Thursday, August 18, 2011

Racialicious hosts roundtables on interracial dating

Catch me over at Racialicious where Essence magazine's feature on interracial dating has sparked several multi-part roundtable discussions.

What types of messages did you receive about interracial relationships growing up?
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Damon: It’s possible that Pittsburgh, Pa is a cultural vacuum. Actually, “possible” isn’t the right word. “More than fucking likely” fits a little bit better. I’m bringing this up because, while I’ve always been aware that people of different races could date, sleep with, and marry each other, it never really entered my consciousness as something that people actually did until I got to college. I even remember having a slight crush on a white classmate in 8th grade, but never approaching her or even mentioning it to anybody because, well, that’s just not what people did.
What made this feeling even weirder was that it wasn’t rooted in any racial hang-ups and/or neurosis. It — interracial dating — just didn’t compute as a possibility because I never saw any of my peers do it. I guess it’s kind of like the KFC Double Down in that way. I wouldn’t have fathomed that you could make a chicken/meat/chicken sandwich until I actually saw it done.
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Ashley: I always joke that I didn’t “discover” race until I attended Howard University. Sure, I knew the different colors of the ‘racebow’, but I didn’t know what it meant for me or my peers. I grew up in a predominantly white suburb in Michigan (right outside of Detroit and not too far from 8 mile…). There were a ton of interracial relationships in my family. For the longest time I assumed my white aunts were just fair-skinned black women. Our family didn’t talk about race, but we were still “black” (if that makes sense). Meaning, you could catch anything from B.I.G to Bill Withers on the stereo on any given day. So the messages that I received were that it was, “all good.” I don’t recall any funny looks or whispered conversations about the interracial couples in our family. My uncles didn’t run to the family bbq expecting an award for bringing a woman of a different race around. It was something we were just all used to seeing.
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Andrea: My maternal family–especially my mom and aunts, who were the last two generations to see that “whites-only” sign racism in the US–let me know that it was not OK to get with the ofay. Other men of color were seen as “not quite” what the fam wanted to see me bring home to them. But my mom also said that, if she had her preference in seeing an interracial couple–like you, N’jaila, she thought of “interracial” as PoC and White pairings–she’d much rather see a Black woman with a White Man than a Black man with a White woman. In her mind, the Black woman is “getting hers.”
Mind you, none of these opinions mattered to me. I’ve been interracially dating and mating since my senior year in high school. My senior prom date was a White guy who asked me to go. I told my mom, and she adamantly said no. Determined to go to prom, I told my date to meet me there. I lied to Mom about going with anyone, insisting that I was going with my girl crew. She bought me the dress and accessories. I went and had a great time. Only when I casually displayed the prom photo did Mom figure it out. By then, what could she say? ::shrug:: My first kiss was with a White guy. My first sexual partner was a White guy. My ex-lovers have spanned and still span the “racebow” (love that phrase, Ashley!). The only person I ever loved deep down–and who loved me back–was a White woman. My long-term relationships, including my marriage, have been with White men. And no, I wasn’t moving up any socio-economic ladder with these pairings.
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Tami: I’m not sure that I received any messages growing up about IR dating. There are some IR relationships in my family, but the assumption likely was that I would eventually marry a black man (and I have), but in my youth I was a kid with an obsession for New Wave and English boys, so I doubt anyone would have been surprised had I brought home someone of a different race. I always grew up open to the idea of IR dating and did date people of various races when I was single.
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Read the full discussion...

The politics of speaking to other black folks


I grew up in a racially-mixed neighborhood of a rust belt "chocolate city." As in most Northern cities, no one in my town went out of their way to acknowledge, chat or bond with strangers--black or otherwise.

I experienced something different when I went away to university in Iowa, where I could spend all day and never see anyone who looked like me or shared my culture; where, in addition to all the fun of college, I experienced racial microaggressions by the ton. Something happens in that sort of situation, I've found. I began to thrill at encountering people who were black like me--or, heck, any people of color. There occurred this unspoken dance between black folks. Passing each other along a campus path or in the grocery store or laundromat, we would smile, nod and say hello--maybe strike up a conversation to get the low down about someone on campus who could do black hair or someone with a car who was looking for riders heading back Chicago way for Thanksgiving break. We would each part secure that we weren't alone--that there was a group to which we belonged. However small that group was, there was solidarity.

As comforting as this ritual was, it had its negative side. Black students who forgot the nod, smile and greet often enough were officially branded race traitors, particularly if they seemed too comfortable around white people. You would hear whispers: Such and such doesn't speak to black folks, accompanied by knowing looks and harumphs. I admit to being on the receiving end of that charge a few times, along with other variations of thinks she's white. And so, I am sensitive to it.

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