A roundtable of experiences, reflections, and hot takes regarding interracial dating (Part 2).

Hot Pot is a weekly thing where we gather around a topic that happens to be on our minds, talking to each other and readers alike. If you’ve got a take of your own, you should join us in the comments below.

This week: interracial dating, generally. This is part 2 of a multi-part series, and includes takes by Melissa Chastang, Randy Chen, and Sweet Potato. (See the following links for Part 1 and Part 3). 

  • Melissa Chastang

Interracial dating: it ain’t for everybody. Interracial dating: only the strong survive. Interracial dating: have you seen that new Jordan Peele trailer?

Well no, it’s not that bad. (The trailer is AWFUL.) But to pick up the theme in other posts, my racial identity is a lot of who I am, and as far as I can tell, that’s by design of the society I grew up in. Here’s as basic of an example as I can muster up.

As a lighter-skinned black woman, I am frequently asked the question: “What are you?” I have all kinds of sarcastic responses to this question, but the inquirer will usually get to this answer: “I’m black.” Skeptics persist: “Black mixed with what?” Response: “Black mixed with black.” It’s a beautiful concoction, if I do say so myself. It’s also one that I have been defining my entire life and one that necessarily defines me. Consider again the question “What are you?” and all of the potentially correct responses: a human being, an American, a Southerner, a woman, a lawyer. Consider again the actual correct answer, before anything else: a black person. You see where it might matter to my understanding of who I am at the core.

It’s hard to reject the subtle and not-so-subtle color lines that have been messaged and re-messaged via every possible medium when you’re taking on what is likely the most personal and emotionally vulnerable relationship of your adult life. It takes a special couple to navigate those waters. My one foray into cross-cultural dating included being told that dating a black girl was sure to be viewed as a step down by his parents but he would probably still come out ahead since I went to Harvard. He meant it to be funny. You’re all wondering so, no, it was not a white person. It was however only a very short while to the end of us dating from there.

All that being said, I’m not sure that an interracial relationship is much different than any other hyphenation of modern dating. Maybe we should ask the long-distance couple or the double-digit age difference couple. Is it just another divide you decide to put up with to be with someone you love? What I know for me is that I don’t want an interracial relationship or a long-distance one or a large age difference. Relationships are enough work without adding a blackness primer on top.

  • Randy Chen

It always comes in the form of a question. A year or so ago, I attended one of those office parties where everyone gets dressed up and brings their significant other to a dinner event. Gross, I know, I’m sorry, peer pressure is real. Anyway, our office is pretty big, and so at this party, I found myself making small talk with a couple I was meeting for the first time, a white guy and an Asian woman. He asked me whether I had brought someone, I said I had, and he asked me where she was, and I said I didn’t see her at the moment, but that you could recognize her by her red hair. The guy then grinned and said, “She’s white? Nice, so you’ve made it then!” I stared at him blankly and asked, “What do you mean?” At this point, when he realized I wasn’t going to give him a high five or anything, he stammered and changed the subject and eventually, we all found someone else to talk to. We didn’t talk again that night, and I haven’t seen that guy since.

But obviously, I knew exactly what he meant. He thought that for an Asian (and especially an Asian guy), dating someone white was tantamount to reaching the mountaintop. This was sad on multiple levels. It was sad that he thought this in the first place, and it was sadder still that he was so assured in his understanding of the dating world’s racial hierarchy that he assumed an Asian stranger that he had known for about ten minutes similarly subscribed to his view. It was even sadder on a broader level, because I know he is not unique in holding this view — any minority who has spent any amount of time in the American dating landscape has probably felt the impact of these views firsthand. And finally, it was even more sad that while I could make him feel sheepish for saying what he said, there was nothing I could do to dissuade him from his view. I couldn’t, for instance, bang my fist on the table and loudly announce to him and the whole room, “WELL ACTUALLY, in OUR interracial relationship, we DON’T buy into white supremacy THANK YOU VERY MUCH.” That would just not be behavior befitting of an office gala, where people are just trying to enjoy their charcuterie in peace. So, altogether, a sad experience.

But this experience made me think. If I am to be truly honest with myself, I have to admit that I have felt a reflex to date outside my race. And if intermarriage statistics are any indication, there’s at least some evidence to indicate that we Asians may feel this reflex disproportionately compared to other demographic groups. (In 2010, 28% of Asians married outside their race, compared to 26% of Hispanics, 17% of blacks, and 9% of whites).  

Melissa, this is why I find your take so interesting. What causes me to feel this reflex to a greater degree than you do? No doubt it has at least some root in the difference between our respective experiences, black and Asian, here in America. I would guess that this difference includes, to name just a few from my perspective, a push in Asian communities to assimilate into mainstream white American culture and a greater likelihood of a language barrier between parent and child. (And I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this difference and the effect of this difference as well).

Don’t get me wrong. I obviously don’t think it’s a bad thing that Asians exhibit a higher propensity to marry/date outside their race. After all, I’ve been living (happily) in a glass house for several years now. But I think if we are to be real with ourselves, and if we are going to explore why this is the way it is and what this might say about us, there are tough questions about assimilation’s consequence that we would be remiss not to confront. For instance: Does it impart notions of racial hierarchy with greater efficacy? Does it ingrain them so that they are harder to shake? And how does it affect how we might regard our own once we’re grown?

I guess what I’m trying to say is this. It’s true that often, interracial relationships can work for a greater good–they bring two different people together and can have a meaningful impact on how an entire family encounters race (though as Lava points out, the family reception is not always so positive). But sometimes, as I was reminded at that party, they play right into peoples’ conceptions of racial hierarchy and can work to entrench them. So to me, being aware of these tough questions and searching for answers to them plays an important role in aligning our relationship with the former, rather than the latter circumstance.

I’m still working out the answers myself. Would love to hear other takes.

  • Sweet Potato

in reference to Randy’s story: I think Bruce Lee’s grandfather hooked up with a German lady. That was like in the 1800s or something – he definitely had it made! So Bruce Lee was something like a quarter Chinese then? I’ve heard that some kung fu masters didn’t like him and wouldn’t teach him stuff cause he was mixed.

Also, my wife wanted to point out that this aforementioned implicit racial hierarchy exists outside of the US as well. In India and China, dating a white person may not be necessarily approved of, but it would definitely not be looked down upon as much as interracial dating with someone of color. Perhaps this hierarchy was reinforced by the British rule in India and China, which may have ingrained associations with power and privilege. It makes me think of all the elite clubs in Hong Kong filled with rich, white expatriates.

Also, racism and ignorance towards outsiders is pretty much the norm outside the US, basically anywhere there is a large homogenous cultural majority, except that it isn’t taboo; racism really isn’t considered an issue. The fact that we can have this discussion is actually kind of like progress.

I would guess whether or not an interracial relationship is viable depends on how big a role race and culture plays in their life i.e. a function of the degree to which someone’s self-identity depends on it and it’s associated cultural norms and their willingness to embrace someone else’s.

Education and exposure have a role in shifting people’s identities away from being dependent solely on their racial background. Having a cross-cultural background can do the same. However, sometimes such experiences can cause people to hold more strongly to their racial identities (not the same as being close minded).

If someone’s racial background is a core part of their identity, they may still be compatible with someone of a different race who is willing to assimilate. Otherwise, interracial relationships require identities that are a bit more pliable and individuals that are willing to compromise a little.

8 replies on “Interracial Dating, Generally (Part 2)

  1. There’s this like red/orange gold flavor packet with cautionary flames and skulls printed on the foil. It’s universal language for once you drop this into the hot pot, there is no going back. Really, no words… amazing.

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  2. In reaction to Randy’s insightful thoughts – I dated (am now married to) a white guy. A very wonderful white guy. But I definitely have felt residual guilt over the internalization of racial hierarchy in America, especially with regards to dating. I think for better or worse Asian women have it a lot easier in the American dating landscape, partially owing to racist stereotypes about how “exotic” we are, whereas I’ve read Asian men are the demographic with the least success in American online dating. They don’t have a “home” demographic that will always be willing to date them – i.e. most white women will usually select that they are open to dating white men, black men will select black women, but Asian women don’t always select Asian men as people they want to date.

    I have wondered at times whether, as an Asian-American woman, I should try harder to date Asian men. And I can’t help thinking there was some element of a racist “marrying up” to my dating preferences that feels a little traitorous. BUT at the same time, if one keeps an open mind as to who is a potential dating partner, love = love right?? All relationships are complicated in their own way, and race is one aspect of that, albeit a very big one. One that seems to feel like a bigger deal ever since the election, but that’s another can of worms.

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    1. Yeah it’s a really complicated dynamic for sure. I think it’s incredible that you are even willing to honestly evaluate the external forces that compel us to do things as personal as choosing a life partner. We are all shaped by our experiences, and it’s interesting how our experiences in relationships can either validate the the beauty within all of us, or deconstruct or own worth. And the latter leaves terrible scars. Randy and I have had plenty of personal exchanges to that regard, and I’m sure he would agree that none of us would assign any imperatives (who anyone “should” relate to) when it comes to dating. As Chastang mentions, it’s so deeply personal. But I think just having these conversations is an amazing place to start. To be able to share stories allows us to better understand something of both ourselves and of society. And it nudges us to stand and examine the hierarchies which we ascend… even if we’ve climbed them to the “mountaintop,” though I use that word only as a cynical reference to anyone being openly congratulated for “dating/marrying up.” =) I think we can all agree that we’re just lucky if any of us can actually find an honest and life-affirming love ❤

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    2. Thanks for the similarly insightful and honest thoughts! For what it’s worth and as Jay also noted, I certainly don’t think there’s anything “traitorous” about dating outside one’s race–people are people first, and the happenstance of their skin color should in no way dictate who they choose to date or love.

      So I agree that love is love. Reading Melissa’s post, though, I couldn’t help but think–why did she and I experience such a different degree of racial gravity in our search for it? I think to an extent, this is because my parents were immigrants. And when you are an immigrant, you are much more likely to encourage your children to buy into the social/professional structures of the place you have immigrated to. This approach has benefits to be sure, but I think in going all in to these structures, it’s not uncommon for the children of immigrants to, as you point out, internalize at least to some extent (whether consciously or not) other structures that are more unsavory (i.e., racial hierarchy).

      I think for me, my takeaway from this conversation is that a person’s upbringing has such an important effect on how they interact with the society they are released into and how they end up finding love within that society. From when they’re a young age, are they taught to go all in to the system? Or are they taught to resist it? If I’m honest with myself, I think my own upbringing probably trended too much toward the former. And if I ever have kids of my own, I think I’d want them to be more aware of the importance of the latter. I’d want them to know that love is love, but also to be able to discern and resist the color hierarchies that are ingrained within our society that may be improperly weighting how they evaluate when that equation is satisfied.

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts–hope to hear more from you!

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      1. Agree. In response to your question of why some feel the gravity of racial identity in dating more than others–I think how you came to be part of the American “melting pot” plays a crucial role. If your ancestors were violently uprooted to be sold as slaves on American soil, and your parents/grandparents were systematically subjugated to discrimination and hate, your decisions and actions as they relate to your choices on community, friendship, and love will of course be informed by this inescapable history. Often not even in a conscious way. Whereas if you came to America as an immigrant seeking to make better life, your choice to come is already one of willing integration. We are to an extent, all a product of our past, our communities, our environment.

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  3. Appreciate the reflections here. These posts got me thinking about the third culture that is created through interracial dating (i.e., the culture created by the integration of partner 1’s culture and partner 2’s culture) . I think this third space which may be contentious at times is a wonderful opportunity to create common ground between two cultures that may be very different (e.g., collectivist cultural values versus individualistic cultural values).

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    1. I agree. I think a lot of us incidentally focused on the challenges of interracial dating (But not all, see James Smyth in part 3). But finding true partnership and love across racial and cultural boundaries is perhaps an epitome of reconciliation and community-building. When we learn to celebrate other backgrounds and histories in deep and real ways–ways that uplift each other without demanding personally compromising uniformity–it has the potential to carves out new space in which we’re allowed to transcend boundaries of color, politics, and economics. You’re right in that just because it’s hard doesn’t mean there isn’t perhaps some inherent beauty and value.

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  4. As a Brit I do find America still very hung up about interracial dating. I’m a white guy and have dated black women, and nobody batted an eyelid. Neither me, nor the women received a hard time for it, at least while in the UK. I think in the UK, your accent is more likely to be picked up on, as that can signify either class, or whether you’re a recent immigrant (though that rarely receives negative comments, more curiosity of where someone is from).

    Interesting article though, and I might write something on my blog (https://engineeringdad.wordpress.com/) on the subject.

    Liked by 1 person

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