Bisi Alimi
Aug 2, 2017 · 5 min read

White Dating Black- Interracial Relationship and White Saviour Complex

Mildred and Richard Loving.

Since the story of Richard and Mildred Loving; one that has been ascribed as the “interracial love that changed history”, interracial relationship has become desirable. We have seen increasing cross-racial romantic love stories breaking down barriers of what it means to fall in Love. So true was this argument that at the opening of London Olympics 2012, an interracial couple were used as the desired relationship goal in modern Britain

Or so it seemed.

Over the years, interracial dating has become “fashionable” and even seen as a sign of liberal values or wokeness. There are many more people in the world who have moved on from having a Black or Asian friends(s) to actually have a Black or Asian in-law(s). I mean we all watched the film “Get Out” and saw how interracial dating is cool until white people need Black people’s genes or skull.

But my piece is not much about the themes of “Get Out” but rather on the unconscious “white saviour” in interracial dating (in couples where one person is white).

I am in an interracial relationship. My husband is white, I am black and we are gay. So we tick off two diversity boxes. We live in London, in an area considered urban and progressive, in part because of the amount of young people and interracial couples. Like many other interracial couples around us, my husband and I hold hands, kiss, smile at each other and indeed love one another, but there are deeper issues at play. What? Race and the sense of white saviour.

So what does it matter?

Recently, I was talking about white people dating black people with one of my friend. We discussed how sometimes even the most woke white person crosses the line of being the black person’s spokesperson. I once had a very matter of fact chat with my husband about race and black struggle. It was very simple. I told him, “When I find myself in a situation of racism; I do not demand that you speak for me.”

This sounds like I don’t want him to support me. However, in my book, there is difference between supporting me when I am confronting racism and saving me.

Too many black people in interracial relationship have always found themselves in a situation where their white partner assumes the role of the avenger. When that happens, the “rights to defend” is taken away from the black person and thereby takes away their validity and currency.

This act of speaking for one’s partner may be done with love and good intention, but the unintended consequences is that the white person takes away their partner’s agency by believing they need to stand up for them.

This is also seen when husband, boyfriend or friends of women try to “help” them.

Chris and Rose in “Get Out”

Two examples came to mind;

One was the scene in Get Out, when Rose Armitage played by Allison Williams and Chris Washington played by Daniel Kaluuya

Were stopped by the police on their way to the family home of Rose.

The police asked for Chris’s ID and Rose sensing an act of racial injustice spoke up for Chris and it could be argued that it was the currency of Rose’s whiteness that saved Chris’

The second was in Star Wars “The Force Awakens”. Main characters Rey and Han were in the desert facing their enemies when Han decided to lead Rey to safety, but she stopped him and informed him that she can help herself.

These scenarios played out on my mind while I was having a chat with a couple that are friends of mine. They are married and they both live in Spain. The white man in the couple told me that many times, racist comments have been made about them and he failed to tell his husband about them because he doesn’t want him to know, as he has to protect him. I told him that this is his white saviour complex at play and he assumed that his husband does not have the validity or the currency to speak up for himself. I told him, this is pure “white guilt” that has given rise to “white saviour”.

Then my white friend got angry that his husband called him “white saviour”, “despite all I have done to protect him”. But the reality is, his partner never asked for that protection.

The essence of white guilt makes many progressive and white liberals assume that they have the answer to racism and in the process, they devalue the people that actually have the struggle, people who are used to and well equipped to deal with it and respond to it. Even when white people speaking up is done with good intention, the reality is, if white people feel they need to speak for us so we can get heard, they deny us of our agency.

During my recent discussion, my friend shared with me an experience she had with an ex who would always speak for her whenever she is racially abuse. She told me how in fact it was her ex’s feelings of responsibility to stick up for her in the face of racial abuse that led her to break-up with him.

One thing my husband knows to do is never to speak for me. I have my voice and I have my currency and even in the name of love, I will not trade those two things.

The question then is what is your role as a white person dating a black person? While the answer is not a clear cut, there is a very good starting point.

First, acknowledge that your partner is not a zombie. They have their voice and they have their currency, if they need you to speak for them they will ask you. No matter how woke you are, no matter how much black culture history you know, no matter how cool you can rap, shut up and speak only and if you are asked to.

This leads to the second most important thing you can do, be supportive. And this is where it gets tricky. Support is not you pushing your black partner away and making the fight yours or trying to be the face of the situation. Support is standing there, being there, and being ready if and when your partner asks for help.

Third is when you are in white-only environments, separate from your interracial relationship, and you observe or hear racism, challenge it. Don’t challenge it for your partner, but challenge it because it’s wrong.

Even in love there are grey area, more importantly in interracial relationships, there are clear grey area from being in love to being a racist and you really do not want to cross that.

Bisi Alimi

Written by

#AngelicTroublemaker. TEDx/Public speaker, @AspenNewVoice & @SalzburgGlobal fellow &@HRC global inovators. Agents @FRESHSpeakers. Contact bookbisi@bisialimi.com