- Talking about race can be difficult, especially when you’re dating someone of a different race than you are.
- INSIDER asked three different couples how they discuss race within themselves and with others.
- They stressed how important it is to have an open dialogue.
In regards to race, this past year has been a nearly-unprecedented catalyst for conversation, especially when it comes to the roles that race plays in personal and romantic relationships. For every positive, empowering moment of progress, it also feels as though there’s another tragic moment of loss or discrimination.
The movie “Get Out” created many of those new conversations, leaving audiences in awe and opening new opportunities for black filmmakers and actors in horror movies. Despite its success, though, the film has been the subject of controversy when it comes to awards show season and largely-white film critics’ interpretation of its genre.
Recently, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle made royal history with their engagement. Despite the happy occasion, there were the inevitable trolls and the prince and his bride-to-be were forced to open up about the “disheartening” criticism of their interracial romance. Early in their relationship, Harry was even forced to defend Meghan from those who were making racist remarks towards her.
As of 2017, interracial marriages were at an all-time high, according to NewsWeek.
What does it look to be an interracial couple in 2017? How do couples navigate generations of complex and sensitive topics?
For me, it meant seeing “Get Out” in a heartwarmingly diverse and incredibly-welcoming theater with a boyfriend, only for us to be referred to as “O.J. and Nicole” at a bar a week or two later. Though no two relationships are the same, some of the microaggressions, the experiences, and the conversations mirror each other for interracial couples.
Three different interracial couples spoke candidly to INSIDER about their own journeys in their relationships, including the first time they discussed race and how they make their time together work in an often-tumultuous social and political climate. Each story and couple is different, but if they share one thing, it’s the desire to remain honest and informed.
SEE ALSO: Prince Harry finally admitted he has a girlfriend while firing back at the racist trolls who insulted her
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Keenan Bell and Ryan Quinlan
Keenan Bell and Ryan Quinlan have been together for four years. They attended college together at Ohio University. Before they were even officially dating, Bell said that they discussed race openly, but one specific conversation left them asking deeper questions.
“When I met his family, they were talking about how Tea Party members are idiots and they stopped and were like, ‘Are you a member of the Tea Party?'” Bell recalled. “Later on, I was talking to Ryan and I was like, ‘That was so weird that your parents even had to ask if I was a Tea Party member. I’m black.'”
“Well, they wouldn’t just assume that about you,” Quinlan replied.
According to the Pew Research Center, nearly four-in-ten adults say that that the growing number of interracial marriages is actually good for society. This figure is a significant growth from those of previous years.
In Bell’s experience though, it doesn’t always feel that way on an everyday level.
“I don’t know if it’s something people assume or if it’s just my own anxiety and paranoia. Probably both,” Bell told INSIDER. “But I always worry that when black people see me with Ryan that they automatically think the worst of me like I’m just another light-skinned girl who thinks she’s better than darker [people of color] or that I’m not concerned about social justice issues.”
Though this sense of dissonance is a common phenomenon, Bell wants people to know that it’s possible for her to be both active in fighting racism and in an interracial relationship with a white man.
She said she’s also prepared for the future, already aware of the fact that she will likely have children of mixed race one day.
“I don’t think [Ryan] would be prepared [to have a child that looked black] because I don’t know how as a white person you can be fully prepared to raise a child who will grow up with problems you’ve never faced before,” Bell said. “He would definitely embrace having a kid that looked black. It adds a layer of difficulty, but Ryan tries really hard and I love him so it’s just something I’ve chosen to live with.”
Taylor Durbin and Nick Jones
After almost a year together, Taylor Durbin and Nick Jones say that they talk about race often and are comfortable discussing their viewpoints as a couple.
“You need to be understanding and care about how the other person feels towards different subjects,” Jones told INSIDER. “It doesn’t hurt to talk about [race] and honestly, talking about sensitive topics is one of the biggest parts of being in a relationship and understanding another person.”
“We talk about [race] often, actually,” Durbin agreed.
Jones said that their first discussion about race began with a simple question.
“She asked me if I had ever dated anyone that wasn’t white, which I hadn’t,” Jones said.
“That’s a conversation I try to have as soon as possible so that I can determine if we’ll be compatible,” Durbin told INSIDER. “I asked how he felt about police brutality and the [Black Lives Matter] movement because that stuff is important to me, so I wanted to be sure that we were on the same page before we continued developing our relationship.”
And the discussion doesn’t stop simply within the confines of the partnership. There are other people involved in relationships as well.
“I ask the questions about family,” Durbin said. “How his parents would feel about him bringing home a black girl. When I asked about his family, he was like ‘of course they don’t care,’ so that was a relief. His family really likes me.”
In any relationship, family can play a role in how two significant others function together as a successful unit.
In 2013, about one-in-eight marriages or 12% of new marriages in the United States were interracial, according to the Pew Research Center. Despite the growing numbers, the same study stated that two-in-10 biracial black and white adults reported a family member treating them badly because of their multiracial status.
The impact of a family’s attitude can make or break the status of many relationships, but for Durbin and Jones, it’s not on their list of concerns.
In fact, Durbin said that her list of concerns actually shrank as she began a relationship with Jones, giving her faith in the strength of their bond.
“What kind of made me love Nick, even more, was that he never made me feel uncomfortable in my blackness,” Durbin said. “When I change my hairstyle, he loves it no matter what … He’s never made me feel like the ‘angry black woman,’ which I feel happens to me a lot … He’s never sexualized my blackness or made inappropriate jokes about it. He truly loves me no matter what and that, to me, is so important, especially in an interracial relationship because sometimes lines can get crossed that don’t exist in same-race relationships.”
Asia Harris and Cory Wasmer
Cory Wasmer and Asia Harris have been together for about eight months, but Harris’ awareness of Wasmer’s relationship to her race came early on.
“It was definitely within the first few weeks, maybe month, of us talking,” Harris said. “I was appreciative that he never used any of the ‘compliments.’ ‘You’re pretty for a black girl,’ or ‘I was never into black girls before you.’ I’d heard it all before.”
When Harris expressed this to Wasmer, she was even more impressed by his reaction.
“He said he was surprised and saddened to hear that I have heard that so much,” Harris said. “I think that conversation led to us talking about whether or not we’d dated outside of our races before. I told him that I had a handful of times and he stated that he never had until me … I walked away feeling good about him.”
Harris and Wasmer said they don’t make racism a major talking point, but it’s not because it’s something they don’t care about.
“Because the general consensus surrounding the relationship regarding the interracial aspect has been positive thus far, it isn’t a primary topic of discussion, honestly,” Harris said.
“I am definitely the one who will bring it up if it ever really is a conversation,” Harris said. “A black woman with a white man isn’t necessarily what people see every single day in Ohio.”
Harris’ sentiments echoed Durbin’s earlier comments about the importance of making sure that everyone, including family, is informed.
Harris was especially touched when Wasmer’s family seemed to have their own moment of concern regarding how the couple would navigate a trip to the South given that, according to the 2017 National Crime Victims’ Rights Week Resource Guide, hate crime victimization rose 7% from 2014 to 2015.
52% of these reported hate crimes were anti-black, which is particularly troubling.
“We were traveling to the south to watch the solar eclipse. I was worried,” Harris said. “I don’t know of what or why but you just never know in this day and age. I remember expressing those concerns to him. He was 100% understanding of my concerns. We borrowed his mom’s car to go to Tennessee, so we went to his parents’ house before our trip and she kind of sat us down and let us know like to be aware of our surroundings and she even mentioned the fact that we could be a target, being that we are an interracial couple. I think her conversation and concern with our well being made me appreciative of the fact that it seems like this family is rather ‘woke’ to what is going on in the world.”
Harris and Wasmer said the importance of familial acceptance, and protection is so important. If their families didn’t have their backs, it could have a major impact — or even end — a relationship.
“Based on my interactions with his family and everyone that I have met in his life thus far, they are all welcoming, accepting of me and us, and I honestly don’t ever feel like I am treated differently,” Harris said. “I think if it were otherwise like if his family didn’t agree with us or had a problem with me, I don’t want to say I wouldn’t be with him, but it would definitely be harder for me.”
In this case, despite the negatives and the risks, the positives feel like major wins. In the face of such a deeply unfortunate paradox, healthy, open, genuine conversation feels like an answer to the problem, and to watch love unfold with each new discussion feels like even more of a remedy.
The resilience of love trumps ignorance and hatred. That ability to love despite the challenges is what tips the balance all the way in favor of what is right. To quote Durbin, “I’ve never been happier with anyone else.” And that’s what matters.
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