Starting a Different Conversation: On Mixed-Race/Biracial/Multiracial Visibility and Inclusion

Starting a Different Conversation: On Mixed-Race/Biracial/Multiracial Visibility and Inclusion

“It can be hard to talk about the complexity of visibility when “passing” is thrown like hisses at a dinner party, with no consideration to how it feels to “pass” — how it feels to be misidentified, mismarked, misjudged, misperceived, mislabeled, misunderstood. In a world where race relations are so often forcibly boiled down to black and white, it can be hard to raise my voice to start discussions about my unique experiences when broader forms of discrimination are hurting people in my community every day.”

“When white people see us, they often take on absurd, acrobatic leaps in conversation to let us know that they’ve picked up on our non-whiteness — even if they don’t know exactly what flavor of non-whiteness that is.”

 

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10 Warning Signs for People of Color in Interracial Relationships

10 Warning Signs for People of Color in Interracial Relationships

The Semiotics of Race, or: Walks on the Wild Side

The Semiotics of Race, or: Walks on the Wild Side

The ad was in a women’s magazine and if I remember correctly, was for a perfume. It featured a white woman lying in bed with a black man. The man’s shirtless back was to the viewer, making only his taut, muscular form and powerful-looking arms and shoulders visible. He was faceless, unidentified. The woman looked sultrily at us from over his mysterious form, satisfaction writ large over her features. She had partaken of whatever delights this man had to offer and was smugly, luxuriantly basking in the afterglow.

The ad copy was, “Take a walk on the wild side.”

My teacher used the ad as an example of how marketers can use certain words and images to convey large amounts of information subtly and effectively. A white woman having sex with a black man? How risqué. The implication: be a little like that woman. Spray on that perfume and feel like the kind of girl who has sex with faceless, muscular black men in ritzy hotel rooms because it’s an adventure, a thrill, a risk, something illicitly pleasurable.

These are the semiotics of race. This is why columnists will trip over themselves not to call Lupita Nyong’o or Angela Basset “beautiful”, choosing instead to use terms that call to mind a kind of savage, animalistic magnetism: fierce, striking, edgy, eye-catching. Words like “pretty” and “beautiful” and “cute” are for white women whose bodies and sexualities are not seen as wild, animal, or untamed. Black men are hulking, threatening, thuggish; white men are charming, sexy heartthrobs with hearts of gold. Brown women are exotic, with their “honey-coloured” skin and their “mystical”, “enchanting” beauty, unlike their white counterparts, who are held up as not only ideal, but knowable and safe. White people are beautiful; non-white people are dangerous.

Quick Note on Racist Body Stereotypes

So primarily thanks to tumblr (dear god I love that place), particularly this awesome blog and also this awesome blog and many others, I’ve gotten some views and some feedback on that post about, well, dicks. 

With time, more writing, more shares, etc, my hope is that eventually this blog will include more perspectives on interracial couples/racism than my own and my man’s, and I wanted to make sure I shared some of that feedback.

One of the things I saw repeatedly was that a lot of black women in particular have been asked by white dudes how they compare to black dudes. -_- So much intimidation and insecurity.

Another thing was that the discussion should be opened up to include ALL racist body stereotypes (e.g. black women all have big butts), how they’re perpetuated, and ESPECIALLY how they’re fetishized by white people.*

Last but not least, someone on tumblr remarked, “This is the type of thing that white people need to tell other white people…”

Yeah, we really do. What white people (I need to think of tags that will bring in more white people) really need to get past is that idea that racism isn’t our problem…because basically, when it comes to racism, we ARE the problem. Our obliviousness IS the problem.

So in my next post, which will hopefully come tomorrow, I’m going to try and address the feedback I got and go into a little more detail.

And thank you so, so much to those who posted the link to my blog. It is deeply appreciated (and so is your feedback, your suggestions, your criticism, etc).

*Yes, I KNOW white people aren’t the only people who fetishize other races. That doesn’t excuse the problem.

 

The Beginning

Nearly a year ago, I began dating a man whose skin was (is) a different shade than mine.

And thank god for that, because I’m so uncomfortably pale that many have been blinded by the sun reflecting off my skin. Kind of like a Twilight vampire, only less like a diamond and more like a fluorescent lightbulb.

But I digress.

I’m a white woman, my boyfriend is black. Let me clarify and say that I’ve never really had a type. I haven’t exclusively dated black men or white men, and the same goes for my boyfriend and the women he has been with. I’ve been involved, in varying capacities, with multiple “races” simply because I’ve been involved with multiple men. I’d probably call it a coincidence. Some might call it diversification. Others might call it promiscuity.

Whatever.

The point is, I wasn’t looking for any particular type of guy. In fact, I wasn’t even really looking for a guy. Or a girl. I was just working, and a dark-skinned man with locks walked up to the counter I was standing behind.

“Where’s my tequila?” he said. I struggled to remember what he was talking about, but I had recognized him before he’d even opened up the glass door of the shop. We’d met before.

Like many 20-somethings, I found myself with a virtually useless Bachelor’s degree and a steady cashiering job to help me save money while I camped out at my parents’ house and tried to figure out what the hell to do next. Somewhere (perhaps on the internet, or maybe from a family member), I heard millennials referred to as a generation of overly-qualified cashiers. It was a dishearteningly accurate statement.

I felt much like a child again. In fact, when I first spoke to my future love, I was reading a Batman comic book that my mother had brought home for me. I was 23. It was a newer Batman book than I was used to— Dick Grayson, I think, was Batman. Bruce Wayne was nowhere to be found, which already made it unfamiliar territory, and it turned out to be about Batman trying to stop a particularly twisted serial killer. (I know, it’s Gotham city, they’re all twisted— just trust me.)

Anyway, it was a great graphic novel, and I was utterly gripped by the story when the shop door opened and I looked up in terror.

“We didn’t mean to scare you,” said one of the men who had walked in. Both were black.

“Oh!” I said, and in an effort to show them that I was not only not a racist, but also totally smooth and cool, I held up my Batman comic and said that they’d caught me at a really scary part. Then I began to flip through the pages to find the goriest scene so far. We started to talk about Batman, and then about anime. (I didn’t know anything about anime, and I still don’t, but when a cute guy is talking to you, you work with what you have.) My future love, deep-voiced, locked and adorable, asked about a type of tequila that came in a pistol-shaped bottle. I told him my boss could order it for him and took his name and number.

I can’t speak for my boss, but I know never called him. I wasn’t sure if he’d wanted me too, and what would I say? “Hey, I don’t think your tequila came in but it doesn’t matter— I’m fun enough to hang out with sober.” It sounds like a pickup line recommended by some kind of 50’s homeschooling anti-alcohol program.

I forgot about him until his name, similar to an old folk singer’s, came up in a movie. Not long after that, he was back in the store asking about that bottle of tequila.

I scrambled to find it, realized it hadn’t been ordered, and then kept talking to him anyway. Finally he said, “You know, I really came back here to see you.”

“I was hoping you would,” I said honestly.

That’s how we met. It wasn’t online. It wasn’t planned. It wasn’t glamorous. It just happened, and it was perfect.

When I got out of work, we went for a long walk together. I’m not sure if any person is ever 100% genuine at any moment in their lives. But I’d like to think that the two of us were mostly pretty honest with each other from the beginning. It was an attitude that would help us as time went on.

Being together has been an eye-opening experience. As a white person in a society that basically sets lighter skin as an aspirational value, you can bet I haven’t had to deal with too much racism in my time. As a man, my boyfriend hasn’t dealt directly with much sexism. And so this blog is about us, the things we teach and learn from each other, and the things we learn simply by existing as an interracial couple.

To start with, anyway.