Read an Excerpt
The Colors of Love
The Black Person's Guide to Interracial Relationships
By Kimberly Hohman
Chicago Review Press Incorporated Copyright © 2002 Kimberly Hohman
All rights reserved.
MEETING YOUR MATCH
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If you're considering dating interracially for the first time, you're probably anxious, excited, and maybe even afraid. Interracial relationships shouldn't be scary — at least no scarier than any other relationship. Unfortunately, though, interracial couples still face many obstacles that same-race couples don't, such as disapproving families, society's naysayers, and, less commonly, out-and-out victimization. Deciding to date interracially — and I use the term deciding for lack of a better word — means consciously accepting these obstacles. It means saying, "I am willing to forego the luxuries afforded to same-race couples in favor of the potential of being ostracized by my family and friends, as well as almost certain disapproval from some total strangers." Sound menacing? It may very well be. On the other hand, deciding to date interracially isn't generally a conscious decision.
The cliché goes: You don't choose who you love. The reality is: Most people are hit with an interracial attraction well before they've had a chance to think about whether or not it's something they'd actively put in their game plan. If you're reading this book, you've probably already found yourself attracted to someone of another race. Instead of asking yourself "Do I think that white guy is hot?" you're likely thinking more along the lines of "Am I prepared to enter into a relationship that will set me apart from my peers and make me something of a spectacle in society?" And that's a wise way to be thinking, because being prepared for an interracial relationship can help you avoid a lot of drama and unnecessary surprises.
There won't always be definitive answers to the questions you'll have about interracial dating, but by learning from the experiences of those who have been there, you will start to gain insight that you can apply to your own relationship. In my research and discussions with interracial couples, I've found there are several common questions that people in the early stages of interracial dating frequently ask.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is It Wrong to Be Solely Attracted to People of Another Race?
The debate about this question is probably as old as interracial relationships themselves. To my knowledge, no one has yet come up with a definitive answer, but my personal thinking on it goes something like this: If you could get people to answer honestly, most would tell you that physical attraction is the first thing they appreciate about a potential mate. Various studies generally confirm this notion and, in fact, physical appearance is the top priority of respondents in many polls. If you ask me, there's no shame in that game; it certainly can't hurt to be physically attracted to your mate. Just as some folks prefer dark hair or a tall build, some have skin color preferences that make them gravitate to certain people more than others. On that level, interracial dating is no more controversial than a blond person being attracted to and dating a redhead. The trouble is that in our society skin color equals race, and race obviously carries with it a much more complicated history than hair color. But that in and of itself isn't the whole problem. The problem is people who are after something more than a simple physical attraction to another race.
You know the type and you know they're out there — people who seek out interracial relationships just to spite someone (usually a parent they know will disapprove), or people who date outside of their race just because their peers are doing it. In these relationships, one partner usually ends up becoming a pawn in the game, where it's not about who they are, but what color they are.
How Do I Know When It's "Jungle Fever"?
"He's got jungle fever. She's got jungle fever." Sing it with me.
I have to admit that for the longest time, I didn't understand "jungle fever." I always assumed it was simply a term used to describe an interracial couple, and I used it jokingly with friends. One day, I was talking to a black girlfriend of mine who was lamenting about the guy she was dating — who just happened to be white. Things were going well in the relationship, but for some reason she still had some niggling doubts about his intentions. She just couldn't shake his repeated comments about her exotic looks, and the fact that he made a random remark about black women being wild in bed had her feeling, well, a little scared.
The true meaning of jungle fever finally clicked for me that day. Jungle fever is when your mate is interested solely in your race and not in the true you. It's the white guy who just wants to experiment with a dark beauty or the white girl who is determined to find out if size really does matter. True, you want a mate who is captivated by you, but not for all the wrong reasons. If your new partner constantly mentions those age-old myths about phallic size, rumors about bedroom behavior, or exoticness, run fast and far.
On the flip side, there are also brothers and sisters who date people of other races for all the wrong reasons. You already know the reasons, because they spark debates like, "You're only dating that white person because you're a self-hating African American." All of the reasons run along that same vein:
"You hate your own race."
"You're trying to be better than the rest of us."
"You want light-skinned babies."
These accusations are ugly, but even uglier is the possibility that there are black folks dating white people for exactly those reasons. If you're among them, I recommend putting this book down and giving some real thought to why you're considering interracial dating. Love and relationships should be about mutual respect and admiration for your partner. If you're in a relationship for some of the previously mentioned reasons, there's a good chance you lack self-respect. Without that, what can you possibly offer your partner?
Is It Really That Hard to Date Interracially?
As with any type of relationship, individual experiences vary widely; from the couple who's seen nothing but hate and discontent in the wake of their relationship, to the couple who has never had so much as an eyelash batted in their direction as a result of their relationship. My experience has been that while there are couples on both ends of that spectrum, the vast majority of couples' realities lie somewhere between wanting to live a friction-free life and realizing that the world is an imperfect place.
Whether or not your interracial experience is a difficult one depends heavily on several factors (all of which will be discussed in greater depth later on in the book): both your and your partner's family and friends' acceptance of interracial relationships, your level of comfort with being seen by society as something of a novelty, your geographical location, your commitment to your relationship, and both your and your partner's self-confidence.
While a relationship can survive the misfortune of having negative marks in all of the above categories, having any or all of those things in your favor will make an interracial relationship much easier. Assessing each factor will help you determine, to some extent, whether the road ahead will be a rough one.
Many interracial couples find that the stress of these challenges can be diminished by accepting that some things will be harder for them than they are for same-race couples. There's no doubt that interracial couples face hurdles and that, when you add them to the hurdles that face any couple, they can seem overwhelming. But if you find your true love in a person of another race and you're committed to that love, any hurdle can be overcome.
Will I Experience More Disapproval from Within My Racial Group or from Outside?
Those in interracial relationships can expect disapproval from others. Disapproval from your family is probably the most hurtful because it feels like being rejected by the people you care about most. When the disapproval comes from strangers, you're much more likely to offer up a relevant hand gesture and get on with your business. But when the disapproval comes from peers of your racial group who might or might not know you well, you're more likely to start to doubt your decisions, your choices, and your situation. The disapproval of your peers can make you re-examine whether your relationship is really OK, because you rarely think of your peers as old-fashioned or having antiquated ideas about race, which you'd be more likely to assume of your family.
While peer pressure is commonly thought of as an adolescent problem, it can continue to affect us as adults. Wanting to be accepted by those we consider our equals has as much to do with simple human nature as it does with a desire to boost self-confidence. But peer pressure can be a good thing if it strengthens your convictions. Also, confrontation by your peers gives you an opportunity to educate those who disapprove and possibly cause them to rethink their attitudes.
While societal reactions to interracial relationships will be discussed at greater length later in the book, whether you experience more disapproval from within or from outside your race group tends to depend on the race group of which you're a member. Whites in interracial relationships tend to experience more condemnation from other whites, but because it's more expected, it may be somewhat easier to deal with. Black people are usually less likely to face disapproving attitudes from other blacks, but may find the disapproval they do face harder to swallow because it comes as more of a shock. One study of 100 black/white interracial relationships conducted by Dr. Sheryline A. Zebroski between 1989 and 1991 found that people in such relationships were more likely to rate people of the same race and sex as most supportive of their relationship. They were also more likely to rate people of the opposite sex but same race as most opposed to their relationship. You might find these statistics useful as you attempt to gauge your own expectations.
Resources and Ideas for Meeting and Approaching People of Other Races
If you're not already in a relationship but you'd like to be, you're probably looking for someone intelligent, fascinating, attractive, and ambitious — but so is every other single person in the world. What's a person to do? From what I hear talking to single friends, today's singles scene isn't always fun. The challenge of the desire to date interracially is that, since not everyone has given it the consideration you have, you may find it difficult to hook up with someone of another race. Antiquated as it sounds, there's no easy way to tell if someone is down with interracial dating, so you may be looking rejection in the face if you're considering asking out a stranger in a bar, especially if he or she has never dated interracially. Worse, unless he or she is sporting a pointed hat and a white sheet, it's hard to tell a racist by looks. You certainly don't want to set yourself up for an encounter with any outwardly attractive but inwardly ugly person.
Personally, I prefer the just-let-it-happen approach to meeting the love of your life. Many interracial couples have found love in the most common ways: through their jobs, via a shared interest, or from a casual friendship that developed into something more. Indeed, the majority of the couples I spoke with in the preparation for this book explained that they were friends for some time before they became a couple. According to Dr. Zebroski's study, interracial couples were:
more likely to have met through their jobs than in school, in their neighborhoods, in church, or through recreational activities
more likely to admit that their courtship began through repeated casual conversations rather than with immediate physical attraction, friendship over a period of time, or after a close association (e.g., work relationship, casual friendship) with each other
more likely to admit that their initial attraction to each other was their shared interests as compared with shared beliefs, physical attraction, or because their partner held an important position in a group
But if that road has thus far proved to be a dead end for you, maybe you're ready to start looking down other avenues. If you're still waiting to exhale or are looking to get your groove back, here are some resources for breaking down the barriers to the interracial dating world.
Many bigger cities and even some smaller ones with large multicultural populations are launching interracial or multicultural clubs to help like-minded individuals socialize. Clubs like New York City's Swirl Inc. (www.swirlinc.org) provide a social outlet for interracial couples and multiracial people who are interested in seeking out others with similar interests. Organized social events are a wonderful way to meet people and provide networking opportunities unlike those you might be able to develop by going solo.
Diversity Hot Spots
Depending on your geographical location, you may find that heading downtown for your nights out offers you a more diverse crowd to mingle with than hanging out in the more homogeneous suburbs. College and university towns also tend to offer a more racially diverse environment, along with cutting edge nightlife and cultural experiences. Make an effort to seek out ethnically diverse happenings in your town, such as festivals and performances, to see who you might meet.
Singles around the globe are turning to the Internet as the new singles bar. It's rapidly become recognized as a great resource for meeting like-minded individuals. Because of the successes of Internet match-ups, interracial-friendly dating sites such as InterracialSingles.com (www.interracialsingles.com) are cropping up across the Web. If you think about it, Internet dating and interracial relationships are a match made in heaven. Where else can you find such large, concentrated groups of single people looking to date interracially? It takes the guesswork out of interracial dating by eliminating the question "But would he/she be up for an interracial relationship?" Of course, the Internet dating scene does have its drawbacks, namely the already discussed and reviled "jungle fever." Plus, finding a reputable dating service can be a challenge. Try doing a search for "interracial" on a search engine and you'll turn up X-rated interracial porn sites. Still, many people in all kinds of relationships swear by the success they've had meeting mates online. However, there are a few universal ground rules to observe when hitting the Internet dating scene.
You Lie, You Lie
Don't believe the hype. Recognize that not everything that on-line people tell you is the truth. People lie on-line for one simple reason: it's easy to get away with. Weighing in at 350 pounds and wishing you were thin? Tell him you're a cool 175; he can't see you. Working at the local 7-Eleven and wishing it wasn't so? Tell her you're the CEO of an Internet start-up; she'll never know the difference. According to WiredPatrol (www.WiredPatrol.org), "Women tend to lie about their weight or age, while men tend to lie about their income, level of baldness, and athletic condition." Use good judgment and your best private detective skills to decipher what's fact and what's fiction. On the flip side, it's always a good practice to be honest about yourself when corresponding on-line. No sense telling someone you look "just like Denzel" when you know you don't. If there's a chance you'll end up pursuing the relationship beyond e-mail and on-line chatting, you'll only end getting caught in the end, so don't set yourself up for failure.
Don't Give Up the Digits
Don't reveal personal information on-line — including your last name. There's no need for anyone you meet on-line to know anything more about you than your chat nickname or your (preferably anonymous) e-mail address. Don't tell them where you work, where you live, or any other easily identifiable information. Before you start scoping out the Internet dating scene, take a moment to sign up for a Web-based e-mail address at a site like Yahoo! (www.yahoo.com) or Hotmail (www.hotmail.com). Using this type of e-mail address rather than your personal ISP account provides you with an easy exit in the event that Mr. or Ms. Perfect suddenly turns out to be Mr. or Ms. Fatal Attraction with stalking or bunny-boiling tendencies.
Let it Flow
Take things slowly when you're getting to know someone on-line. One of the greatest benefits of meeting someone on-line is having the chance to get to know them without all the bumbling and fumbling that often comes with the first face-to-face meeting. While on-line dating eliminates the luxury of assessing a person's true physical presence (a picture sent via e-mail might paint a thousand words, but it can't warn you about simple chronic halitosis or flat-out funky B.O.), it does give you the benefit of finding out whether or not a potential suitor can spell and just how well he or she can communicate. Take advantage of an extended on-line courtship period before you make a move to meet in person. The extra time will give you an opportunity to catch any discrepancies in the information your correspondent is feeding you. As the WiredPatrol put it, "Everyone can put their best cyber-foot forward in the first couple of e-mails. Being consistent is tougher. Make sure you keep the old e-mails to compare the information they give you."
Excerpted from The Colors of Love by Kimberly Hohman. Copyright © 2002 Kimberly Hohman. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
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