A roundtable of experiences, reflections, and hot takes regarding interracial dating (Part 3).

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 3 of a multi-part series, and includes takes by Jon Deng, Jay Zhu, James Smyth, and Gina Brittney Ann. (See the following links for Part 1 and Part 2).

  • Jon Deng

If this topic were entitled interracial friending, would anybody be against? If so many people are willing to befriend others of a different race, but not date, there must be something about dating that people feel is potentially too fragile to cross the race divide. Sex? Families having to meet each other? Potentially pooling all your assets?

I don’t think it’s a problem, as others mentioned earlier, of having to constantly explain yourself. Growing up in the Midwest, and then later serving in the Army, I faced my share of “are you Chinese and Japanese?”, “what is that strange thing you’re eating?”, “why does your family share all their food at restaurants?”, “why do you have to go to Chinese school on Saturday”, “are you a real American?”

Most of those people were well meaning if not super tactful and we became friends of sorts afterward.

I think people are wary of interracial dating not because they have to explain themselves, but because they have to expose themselves. Your partner sees you naked, not just physically but mentally. And what if they don’t like what they see?

I think it’s the vulnerability that makes interracial dating so scary–we deal with complex power structures and misunderstandings outside in society, but we have our armor on then, and things can’t hurt us as much.  But nobody wants to have to wear the armor at home too.

  • Jay Zhu

I grew up swimming competitively, and continued to do so through my freshman year of college before I decided to hang up the goggles. It was my first taste of masochism—a gateway drug of sorts (we’ll talk the hard powder that is surgery residency in future posts). But distance freestyle was my jam, and throughout high school, I was consistently swimming 60-70 km, or roughly 20-25 miles, per week. The first two girls I ever dated/liked were swimmers. They were also white. For a period of time, I actually found it terribly unattractive if a girl had poor freestyle technique. It was a deal-breaker.

As mentioned and reiterated previously, interracial dating is complicated. It’s hard. We look for dating partners who understand and uplift us in deep and personal ways. We also give our partners unusual power to validate/celebrate our very humanity. If you don’t appreciate what it is to jump into a cold pool at 5 AM and grind out 15k meters in 3 hours, you won’t have much to offer when races are won and lost by fractions of a second. And swimming…well, that’s just a fucking sport.

In terms of interracial dating, I think it’s probably useful to distinguish between couples comprised of two people from distinct minority backgrounds and couples that pair a minority individual with a white American. Because in a broad sense, the challenges of interracial dating reflect in some small way the difficulties we face on a societal level as we struggle to move our conversations from weak-ass “tolerance” (Hey, I got nothing against Asians…) to meaningful cross-cultural understanding (Err… what do I know about filial piety? And how do I comment on stereotypes of Asian masculinity??).

For starters, I’ve witnessed only a few double-minority, cross-cultural dating relationships (how-you-like-them-hyphens, Melissa!). But from my made up position of armchair matchmaker, there seems to be a shared burden of understanding and growth distributed between both parties. This makes sense because most minorities won’t spend a significant amount of time truly immersed in other minority cultures, be it Black, Hispanic, Asian, Arab, or other. So joining two people from separate minority backgrounds means both have a responsibility to learn and gain fluency in their partner’s cultural terrain. In essence, the challenge of navigating this new cross-cultural territory is at least being covered from both sides.

But it’s different when we talk about minorities sharing in the culture of an American majority (read: white). To live in America is to by default become familiar with a landscape inhabited by many, but shaped mostly by a white majority. No judgment in this statement—just reiterating sociopolitical fact. I have sat in white classrooms, mingled with white professors, watched the TV shows, attended the parties, and even wandered into a Pottery Barn once. From the perspective of potentially dating a white American, I’ve kind of already studied the cultural game tape.

The problem here, though, is that if we are truly equal partners, doesn’t that mean you should work as hard to adopt and celebrate my background as I have already worked to assimilate into yours? And yet, certain dynamics of race and social capital (which Randy unpacks with uncanny insight in a hot take artificially enhanced by jetlag) prevent this from being the norm. Because invariably in America, I will be more comfortable with whiteness than almost any white woman will be with Asian-ness, and this creates a slope that slips toward the comforts of the white partner. How many white individuals truly welcome the struggle to assimilate into a minority culture? Not in the token “hey, I’ll come and wade in the pool” kind of way. But in the “I’ll jump in the deep end and flail tirelessly until I learn to swim all four strokes because I want to belong here” kind of way (sorry, James Smyth, you are clearly the exception).

Swimming beautiful freestyle is not the deal-breaker anymore. But diving in and immersing yourself is. Of course, all of this perhaps had a more personal ring before I got married just a few months ago. My wife is Asian American, and she slays.

  • James Smyth

My wife is Taiwanese, and we spent our entire courtship in Taiwan. The days before our chance meeting I’d gotten to thinking about booking my ticket home to the U.S. for good, but meeting her changed my mind. Even though we came from different native languages and cultures and ethnicities, from the beginning I found it easier to communicate with her than with any other woman I’d ever met. Though our racial differences are readily apparent, I’ve always considered them superficial because we can communicate our feelings to each other in a way I’ve never managed with anyone else before.

Interracial relationships seem not to be as big a deal in Taiwan because the country’s predominant political narrative is intraracial: In numerous families, dating someone from the other side of the world is less likely to raise eyebrows than is dating someone from a politically “rival” Taiwanese ethnic group, particularly if that person’s family is from the other side of the blue-green political divide. Hence I believe interracial dating is a live issue in the United States because race is still an effective means to politically divide and conquer. I’m very fortunate that thanks to the hard work and sacrifices of past civil rights activists, I could return to the States with my wife and then-unborn son this year; if miscegenation laws were still on the books, I wouldn’t have come back.

  • Gina Brittney Ann

Much like Melissa, my racial identity is at the core of my being. I look black. I think black. I love black.

I have dated other “others” on occasion but never someone who self-identified as (just) white. It’s not that I’m opposed to idea. In fact, part of me finds it appealing. How lovely would it be to smile in the faces of those who judged us for going against their antiquated anti-miscegenation ideals? Personifying the rejection of their backwards thinking would bring me quite a bit of pleasure. But still I don’t.

When I think of love, I inevitably think of the curl of my children’s hair, the broadness of their noses, the melanin running across their bodies and the history in our bones. James Baldwin* once said “To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.” Regardless of my soulmate’s** race–that made-up category that we (self included) have clung to so tightly for so long–our children will be black. I will be black. We will be conscious. Together, we will need his support to not let the rage taint our souls nor the world confuse and convince us that we are anything less than magic.

While I know of many who are curious about being black (in America specifically) and/or support us as allies (for which we are grateful), there is something special about this lived experience. There are some things that my life partner will need to know from his own experience – things that I cannot or do not want to explain. Perhaps this doesn’t require that we share the same race but it does seem to help.

My views on interracial dating have shifted over time and I expect that they will continue to do so.*** For now, my perspective supports you doing whatever you think is best for your life (with a consenting adult) and finding someone who loves you fully. I’m trying to do the same.

*Go see “I Am Not Your Negro”. It will be in theatres on February 3rd.

**I’m picking it back up, Roaming. Maybe it’ll get more meaning as more of us use it.

***Shout out to God for continued growth!

7 replies on “Interracial Dating, Generally (Part 3)

  1. It’s awesome to be a part of this conversation – you are all showing me so much. I considered writing another full post on this topic but Gina has written a lot of what I left unwritten so I’ll piggy back on her words. I love black people. Unapologetically. Fully. Brazenly. I want other people to know this, and for me who I choose to be with is an expression of that love. That is one way to answer Randy’s question about why I do not feel compelled to date outside my race. Another answer though is about protection. True or not, there is a we all we got mentality running through my conscious. It says, if we don’t love us, who will? It also says, tangentially, who can love us better than us? Maybe this sense isn’t as strong for non-black people. I know not all black people feel it as strongly. I can only speak for me. I want to press Jon a little bit because the “not super tactful” friendship “of sorts” you’re describing doesn’t sound like the stuff that a lifetime of intimacy is built on – I do think the constant explanations are a barrier…of sorts. Certainly a surmountable one, but there. And I find it fascinating that some of us have been explicitly told to date/marry someone of another race. Except in instances of dire predictions (there just aren’t enough “good” black men out there!), I have only ever been told the opposite. It sounds like many of us are simply the products of our various societal forces. I just didn’t appreciate how different the forces were.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. In regards to why some feel compelled to date outside there race, and others feel just the opposite, I think immediate history factors into this quite a bit. For Black Southerners, the very origin of coming to American is forever tied to a history of violent upheaval from Africa, followed by slavery and systematic subjugation in America. All because of skin color. It is a history empty of choice, and I can imagine that such a history might influence how someone chooses a community and chooses a life partner.

      My family, on the other hand, immigrated willingly to America. They were granted asylum after the Tianenmen Square Massacre. I think for my dad, especially, he was more than willing to give up China as home, and embrace a new one in America. The presence of choice compared to the presence of violence–it matters where histories differ because whether we admit it or not, our histories inform our present choices.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. For both my husband (first generation Nigerian-American) and I (first generation Taiwanese-American), racial/cultural identity and the hopeful preservation of that identity for future children is very important. What has allowed our relationship to work when we probably both had it in our minds that we would end up not in an interracial marriage was that we identified something that was even more central to who we were (in our case, being Christian) that was the same. (To those who would pause to say here, “but wouldn’t it be enough that you are both human beings?”, I would simply say, no – quite honestly, my racial identity, because of both inward and outward forces, outplays that.)

    I do also think that our marriage does also benefit from the fact that we are both children of immigrants and therefore more accustomed to navigating between differing cultures and with the constant reminder that people can act, think, and value things differently than you. That being said, I fully agree with all the contributors that say that interracial relationships are difficult. It is a rare person, indeed, who is willing to jump in and engage with the messiness and relentlessness of identity and culture, expectations and assumptions, stereotypes and aggressions, but that is what makes it so worth it when you do find it. We may not have the shared experience that lets us settle into understanding naturally, but we have the commitment keep on trying to communicate and empathize.

    I also wanted to bring up something that Maya Angelou wrote about in her book Mom & Me & Mom. When she told her mom that she was going to marry a white (Greek) man, her mom said, “Why would you do that? You are only inviting the mistrust of your people and the disdain of his people,” which I have found to be extremely true. Being in an interracial relationship definitely makes you more visible and therefore subject to the assumptions and general foolishness of those around you, with no guaranteed safe/anonymous space. Also, on top of that, there are also the naive comments (“You are going to have THE CUTEST babies” – to which my usual reply is “I hope you find someone of a difference race to have a baby with so you can have cute babies too.”).

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for sharing, Grace! It’s definitely an important distinction to make between celebrating a culture/identity versus declaring a culture/identity superior to others. I think it stands as a key difference between reconciliation and hate, or more tangibly the difference between a gay pride march and a white supremacy rally. One thing you said really resonates with me: it’s not so important the inherent knowledge any of us have of each other, but the sheer willingness to learn more. It’s definitely one of the huge blessings of being immigrants is that despite all the bumps and scars of our own journies, we have been equipped to navigate new landscapes. Cheers to 2017 and navigating what lies ahead… !

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have read all three parts of this series and found it very interesting. I’m white and first generation Australian (my parents are English) and what you wrote was so eloquent and enlightening.

    My husband is also white but we differ on everything from religion (I’m Christian, he’s atheist) to politics (I’m left of center, he’s right). Even my English background can create surprising and unexpected differences between us. And so, with all of this to navigate, I have sometimes wondered how loving and marrying a non-white man would have further complicated things.

    I would say that the thing that makes our, and any, marriage work is respect. If two people, regardless of race, can respect and celebrate each other’s differences then there’s a good chance their relationship will last. Love is wonderful but it’s not always enough. Love with respect and communication though can be a winner.

    Liked by 1 person

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