What's love got to do with it?
Not surprisingly then, most people stick with "their own kind." The majority of heterosexual marriages are between people of the same race, according to the 2000 Census. While interracial marriages have more than tripled in the last 35 years, they remain a tiny percentage--about 6 percent nationally--of all marriages, according to the Census.
As the following stories show, dating within your same race or culture is not a guarantee of anything. It isn't even necessarily the point, because when we talk about skin color, we are often really discussing skin color and shared values and life goals. The tricky thing with love and race then is how much it can be not about race. Instead, it seems to be about our relationship to race, and for better or worse, it can be through our romantic relationships that we find out what race means to us.
"I'm an out-of-the-box Latina."
In searching for a new love, Linda* placed her ad on an Internet dating service. The 47-year-old Mexican-Colombiana was very specific about what she wanted. "I checkmarked every race except white," she recalls. But when it came to the potential suitor's eye color, she paused. If she marked the box for blue or green eyes, she would risk attracting a white man. But, people of color do have green eyes. She revised the profile of what she wanted to include green but not blue eyes. Definitely not blue. After all, she was clear about what she wanted--a tall, dark Latino fluent in Spanish. "I was looking for someone who was culturally grounded," she says.
She ended up dating a Chicano who gets mistaken for a white man and doesn't speak much Spanish. But, he is what Linda affectionately calls an "out-of-the-box" Latino. He works as a tennis instructor and has had to make his life between two cultures and white and Black racial categories. He is comfortable with the paradox on most days.
It was like looking into a mirror, Linda says about their dating, and she describes herself now as an "out-of-the-box Latina"--one who plays soccer, runs her own business, and who, as a queer--identified woman, is raising her children with her ex-girl-friend.
"I didn't desire men from my own culture."
Rafia*, a Pakistiani American woman from New York City in her 30s, recounts that she had dated South Asians but recently had a relationship with a man who spoke her mother's language (Urdu), knew the Bollywood films of her childhood and enjoyed classic American rock music. "We could have as much fun going to a Blues club as going to a Bollywood disco," she says. He was as globalized as she was and had also refused having an arranged marriage.
He wore a salwar kameez, a traditional outfit worn in South Asia. She was used to seeing it on her brother and father and had never considered the clothes to be sexy--until her new love wore it.
"For so long, I was against arranged marriage that it pushed out anything that was attractive about South Asians," she reflects. Without realizing it, she had stopped associating desire with traditional clothing and perhaps with the men of her culture. Now, because of the relationship, she says, "I realize that I have these blocks and that I haven't looked at them at all."
"I had to give up the dream of marrying a Black man."
When he was ready to find a soul mate, Antonio Le Mons, a Black man in his early 40s, drew up a plan to power date. "My goal was to be married," he says. "I dated with intention." His criteria? The man had to be mature, communicative, out of the closet and have already been in another long-term relationship. Race wasn't an issue; Le Mons was open to any possibility. Besides, his serious relationships in the past had only been with Black men.
Le Mons found a man, but the love of his life, Tony, is not Black. He's Italian and white, and it was quite a surprise for Le Mons. In talking with friends, he mourned that he wouldn't live happily ever after with a Black man. He feared the message that he was sending to young, Black gays: You have to be with a white guy to be a happy Black, gay man. But a dear friend reminded him, "You don't have to be the poster child for the Black, gay, healthy relationship."
Now Le Mons believes that "you deserve love wherever you find it," and he continues to be blissful about the relationship. His partner is self-confident, communicative and loving, and Le Mons feels at home. "I really just get to be me," he says. The two were engaged last year, and their families are asking about the wedding.
"I became self-conscious about my weight."
Robin*, a Black woman in her late 20s, swore she'd never date a white guy, even though her mother was white and her father Black. In fact, she makes a point of not identifying as biracial, because "I don't know what it's like to feel white." Nevertheless, she found herself in an intense relationship with a white man. The chemistry was wonderful, and they spent every day together.
"I remember kissing him, and his lips felt so small," Robin recalls. "I wondered how he felt about my body." Soon that thought began to worry her. With his previous girlfriends, he had preferred thin white women. "I became self-conscious of my weight," she says. "And then I began to worry about my hair." She wore her curls pulled into a ponytail, and he always asked her to wear her hair loose. She worried that he wanted a woman whose hair he could run his fingers through.
The relationship ended after a few months with her self-confidence tattered. Although he may have walked away with his own bruises, Robin notes that he'll never wonder if he isn't attractive enough because of his race. "White people have a different playing field when it comes to self-confidence," she says, and she hadn't realized how fragile her own confidence was until the relationship ended.
"I need someone who knows where they come from."
Antonio thought he had found his perfect match. He was dating a woman of color who was vegan and self-employed. Antonio himself was a man of color who cooked up vegetarian Mexican dishes and ran his own business. The resumes matched--until he got to know the lady.
"I think a person needs to know where they come from," says the 35-year-old Chicano. "This is just my opinion, but she could not have been more white."
The woman, who was Chinese American, didn't know much about her culture and didn't take any interest in it. But she wanted Antonio to "say something in Spanish" and spend time with her white friends. The relationship quickly soured. Antonio realized that he didn't want to just date any woman of color--he wanted one who understood and cared about race and culture.
Having served in Desert Storm, Antonio had seen what he calls the "psychology of war, which is to destroy the history of other people and give them a new history." That made knowing his own history crucial and also important to his romantic life, as well as to the daughter from a previous relationship who he is raising.
What's Gender Got to Do with It?
According to a study released in July by the Population Reference Bureau, about 10 percent of married Black men are with white women. By comparison, only 4 percent of married Black women in 2000 had a white husband. While 22 percent of married Asian women are with white men, only 10 percent of married Asian men are in interracial marriages.
"People will say that everyone is equal," says Professor Sharon Lee of Portland State University and co-author of the study. "But if race and ethnicity didn't matter, then why do we see these patterns that are so stable?"
For at least 35 years, Black men and Asian women have been more likely to pair with whites. Professor Lee and other researchers attribute this to history and pop culture. Slavery and its sexual exploitation of Black women by white men left Black women wary of interracial liaisons. U. S. military involvement in Asia largely brought white men, not white women. Of course, popular culture plays a role since Asian women are usually represented as overly feminine and black men as hyper-sexualized.
Professor Lee thinks all this might be changing since black women are increasingly looking at interracial marriages with whites. But one of her students had another suggestion: "Maybe Black women and Asian guys should get together." However if Census data is any indicator, that won't happen anytime soon--interracial marriages between Blacks and Asians are small.
*Names have been changed or full names have not been used.
Daisy Hernandez is senior editor at ColorLines. Megan Izen is a ColorLines intern.
Something Old, Something New
I swore I'd never date a white guy. So I married him.
There's a Chris Rock joke where he says that whatever type of person you hate will somehow wind up in your family, such is how karma will mess with you. I laugh because after years of swearing against ever even dating a white guy, I married one this summer.
I had never had a real experience with a white person--one where I didn't disguise or disengage myself--until I met my husband. During my undergrad years of campus activism, my friends and I not only held white people responsible for injustices and oppressions, but we also considered them basically different from us. White people acted on their racial privilege with every breath, intentionally or not. You couldn't maintain a five-minute conversation with a white person, much less a friendship, without feeling that they would just never get it.
I met Cameron at the social justice organization where we both worked. Jewish, white, 6 feet 3 inches tall, he wore his brown hair shorn super short and had a tattoo covering most of his left forearm that depicted a gun and the words "Down for Struggle." Over lunch, he told me he identified as a radical white person, something I had never considered. He was articulate without acting superior and had the slightest stutter when he was nervous or felt strongly about something. I returned to the office feeling pleasantly off-balance.
We started dating, even though I still felt that I could never really be with a white person, that a white person could never understand my anger, could never experience what a person of color lived. But I'll admit the timing helped. I had just returned from a trip to Vietnam, my native country, and felt displaced or misplaced. I was open to a new experience, and we were different in ways that interested me. He was direct where I was circuitous. Communicative where I was reluctant. Heartfelt where I was ironic.
Our early relationship was a series of surprises. He was a white man who had spent 13 years working for social and racial justice, as well as figuring out his own learned privilege. He wasn't cerebral, clueless, guilt-ridden or annoyingly well-intentioned. I didn't have to explain racism. My estimation of him grew when we became involved in trying to make internal changes in our organization, some of which were focused on the treatment of people of color. He was fired under the racist perception that he was the instigator; I quit shortly afterwards.
As we became increasingly serious and marriage became a possibility, I looked more deeply at how I felt about white people. Cameron insisted that I not see him as an exception. And I needed to make sense of my own deep-seated feelings against white people, of being another Asian woman-white man couple, of the anti-white jokes so common at work or with friends and family, of potentially having half-white children who would need to have a healthy sense of their different identities, of being a part of his white family and of how I really felt about the role of white people in a progressive movement.
In struggling with this, I've come to see white people as more fully human, as basic as that might sound. My understanding of race and systems of oppression has changed too. I still think every white person benefits from being white, but also that most are being screwed over by a wealthy ruling elite that tells them they have the same interests because they share racial privilege.
My relationship with Cameron wouldn't have worked out if we both weren't equally committed to dealing with our personal issues around race and if he had not put so many years into self-work before we even met. Are we affected by race every day? Of course. Do I ever act out my anger against white people on him? Sometimes, and I have to check myself. Does he ever do things that come out of white privilege? Yes, but I don't write him off because he made a mistake. I know he's committed to working on his racism. We discuss it and work on solutions together. At the same time, he engages me when I say or do something prejudiced, or classist or heterosexist--and we talk about that, too.
Cameron and I haven't got it all figured out. Not by a long shot. But I like the idea that love can inspire personal transformation, a struggle with your demons an attempt at the expansion of your human vision. All this and someone warm to spoon at night.
Vy Nguyen organizes low-wage immigrant workers in Koreatown, Los Angeles.
By Vy Nguyen
Would I get mistaken for being a white woman?
I'd always known I could never fall in love with someone who was white. In the back of my high school yearbook, in the "Boosters" section, I wrote, "... And my husband will not be white!" Apparently, I knew a lot about myself at that young age, that I would have a husband, for one, and that if nothing else, he would not be white. Fifteen years later I am at least half right. An out and proud lesbian, it's true: my husband will not be white. I must confess, however, that my wife might be.
I didn't dislike white people; my mother was white and so were many of my friends. But I was not attracted to white women. Period. The irony of this is that with little effort I could pass for white. When I stand side-by-side with my Black father, people remark on how much we look alike, except my skin is several shades lighter than his. I have always self-identified as mixed-race, but despite my light skin (or perhaps because of it) I have also deliberately asserted an identity as Black. Every two years, our father's relatives gather for a large family reunion. Every two years, I go and feel a deep bond.
Although I was close to my maternal grandmother and knew some of my cousins on my mother's side, I never felt the same level of kinship with them. My whiteness was never an issue for my father's family, but my Blackness was a big problem for my mother's. My grandfather never wanted to meet my father. Period.
I didn't deliberately decide not to date white women. For years I simply wasn't attracted to any. It was not until recently that I acknowledged to myself that at least part of the reason I wasn't attracted to white women before was because I couldn't stand the fact that if I was with a white woman, I might be mistaken for one myself.
Along with all the societal privileges afforded to me by my white skin, there is also the consequence that I am often invisible to many I consider my community: other Black folks. Although I've been told by several Black acquaintances that they knew I wasn't just white, it is rare that I am identified at first sight as a sister. My desire to be recognized as Black, and the constant reminders that I am not white, made me unable, or perhaps unwilling, to accept a white woman as my lover.
And then I met J. A white, Jewish, fellow native New Yorker, J was right for me in more ways than all my past relationships combined. She was a writer. She wanted to have kids and was setting her life up to make that happen. Family was important to her, plus she was passionate, about me and about the world. She wouldn't cross a picket line. She had great friends and was a great communicator, on paper and in conversation. She laughed at all my jokes.
Once I could accept that I was attracted to J, falling in love with her seemed inevitable. I realized I didn't care if people thought we were two Jewish lesbians (as many of her friends have). In all my past relationships there had been something about the person I wish were different, something that I knew they could change about themselves if only they wanted to. But J's whiteness is an immutable fact. This was not a therapy issue but an acceptance issue. I finally understood that if I could truly accept my light skin, then there was no reason I could not accept hers.
The relationship is still new and there are many unanswered questions. For example, I always assumed that if I were to birth a baby, the sperm donor would be Black (or at least of color). J and I are a long way from discussing this topic, but I can see it in our future. Or at least I hope to.
Nicole E. Davis holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Sarah Lawrence College and is currently pursuing an MSW degree from Hunter College.
By Nicole E. Davis
Seeking Torah, Tamales and Love
My wish list for a husband may be too long.
During my first trip to Jerusalem, I celebrated my 19th birthday. I spent most of the 20-hour flight back home to Southern California thinking about what I would say to my Filipino boyfriend. I had confusing thoughts about what I saw and did in the country I had come to know as the Holy Land.
"Did you wish I was there?" he asked me, soon after I arrived.
"Not really," I responded. "I would have had to explain everything."
The conversation permanently changed my relationship with that boyfriend. I began to see him as fundamentally different from me. Although he happily watched me light the sabbath candles and even attended synagogue once, he was never going to be a part of the religious life I was constructing for myself. Religion did not end the relationship, but when we broke up, I decided to only date religious Jewish men.
That decision prompted an unanticipated side effect--my dating life came to a halt.
It was not as though there was any shortage of Jews in Los Angeles, where I was living at the time. But I am the child of Panamanian immigrants. I grew up in a Southern California infused with Latino culture. I spoke grammatically incorrect and slang-filled Spanish. I listened to rock en espanol, salsa and hip-hop. I loved eating tamales, arroz con pollo and dulce de leche. In high school, my boyfriends had known and liked the same things as me. But these nice Jewish boys that I was now attempting to date? They found it either strange or exotic.
I found myself in a cycle. I would go on a handful of dates with modern Orthodox Jewish men, usually after being set up by a friend or acquaintance. They offered to pay and occasionally brought flowers. Some tried to impress me with their high-powered jobs. It's unfair to generalize, of course, but I found the vast majority to be rather unimpressive. I was used to the Chicanos who took me for joy rides along the beach. Or the Black men who touched my hips just so. And that one Salvadoran who would dance with me until 6 a.m. three nights in a row. They set me on fire.
So, even as I insisted on exclusively dating Jewish men, I would meet men of color at parties, bars and dance clubs. These men were far more aggressive then the Jewish men who met me for dinner. They wanted my kiss and phone number right away. Most of the time, I wouldn't offer either. But after enough frustratingly unfruitful dates with potential husbands, I was sometimes willing just to have a flirtatious, lustful evening.
This is nothing serious, I would tell myself at the end of the night. We just kissed. And I wouldn't even give him my phone number to let it happen again. Because as much as I love dancing Saturday nights, I love Friday nights even more. After sunset at the end of the workweek, I go to evening prayers and sit down for a festive meal with friends. That gives me solace. I wanted someone who wanted that too.
My friends who continue to suggest possible dates know that my wish list is increasingly long. Some say I'm just looking for too much in one person. Others argue that I am limiting myself by making religious practice a deal-breaker.
Most recently, I met a guy who was well-traveled in Latin America, a terrific salsa dancer and an Orthodox Jew. He was smart, nice, attractive and Jewish enough to keep my interest. He spoke about Latin American culture with a mix of awe, fascination and adoration. We talked about music, language, food and, of course, dancing. I walked away feeling exited with potential.
But as I recounted the conversation with friends, I realized that I am looking for something more than familiarity with my culture. While I love Latino food and music, tamales don't keep me awake at night. What excites me about being Latina is the same thing that excites me about being a religious Jewish feminist--intellectual engagement around identity politics and shared progressive values. I want someone who gets it when I talk about the way that I grapple with race and religion when I navigate through the world.
So, I care less about whether a guy speaks Spanish or Hebrew than about being able to have a conversation using the language of political engagement. And I want someone who can understand all these things without lengthy explanations on my part--and enjoy a good tamale.
Jennifer Medina is a journalist who has dated in Los Angeles and Jerusalem and is now looking in New York.
By Jennifer Medina
with research by Megan Izen
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