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."
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