A reflection on interracial relationships and how they help us confront the incoherencies of race.
“Interracial relationship”. A term that I find so weird and out of place in the 21st century. Antiquated, really. Nonetheless, this is a term that is still used to this day to describe a relationship between two people who are of different races/cultures/ethnicities. For the sake of conciseness, the term “race” will be used in this article to express all three of these terms.
I’ve been giving this relationship qualifier quite some thought lately and in that process, I noticed a dormant issue I had with interracial relationships. This is not only absolutely ridiculous but laughably hypocritical, being that I am a product of one. Yet, hiding in the back of my mind, were the reservations I had about being romantically involved with someone who wasn’t Black, mixed, or Black adjacent. And ducking right behind that was the judgment I held against people who dated “outside their race” (another term I find completely outdated — no pun intended), specifically Black and mixed men dating women who weren’t Black in any way shape or form. I was stunned — mostly embarrassed, but stunned. What is that about?
After extensively discussing my qualms about interracial relationships with a close friend of mine, I realized that I never really had any problems with interracial dating at all but instead had internalized so much of the social taboo attached to it. In analyzing and researching the topic a little more, I found two general reasons that I think explain the nonsensicalness of the taboo, why we should get rid of it, and ultimately, how it demonstrates the non-utility of racial categories.
The first is the double-standard of gender, and the second is the politicization of Black identity which pushes adherence to the group before individuality. Men and women do not have the same experiences with interracial dating. Black women often get a pass for dating someone from a different racial background than them, whereas Black men are demonized for it. Nevertheless, both sides are judged and criticized by others due to the pressure of being an ideal representative of your race, and that means sticking with your own. That kind of pressure is omnipresent in the Black community, which 1) stems from the fact that Black identity is inextricably tied to a history of slavery and oppression and 2) is embodied by exigent group membership. Carrying all of this into the realm of dating and relationships seems unnecessarily heavy considering that it’s a fun and loving part of our lives, where we should be free of such scrutiny. And so it begs the question: are interracial relationships proof that we need to let go of our racial categories?
“It’s ok when Black women do it, but problematic for Black men.”…mmkay, but like why though?
It is impossible to discuss interracial relationships without considering the different ways in which Black men and women are affected by them. We cannot deny the huge impact that gender has on the preconceptions people have regarding this topic. Admittedly, I’ve been guilty of upholding such double standards, approving of Black women in interracial relationships while disavowing Black men doing the same. In the past, I’ve made jokes about how lucky I was that my mother was Black and not White because otherwise, I would be culturally out of touch with my Blackness like my counterparts who had a White mother. In the same token, I’ve given major side-eye to my Black and mixed guy friends/peers who dated non-Black women and went so far as feeling betrayed by their choice of partner. Yet I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. My thoughts and behaviour were echoed throughout the Black community. So why is it that we hold Black men and women to different standards when it comes to them dating interracially?
Certain cultural beliefs rooted in the past are thought to have led to the development of a particular set of behavioural patterns in Black men, that make them favour a lighter skin complexion or a more exotic look altogether. And it goes deeper than just looks. It apparently speaks to their deep self-hatred and internalized racism. Therefore choosing a non-Black partner is a way to escape from their blackness. And besides…Black women are “too loud and difficult” anyway.
The popular argument for Black women being “allowed” to date outside their race goes something like this: “They don’t have a choice, given that they are not sought after on their own, and unlike Black men, they know how to stay true to their roots.” This argument claims that because Black men are quick to dismiss Black women as non-viable partners, it becomes necessary for Black women to find love elsewhere. In other words, Black men tend to disregard Black women for their supposed lack of desirability thus forcing Black women to look for love outside of their community.
Beauty standards are to blame and what are they if not one of many racist constructs. Being that Eurocentric and/or ethnically ambiguous features are a projection of a racial hierarchy, and are held in higher esteem, placing Black women at a disadvantage. And who upholds and reinforces these standards? Black men.
You guessed it, we can’t talk about this further without delving into the “Black male psyche”. So let’s put on our Basement Psychologist glasses, shall we?
Essentially, Black men dating non-Black women are viewed as sell-outs deserting the women of their race. Black women, on the other hand, are justified in dating White men because when they do it, it’s for genuine love, and they won’t “sell out”; they stay committed to their roots. Black men are demonized for dating outside their race because it is automatically thought of as a manifestation of internalized racism and misogyny towards Black women. So, dating a non-Black woman is perceived as an “escape from their Blackness”, and thus as blatant disrespect towards Black women. But Black women are simultaneously excused for dating interracially because of that flagrant reaction and they are more likely to remain loyal to their community even though their partner isn’t from the same background.
What this double standard brings to the forefront are the “right and wrong ways of being a Black person”. The double standard sends the following message: being in an interracial relationship already knocks you down a few pegs because you are not with a partner of your race. To redeem yourself, you can demonstrate your unwavering adherence to your group and then maybe being a part of an interracial couple can be tolerated. But then again, unlike any other old relationship, interracial ones are held to a different standard and the people in them constantly feel the need to be subject to others’ scrutiny. Why is that?
Us versus them? Or is it us versus us?
The Black community is hyper-fixated on the people they “let in”. Whether it be allowing non-Blacks to use our lingo, integrate our spaces, and involve themselves romantically with Black people. I acknowledge that gatekeeping has become this sort of defense mechanism that we’ve learned to internalize to conserve our culture, but I argue that it is more so meant to inflate our sense of identity. As Steele puts it in his book The Content of Our Character, Black people have yet to come to terms with the inferiority complex they’ve developed throughout the centuries and controlling who gets access to them is one of many manifestations of their grappling with the inferiority complex. I see how this form of gatekeeping has bled into romantic relationships.
Interracial relationships are scrutinized from the Black point of view because dating outside our race is seen as betrayal, a sign of you renouncing your blackness. So the typical counter-reaction to that is to prove just how “down you are” by overplaying tropes we hate to begin with. We exaggerate our blaccent, our camaraderie with the people in our community, our knowledge of our culture, and generally overcompensating by proving just how woke you are. Shameless disclaimer: I have once again been guilty of all of this. But upon reflecting on my behaviour, I’ve come to ask myself: why am I doing this? Why do we do this? Why can’t we simply be with whomever we want, without having to constantly be asked to prove ourselves? I noticed that when Black people date a non-Black person, they often adopt the same way of speaking. They constantly refer to how much they know about slavery, colonialism and its legacies, etc. It’s like: “Yes, I’m dating this non-Black person, but I’m hyperaware of my experience as a Black person who is the descendent of so much suffering, and yes I know about the endless exploitation of Black people all around the world because the White colonizer is the root of all evil, and I let my partner know this every single day because I am unapologetically Black and they have to know respect, and love that about me…” and so on. It’s always unpleasant to witness this over compensatory behaviour in others or myself. And to be put to the test by Black peers is even more infuriating.
Why does liking someone different from you have to come with such racial weight?
I realized that I maybe posed more questions than I answered. But I believe that these are the types of questions we have to ask ourselves and each other, to face the reality. Racism has imbued all spheres of our lives and we need to recognize how it negatively impacts our interpersonal relationships as well as the relationship we have with ourselves. Dating and romantic relationships are difficult enough to navigate on their own, we shouldn’t add the extra weight of race in the mix. Psychologizing, historicizing, politicizing, and ultimately, racializing everything about our interpersonal interactions overcomplicates and depersonalizes them. It breeds resentment, miscommunication, and distance between each other, which is completely antithetical to healthy relationships. Finding someone to share your life with is challenging enough as it is, so why further complicate things by adding the burden of race and all that comes along with it?
Acknowledging and honouring the historical past will always remain important and can lead to profound and empowering self-discoveries. However, projecting past traumas into the present can prevent us from establishing beautiful connections with one another. Instead of focusing on past grievances and relying on them to build our sense of self, maybe the key is to actually let them go.