These Interracial Couples Talk Navigating Race In Today’s America

"Love has no culture, boundaries, race, and religion."

Human Interest

There is a quote by Santosh Kalwar that states, "Love has no culture, boundaries, race, and religion. It is pure and beautiful like early-morning sunrise falling in lake." While this might be true, the year 2020 has made us more aware of the different experiences we face in this country based on the color of our skin. With this year's cultural climate shift, I was curious to learn more about the experience of being in an interracial relationship during this time. While I believe every relationship is different and has its own nuances, what does it look like when race has played a part in the relationship, if at any point at all? I was able to speak to two couples who offered some perspective on how they navigate everything together.

Courtney & Jackson

Courtesy of Courtney & Jackson

Courtney: We had been friends for 10 years and have been a couple for five. We basically met through mutual friends. Before I met Jackson, I've mostly dated within my race or been with men of color. With Jackson, for the more serious relationships, he has dated women of color before he met me. As far as race being an important part in our relationship, it is not something we center our relationship around. We talk about race a lot, and learning about Jackson's childhood was different than what I had expected. Hearing that he grew up in the inner city and he was around people that looked like me kind of checked me a little to not be as narrow-minded.

Jackson: I do feel that I have a different perspective than the average person from the South. I spent a lot of time in neighborhoods where I was the only white person. So I was exposed early on to the mistreatment that happens in communities and by law enforcement. Even in those moments, I knew I was treated differently than the people I was hanging out with.

Have you ever felt that you are treated differently by family and friends because you are in an interracial relationship?

Jackson: My parents were gracious when they didn't understand why I would bring black women home. So they have been working on things before they met Courtney. But with the recent Black Lives Matter movement, there have been great conversations.

Courtney: With Jack's parents, they grew up traditionally Republican. They also have a son (Jack) who dates black women and is a criminal defense attorney, so they get tidbits on how unfair the justice system is. With George Floyd, they were made aware of so many things at once. They have had some really in-depth and hard conversations with us as a couple, saying, "'We weren't fully where we are now and we want to talk about. We are a little upset we weren't there before, but we are here now and we want to ask and learn more.'" I think that's been one of the beauties of us being together in these times.

What is a misconception that you often face as an interracial couple?

Jackson: One misconception is that people don't understand that you are still handling things as a unit. People think that because we are in an interracial relationship, we [either] have things figured out, or the opposite, [with] people thinking that everything is screwed up in the relationship because of the crazy times. Neither one is true.

Courtney: For me being a black woman, I get put in this stereotype of white-washing my culture and intentionally trying to be with a white person instead of me being with the person I love. It's a little bit harder because if you speak to him and talk to him, you can understand why I'm with him. But on the surface it might not look that way, especially during the pandemic.

"As far as race being an important part in our relationship, it is not something we center our relationship around. We talk about race a lot, and learning about Jackson's childhood was different than what I had expected. Hearing that he grew up in the inner city and he was around people that looked like me kind of checked me a little to not be as narrow-minded."

Are there any things you had to unlearn about race in order to gain an understanding of each other?

Jackson: One thing that I will say in general—something that she repeats—'All skin folk aren't kinfolk.' Everybody that you expect to be on your side, whether they are related to you or because they look like you, is not always going to be on your side.

Courtney: That is something I am actively practicing, too, not just for people who look like me, but for people I have known my whole life. I am just trying to learn more about people because not everyone wants to learn more, and even though they look like you, you can't make them do anything they don't want to.

Ashley & Chea

Chea: We met for the first time at the Jay-Z and R. Kelly 'Best of Both Worlds' concert. I had recently gotten out of a relationship, and she was in a relationship at the time. She actually grew up with one of our mutual friends, Jero, who I ended up working with, and we would intentionally continue to cross paths and got introduced to each other.

Ashley: We were friends for four years before we started any commitment. We had a really deep friendship, so we both trusted each other. To be candid, at the time, we were just having fun. I wasn't thinking about being with him forever. So I didn't take his race into consideration. When I became pregnant, that is when race started to become a topic to discuss more.

Chea dated any woman he was attracted to regardless of race before we got together, where I specifically dated black men. I grew up in a pro-black community. So for me, when I visualized my life, I thought I was going to have dark brown babies like myself, marry a dark-skinned man, listen to Talib Kweli, and burn incense. It was intentional, but it wasn't exclusionary.

How do you educate one another (and yourselves) on your racial or cultural differences?

Chea: When we started our relationship, we really educated each other around the black culture and practicing [Islam]. She learned about my father's side and Buddhism. If we knew there was something that was important to us, we would share that with each other. I think what I have been mainly focusing on the last five years years is bridging the gap between what I've learned versus what I know from how I grew up.

I grew up in a majority-white neighborhood. So, 2020 has been an eye-opener where I'm not doing something correctly or no matter what I say, it's not making a substantial change. Whereas with Ashley, she's not at the point to sit down and educate people on how it is to be a black woman in America. She has been doing this her whole life, so she stands for educating yourself.

Have you ever felt you were being treated differently by family and friends because you were in an interracial relationship?

Chea: My mother is Caucasian and my father is Cambodian. It's layered, but on the surface, my mother's side was more accepting. We would go to family gatherings and there wouldn't be any issues really. On my father's side, the Asian side, the biggest pushback came from my stepmother. Both of my parents remarried, but with my father's side, there was confusion on how our relationship was coming together. You know, when people don't have an actual issue with something until it actually affects them? I think that's something you can apply to a lot of different things. Everything is great until it impacts you. Now five years into our marriage and 10 years into our relationship, I feel we are at a place where things are copacetic, but there are still those things that need to be worked through.

"I grew up in a pro-black community. So for me, when I visualized my life, I thought I was going to have dark brown babies like myself, marry a dark-skinned man, listen to Talib Kweli, and burn incense. It was intentional, but it wasn't exclusionary."

Were there things you had to teach your partner about being black in America that they may not have understood before?

Ashley: That's the thing about being in an interracial relationship. Chea doesn't experience the world the way I do. Even when I am getting profiled in a store, he is still existing in his own bubble. I sometimes would have to point it out to him and make him walk into a store and see who speaks to him. Now, watch when I walk in. I think these are things that white people miss everyday. When you are not existing in these spaces, you have the ability to look at things from an objective point of view, whereas we don't.

Chea: It's a very true experience and it's dependent on where we are, whether it's online or in-person.

"When you are not existing in these spaces, you have the ability to look at things from an objective point of view, whereas we don't."

Are there any things you had to unlearn about race in order to gain an understanding of each other?

Ashley: The growth for me came from within our marriage. I stopped looking at his Asian family as racist and started diving deeper into understanding where they are coming from having immigrated to this country. I don't think his family was being intentionally racist to me, they were just ignorant. But as soon as they got to know me, most of them changed immediately.

Chea: The thing that I had to unlearn is that every scenario doesn't always have the same outcome. For example, the police brutality, I think the common discourse for people who are not black is that, 'What did so and so do to get to this point?' That was my common way of thinking. Whether it was good or bad, something must have happened. I learned to let go of that and empathize more, regardless of what happened before.

Race aside, what is one thing that you truly enjoy about your partner?

Courtney: Jack is widely empathetic. He is able to relate to a lot of people on different journeys because he listens and can be present with them.

Jackson: There's a ton, but if I have to pick just one, it would be her creative spirit. I admire that about her and hope that her creative spirit sparks some creativity in me.

Ashley: Chea always felt like home to me, even before we were serious—when we were just friends. He is honestly one of my favorite people in the world. He is very loving and is a good person to everybody, not only to me which is important to me. If I had to choose one thing it would be his heart. Because that's where all of his good qualities stem from.

Chea: I feel like throughout various stages of our relationship I have loved her, and I just keep finding my love for her growing bigger. I can't really explain it. As I am trying to become a better person, she has been forcing me and helping me because she can see things I don't see. So I love her for that reason as well.

The two important things to know about relationships, whether you and your bae are of the same race or different races, are to be understanding of one another and to make your own rules. When you are intentional about knowing your partner's likes and dislikes, how you complement one another, and being empathetic to each other's experiences, race does not have to be a huge factor.

There will always be different obstacles that can make things challenging, but once you know who your partner is as a human being, you are able to create your own blueprint in order to make it through together. You should not go by other people's opinions or what others expect your relationship to be and with whom. At the end of the day, it is about what makes both of the people happy. Everyone is different and in the words of Chea, "Your results may vary."

Featured Image by Shutterstock

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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