Posted on August 18, 2020

Couples Share Their Best Advice for Navigating an Interracial Relationship Right Now

Rozalynn S. Frazier, Self, August 17, 2020


Lewis, 47, and Melissa, 41, have been married for 12 years and have two children. Lewis, an attorney, identifies as Black American, and Melissa, a former marketing director and current yoga instructor, identifies as Chinese American (Cantonese). {snip}

SELF: What is it like to be in an interracial relationship in America today?

Lewis: Nothing has changed in terms of our relationship. I think that the biggest impact has been explaining race issues to our kids.

Melissa: By design, we have chosen to live, work, and raise our children in two very diverse cities where people tend to be less homogenous not only in terms of race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation but also in ways of thinking and living. We can’t speak for all of America, but being in an interracial relationship has never defined us, and thankfully, to date, it has not hugely impacted our day-to-day lives. The biggest impact for us is balancing our innate duty as parents to protect and shield our children as much as possible with the equally important responsibility to educate them about the many harsh realities that exist today and that sadly have been perpetuated for far too long, especially in America. For us, it is imperative for our children to be proud of who they are and where they came from.

SELF: It’s been 53 years since the Loving decision granted people the right to marry interracially. Do you think interracial relationships have made strides?

Melissa: If not for the Loving decision, Lewis and I might not be married, and our beautiful children would not be here today. So, yes, in that regard I would like to think that strides have been made. I cannot believe that we actually live in a world where a law or person could forcibly tell me who I can and cannot love or marry. I still cannot believe that those rights were only very recently extended to the LGBTQ community. Some days you can look back on history and see some strides that we have made, but then on far too many other days it sadly seems as if we have not moved forward even an inch toward equality and social justice for all.

SELF: Have you ever experienced—especially at this critical time—negative reactions to your marriage because of your races?

Lewis: We haven’t.

Melissa: Some of our son’s classmates have told him that he is not Chinese because of the way he looks and because he does not speak or understand fluent Chinese. We use these hurtful comments and experiences as teachable moments for our children.

SELF: What are some of the cultural differences that you have noticed in your relationship?

Melissa: Rather than “navigating” them, we happily celebrate our cultural differences and teach our kids customs and traditions as they have been taught to us. I am a third-generation Chinese American. With each successive generation, some of my Chinese culture has become more diluted. To the extent that I can, we keep the traditions and celebrations that were important to my grandparents. We celebrate Chinese New Year and teach the kids how to make some traditional dishes. Equally as important, we often consult Lewis’s mom and family about the history, traditions, and celebrations that are important to his side of the family. Every Christmas Lewis’s mom bakes with our kids the same chocolate cake and apple pie that her mother used to make. We recognize the MLK holiday, Black History Month, and Juneteenth.

SELF: Marriage is tough. Do you think the added layer of race exacerbates marital issues?

Lewis: Not for us. We pretty much see eye to eye on issues of race.

Melissa: I think that part of what initially attracted us to each other and what has sustained us through all of these years is our shared fundamental core values and the similar lenses through which we see the world. Yes, marriage is tough. But the challenges we deal with as a couple most often have more to do with the differences between our genders than the differences between our races—that is a completely different ball of wax.

SELF: What has been the most challenging aspect of your interracial relationship thus far?

Lewis: There have been times when Melissa expressed feelings about not fitting one of my family member’s image of who I should marry because she’s not Black. Those have been the most challenging moments for me. I’ve tried to reassure Melissa that how I feel is all that matters and that she should tune out anything else, but I know it’s not that easy.

SELF: Did you have any fears about marrying outside of your respective races?

Lewis: Fear of marrying outside my race never crossed my mind.

Melissa: If anything, I had a fear about not being accepted by Lewis’s family.

SELF: What steps have you taken to help your kids navigate this world?

Lewis: Our kids are nine and seven. I would like to be more intentional about having them interact with Black people. They haven’t had the experience that I had of growing up in Black neighborhoods.

I do make my son go to the barber, though. I’ve been going to the barber since I was 13 or 14 years old. That’s part of the experience, as we like to say. That’s where people discuss these issues. I wish there were more outlets like that. When he gets older, maybe I’ll take him to the basketball courts and just throw him out there and see how he handles it. I think it’s necessary.

Melissa: We have many ongoing conversations about race with our children and how that may impact them as they grow up. Based solely on our external appearances, Lewis and I do not fit neatly into the stereotypical “Black” or “Chinese” boxes, respectively. Our children also do not fit conveniently into anyone’s stereotypical “race” box. We are grateful that God made us that way. While we want our children to have a strong sense of pride in their histories, we also want them to forge their own senses of self-worth and identity based on who they fundamentally are as human beings—not by fitting into someone else’s classification of them.

SELF: How is the current climate affecting you, Lewis, as a Black man, and have you both talked about it?

Lewis: I think about my son and how he is going to be viewed. He asks questions about George Floyd and similar issues, and I have explained to him at a general level, but have not gotten into all of the implications of it because I don’t know if he is ready to understand that yet. Part of the reason why I haven’t is because I don’t know what his experience will be. I don’t know if people are going to view him as Black. The second thing that I have thought about in these times is that as an attorney, I feel like I have a responsibility to do something from a legal perspective. I do want my kids to know that I’m doing that and know why I am doing that. I feel like I need to pick up a pro bono matter related to criminal justice or police brutality and use that as a way to educate them about certain issues.

Melissa: To give you some context of our relationship, you know the show Fresh Prince of Bel-Air? I’m Will and he’s Carlton. Lewis goes about a lot of his day not like “I’m a Black man,” but like “I’m just a person.” We got pulled over driving for speeding once, and his first reaction was to get out the car, and I am like, “What are you doing? Don’t do that.”

SELF: What is one thing you’d want people to know about being in an interracial couple?

Lewis: If you love someone, then their race shouldn’t matter. If anything, our interracial bond makes us and our family unique. We view ourselves as husband and wife. Others should view us no differently.

Melissa: Live and let live. Love and let love.

Darrell, 40, and Emmanuel, 35, have been married for eight months. Darrell, a tech executive, identifies as Black. Emmanuel, a clinical therapist, identifies as Mexican. They like to say they met the old-fashion way: in the gym.

SELF: What is it like to be in an interracial relationship in America today?

Darrell: It has brought about much-needed conversations in our house. When this year’s “caught on tape” racial incidents began to be publicized—from Ahmaud Arbery’s murder to Christian Cooper’s interaction at Central Park to the killing of George Floyd—it literally brought me to my knees. I was in shock, angry, numb, and frustrated. Emmanuel understood I was upset, but we had to have some conversations for him to understand the full gravity of what was behind my emotions. So in the end, I believe it actually brought us closer.

Emmanuel: The current events have presented an opportunity for me to be able to understand Darrell’s daily experience and provide support in ways that are more informed and driven by a larger context.

SELF: It’s been 53 years since the Loving decision granted people the right to marry interracially. Do you think interracial relationships have made strides?

Darrell: I would like to say that interracial relationships have made strides, but I also can admit that I have only lived in mostly liberal metropolitan cities my entire adult life—New York and Los Angeles—which can provide a false sense of how the world views interracial relationships. There are still those neighborhoods where we might question any type of PDA, but I’m not sure if that is due to being in an interracial relationship or just a gay relationship.

Emmanuel: I do think that interracial relationships have made progress, however, I think it’s only been in the last few years that we’ve been able to see representation in the media of interracial couples and families. Even so, this representation is limited in my opinion. Fear and misunderstanding come from ignorance, so the more society can see that love between two people is just as valid and beautiful when it exists people from different backgrounds, the more people will be open to the idea.

SELF: What issues do you face as a gay interracial couple?

Darrell: We’ve been lucky to have a supportive group of family and friends, and, surprisingly, a lot of our friends are in interracial gay relationships. We see more interracial relationships in the gay community than in the general population. One issue we recently faced happened with the purchase of our first home. Being in an interracial gay relationship, we questioned the neighborhoods we were looking to buy in to ensure that it would be safe and comfortable not only for us, but also for our friends and family who visited. It was a new feeling for both of us.


SELF: What has been the most challenging aspect of your interracial relationship thus far?

Darrell: The most challenging thing for me, at times, is learning how to properly articulate some of the struggles I have as a Black man in this country. I wasn’t blind to the fact that we come from different cultures with different experiences and understood that there will be challenges because of that. I’ve learned to be patient and provide time for him to understand my struggles.

Emmanuel: I was very aware of the oppression of Black people in our country, but I never had a personal connection to the actual experience until I started dating Darrell. It was really eye-opening to understand some of the daily struggles he experiences. It does take some time for me to process everything.

SELF: Do you ever feel that your partner can’t truly understand your point of view or how you experience this world because of race? Why or why not?

Emmanuel: We are really lucky in the fact that we both feel we understand each other’s perspective on things. I’m not sure if either of us will ever truly understand each other’s point of view, but we do have the heart and mind to continue to try.

SELF: Did you have any fears about marrying outside of your respective races?

Darrell: No. I think I had more fears about simply marrying a man just given some of the hardships from my family.

Emmanuel: Absolutely not.

SELF: Is there ever a moment when you’re are not as aware of being in an interracial couple?

Darrell: There are times, especially when we travel outside of our bubble in Los Angeles, that we are reminded of our differences. Emmanuel has noticed that I’m treated differently in stores or restaurants or when we check in to hotels overseas. The stares and disregard of my humanity occur more often than not when we travel.


[Editor’s Note: To read the rest of the second interview, and the entirety of the third, please click through to the original article.]