Interracial couples in New York City are about as novel as a bottomless brunch on the Lower East Side. They sit next to each other on subway benches and across from each other in restaurants. They’re another part of the diverse city scenery, a daily reminder that the world does, in fact, sometimes resemble the quaint otherness of the illustrations and word problems in a ‘90s math textbook.
But now that I’m actually in an interracial relationship, I can’t help but look at things from a darker, more cynical angle. All of the implications of my relationship are starting to weigh on me. Some of my neurosis about all of this might be bullshit, but ultimately I think my concerns are valid.
I’m a black girl dating a white dude. White people—no matter how nuanced and progressive their approach to race is—usually have the privilege not to think about race in everyday life, especially not as some sort of hinderance. Black people…yeah, we’re not so lucky. As a black chick who is conscious of how fucked up this world is towards black people in ways big and small, race is something I think of constantly. I don’t have the privilege not to–understanding race and how it works is a fucking survival technique.
And no matter how progressive a left of center major metropolitan area is, racism still exists. Even though there are interracial couples all over the place, being in an interracial couple is still political. Race is political. Everything is fucking political and interracial coupling is no exception. When we’re walking down the street, passing by black folks, white folks, all other kinds of folks, I’m checking to see if they’re judging us. Am I, an HBCU grad rocking box braids, some sort of race traitor in the eyes of my brothas and sistas? Is my presence next to this white dude rubbing some old white people the wrong way?
I am a black girl dating a white dude, and one of my biggest concerns is whether or not my white partner understands what that means. Being a black woman comes with a ton of stereotypes and almost none of them are good. In the media, we’re usually depicted as loud, uncouth, and bossy with a big helping of perpetual sass on the side. Even black people internalize this negativity and, in turn, treat any outspoken black woman as an embarrassment or a punchline. Our most “notable” features—big ass, big lips—are largely celebrated on white bodies, not our own.
And we’re still at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to mainstream beauty standards—no, everyone thinking that Beyonce is hot doesn’t change that. Hell, it’s acceptable to essentially call Viola Davis—a gorgeous dark skinned black woman—”less classically beautiful” than lighter skinned black actresses in the New York Times, so what hope is there for the rest of us? So yeah, I’m well aware of what people are socialized to conjure up in their minds the second they see me. But is my boyfriend aware?
I’ve had to actively work to find myself attractive in a world that tells me I’m not, which is why I’m so alarmed that I’ve found my confidence faltering in that regard as we started dating. I’m ashamed by the fact that I’m a proud black girl who is worried about how attractive a white dude thinks I am compared to all the other non-black women he could have chosen from. As if I need another reminder of all of this, dude has blue eyes. So almost every time I look into them I’m very aware of exactly what I’m not. Light eyes contrasting to my dark eyes, light hair contrasting to my dark hair, light skin contrasting to my dark skin; total opposites.
So far we’ve been on the same page when it comes to race discussions and he’s been an open listener, which is pretty damn great. For example, we were walking out of a thrift store one time and I said that I thought one of the employees was paying me a little too much attention.
“That guy kept lurking around me when I was trying on clothes!” I said, rambling at that point. “I’m just like, leave me alone, I’m not going to steal anything.”
There was a beat of silence until I heard my boyfriend wince and ask, “Does that happen to you a lot?”
I shrugged. “Not all the time, but often enough.”
He replied with something along the lines of “that sucks” or “what the fuck” and while it wasn’t some impassioned speech filled with white guilt, I knew that he empathized with me. I knew that he agreed that that was shitty. I knew that he didn’t need for me to give him more receipts before believing that I might have experienced some run of the mill racism.
But I still can’t help waiting with baited breath for the day when he fucks up and I won’t be able to look at him the same way again. It’s not like I think he’s going to call me the N-word or something–most of the racial insensitivity I’ve experienced in my life has been far more subtle than that. But what if a friend of his says something fucked up about black people and he doesn’t say anything to challenge the person? What if I rant to him about a woman clutching her purse closer to her body as I walked by and he thinks I’m imagining things? What if deep deep down he considers me one of the good ones, an anomaly in the world of black girls?
It’s unfair of me to anticipate that fatal slip of the tongue; it’s as if I’m expecting the worst of him, which can’t be healthy for a relatively new relationship. But this vigilance is just another survival technique so that I don’t have to tell myself that I should have known, that I shouldn’t have put that much trust in him. It softens to blows of the self-inflicted “I told you so” later.
Fucked up survival technique? Sure. But it’s a survival technique nevertheless.
Of course, no matter how well versed a white person may be in racial profiling, casual racism and systematic oppression, they’re never going to truly understand what it’s like to be black. No amount of admiration or love is going to change that and that’s a reality I’m willing to grapple with. But it’s that reality that also makes me understand why some black women don’t want to fucking bother with dating white men. The thought of having to defend and explain my own reality is exhausting enough in Internet conversations or debates with people at bars, so the idea of going through that with someone you’re in a relationship with sounds—just really fucking annoying.
I didn’t go out of my way to date a white dude. It just happened and I don’t regret anything yet. But I wonder how much longer I’m going to have this constant double consciousness playing in my head. I’d like to reach a point in which I’m not meeting some friends of his at a party and wonder if they’re wondering how the hell he ended up dating some tall black chick. I’d like to reach a point in which I’m not wondering if the old couple that passed by us look so sour because they’re not hot on race mingling or if the muscles in their face have set into a permanent look of distaste. And more than anything, I’d like to get to a point in which I’m not expecting to be hurt in the worst way possible. I just hope that point comes sooner rather than later.