In Black & White: 5 Tips For Interracial Couples Discussing Racism

Credit: Corbis

This past June, my husband and I celebrated five years of marriage. You can probably guess that celebrating our five-year anniversary during a revolution and a pandemic was not what we had planned. And yet, as a Racial Justice Educator, and a Black woman and in an interracial marriage, discussions about race are hardly new for me.

After all, racism has been around for centuries. Even though America may be in a moment of national race consciousness, the tactics of racism and performative allyship are not new. Many of us have been knew. In America, I’d contest that Black and Indigenous minorities have always been the most impacted by racism. Indeed, I have also found that interracial couples often experience racism in very targeted and very specific ways. And right now, it seems like the stakes to talk about race and racism and what that looks like interracial relationships are even higher.

As a couple that moved from the Pennsylvania Bible belt just a few years after Trump was elected to office, my marriage is no stranger to racism. While the Pennsylvania Bible belt is home to the ever peace-loving Amish and Mennonites, it is also incredibly and overtly racist. Most notably, in 2015 my white adoptive family’s hometown, Bainbridge, went viral for the signs: This is Not a Gun Free Zone. In 2018, two Black businessmen waiting for the start of a business meeting were arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks. During that same year, five Black women were playing golf in York County when they had the cops called on them for “playing too slowly.” And, in 2019 at the Fayette County Fair, the Fayette County GOP was forced to remove a dartboard that had the faces of “the Squad” on it.

Personally, I have been spit on, followed, threatened, cursed, and yelled at. White male strangers have come up and both congratulated and scolded my husband on his “choice of a wife.” Living in a racialized world, white supremacy insists on taking up space every day in systems, policies, practices, procedures, and beliefs. White strangers have disrupted my everyday life by inserting their beliefs that my marriage is either the future or a disgrace, that my babies (because everyone just seems to assume that I can and will procreate) will be beautiful or disgusting, and that I might just be a fetish: “I see you like em’ Black,” strangers will shout at my husband.

White supremacy will insist on taking up space in interracial relationship, and it will insist on taking it up to your detriment.

Here are five tips that I recommend every interracial couple implement:

  1. Do Not Date White Supremacy. I’ve heard it said that all of us have a little bit of “I want to save the world in us.” And, maybe you’ve seen the viral Tumblr meme that shares how the professor says, “and it’s okay if you only end up saving yourself.” If you are a Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color, do not allow yourself to be in a relationship with someone that is a white supremacist. Sounds obvious, right? Laughable, even? But white supremacy shows up even in that super hot person you are sure is woke. It’s insidious like that. It is sneaky. Know its tactics. Learn to pay attention to the very real fact that to some people you will just be a fetish. I have a girlfriend that says she can sniff racism. Seriously, take a sniff at your relationships. Listen: if you are in an interracial relationship, then you need to have the hard conversations about race and racism from the beginning. Set your expectations from the beginning. Talk about whiteness (I do that first before Blackness) from the beginning. Because if you don’t, too often it will take a serious toll on your mental health.
  2. Honestly Evaluate Your Goals. If you are in a relationship with someone that only plans on getting to Antiracism level 100, then assess and know that from the beginning. If you are in a relationship with someone that doesn’t even care to talk about race ever, point blank, and periodt, then know that and let that dictate your relationship decision. Be honest in your anti-racism journey. Own your commitment level and your needs and expectations.
  3. Expect Allyship. One of the best things that I have done in my marriage is to expect allyship from my spouse, and to allow my spouse to do his own education. Let me be clear — that isn’t to say that we don’t have hard conversations about race and racism, or that we don’t ask each other questions. We do. But, when I start expecting that he will do the work and educate himself, I also simultaneously reaffirm that racism is something that white people need to fix, and that it is a reasonable expectation to have a partner that shows up for my right to exist and take up space. Too many times, I have heard my friends worry aloud if their partner would stand up for them if something racist happened. Why wonder when you can know? Have that conversation. For me, expecting allyship also means gaining a new co-conspirator, and it also means being patient and allowing room for growth. As my spouse puts in the work, he is able to hear and see racism in new ways, which means that he can also interrupt racism in new ways. Sometimes your partner’s allyship might not look the same as yours. If that bothers you, have honest conversations about expectations, and also remember that the revolution has many lanes.
  4. Develop Shared Language. Whenever I lead a class on racial justice, I begin the class by developing shared commitments and shared language. These two tools help to build a framework in which I can then facilitate meaningful conversation. The same works in relationships. If you are talking about a racist event but your partner does not have a similar understanding of racism, then your conversation will most likely be spent explaining how and why the event was racist rather than moving into action steps or trauma informed self-care. When this happens, usually at least one person feels resentful, hurt, and angry. After all, explaining racist events (and,sometimes the ensuing need to prove your validation for anger at a racist event) is exhausting, and a perpetuation of supremacy culture.
  5. Leave Room for Joy. Don’t forget to implement freedom dreaming into your conversations about racism. So often, I think we have conversations about race without really even dreaming and imagining what we want to implement. So dream together. Discuss your racial justice vision. I have found that when my spouse and I practice freedom dreaming it ultimately shapes our dreams as a couple and helps us to think creatively about where we want to live, what neighbors we want to have, and in what church and communities we want to belong.

Bonita Chaim is a racial justice educator in Mennonite and Anabaptist communities. She is the founder of The Ebenezer Project, a lover of musicals and books.

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