With one eye toward my next book, I wanted to take some time to look back on how far I’ve come as an author. Here is the first essay I had published; it was adopted from a research paper for a graduate course I took many years ago. For authenticity’s sake, I kept this piece exactly as it was all those years ago – worts and all. Peace
Our society would have us believe that interracial relationships are becoming more accepted. The racial landscape of America has changed drastically within the past forty years – the Civil Rights Movement helped repudiate laws and overt practices which barred Blacks from receiving rights and being treated equal to Whites; the Women’s Movement overturned laws and social practices which hindered women from making choices regarding their physical appearances, termination of pregnancies, and display of sexualities. Yet, interracial relationships are still taboo. The following are obstacles are inevitable for interracial couples. Overcoming these obstacles, however, will require moving beyond historical racial conflicts and unlearning the lessons on race relations that society continues to erroneously teach. And though our society discourages us from dating outside of our race, the benefits of engaging in interracial relationships have proved to be profound.
One of the first factors to consider when engaging in an interracial relationship are those persons – both strangers and loved ones – who are adamant about showing their disapproval for your partner. For multiple reasons, whether it’s ignorance or the historical conflict of the races, there will be people who will frown upon your choice of dating someone of a racial background different than your own. They will grit their teeth and turn up their noses, give your partner cold stares and scowl when the two of you hold hands, and will practically ignore you whenever you bring your significant other in their midst – treating your partner as if he or she is nonexistent. Such behavior may be expected from strangers. But, your friends and family members may also act so disgustingly. And thus, be especially sensitive when lover complains that one of your friends or family members made a rude comment or scowled their way. Comfort your lover. Promise your lover you will confront the person who has offended him or her, and do so. Do not be afraid to hold friends and family members accountable for their actions. Inviting that friend or relative out to dinner with your partner may seem like a novel idea. But that encounter may end in disaster, with your mate offended and angry, and your friend or relative reaffirming his or her bigoted thoughts. On the same note, offering explanations about whom you chose to date is inconsequential. If your brother truly loves you, he will also love the person you bring home. Depending on your parents’ upbringing and social circle, bringing your mate home to meet your parents for the first time can be a grueling task or a pleasant encounter.
It is also imperative to be conscious of social scenes at the early stages of your interracial relationship. Your lover could end up being the minority in a particular setting, and before you are aware, stares and comments will already have ensued. If your lover begins to feel shunned and left out of conversations, he or she may grow resentful; deducing your actions – which may suggest, unbeknownst to you, contentment with the biased behaviors – as wanting to act as a couple when the two of you are alone; that is, in social scenes you prefer not be “seen” with him or her. To avoid such confusion, properly introduce your partner as such, and fear not demonstrating the public displays of affection the two of you have agreed upon. Include your partner in conversations you are having and try not to leave your mate alone with people s/he are unfamiliar with for long periods of time. Your partner will find comfort knowing you have no reservations about your relationship.
Another lesson to be learned is to cherish the diversity of your partner’s heritage rather than spitefully complaining about the difference between your cultures. The first time you bring your partner home for Thanksgiving, for instance, he or she may be confused to find there are no collard greens, sweet corn bread, or homemade gravy. But just as families of different religious affiliations celebrate holidays uniquely, so too do families of different racial backgrounds. Embedded within each racial group are ethnicities that have cultures and identities all their own – including a distinct cuisine, music, and other characteristics which that group contribute to our society. Germans eat candy out of their shoes on Christmas Eve. A little eccentric you may think at first, but that is exactly what makes our society so wonderful.
Should you feel unable to fully grasp the nuances of your partner’s heritage, try to make a conscious effort to educate yourself about those nuances. Consider reading books by authors who are of the same racial background as your mate, then discuss the readings with your lover. Not only will you and your partner surface upon spiritual elation, but also the barriers of communication will come crumbling down more easily.
Interracial couples may need to work more arduous to break communication barriers than intraracial couples. When communicating with someone from our own racial group, we take for granted therein lies a similar vernacular. Thus, not inquiring about your partner’s true intentions when confused will become frustrating when you’re stuck trying to decipher your partner’s phrases instead of spending quality time together. That which is “All set” to some is “Straight” to others. Italian-Americans know that gravy is not the brown lumpy stuff that goes on turkey; it is the red sauce that goes on pasta. As with any relationship, listen to your partner, rather than just hearing the words flow from their mouths; and when confused, ask questions.
It takes a great deal of patience to remain happy in an interracial relationship. Be patient with your partner, and especially with yourself. When people engage in interracial relationships for the first time, it is not uncommon for them to be anxious – for example, showing their partner affection in public. Try not to be discouraged if initially your boyfriend does not seem to want to hold hands when walking through the mall. Rather, open the doors of communication, and speak with your lover to find out if either of you are intimidated by showing affection publicly.
Another immanent issue in interracial relationships is trust. If the relationship is to thrive, both partners should make conscious efforts to trust their partner enough to take risks. Your lover may offer you a dish that you have never heard of, never mind tasted, like chitlings. Try not to be put off by the aroma. If you trust your partner – and why would you engage in a relationship with someone if you do not trust them – you should trust him or her enough to experience something which may have seemed foreign to you previously. One of the primary benefits to being in an interracial relationship is the opportunity to learn about another culture. Embrace the offers made by your partner. Have a few slices of proscuitto or go to that Alanis Morissette concert. You may just enjoy yourself.
As with any relationship, follow your heart. If you are indulging yourself in an interracial relationship because you are curious about having sex with the other person, do not expect much romance to blossom. An interracial relationship is an excellent opportunity to learn about another culture, and at the same time find someone who may complete you.
All in all, engaging in interracial relationships can be a vast learning experience, especially more so than intraracial relationships. As a result, interracial relationships have the potential to stay fresh longer because the partners are constantly learning – not only about the person whom they are dating, but also about their family traditions and ethnic customs. Furthermore, when involved in an interracial relationship, you will not only be subjecting yourself to the unfortunate prejudices from opposing racial groups, but also to prejudices from your own racial group – which is, sadly enough, where you will truly experience just how close-minded others are.
Interracial couples also bring the world one step closer to acceptance, understanding, appreciation, and embracing of cultures other than those that dominate our society. Not everyone can engage in interracial relationships, however. For then, we would lose our individually rich heritages.
When you finally find love and he or she happens to be of a racial background different than your own, you would be quite foolish to turn away that person just because their skin color different than yours – a practice our parents instilled in us when our society was far less Civil.