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June 19, 2000 e-mail e-mail to a friend in need

Interracial Dating

When the issue of interracial dating recently came to the fore, BG found herself bobjonesing to know: what have your experiences been, in places where it's actually allowed, or "allowed"? (Unlike, say, in Virginia pre-1967, where marriage between blacks and whites was prohibited until a state statute was held to violate the Constituion's equal protection clause. Guess that's when they deleted "certain" from before "lovers.")

Anyway, I said Do Tell, and tell you did. In fact, responses to that question filled our thickest DT file to date. And here's a sampling (more collage than BG analysis/advice, mind you).

Why was the file so full? Partly because -- at least comparatively -- there are so darn many of you these days. (Over half of teens polled in 1997 by USA Today/Gallup said they'd dated someone of another race -- a 40% jump from 1980.)

But I have to say, I was nervous when Friday handed it to me. Ever the worrier, I expected the worst. Page after page of disaster. Guess I figured if interracial dating were no big, you wouldn't bother writing.

Happy to say I was really, really wrong. You were psyched, and you wanted to share. Of course, as Susan (52 and white, who dated a black man in a conservative workplace without ruffling a feather) wrote, "You'd have to be naive to think that society has fully accepted interracial relationships." Well, yeah. But letter after letter said some version of -- as Mary wrote -- "He is [fill in the blank] and I am [...fill in a different blank]. It is not that 'race is never an issue,' but that we love all aspects of the other person's personality and physical appearance."

Or...Carla: "He's white, North Shore, and Republican. I'm black, Chicagoan, and liberal. He's an engineer, I'm an analytical chemist. You couldn't ask for two more different people. But we have found common ground and created a supportive, nurturing relationship. The issue of race never comes up, unless some outside element -- such as a disapproving glance -- makes us aware."

And...Vesper57: "If I had been closed to the idea of dating out of my race, I would have missed the opportunity of my life."

Tina: "My interracial long-distance relationship was one of the most fulfilling that I have ever had. When I didn't see him for a long time, the first thought that I used to have when we met was, 'Boy, I didn't remember him as being so white!' But after five minutes with him, I'd remember that nobody accepted me or allowed me to be myself more completely than he did. He says the same of me."

Nelson: "You reach a point where you 'forget' the partner is of another race. May is the person with whom I share everything; I don't think of her as the black person with whom I share everything. That said, I'm always conscious of the fact that May is black and I welcome it because her family traditions and culture bring so much to our relationship. I guess interracial relationships that work neither are built upon nor avoid the question of race and identity. There's a saying African-Americans use in 'diversity training sessions' that confuses the hell out of white folks: 'Forget I'm Black, and never forget I'm Black.' I didn't really understand that until May."

Heaps more missives testified to the corny as true: it is what's inside -- and between -- that counts. But not that what's outside doesn't, of course. I mean, OUTSIDEoutside. Many DTs -- like Carla's, above -- cited "stares and glares" as the only real source of race-/ difference-based discomfort. Seems you may need an extra layer of that all-too-important skin, as WJuly points out: "Like any other relationship, a mixed relationship requires an ability to focus on the things that are really important (trust, fidelity, intimacy, compassion). Then you must add to that the ability to shrug off the occasional stares, even frowns."

Likewise, CE: "Make sure you have a solid foundation as a couple -- you know, the prosaic stuff like common interests, similar goals in life, similar sense of humor, strong communication -- because you have to feel very secure in your relationship to counterract any negative reactions people may have toward you. You also should both be interested in learning about each others' cultures, and willing to be open and honest with each other about racial and cultural issues."

Or you can always look at it Sandy's way: "We have decided that we love being the center of attention when we go out in public!"

One kind of outside conflict comes from the inside:

Farrah: "I am a permanent resident of the world of interracial dating. I'm a 22-year-old Asian-American female who's hopelessly attracted to -- as a friend put it -- 'goofy-looking white guys.' (What can I say? I have a type.) I sense the most stares of disapproval emanating from my fellow Asian-Americans. The message is basically 'If you don't date Asian, you're not part of the club.' Other Asian-American women I know who 'date white' seem to have a prepared reason up their sleeve, should the question arise as to why they chose a white guy over a 'perfectly good Asian guy.' Why should there have to be a 'reason,' other than enjoying one another's company and appreciating one another as people? I just think it's upsetting that something so fun and carefree as young love should have to be so politically charged."

Shelley: "I have even found myself thinking things about my dates such as, 'Oh, all Hispanics are like that,' or 'I wonder if this is a white thing.'"

Morgan: "He's told me that by dating me and being seen with me he's alienating himself from the black community. I'm not even allowed to meet his family. It makes me feel guilty and somewhat invisible because I'm not allowed to meet his family and whenever we go out he's always got this distance between us."

Nelson: "May and I have found that as a white guy-black woman couple we get less of the overt hostility that black guy-white woman couples face. Even when we go to all black clubs, churches, etc. -- I'm a curiosity, but don't feel unwelcome (often the opposite). Our friends who are the other way around have had amazingly open hostility expressed in public places. I guess there's a pretty big perceived supply-and-demand reason for this."

Susan: "Men of my own race [white] are offended and threatened to know that I've dated African-American men. You become taboo to many of those men, once you've stepped over 'the line.'"

Here, from Angela, is one for the "How do you expect me to respond to that?!" files: "He told me he was dating me because I was white and he was trying to get back at the white man."

And, of course, from inside one's own home. Not just from parents of teens, either. Cat, a white woman married to a black man, broke my heart when she wrote: "I am not allowed at family gatherings or holidays. I drop my children off and pick them up."

If your relationship can flourish under such storm clouds, by the way, that's also a pretty good sign that it's based on more than "Exotic!" appeal...

Flip-Chic: "I dated a white guy who was interested in Asian culture -- played traditional music, visited Asia, etc. Then I began to wonder...did he see me as another element of his Asian-centric lifestyle? Certain comments he made, while flattering on the surface, started to seem more like the muses of a man mystified and inspired by all the 'exotic' beauties around him..."

Nelson: "Sometimes I wonder if it also 'helps' that May looks really 'black'-- i.e. dark skin tone -- so it doesn't look like I'm a white guy after an 'exotic' woman (i.e. year-round tan but doesn't look too 'African.')"

Lavinia: "Sometimes -- and this is rare -- my friends raise doubts as to why this white person might be interested in me -- he might just want to 'try' a black girl. I have never confirmed these suppositions and I don't believe them."

Katherine: "I think it's important not to get caught up in the glamour or rebellion of interracial dating. Choosing to date someone based on their skin color is as bad as choosing not to."

But if it can't, the race thing is not necessarily the "reason." Only one DTer, Katherine, blamed internal fissures on inherent difference: "I am a white anglo-saxon woman and I just recently stopped seeing a Pakistani man. Although it might not have worked out anyway, the stress of coming from completely different backgrounds and experiences made it impossible to work through some of the more run-of-the-mill issues."

Melanie: "A friend of mine, a white woman from a small midwestern town, had married a black man. Their marriage wasn't going well -- after fifteen years! -- yet she was hesitant to get divorced. She said, 'I don't want to get divorced, because everyone will think that they know the reason why."

Pat: "Mixed-race relationships are complicated, but not always more so than any other wrench-in-the-works relationship, i.e. 'I already have kids, want to date me?' or 'You're not Jewish so I'm not supposed to marry you; want to get hitched?' The thing is people break up all the time, and when the 'reasons' aren't so 'obvious,' people go 'Oh, what a shame.' But when an interracial couple breaks up (like my sister), people go, 'SEE?!' It's infuriating. But in the end, maybe helpful and educational -- because if you pay attention to stuff like that, maybe you eventually figure out that nobody's got it perfect. But the other good part is that -- well, when I basically married my IDENTICAL TWIN, we were totally lazy about maintaining our relationship and it just crumbled from neglect. But in relationships where the challenge is more overt, I wonder if people go into it knowing it's going to take work and feeling all 'you and me against the world, baby!' so you don't get smacked upside the head when it turns out that... 'Oh yeah, this is that work part. Well, let's do it!"

Perhaps this is why Cat -- even Cat -- says: "I do not regret becoming involved in an interracial relationship. You do not choose whom you fall in love with. If you have doubts or fears just follow your heart."



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