Avoiding Racial Conversations In Interracial Relationships Isn’t An Option In Trump’s America
People in interracial relationships must now learn to talk about the complexities of what their relationships signify in modern America.
A s a person who sees life’s interactions through a sociolinguistic lens, I find it fascinating to explore how people discuss their relationships. It is equally compelling to examine how that language has shifted since the election of Donald Trump.
The overall discourse that usually surrounds interracial relationships seems almost patronizing more often than not, with slight variations on the two extremes that dominate the conversation. These themes operate in absolutes. It is a tale of postracial modernism—where “love is love,” and there’s nothing to deconstruct—or it is a droning sermon on the internalized racism and self-hate that must exist within any non-white person who willingly submits to a physical personification of their oppressor.
Either way, the conversation ends as a farce of social awareness, where all of the actors are moralizing to each other in an echo chamber, and only those who agree blindly with one another speak the same language. It winds up being a cacophony of assumptions, dissonant and jarring to the senses.
The overall discourse that usually surrounds interracial relationships seems almost patronizing.
It is a struggle that I have had to navigate a lot recently. I’m an unapologetically radical Black intersectional feminist who geeks out about Black Twitter and a well-written think piece. My partner, however, aligns more closely to the ideologies of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, nerds out about science and Star Wars, and looks like a J. Crew model. He is the visual personification of every white supremacist’s wet dream, and, like something out of a Hallmark movie, we are quite in love. And yes, we bicker all the time, usually about privilege and power and systems of oppression that continuously dehumanize and invalidate and maim non-privileged folk.
To be fair, I don’t fault my partner for where he’s coming from. I think that it is important to understand that there are acting absolutes that directly influence the most basic, fundamental cornerstone of every relationship, including my own. From there, I think it is also important to recognize that these fundamental social epistemologies—what we know to be true, without knowing how we know it—are just the foundation.
As an active member of American society in any form, a person absorbs racism, sexism, heteronormativity, cis-sexism, ableism, and more that is embedded within. However, that person also has the agency, the power of self-choice and determination, to decide what they want to believe.
The problem is that many people, especially those coming from a place of privilege, may not be aware that they have absorbed these systems of oppression and that these systems exist within them. This is why the conversation about social progress tends to stall with a greater diversity of opinions at the table. It’s why so many people who identify as something other than a white, cis-gender, heterosexual, educated man shut down during conversations regarding “social issues,” or marginalized people tell those in positions of power and privilege to Google the social constructs before moving forward. It’s extremely hard to have a conversation about something when the person you’re talking to keeps saying that either the topic doesn’t exist or that you, personally, are inaccurate, biased, hateful, or another synonym for “wrong.” It’s why my partner and I argued about this article, specifically why I was crafting one so full of “bias.” It’s a conversation that we have had before, and I assume it’s one we will have again.
But it’s not just us. I interviewed my partner’s roommate Sebastian Lane, a young Black musician and medical student, about how he navigates his own relationship with his white partner Shelby from small-town Nebraska.
How I managed to feel safer as a Black woman married to a white man.theestablishment.co
“Sometimes Shelby doesn't understand, even though she tries to, the challenges that I face and how the public views her. For instance, we were on a date together in Lincoln, and she was holding the table for us because I had to step outside of the restaurant quickly and make a phone call. When I came back into the restaurant, which was busy at the time, a man looked at me assuming I was cutting in line to make a reservation and said, ‘Hey, n*****, you can’t just cut in front of us; get in the back,’” Sebastian said.
“When I returned to dinner,” he continued, “Shelby could tell something was wrong but I didn't want to let the altercation ruin our date so I didn't mention what happened. Later that night I finally told her what happened, and there was a moment when she seemed to either feel I was lying or wondered how someone could actually say that. To her, the world of race and racism isn't as evident and is far more distant than she would like to believe.”
I’ve talked with several people in interracial relationships from a wide array of lived experiences including a health coach in Omaha, an attorney in Brooklyn, and a student in a Portland suburb. We all seemed to be having the same conversation within our interracial relationships, and honestly, it’s one that many people in our positions have been having in recent months—especially since election night.
Anjulie Rao, a biracial communications director in Chicago, said, "After Trump's election, I realized that there are places where I am legitimately unsafe, where my very existence as a brown woman is seen as an insult to white people. It caused a bit of tension between [my partner and me]; I had to put my foot down and say, ‘No!’ I will not move to a place where Trump supporters have the run of the land. These people are not going to protect me.” She continued, “[My partner’s] privilege of being a white male makes him able to blend in anywhere. When I am with him, I am immediately made safer; when he moves through the world, safety moves alongside his body."
Clearly, the conversation about interracial relationships, like the conversation about the many complex layers of social oppression—including racism, ableism, sexism, heteronormativity, and cis sexism—needs to shift with the coming administration.
Nicole Trammel, a biracial student in Milwaukie, Oregon, has noticed a shift in how people interact with her and her partner since the election. “White friends have avoided or completely cut us out of their lives. We have become less tolerant of their [ignorance] and because it makes them uncomfortable, they avoid us. White people who want to be allies go out of their way in conversations to express that they didn't vote for Trump (even strangers do this), and it feels like they're trying to get the token minority seal of approval to make them feel better about themselves.”
Nicole’s not the only one. Kristy Leahy, a grad student and social activist, has seen a rise in anti-semitism in Omaha, Nebraska, and Kayla, an attorney in Brooklyn, New York, has noticed that people are “bolder with their racist statements.”
But what seems to be the consensus behind the increase in these statements? White guilt. Almost all of the people I’ve interviewed, from Oregon to Arizona to Nebraska to New York, mentioned white people that have made a point to either declare their innocence or explain their choice in regards to the election of Donald Trump. They say they are not racist—they just hate political correctness and love how he tells the truth and is so authentic. My partner’s family and friends are conservative leaning, and it is a common conversation we have, in discussing how to go about the conversation of unpacking their support of Trump.
‘It feels like white people are trying to get the token minority seal of approval.’
There has been think piece after think piece explaining why this administration is so dangerous, why quality of life will become a fallacy so far away that it will feel as unthinkably realistic for marginalized identities as the unicorn. So it becomes increasingly important for people in interracial relationships to have realistic, enlightened conversations about the complexities of what those relationships actually mean in the social context.
It means that we have to talk about privilege. We have to talk about how each partner navigates the world differently. We have to have honest conversations about internalized racism and how that plays into the overall context of interracial relationships. We have to talk about self-hate. We have to talk about racist relatives and coworkers and roommates and random strangers in restaurants because it is only through these conversations with our loved ones that we will be able to finally have realistic conversations on race, racism, and white supremacy’s place in American identity. Because what has always been cannot continue to stand if we actually expect to survive the next four years.