Melissa A. Fabello, Everyday Feminism, August 17, 2015
I’m currently in my third interracial relationship.
That is, unless you count my first boyfriend–José–who, in the second grade, long-distance collect-called me from Puerto Rico and got me in a lot of trouble with my dad. Then it’s my fourth interracial relationship.
And while interracial dynamics always add a layer of work to romance, it’s important to note that I’m white.
Because when you’re a white person in an interracial relationship, there’s this whole–ohhh, ya know–white supremacy thing hanging in the air.
And that has to be acknowledged–and dealt with–constantly.
Lest your relationship be doomed–and your “No, Really, I’m a Decent Person” card be permanently revoked.
We talk a lot in social justice circles about how to attempt to be a better white ally to people of color–and a lot of that Allyship 101 advice can (and should) be directly applied to our intimate relationships.
But I think it’s worth revisiting these concepts within the context of romantic or sexual relationships. Because they’re special. And the way we practice our allyship in those contexts should reflect that.
So, whether you’re years deep in a charmingly fairy tale-esque romance with your beau or you’re just now firing up to dive into your first, here are seven things to remember as a white person involved with a person of color.
- Be Willing to Talk About Race
As a feminist and a woman, I could never be in a relationship with someone who didn’t feel comfortable talking about patriarchy. In fact, I often joke that my go-to first-date question is “What’s your working definition of ‘oppression?’”
Gender (and the social dynamics therein) is a part of my everyday life, both in how I’m perceived by the world and in the work that I do.
So if I tried to date someone who felt discomfort to the point of clamming up every time I brought gender into the conversation, that “It’s not you, it’s me” discussion would come up quick.
While it’s okay for conversations about white supremacy to make you uncomfortable (hey, we should be uncomfortable with that shit), being generally aware of how race plays out and feeling fairly well versed in racial justice issues is important.
- Be Willing to Accept That Sometimes, You’re Not the Go-To for Race Conversations
As a woman, I know that sometimes talking about gender with a male partner–even if he’s well versed in all things feminist–can feel exhausting. Sometimes I don’t want to chat with someone who only has a theoretical understanding of gender oppression. Sometimes I want to talk to someone who just gets it.
That’s why safe spaces–where affinity groups can be together without the presence of the oppressor–exist: so that tough conversations can be had with fewer guards up, so that you can communicate thousands of ideas in a single collective sigh, so that you can cry together with those who don’t just sympathize, but empathize.
And while it’s important to be willing to talk to your partner about race and to feel comfortable bringing it up, it’s just as important to be willing to step back and recognize when your whiteness is intrusive.
- Familial Relationships Might Not Feel So Familiar
Of course, it’s never appropriate to stereotype people, but combinations of culture, nationality, and religion do play a huge role in how our families are structured.
White people very rarely have to think about this because we’re considered “default Americans.”
And while you’re not required to stay in a relationship where you feel like your own values or needs are being compromised, it’s important to question why you feel frustrated when things have to be “different” or “difficult.”
Because are they, really? Or are you creating a default of whiteness and punishing your partner for deviating from that norm?
- People Close to You Are Going to Say Racist Things–Speak Up
Whether it’s your well-meaning family or your supposed-to-be-socially-conscious friends, sometimes people are going to say or do things that are fucked up. And it’s your job–both as the partner and a fellow white person–to say something.
- You Are Going to Say Racist Things–Own Up
Because as white people, we’ve been socialized racist, whether we like it or not and whether we believe it’ll play out in our love lives or not–and as such, even a “joke” can be rooted in some really fucked up, deep seated beliefs.
So understand that sometimes, you’re going to say or do racist things–and be ready to take responsibility, apologize sincerely, and have a plan for how to do better going forward.
- Power Dynamics Don’t Magically Disappear–Not Even During Sex
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard stories, especially from women of color, about white sexual partners saying all kinds of horribly racist, exotifying things in the bedroom without checking to make sure it was okay first.
From demands to “speak Spanish to me” to straight-up hurling the N-word the way one might “baby” in the heat of the moment, it’s clear that not all white people understand how to show basic respect and humanity toward their partners of color.
It’s important to remember that as a white person being sexual with a person of color, you’re in a position of power. The fact that you’re intimate with one another doesn’t erase that.
And it can be difficult for a marginalized person to feel comfortable expressing their needs without a safe space being intentionally created by the person of privilege.
The issue is this: The power dynamics bestowed upon us by our fucked up, oppressive society don’t disappear just because you’re intimate with someone.
Sex is an incredibly interesting aspect of relationships, particularly in the ways that power is distributed. While generally this is understood in terms of “tops and bottoms” (which, by the way, can also be subverted), it should be considered in relation to social power, too.
And if you’re a white person having sex with a person of color, it’s paramount that you recognize that and mitigate it to the best of your ability by having deliberate conversations with your partner.
- If You Only Date People of Color (And Especially from One Group in Particular), Check Yourself
I’d love to be able to give you a formula–some kind of foolproof ratio of number-of-white-to-POC partners–to help you determine if you’re racist because you don’t date enough outside of whiteness or if you’re racist because you too often date outside of whiteness. But such a thing simply doesn’t exist.
But I do think it’s important to recognize what you’re doing if you’re only dating people of color, and especially from any one race or culture in particular.