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
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'K' is a multi-hyphenated free spirit from Chicago. She is a lover of stories and the people who tell them. As a writer, 9-5er, and Safe Space Curator, she values creating the life she wants and enjoying the journey along the way. You can follow her on Instagram @theletter__k_.
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What Are Intrusive Thoughts & How Do We Manage Them?
TW: some depictions of intrusive thoughts may be disturbing for readers.
Have you ever caught your mind drifting off to entertain the most disturbing scenarios imaginable? Maybe you can’t stop thinking of all the ways a loved one could pass away or worrying that you left every candle lit in your apartment to which you’d return to a home in ruins. If distressing ruminations like these have crossed your mind, you may be experiencing an intrusive thought.
What Are Intrusive Thoughts?
Intrusive thoughts are unwanted or distressing thoughts, images, or impulses that pop into your mind without your control or consent. These thoughts can be repetitive, unsettling, or even violent in nature, and can cause anxiety and frustration for those who experience them.
“Generally they're unwanted thoughts that come up in our head that interrupt what we're doing or thinking, and can feel very foreign,” says Adia Gooden, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist and host of the Unconditionally Worthy podcast. “It’s any thought that intrudes or interrupts what you are doing. They can be distressing and upsetting for us because it feels like we are not in control of them, and they're coming up out of nowhere and aren’t in line with how you normally think.”
What Causes Intrusive Thoughts?
Certain trauma or stress can contribute to the development of intrusive thoughts, so having a challenging experience from the past or current life situations may trigger them to form. “An intrusive thought could come in the form of a flashback, image, or a thought about something that's happened to you,” Dr. Gooden tells xoNecole. “When it gets to the point where you feel like you can't function or make clear decisions, that's when intrusive thoughts become really challenging.”
While some of the 1 billion videos found under the #intrusivethoughts hashtag on TikTok would lead you to believe that these thoughts are nothing more than casual displays of our imagination going untamed. Intrusive thoughts are more than sticking your hand in a soap dispenser, wanting to cut all your hair off at 3 a.m., or having a random impulse to eat fake bread in public.
The Anxiety & Depression Association of America reports that approximately six million individuals, equating to roughly two percent of the American population, encounter intrusive thoughts. Intrusive thoughts are often linked with obsessive-compulsive disorders, but they can also manifest in individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or anxiety.
Examples of Common Intrusive Thoughts
Because of the explicit nature of intrusive thoughts, they tend to cause shame and internal conflict in those who experience them. Although these thoughts can differ from person to person, these ideation can consist of:
- Violent or aggressive thoughts towards oneself or others, such as harming or killing someone;
- Sexual thoughts that are unwanted or inappropriate;
- Repetitive thoughts, such as a song or a phrase that keeps repeating in your mind;
- Contamination or germ-related thoughts or the fear of contamination and getting sick;
- Religious or blasphemous thoughts, such as questioning one's faith or having thoughts that go against religious beliefs;
- Doubts or uncertainty about one's own actions or decisions, such as fear of making a mistake or fear of not doing something right.
Intrusive Thoughts and OCD
That’s why Dr. Gooden encourages everyone to understand the difference between our fleeting thoughts and impulses and true, intrusive thoughts. “What level of distress does it cause and is it something you would never consider,” she says. “If you're finding that these thoughts are getting in the way of you living your life and that you're controlled by the thoughts, those are some signs that it would be good to get some support in navigating it.”
She also emphasizes the importance of understanding that while we may not always have control over our thoughts, we can control our behavior. “On TikTok, people are sort of blaming intrusive thoughts on their behavior, and our behavior is always a choice,” she says. “If we are in our right mind and we're not having a psychotic episode, our behavior is our choice — we are not obligated to follow any given thought that we have.”
Are Intrusive Thoughts Normal?
With intrusive thoughts, it’s natural to question whether these thoughts are “normal” to have. However, these thoughts are not meant to define who you are as a person but simply indicate that you have a functioning human mind with automated thoughts that you, or any of us, can’t control. These thoughts may come, but they don’t have to be acted upon, nor do they define who you are.
“I've worked with clients in the past who say, ‘Why am I thinking these things? What's wrong with me?’ But if you're not acting on the thought, then it's probably not a huge issue,” Dr. Gooden says. “If you are thinking a harmful thought towards yourself or someone else and you are making plans to act on that thought, then yes, we need to do something about it.”
How To Manage Intrusive Thoughts
If you are struggling with managing unwanted thoughts, Dr. Aida suggests taking these tips to help manage your mindset when they occur:
- "Recognize that it's a thought and thoughts are just thoughts. We often put a little bit too much weight on our thoughts, and that can create a lot of distress. But remember that thoughts are not facts."
- "Having a thought that's disturbing or upsetting doesn't make you a bad person, and it doesn't mean that you are suffering from a mental illness."
- "Sometimes the best thing you can do is say, 'Huh, that was an interesting thought. I'm going to let that go. That thought is not helpful for me right now."
- "Ask yourself: is this helpful? Is it helpful for me to buy into this thought and believe this thought? Asking that question can be really helpful because we are not at the mercy of our thoughts. If it's not helpful, you can let it go."
Intrusive thoughts can feel bizarre and foreign when they come up, but they aren't inherently "bad." Our minds can sometimes be filled with random and inappropriate thoughts, but that's what our stream of consciousness does: it thinks. Fortunately, we can release those thoughts at any moment; you don't have to follow through with them.
And ultimately, not every TikTok diagnosis is one that we should label ourselves with.
"It's important for people to acknowledge what they're experiencing but not run too quickly to diagnose themselves with some mental illness or disorder," Dr. Gooden advises. "It ends with confusion, and we miss the opportunity to understand the people who really do have that mental health challenge."
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