Originally published at Racialicious
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.
Holly: I grew up in a proudly multi-racial household, although when my sister and I got older it became clear that there would still be problems if either of us wanted to date “beneath us” in terms of class, and of course overlapping that in all sorts of ways, race too. My mother, who’s Japanese, always had much more mixed feelings about being in a multi-racial relationship than my father did. For my mother, it represented giving up her heritage in a lot of ways, and having kids who were “Americans” at heart, instead of “actually Japanese” like she would have had if she had stayed in Japan, or maybe if she had married another Japanese immigrant. I don’t know if she actually would have followed that path, though, despite her misgivings! I’ve always had a feeling that my father thought that being in a multi-racial family made him cooler and more politically with it than other typical white guys, which became a thorn in my side as a teenager, naturally. He eventually characterized one of the most enduring problems of his relationship with my mother as being about cultural differences and lack of acceptance — from his family, and from the two of them trying to adjust to each other. So in the end… I got a lot of overt messages when I was younger about how multi-racial families and kids are great, but a lot of more subtle messages about how it didn’t work.
Ken: As my parents are Southern and things of their generation were very black-white, no acknowledgement of mixed-race ancestry ever took place until I started researching genealogy. I do remember my mother saying when I was a pre-teen, however, that she would prefer I not bring a white girl home. (Since I’m a gay-but-open-minded male, really no worries there!) She did acknowledge a few years later that I would likely bring home ‘a foreigner,’ and she seemed to be alright with that. So now I’m a good-ol’ American mutt (black/white/native) in a relationship with a dark Spaniard.
A.C.: I never spoke explicitly with my parents about interracial dating. As a mixed-race kid, though, my parents never really just talked with me about how I felt about being Latino, Irish and German. I was raised partly, though, by my father’s aunt, who came to live with my family and help with me and my sisters while my parents worked. She had a real problem with black folks and it scared me off from ever asking out nonwhite or non-Latino girls, since I knew I’d have to bring them by eventually. It was only years later, when she finally moved back to San Antonio, that I brought home an African-American girlfriend to watch a movie. My dad came down to say goodnight-and I hadn’t told him I had been bringing anyone over, which was pretty ordinary, really. But I do remember a look of surprise on his face. I can’t rule anything out but maybe it was because I was in the basement watching a movie with a girl. Maybe not.
How does culture factor into conversations about interracial dating? Were you raised to identify with one side of your background, or all sides equally? And how did that impact the messages you received about dating?
Phil: I think the white side was the strongest as we were living in a white community. A lot of the Chinese Indonesian side was a little forced, with sometimes going to the Lions club (Chinese) or my mom making Chinese Indonesian food. It seemed a little like play-acting. Still, my mom was concerned that I have some exposure. My parents never made any comments that I could remember about dating. I do remember not being able to go on a high school trip to South Africa with my girlfriend at the time because of my skin.
Jozen: When my dad and mom divorced, my mom met the man I would call “Pop” for 11 years.. Essentially he raised my sister and I and he was black and Filipino, but culturally, he was like a lot of brothers who lived in our small town of Seaside, California. He raised my sister and I to be conscious of being a person of color, but it was never something was pushed us. I wasn’t raised to embrace being black, but I don’t speak Spanish and I don’t speak Japanese. One of the benchmarks of any culture is it’s language, so not speaking either of those tongues made it appear as though I was not trying to identify them. But the fact is, my mom’s parents never taught her and my uncles their languages, largely because my grandfather was a Puerto Rican in the U.S. Army and they were all raised on military bases in the 50’s and 60’s. There was none of this holding onto language and such going on, so my mom and uncles don’t speak Spanish or Japanese either. I think, culturally my family identified as people of color and Seaside is a black city, and we were just looked at as part of that mix. It never impacted messages I received about dating. I was bringing home black girls who I liked to meet my mom when I was way too young to be bringing any girls home (a point my Mom made clear). We could date whoever we wanted, but I do think it would shock anyone in my family if I brought home a woman who wasn’t black. I went to an HBCU, Howard University, and as one classmate of mine jokingly told me, “You didn’t come here to not date black girls.” I laugh at it, but it’s kind of true because like most men, one of the factors I considered in choosing a college was the girls, and well, you can only guess Howard was my idea of heaven on earth from a social standpoint.
LM: While there were no overt messages, my mother’s celebration of her Puerto Rican heritage, plus practically annual visits to my grandparents on the island and a three-year stint there due to my father’s military assignment, led me to identify significantly with that “side” of me. I thought of myself as white because that’s what I looked like but saw no conflict between that and being Puerto Rican. Meanwhile the Irish “side” — though it came from both parents and my mother’s stepfather — came across to me as lip service. From Ireland I got pale skin, freckles and soda bread. Guess which two I didn’t much appreciate.
After several moves due to my father’s military service, I eventually came of age in New York City, where from eighth grade on I felt an immediate connection to many Puerto Ricans and other Caribbean islanders — and by the time my consciousness was raised in college, people in other communities of color.
LB: Culturally I was raised Black with very little connection to my Navajo heritage. My mother lives her life as if she is a Black woman, with a footnote that she’s Navajo whenever questioned about her ethnicity. I often have conversations with her reminding her that she can’t really speak about the “struggle” to others when she looks like a Native American woman. I think I was raised to ignore the Navajo side of my culture if only because it reminded everyone that my mother was not the birth children of my grandparents. Nobody discussed the adoption, ever. It wasn’t until I was 8 years old did I realize my mother was adopted, as pointed out by my cousins who taunted me for not being our grandfather’s “real” granddaughter.
Jen: For all intents and purposes, I was raised as a white, Jewish girl with little to no Chinese cultural influence. However, my Chinese father was probably the more vocal parent when it came to communicating expectations around whom I should be dating. He came to this country in order to receive better opportunities and always stressed the importance of success to me and my brothers. He always talked about choice of partner influencing this success. Partnering with people who “didn’t struggle” in this country was ideal. Partnering with others would only put us in danger, bring us down, hold us back. Of course, this was very hard to hear, as I knew he was applying practicality to a matter that didn’t always feel that cut and dry. He made relationships sound like business propositions. I remember nodding at the dining room table as he lectured on, knowing that I would do what I wanted to do in the end.
N’jaila: I used to be a firm believer in the one drop rule racially, but I identify strongly as West Indian. No matter what race a person is if you are Jamaican or Trini no matter what race, where you move or who you marry you’re still West Indian and your kids are West Indian. I came from a more inclusive culture.
My parents have their prejudices , ironically I think my father would be much happier if I did not marry or date Asian, my mother is a lot more fluid, for her education is more important. She doesn’t care what color the man is so much as he pedigree.
My parents were very passive with race, this might have to do a lot with my father’s own issues with his race, they always made the conversation about culture.
It is a little odd for a mixed race person that looks Black. I think many people expect us to only think , act and identify as Black and the assumption is that we will greatly favor Black or White partners. When I started seriously dating I found myself looking for the men that I “should” want to be with and not the men I wanted to be with regardless of who had anything to say about it.
Holly: I was raised to believe that I was both “Japanese” and “Welsh/English/Irish/Scotch,” which looking back I can see as an attempt on the part of my dad’s liberal, middle-class family to be more specific about “their half” of our identity than just homogenous whiteness. But that half of my family is… well, really white. And the very fact that I was raised on the west coast of the US meant that my sister and I were raised in their cultural context, not my mother’s. My mother felt alienated and we were perpetually aware that “her side” was very far away, especially because she didn’t have strong ties in any local Japanese community. She made us go to Japanese language school during our junior-high years, and we went to the Japanese grocery store, took aikido and kendo lessons at times, but we barely knew any of the other kids and families. So I was always aware that I was mixed and was “half-Japanese” — it was the most significant and visible marker of difference, otherness, outsiderness in my childhood — but we also felt extremely far away and cut off from the source of that. Thinking back, I feel really lucky that I did get to visit Japan and my relatives there a few times growing up — if I hadn’t, I would have felt even more like a solitary alien from a long-lost planet.
Ken: Definitely raised to identify more with the black aspect of my heritage as both of my parents grew up in the Civil Rights Era south. And as N’jaila said, if you outwardly appear as black to most folk, that’s all you are or have a chance to be until you assert yourself as other.
I didn’t know any mixed couples growing up, so my messages were from pop culture. Essentially that interracial dating might make for a nice Hallmark moment, but otherwise it’s likely too difficult of an option to entertain.
A.C.: Culture factors in big. My dad’s pretty explicitly encouraged me to date Latinas in the past, and though I have, it’s simply never worked out to be a lasting relationship. In spite of the fact that I’ve been exposed to a lot of Irish, German, and South Texas culture about equally, I identify a bit more as Latino for several reasons. I’m much more attached to that side of my family, and was raised on southwestern food. I’ve always enjoyed visiting Texas more than rural Illinois, where my mother’s from. There are two things important to me in a potential partner that have filtered down: speaking Spanish and cooking food I enjoy. But those can be learned.
It’s been said that mixed race people, by their very nature, are always in a mixed race relationship (unless they find someone of their exact same racial background). Do you think this is true?
Phil: That’s a funny way to put it. I guess so, but it seems more common now, so less of an issue. My wife jokes that I am whiter than she is. Still, I think for me, differences are there. No one can quite tell what I am, or what my kids are, so there is some ambiguity there. I remember being in Hawaii and thinking/feeling I had come home because of all the people looking like me. I don’t suffer the same things my parents did, and that makes it seem less of an issue. Racism expressed directly to my face is pretty rare now, it’s been years, but sometimes I feel it even if it isn’t overt.
Jozen: Short answer: Hell no. Long answer: HHHHHEEEEEEELLLLLLLL NOOOOO! But no really, this is probably the most ridiculous stereotype I’ve heard about mixed race people. If I end up with a woman who is mixed race it’s probably cause I thought she was fine, however that came about really doesn’t matter.
LM: Sure. But the degree to which this matters depends a lot on the experiences of the people in the relationship, and to go to the other extreme a good argument can be made that just about every relationship is of mixed race.
Liz: Yeah, technically speaking. I’m very proud of both my cultures and don’t see myself excusing my Navajo side with my future family.
Jen: Yes, though I never quite understood the need to point this out. There is a woe-is-me quality to it, a la “Aw geez. I am alone in the world, no one is just like me, racially, so I am doomed to only interracial date.”
First of all, interracial dating is fabulous. Just ask the women out there writing books about it recently….Secondly, there are a ton of people like me out there. I tried to date a Jewish and Chinese guy once and everyone thought he was my brother, so… pros and cons. Seriously speaking, though, I think that things like socio-economic class, values, and belief system, can sometimes trump race when contending with differences in a relationship. Sure, anyone you date is probably going to have a different “racial” make-up than you if you are mixed, but I think there are probably other differences that wind up being more meaningful than the fact that you are from different “races.”
N’jaila: I think this goes for those that “look” mixed. I think even though I’m part Asian dating an Asian man feels to me like an interracial relationship because we are judged by those outside the relationship as a completely different. I think a lot of people feel that people’s races should be dictated by what others perceive them as, and not how the person self identifies. I have friends that are half White half Black and a lot of times if they don’t “look” mixed. People act negatively to them dating one race or the other.
Truth be told my dating experience is going to be unique from others mixed or not. I look Black, but my mindset will be different from an American “full Black” woman because there’s the Caribbean and Asian influence in my thinking. Mixed people are a very large and varied group, so while I may feel that I’m dating “out” no matter who I’m with I’m sure there are many that don’t.
For me my parents made me proud of my culture, more so than my color, or racial classification. So in all honesty when I date someone raised as a West Indian I don’t feel I’m in a mixed relationship.
Personally I try not to think of my relationships as interracial , but as relationships.
Holly: I think I said this once, just to point out how non-exceptional a discussion about “interracial dating” is for multiracial people — but I do think everyone’s answers here point out something interesting about cultural difference. That’s the thing that I’ve tended to notice really makes a relationship feel more “interracial” and it comes up in a lot of conversations about interracial dating. Like LM says, almost any relationship could be considered of “mixed race” and I’d interpret this to be about all sorts of cultural differences. Still, some are more significant than others. I once dated someone with ALMOST the same ethnic background as me, except that she was a mixed sansei (third generation) whereas I’m a mixed nisei (second generation). Her parents were born and grew up here and were pretty well-versed in American culture — and that made for a pretty significant difference in orientation towards Japanese culture. This kind of cultural difference — which is all about race and our relationship to it — actually felt like more of an “interracial relationship” difference than say, regional or religious differences, since I’ve dated people who are more or less religious, from the South or the East or the West, etc. It’s really the cultural differences that stand out. In a broad classification of “people of color” I usually check the “Asian” box. I’ve dated other Asians of a few different ethnicities / background — Chinese, Laotian, Sindhi — but because we all grew up in the homogenous white US, I kind of suspect that any of us would “have more in common” culturally with a white person than we would with each other. We’re all steeping in the white culture constantly. What we do have in common, however, is an experience of being outsiders and being targets of racism and prejudice in one way or another.
If you have dated interracially, did you have any fears or misgivings going into the situation? Did you peers react to you differently?
Phil: No, though I wonder if my bias is towards white women, as I have never dated anyone Chinese. Maybe coincidence, but maybe not. As I’ve mentioned, I think that the reality was I didn’t meet a lot of Chinese women growing up, and the only images I got of them were strange (through movies, the rare news piece). I think religion played more of a role in my world. Dating a Jewish girl caused some angst for both of us, as we knew we couldn’t be together in the long term. My friends were mostly white, so dating white women wasn’t an issue.
Jozen: Dating non black women can be awkward, because of where my cultural allegiances are. But what’s funny is I’ve had some black women I dated tell me they feel like with me they’re in an interracial relationship, and I always remind them, I’m black, just not the type they’re used to. Most of my peers might react differently if I dated anybody but a black woman, but it probably wouldn’t bother me much. I’m kind of aware of how I look mixed to most people, so I handle the idea that someone is in an interracial relationship all cause they’re dating me with some humor, but I myself don’t really date outside of one of my races.
LM: The first time I was interested in a black girl I was perhaps 14 or 15, and I felt equal amounts apprehension because 1) she was a girl and I was extremely shy, and 2) she was black and I didn’t see a lot of black-white pairings (my Puerto Rican-ness wasn’t a factor at this point, for some reason). It was summer in Oak Bluffs, on Martha’s Vineyard, where the racial environment wasn’t particularly oppressive, but I still felt that there might be some sort of stigma. I talked to my mother about this, and she assured me that there’d be no opposition from her or my father, but there was still the problem of actually approaching the girl. I did one day in a doughnut shop when she was surrounded by two or three uncles. Whatever my approach it was so weak that no outright rejection was necessary. This wasn’t someone I’d talked to, just a girl I’d seen around town almost every day. The same thing happened with another girl that summer, a white girl whose parents owned a stationery shop, but my fear and ultimate failure was not exacerbated by any racial concerns.
A handful of years later, much more confident in general and having been through my first serious relationship, I briefly dated a black girl who worked with me at a Vineyard supermarket and was about to go off to Spelman University. The attraction was mutual and for a handful of nights we were an item around town. But we were both a bit hesitant about holding hands or showing affection in public, and at least some small part of this had to do with the stares we might get.
In both these cases, having spent my summers working and without many friends, there really weren’t peers around to comment.
It was different in college. I had been fairly popular in high school and I made friends and accumulated acquaintances in college easily. By early in my sophomore year my high school relationship, with a Jewish girl whose mother’s concern about my Catholic upbringing I hadn’t noticed, was over. My college friends were predominantly black Brooklynites, many but not all originally from Caribbean nations like Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados. I drew my romantic interests from my wide group of friends but was extremely picky. So there was constantly talk about how I liked black women and they liked me — and it came from the friends I was around every day. It wasn’t negative and gave me no pause except for my distrust of the notion of a racial preference. In high school I’d liked girls with backgrounds from the Philippines, India, Pakistan, China, Korea… I’d liked the blonde freckled girl in seventh grade in Puerto Rico and I had a crush on Steffi Graf and her long legs… I’d had crushes on the light-skinned and dark-skinned Puerto Rican natives in my classes down there too. I liked women! But I noticed that it seemed most of the women I was interested in were black. I attributed some of this to being around black people most of the time, but I also felt a cultural turn of sorts — where any partner of mine would have to be comfortable in predominantly black surroundings a lot of the time. This could be theoretically be someone who wasn’t black, but I didn’t see many hanging out with me and the other people I was around most of the time.
Jen: I thought we just established that all of my relationships have been interracial? Yes. I have dated interracially. The only fears I had were around my family reactions – whether or not they would accept the man I was dating. It didn’t stop me, but I definitely thought long and hard about when I would introduce them to my family and how. At this point, I’m 34 and my parents just want me to settle down, so race doesn’t matter as much anymore. Desperation-to-have-me-get-married aside, I do think that they have learned along with me (and my brothers) that the most important thing is for us to be with partners who love, respect and support us. They see that this is much more important than our partners’ racial/ethnic make-up.
With regards to peers – depending on whom I was with at the time, I would either get props or receive jabs. I always say that the choices mixed race people make in who they partner with becomes a very political one. When I’ve dated men of color, other people of color saw me as “being down.” I’ve only dated one white man and had one friend who incessantly teased me about this during the course of that relationship. I must have missed the memo about being an anti-racist activist and not being allowed to date white. Who you date as a mixed person winds up telling people something about you – even if it’s not true or on point. Because I was dating this white man, this one friend (maybe others that I was unaware of?) started questioning my commitment to the cause. I couldn’t believe that so much about my identity changed in other people’s eyes because of who he was. Stereotypes and assumptions abound! Needless to say, once I started to date my current partner, a man of color, she exclaimed, “Oh! You’re back!” To be welcomed back into the community…thank goodness I’ve gotten myself straightened out!
N’jaila: I’ve always feared being too much and not enough. Exotic enough for sex, too Black to take home to your parents. There’s a fear that I can’t be taken seriously because of the way I look. If I had lighter skin, a thinner body type, different hair texture I know some people would be more open to me as a mixed women, but I have none of those things and I get coded as a certain type and a certain class of woman. Its frustrating to have so many barriers in front of you while trying to date people within or outside your culture.
I think the biggest mistake that I’ve made is always assuming the worst. I was involved with a Native Korean man and I was so fearful of meeting his parents. I just assumed that they could never possibly accept us as a couple. The first thing they said when they saw me was, “ oh she’ll have boys!” They were completely open to the idea of having me as a daughter in law. I think they were more upset about that relationship ending than he or I was.
JC, I do know how it feels to have others question your motives depending on your partner. People assume that I don’t want to be Black because I’m dating an Asian or that there’s something lacking in my commitment to Black issues. On the flip side people that see me being vocal about Black issues feel that I can in no way care or have a real investment in fighting racism against Asians or that I date Asians so I can control their ideas of Blackness. Some people want you to pick a side and there really isn’t a way to do that. At least not for me.
Holly: I always had a chip on my shoulder about this — probably because I felt from early on like “well, whoever I end up dating, I’m always going to be weird somehow, either because of my white half or my asian half.” Or for any number of other reasons — gender, queerness, general unacceptability, etc. I don’t think I’m really “legible” as a possible partner for many of the people that I’ve dated or been in long-term relationships, for a lot of overlapping reasons, I’m just a kind of confusing blur on the photograph, you know? I can honestly say that for my entire life, nobody has ever asked me about this or made any comment to me, parents included. That may be because I never dated a black guy during high school like my sister did, which generated more controversy. I’ve mostly dated white people and east asians and south asians, a few other mixed people of various ancestry, and I suppose maybe that just seemed like what a mutt like me would do?
Ken: I was going to say no to this until reading N’jaila’s response. I’ve had that same fear in the gay community — exotic enough for a hook-up but not relationship material (more on that later). Other than that, I suppose I haven’t had any. The majority of my partners have and will be even phenotypically quite different from me, and all of my friends and family have known that for some time. It was never an issue with peers.
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?”
Phil: No, but I am curious about asking my wife. Sometimes I get a funny look when meeting my wife’s acquaintances, but I think it might be more that I am younger than her. Because our kids are mixed, it really seems natural that one of us must be non-white. It’s different for our kids now as well because while we live in the same city, the percentage of Chinese now in my daughter’s school is more than 80% so it is a very different landscape for her. My wife has said that she doesn’t see much impact with me being brown, but I will ask her again.
Jozen: Some black women I have dated said their friends would ask questions about me, but again, no one is surprised I date black women. I’ve never dated an Asian or Latina woman so I don’t know what the reaction would be, and though I have dated a couple of white women, it’s never been too serious so that whole meeting of the friends thing never happened. In regards to any partners considered “off-limits” or “forbidden”, there was never any of that. Like not only was there none of that, but there was none of the opposite. My Japanese grandmother has never pushed onto me meeting a nice Japanese girl, and no one has ever said I should be dating a Puerto Rican or black woman. What I can appreciate about my family is they’ve never drawn those kinds of lines in the sand. All they care about is finding a woman who makes me happy.
Jen: I think I’ve spoken to this a bit already. I will just add that I never really noticed many reactions when I have dated black men, Asian men, mixed men, Latino men. It was almost like I was expected to be with a man of color. Not just because I identify as a woman of color, but because of my activist leanings. I noticed the most looks while I was with the one lone white man I dated. To be fair, it’s quite possible that I was more sensitive to reactions at this time. I expected them, anticipated them, then learned to ignore them. I do think that people made assumptions about us given that we were white man and mixed Asian woman. I heard more about white dudes with Asian fetishes during that two and a half year period than I have heard in my life. Jokes asking my ex if he had one…anecdotes of having heard others guys talk about having them…asking me what the attraction was all about. The only other annoying reactions were when I dated the mixed guy – hearing time and time again, “oh, I thought he was your brother,” or “you guys look eerily alike.” That didn’t last long (for many reasons).
N’jaila: I paid for my college education being forbidden fruit. There’s been a lot of snide comments and joke at my expense. I think the first assumption is that there can’t possibly be a reason for me and an Asian or White guy to be together unless I’m some sort of gold digger or hooker.
I’ve only been out with one White man in my life, but I notice when I’m with men that seem brown the stares and eye rolls from others almost stop. As if its not even the race but the skin tone difference that dictates how uncomfortable a relationship makes others feel.
Holly: Nobody has ever made any kind of comment to me about the race of my partner unless I was the one who initiated the topic of conversation. My only guess is that this has to do with two overlapping factors: people who don’t know me well, or who have relatively ignorant ideas about race, are often too confused about how to categorize me to make easy stereotypes. This has also been true at various points in my life with regards to gender! My most common experience is that people don’t even understand that I’m the date / girlfriend / partner / whatever of the person that I’m with. I guess I just don’t look like someone’s girlfriend, and that’s a mixture of race and gender. I’m not a matched pair with just about anyone in terms of race. And I’ve often seen evidence, or had outright comments, to the effect that my gender doesn’t seem quite right to be dating the person that I’m with; I’m not butch enough to be that femme’s girlfriend, I’m not masculine enough to be that straight girl’s boyfriend, I don’t look enough like a lesbian to be on a date with a woman, and on and on. All this stuff adds up into making me an unintelligible blur, at least for people who don’t know me or don’t know me well. Those that do know me well… they’re generally polite enough or police their own “politically problematic behavior” well enough that they don’t blunder into conversations about my race or my dates’ race.
Ken: I haven’t noticed anything related specifically to me and my partner, but in my current Left Coast gay community there is certainly an interracial dating hierarchy with whites at the top, followed by Asians, then Latins, then blacks. Poor Natives don’t even get a mention. Mixed-race folks’ dating success depends on what the mix is and (moreso on) outward appearance (the whiter, the ‘better’).
If you have not dated interracially, what has contributed to the reasons why not?
Liz: Ha, it’s not for lack of trying. I don’t have anything against dating interracially. I’m open to it and welcome it. I guess in many ways I understand that if it weren’t for an interracial couple, I would not exist. I just think I’m attracted to Black men mostly, so that’s the racial makeup of who I date.
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.
I’ve learned to just ignore the looks and one liners, but I do pay very close attention to my partner’s reaction. If someone makes a remark and a look of shame washes over his face I know that that relationship is doomed to failure.
People think that because something is odd to them they have permission to interrogate you. When I lived in Newark, NJ, which has a VERY low Asian population people would stop me and my then boyfriend on the street and ask us how we knew each other. It would always make me laugh a bit when other Black women would say things like “I hope you two get married. The kids will be adorable!” All I could think , “yeah or they can look just like me”.
Holly: I definitely get the “what are you?” questions, although less and less over the years. I assume that’s a little bit about being more around older, more circumspect people as opposed to naive college kids, and maybe a little bit about changing social attitudes. When it comes to partners, I’ve definitely experienced the confused/disapproving frown — although honestly, it’s always been hard to tell the difference between someone giving the stinkeye beacause of my race / lack of easily-identifiable race or someone giving me the stinkeye because I’m holding hands with a white girl. Or someone giving me the stinkeye because they perceive us as two girls holding hands! When it comes to conversations, where you can get a little more info than from a stinkeye… well, see above. I’m not always sure that people who WOULD say anything to me can even comprehend that I’m someone’s girlfriend.
Ken: I struggle with this one. To me it seems like the past five years really where people look at me and think to themselves, ‘You don’t fit my neat conceptions of human beings, so I need you to wear a t-shirt this lists who you are.’ The one I most often receive is, ‘You don’t look Jewish. Where does it come from?’ None of your business is where it comes from, unless I already know you. Because most people, even when they look and sound sincere, have ulterior motives for asking that are beyond mere curiosity. As for the unsolicited comments… well I think it’s just ignorance really. People ain’t brought up the way they used to be. As my mom says, ‘They don’t know any better. If they knew better, they’d do better.’ And since I am an educator by profession, I don’t always feel like turning my identity into a teachable moment on the bus/plane/sidewalk/party all the time.
What are your thoughts on the stories in the IR dating supplement (the side bar to the second Essence article?)
Liz: Three of the four couples seemed like they have some sort of identity issue, and I gave many of their responses a side-eye. While I think it’s great for people to date outside their race, I think it’s difficult at times tot ell who is doing it for genuine reasons, or from a place of pain with their own race. In the end, it’s none of my business and I’m not the dating police. People so that they want to do, but Essence didn’t seem to find much depth here.
Jen: Some of the comments leave me a little speechless and I wish that there was more depth instead of a couple of questions that merely scrape the surface. Some of the people sound very superficial and it’s hard to tell if that’s really the way they think or if it’s just the way they are being portrayed by Essence. One woman says that she likes it when people look at she and her partner because they are so beautiful, and earlier she talks about steering clear of black men because of the disappointing experiences she has had with other black men in the past. It’s clear that stereotypes of other races have played a part in some of the interviewees’ choices. Not everyone though. There is a mix of people – those who seem to buy into the stereotypes and others who question and challenge them. I always hope for journalists who try to deeply understand the experience. Too often we get fluffy stories that don’t do these relationships justice. There is so much to look at, but most go for the wow factor – comments that are going to get people’s attention. This isn’t always helpful in understanding interracial relationships in a three-dimensional way.
N’jaila: Can I just comment on how cringe inducing the little interviews with some interracial couples were. “Asian men are my match because of their family values, Black men were disappointing so I jumped ship” Really ALL OF THEM? Have you met ALL Black men or ALL Asian men to make such an assumption. If I gave up on every race of man that ever disappointed me I would be a lesbian and listening to my LGBT friends talk about their dating lives I would assume that I would just have to give up human contact all together.
I think there is a big difference between being open to “something new” and looking for a partner of another race to solve what you perceived to be the innate deficiencies with people of your race. I really wish they would stop spotlighting people that like this , because I know people are going to judge me by these airheaded words. I find the people that are the most vocal about their IR relationships are always the last people that should be having them.
Ken: I agree with you, N’jaila. There is that huge difference as to the motivation for being in / looking for an IR. I’d like to see more stories about people who were always ‘into something new’ or who merely have never limited themselves to dating one race.
Anything else you want to add, that we didn’t cover above?
Jozen: I guess it would be, don’t put your confusion about who I am onto me or any other mixed race people who are comfortable being themselves. Just the other day someone asked me, “What is with your obsession with black culture?” And it’s like, how do I even answer that. Is that person asking me in a roundabout way if I’m black or if I’m mixed? There are mixed people who aren’t trying to play both sides or mulitple sides, mulattoes who aren’t tragic, believe it or not. We identify culturally and socially with other people, and if we’re comfortable with that, it should be respected. If my comfort in my own skin confuses you and makes you wonder what I am, feel free to ask and don’t look so uncomfortable or sound so ignorant when doing so.
Jen: This is a great conversation! The only other thing I would say is: I encourage people to look a little deeper. Interracial relationships (similar to mixed race people) are still intriguing to people because of the visual impact of the mix of “races.” So we focus our attention on that which pops out – usually the things that we see. I hope that people will start to dig a little deeper. If interested in an interracial couple’s experience, try to learn about how they interact. What makes each partner love the other. Where their values overlap and where they deviate. It’s not always about racial difference. Same with mixed race people – learn about the person…not just the racial ingredients that have mixed to create the face they have.
Holly: There are some fascinating things you can do on the internet when it comes to multiracial stuff. Try googling “mixed-race babies” or “multiracial babies.” People want photos!! They want to know what these kids look like. Or they want to post photos of how cute their baby is, but they’re emphasizing the mixed-race part of it more than most people would emphasize their infant child’s race.I think part of this is the visual fascination, but part of it is from parents who can’t imagine what their kids might look like in an interracial relationship. They’re worried that the kids might look more like one parent than the other, etc. It’s like a little nexus of racial anxiety. Another good one is to do searches like “is (insert name of even remotely racially-ambiguous celebrity) mixed / multiracial” and see how popular those search terms are. People also ask the “what is” question about these celebrities a lot — I guess it’s just the famous-person level of “I need to categorize you!”
Liz: It’s funny I decided to be on the Mixed round table as opposed to the Black round table. Usually I don’t get to pick the “mixed” anything, so this was an interesting exercise. I wasn’t sure how Mixed my responses were, as they felt Black to me. Whatever that means.
N’jaila: Well I think the voices of mixed people that are seen as Black need to be heard too so people can figure out finally that we exist.
Ken: Ditto N’jaila’s comment.