is a an evangelical Christian, and so I was taught to love everyone equally, that there were no races and we were all God’s children. However, there were messages communicated to me that anyone dating white people thought they were better than other minorities. There would be discriminatory comments made in my family about other races. So, it was a bit confusing at times to reconcile these mixed messages.
Jen: I didn’t receive the most positive messages about interracial dating growing up, which was a shame given that I am the product of one. I received messages from peers, messages from my parents and family, and messages from the communities to which I was attempting to belong. Peers asked questions all the time. They didn’t quite understand how I could be both Chinese and Jewish at the same time. They asked a lot about my parents and how they met. I got the feeling that my parents coming together was a strange thing. An abnormal thing. If it was normal, then there wouldn’t be so much interest and intrigue, right?
My family – my Jewish grandparents in particular – used to tell me that I would marry a “nice, Jewish boy.” Funny – the first boy I really liked was black and Jewish, but somehow they didn’t quite mean that brand of Jewish. It was clear that white was right when it came to whom I should be dating. This felt invalidating and made me wonder if anyone in my family truly understood my experience – both as a mixed women and a woman of color. I kept wondering and stayed single right through college. I knew that the boys to whom I was attracted, would not do. In hindsight, I don’t think that I was ready to fight that fight with them.
And then, the Jewish community – while there were many diverse and accepting synagogues out there, mine was not. Even though we rehearsed for my Bat Mitzvah with my father up on the bima (the altar), the night before my big day left my mother in tears. She got a call from the Rabbi. He told her that the Ritual Committee had had a special meeting and decided that the three of us – me, my mom, my dad – could not be on the bima together. They did not want to promote intermarriage.
I grew up knowing in my heart that there was nothing wrong with interracial relationships (again, I came from one)…but got message after message that they were not approved of, and probably more trouble than they were worth.
N’jaila: I’m a Caribbean American Blasian mutt. My parents made more of a issue of them being from different islands than them being different races. My mom was brown, my father was lighter, but still brown so I never felt “mixed”. Mixed was for people that were part white in my head growing up. I really did think that it interracial was code for “White”. There’s so little discussion of Black and non white/non blacks marrying and dating. Even less about intercultural relationships within races.
When I got older there was a feeling like both my parents did this whole mixing thing wrong. One of them was supposed to be white. I remember when my first serious relationship abruptly fell apart he solemnly said “if god wanted us to be together your mother would have been white.” So a lot of times I felt like I was a double cast out. Black people were only allowed to be Black and nothing else. Continue reading