Expert Tips on Navigating Interracial Relationships
By Amanda Mitchell
For many, 2020 has been an eye-opening year when it comes to how we view race and racial dynamics in America. It’s not enough to simply “not be racist” anymore, you have to actively work to be anti-racist.
I’m a Black woman in America, and never has it been so important to me that everyone in my life is actively supporting and working towards change—and yes, that includes the people I’m dating, especially if they’re not Black themselves.
While there are far fewer stigmas against interracial dating in the U.S. now than in decades past, we still have a long way to go. What I’ve learned is that if you’re looking to pursue someone not of your race on a serious level, you have to think critically about those relationship dynamics and how your differences play a part. Here are a few ways of doing just that:
Have a conversation about it
When dating interracially, it’s vital to talk openly with a partner to make sure they’re mentally prepared to be dating someone of a different race. Don’t make it a taboo subject—try to have conversations about race and the potential challenges of being in an interracial relationship often. “When you add conversations about your culture to your relationship, you can create more expansive ways to understand, empathize, and communicate with your partner,” says sex therapist and psychotherapist Veronica N. Chin Hing-Michaluk.
Talking about race will allow you to learn how to support each other, what will hurt each other, and how best to relate. And if you eventually decide to have children and build a life together, you want to make sure you both understand the cultural impact of those decisions.
Make a pointed effort to understand each other
To have those open, productive conversations about race with a partner, you have to try to understand their experience. “It’s important not to step into the relationship making assumptions about the other person’s culture or worldview,” says relationship therapist Genesis Games.
She suggests coming from a place of genuine curiosity and asking open-ended questions like ‘What would you say is an experience your race has but mine does not?’ or ‘Have you ever dealt with racism, and how can I learn from that and do better in the future?’
Chin Hing-Michaluk recommends looking inward, and asking your partner how they interact with the world because of their race. Questions like ‘How do you locate yourself racially and culturally in the world?’ and ‘What are some of your thoughts on race relations in society?’ can assist in building sensitivity and awareness of differing lived experiences, as well as help you figure out how aligned your views are.
Give your partner the benefit of the doubt
If you start noticing some problematic behavior from your partner, it’s first important to understand if they’re blatantly racist or if they’re unaware of racist views and behaviors that have been ingrained in them, because those are two very different concerns. Don’t ascribe to malice what you can to ignorance; class consciousness and antiracist practices have to be cultivated over time. “If the person is aware of their biases and is interested in unlearning them, the relationship has the potential of succeeding,” says Games.
But if you find that the person you’re dating has deep-rooted racist beliefs, expresses bigotry, or fetishizes you, it’s best to just end it. “Your responsibility is not to change who they are as a person or their value system,” says Games. “Being in a relationship with someone who sees you as ‘less than’ is abusive and detrimental to your mental health.”
It’s okay to have deal breakers
“Because of how polarized race relations are in America, interracial relationships take a particular type of work to intentionally create space for one another’s identities,” says Chin Hung-Michaluk. Doing that work takes real effort and vulnerability, and if you’re a person of color, it’s completely valid to set your own requirements for what you’d need from a potential partner in order to put that kind of effort into a relationship.
All relationships involve learning about someone else and how their experiences shaped them. Being in an interracial relationship can sometimes make that more complicated, but having those differences and learning from each other is almost always worth it.