Written by Amy Abugo Ongiri
Dating is hard these days and if you’re dating interracially, it can be harder to stay true to you. In an interracial relationship, normal relationship issues can be compounded by the stress of difference and discrimination.
Just ask Roca, a stud from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, who is open to dating any type of woman, but sees discrimination as something that has to be negotiated in these interracial relationships.
She says, “The hardest part about dating in interracial relationships is still defending yourself as a person. As a person of color, you’re judged, just for being different in color, race, and sex. People believe when they see a Caucasian person and a person color, automatically the Caucasian one is being taking advantage of and the colored one has to be up to no good. You find you’re defending yourself just to ask a simple question. Even paying a bill at a counter, you’ll give your hard earn money, but the change or even the polite conversation that you have started has now been shifted to your Caucasian counterpart because for whatever reason in their little world you’re not deserving of that respect. I guess in a way respect is really the hardest thing about dating in interracial relationships. Whether it’s from your counterpart or in society.”
Binky, a biracial queer identified woman from Oakland, California, has a different experience. She says, “Coming from a multicultural family in the Bay, the best part (about interracial dating) is it feels natural and honest. Like two humans relating to one another.”
Shana, a femme from Washington, D.C., dates women of other races to keep her options open. “There are lots of great things about dating black women,” she says. “I don’t think I’d recommend interracial dating automatically to every friend. But since Black women get fewer online dating responses than any other group, it makes sense to be open to dating smart, caring, sexy women who fight for black lives, even if they’re not actually black. What doesn’t make sense is settling for anyone who’s not good enough for you, no matter their race (or gender).”
Shana adds, “I am never more Black than when my lover isn’t.”
So, how do you as a black lesbian stay rooted in your blackness when dating a woman of a different race? Try these six tips:
1. Stay True to You. This is good advice in any relationship, but in relationships where there are a lot of differences you can be tempted to lose yourself and your own values too much. If the person that you are dating belongs to the dominant culture, things can be even harder. Shana says that “working through internalized racism and practicing self love” is the hardest part about dating interracially.
She says: “Loving someone who looks like you, can reinforce your own sense of self worth as a black woman. Loving someone who’s not black, especially a white woman, requires me to work harder to remind myself of my own beauty and value when confronted with a society that constantly tells me that I am neither beautiful, nor valuable.”
Dating involves a lot of compromise but don’t ever compromise on the truth of who you are.
2. Keep Your Connection to Your Community. Whether its friends, biological family, or chosen community, it is our communities that tend to make us who we are. In the midst of the excitement of a relationship, it is vital to maintain a strong and consistent sense of who you are, so don’t lose track of your community ties. Attend your family reunion, call your gay cousin on the phone or volunteer at your local community center to keep those connections strong.
3. Celebrate Your Culture Every Day. Don’t wait for Black History Month or Kwanzaa to enjoy being Black and share that joy with others. We’ve got thousands of years of culture to enjoy and share, so make sure to do it even if your partner wasn’t born into our culture.
Shana says, “I’ve grown to appreciate how much I’ve learned about my own relationship to my culture and identity by seeing how someone else relates—or doesn’t—to theirs. As a bonus, you might have some new experiences and grow.”
4. Remember Your Ancestors. They didn’t struggle and survive so their struggle could be forgotten. Take lessons and heart from what your grandma and grandpa taught you. Remember those we’ve lost recently and those whose names have been lost to us. Even if you don’t have any family connections or good family memories, African American lesbians have a long and strong history of s/heroes to honor from Audre Lorde to Gladys Bentley. Spend some time building an altar to honor your ancestors and you will also honor yourself.
5. Don’t Let Sexual Stereotypes Guide Your Relationship. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of weird ideas about African American sexuality in mainstream culture. (Anybody who has ever been on any predominantly white dating site probably knows what I mean.)
A lot of people will be interested in you to fulfill some fantasy they have about Black people.
Binky says, “The hardest part about dating as a mixed person is, worrying that you’re being fetishized. I have been fetishized by people from many different races. I don’t wanna be anyone’s first experience with a different race or especially first time with a black woman.”
Don’t let yourself fall victim to the idea that you have to meet someone else’s preconceived notions about how or who we fuck. Binky’s advice? “Relate to the heart, not the skin” and your partner should as well.
6. Take Space for Yourself. In addition to spending time with your love, spend time with yourself. You can’t love someone else if you don’t start with a healthy dose of self-love first! Remember as Audre Lorde said: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.”
Amy Ongiri is an African American genderqueer stud who is a professor and director of film studies. She has published in a variety of academic publications including in The Journal of African American History and American Literature and also published Spectacular Blackness, a book about the Black Arts movement.