When entering a relationship many may not consciously consider race as a factor. However, it is a factor that I feel needs to be addressed more and delicately handled. I find that it is a prominent factor used when considering a relationship for people of colour. These matters were discussed in a talk I went to recently about Race and Relationships. I should state that in no way am I discouraging interracial relationships but rather I seek to explore the process behind it.
As a black woman, when approached by males of a different race I become very self-aware of my identity. This awareness is not a positive one but rather my understanding, yet again, the sexual stereotypes surrounding my identity. The idea that the black woman is something purely sexually exotic, it is an adventure – an experience – and is even fetishised. Therefore, forcing me immediately to set a wall between me and the other person. Such a presumption stems from the wide use of phrases such as “I have never been with a black girl before” or even “I love your skin”. Immediately, I become nothing more than what is understood of the stereotypical black woman. This can also be seen in regards to the Asian community. During the talk, individuals from that community felt that their race had also been fetishised and that members of other races sought them out because of the understanding that they were, according to the stereotype, ‘innocent and/or pure’. The interesting part about the talk was seeing that nearly every race has been fetishised in some way, shape or form. Furthermore, how these fetishes have shaped individuals and their relationships by forcing them to guard themselves against these views.
It was also touched upon within the talk that, within the conversation of race and relationships, gender is also something to be noted. A point was made that within the black community the opinions of interracial relationships shift depending on whether the black person if male or female. Generally speaking, if it is a black man in a relationship with someone of another race very few people will find a problem with that. In fact, some may congratulate them on their relationship and view it as them bridging the gap between races. However, when it is a black woman the feedback tends to be more negative. I have often thought about why this may be and in the talk, someone suggested that it may be because such a dynamic reminds people of slavery, in which black women were often raped by white slave owners. In reference to a time where black women had no choice if a white man desired them, some find themselves unable to understand why a black woman today would make that choice. Alternatively, I think there is an interesting argument to be made rooted within feminism. Historically, a woman taught to be are loyal, we are devoted and we are supportive. Therefore, when a black woman goes outside of her race to date, many would consider this a betrayal to their race – a betrayal against the male side of their race. The taboo around black women interracially dating, as I view it, is just another societal limitation placed on women.
During the discussion, the questions “Do you go out of your way to avoid certain races when dating or interracial relationship? If so, why?” were asked. The overwhelming response was that while others don’t avoid interracial relationship or other races intentionally, they felt more safe and secure when dating someone within their own race. My understanding of this was that in dating outside of your race you have to be comfortable with the conclusion that on some level your partner will never be able to fully understand that part of your identity. This is not to say that their efforts to empathise are not valued but many didn’t want to fall into the trap of having to constantly educate their partner. This idea of not wanting to educate someone repeatedly came up a lot. Many suggested it was simply too draining and others suggested that it put too much pressure on them as a member of their community and on their relationship. The idea of educating someone so that they can understand my identity is something that I too would struggle with. This is simply because I do not believe any one person has enough knowledge or even the right to solely lead a conversation about an entire race.
Ultimately, the topic of race is such a delicate factor when it comes to relationships that it is so often overlooked. Is it right for people to exclude races within their preferences? If one does, is it considered racist or is it simply what you prefer, like dark hair?
Written by Gift Onomor