Posted on July 16, 2022

The Lucrative, Complicated World of TikTok’s Interracial Couples

Sydney Trent, Washington Post, July 5, 2022

Amber Wallin can pinpoint the moment when she and her husband, Ben, took off as an interracial couple on TikTok.

In the video she posted to the platform in January 2021, Amber meanders sleepily down the hall to the living room, mumbling profanely about how it’s time to go to bed. Next, the camera turns to Ben, sprawled on the couch in front of a TV, crying because the character in the video game “Ghost of Tsushima” that he thought was dead had returned to life.

It was a funny clip gamers could relate to. But many of Amber’s followers — likely thinking Amber was about to dress down her kids instead of her husband — were delightfully surprised to see that the loud Black woman with the Georgia accent was chastising a nerdy White guy from Long Island.

The likes and comments started rolling in.

“People were like, ‘Who’s that? Are they together? Wait, say more,’” said Amber, 31, a comedian who launched the TikTok to showcase her own talents and has now amassed 1.3 million followers with Ben.


The Wallins are among TikTok’s “interracial influencers,” who, unwittingly or not, are benefiting in part from the nation’s long history and not-always-healthy fascination with mixed-race couples and children. For them, two forces — the pandemic and the racial reckoning after George Floyd’s murder — proved propitious as hordes of cooped-up Americans turned to TikTok for entertainment and brands sought to connect with multiracial audiences by partnering with diverse creators.

The influencers are just the latest pop culture depiction of interracial romance, beginning with the groundbreaking 1967 film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” right up through the racial pairings on television shows like “Scandal” and “Bridgerton.”

This time, however, real-world interracial couples like the Wallins are able to present the narratives of their lives directly to the masses.

“That’s what’s so dynamic about social media,” said Jonathan Schroeder, a communications professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology who researches the ethics of gender and racial representation in commercial imagery, including digital media. “Ordinary people without access to power are able to build worldwide audiences with millions of followers. They grab the mic and tell their own stories.”

In a country where interracial marriage was illegal in 16 states before the 1967 Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia, that shift is profound.


Alyssa Fluellen, a White woman who lives with her African American husband, Gerard, and their three children in her hometown of Victorville, Calif., said she didn’t consider the possibility of harassment when she launched her family TikTok in 2020.

“Race was not a factor when we met or fell in love with each other,” and their families were mostly accepting, she said.

Then she encountered the vitriol, largely spewed by older White men, although sometimes from Black women — the groups that historically have been most critical of Black male-White female relationships.

When Alyssa, 29, was pregnant with the couple’s youngest child, Emmett, now 1, one White man wrote that he’d like to shake her upside down to abort the “monkey” in her uterus, she said. Another wished cancer on her offspring.

After she and Gerard posted a video mocking the skin care routines she’d need to stay youthful as a White woman because “Black don’t crack,” some Black women admonished Gerard that he should have stuck to dating within his race.


In the case of Black women, “I feel like historically, [they] have gotten the short end of the stick,” and seeing him with a White wife could be perceived as an affront, Gerard, 31, said, echoing his sister’s first reaction to their romance. “We all express our pain in different ways.”


Lately, she has been trying harder to focus on the fact that the positive comments are more plentiful (even more so after the couple tweaked the platform’s settings to weed out the worst). “I was telling Gerard the other day that I get emotional when I think about the amount of support I get from Black women,” particularly the first time she braided her daughters’ hair, Alyssa said.

The income — from brand partnerships and TikTok’s Creator Fund, which pays creators a small amount based on viewership and other factors — helps balance the insults. The Fluellens, who now have 3.2 million followers, said they made in the low six figures in 2021 and this year they foresee topping $1 million. Alyssa quit her job as a registered nurse to focus on the family TikTok full-time. Not long after, Gerard left his position as a UPS truck driver, as brands including Pottery Barn, Athleta and Walmart forged partnerships with the couple.


{snip} Black creators, who share anecdotal evidence of discrimination, complain of making less than White creators, and some presume that interracial families do better than Black creators in the lifestyle category as well. {snip}

Mixed-race relationships have attracted public curiosity and prejudice since long before social media. And mixed-race children have by turns been spurned, exoticized and fetishized during centuries of colonialism, slavery and legal bans on interracial marriage, said Francesca Sobande, senior lecturer in digital media studies at Cardiff University in South Wales and author of a published study on interracial couples on YouTube.


Often White followers perceive the lives of interracial couples as speaking to a “post-racial point in time … where racism has been overcome,” a false notion that draws advertisers who seek to benefit by proximity without actually taking action to solve racial inequities, she said. The presence of mixed-race children can serve to underscore this post-racial narrative that puts White consumers at ease.

While the percentage of intermarried couples has more than tripled since 1967 to about 1 in 6 U.S. marriages, according to Pew research, the largest share — 42 percent — are between Hispanics and non-Hispanic Whites. Black-White marriages account for just 11 percent of the total.

Jeena Wilder, 32, a first-generation Haitian American woman, said she has experienced the post-racial fantasy firsthand.

Wilder met her White husband-to-be, Drue, at a church camp in Gainesville, Ga., when they were both 17. She launched the family vlog on TikTok in 2019 after scouring social media to connect with families like hers: an interracial couple with biological children who had also adopted a White child — in this case, her husband’s niece. When she couldn’t find such a community, “I decided to start it myself.”


Her largest group of followers, she said, view interracial families “as beautiful and think it’s great and are ‘colorblind.’ ” They love to look, she said, yet many of them, mostly White women, complain when she raises race explicitly.