Interracial dating is complicated.
As a black woman, I don’t just want a partner who is attracted to and has similar interests to me. I also want someone who won’t fetishize me, someone who sees me accurately and not through their misconceptions about blackness or race. Just being not racist isn’t enough; I need a partner who, like me, is anti-racism.
It’s entirely possible for a white person to be my ideal partner, but when I date people who are racially similar, I find there are fewer racial blind spots. In college, I was casually dating a white man when I experienced non-black members of my sorority using the N-word, both as a slur and as a casual expression of kinship that they didn’t see as a problematic. I vented to this man about how tedious it was to educate, argue, and see my experiences belittled, and he was an amazing listener. Still, he also cringed when he realized that racism wasn’t as distant as he’d once thought. He seemed uncomfortable with reminders that he experienced privilege. He couldn’t really offer advice, not because he didn’t want to but because he had never been in my position.
By comparison, when I dated a black woman shortly after, she could better empathize with my stories, because they were hers too. I wasn’t required to clarify that when I said white people shouldn’t use slurs, I wasn’t implying something hostile about her behavior. I didn’t have to specify that I wasn’t angry at all white people. She knew that I was frustrated with a system that awards privilege based on something as arbitrary as skin color. She was exasperated alongside me. There was space to vent without having to reassure someone through their guilt or discomfort.
That was before 2016.
Since President Trump took office, interracial dating has become even more uncertain for me. When someone flirts with me at a bar, the impacts of this very unconventional presidency almost always come up. Once, a white guy felt so bad that he bought me a shot — and then begged my forgiveness on behalf of all white people. During a one-night stand with a white woman, she began crying, saying that sometimes she “hated being white.” She wanted me to reassure her that it was okay for her to have privileges I don’t. But crying about my own status in that way would be like meeting a disabled person and complaining about being able-bodied. It would place the burden of my discomfort on the more marginalized people around me. Personally, I think it would be more valuable for this woman to speak up when she saw others mistreated or simply advocate for their needs. But I didn’t say that — I just never spoke to her again.
Once, a white guy felt so bad that he bought me a shot — and then begged my forgiveness on behalf of all white people.
Although I’ve never been in a long-term interracial relationship, I imagine that the dynamics are highly influenced by our current political climate. “Being a lesbian in an interracial relationship is a double whammy, but what’s been key is not letting outside perspectives affect us,” says Ali, 24, a white woman in a relationship with Dalia, a 24-year-old Latinx woman. “A real wake-up call for me was when my dad joked, when I was nervous about coming out to my great-aunt, that she would have less of a problem with [my girlfriend] being a woman and more of a problem with her being ‘a hispanic.’ I was so busy worrying about homophobia that I totally forgot about racism.”
And of course, there are other struggles, especially in terms of how policy is personally affecting different Americans. “Her family are immigrants from Latin America, and recent topics have been hitting close to home,” she says. “I get more heated about politics than she does, but we both [try to] keep each other updated without getting too deep into it because it will just upset us. We separate ourselves by taking social media breaks. Some days, it’s too exhausting to be showered with all of the sewage that’s going on.”
This political climate has motivated Cynthia, 21, a Latinx woman dating a 25-year-old white man, to lean into the nuances of an opposing perspective. In the 2016 election, he voted for Trump. “We have had problems regarding our beliefs since I am a first-generation Latina, and many of my family members are undocumented,” she says. “We’ve moved forward just by discussing and sometimes arguing but trying to maintain respect. Sometimes we won’t agree but we’ll let it go.”
She observes the intrinsic merit of having a person in her life with different beliefs but also recognizes that her relationship dynamic may not work for everyone. “Value the experience of hearing what [the other person] has to say, get some insight, and try not to make things about a specific political party,” she advises. “If you feel strongly that their view is wrong though, you should find someone who has the same views you do.”
Of course, sharing the same political beliefs doesn’t guarantee that things will be easy. Monique, 29, is Latinx and is married to a darker-skinned Afro-Latinx woman. Their relationship has faced a test since Monique’s parents cast their ballots for Trump.
“We lived with my parents for a few months, which was was hard,” she says. “It’s definitely changed [my partner’s] view about [them]. Every time Trump says something, she reminds me that my parents are backing this guy. It blows both of our minds. She won’t go out of her way to see or engage with them, and I respect that.”
The way Monique perceives her partner has also changed — for the better. “Since Trump [was elected], I’ve learned a lot about her,” she says. Monique has discovered how outspoken her partner can be about politics and how much she cares to enact change in the world. “Sometimes it’s hard for me, since I grew up [filtering myself]. But I admire that she really wants to help open people’s eyes to what’s going on in the world and what we can do to fix it.”
Ali expresses the same sort of appreciation for her partner. “Dalia is optimistic about what is to come, and I admire that about her. She uses that [optimism] to support me in times where I feel like everything is going to shit, and she reminds me that things are going to get better, even though I’m ‘less’ affected in some ways.”
These successful interracial relationships have a common thread: solidarity that isn’t just performative. Each partner holds space for the other. They are proof that genuine allyship in interracial relationships exists.
Most importantly, they provide confirmation that marginalized people wanting partners who create a safe space to voice their racial frustrations aren’t asking for the world. We don’t need apologies or pity alcohol in the Trump era. We need loved ones who make it easier to cope.