What No One Tells You About Dating a White Guy
More of us are finding love with partners of a different race. Five things sisters in interracial relationships want you to know.
Let’s face it. Dating — particularly at midlife — isn’t easy. And interracial dating? Well, that can present a steep learning curve that few of us are willing to talk about — especially if you’re a Black woman dating a White man. But given the growing number of interracial dating sites (such as interracialmatch.com and interracialdatingcentral.com) and the fact that interracial marriage within our community has tripled since the 1980s, it’s a conversation whose time has come.
"Interracial dating comes with its own set of challenges, one of them being social bias,” agrees Shantell E. Jamison, a relationship columnist and certified life coach. “When two individuals from different ethnicities decide to enter into a relationship, they must do so with a level of open-mindedness, patience and understanding. Race and cultural differences can compound the difficulties of communication.
“There will be a number of teachable moments, so a willingness to learn and teach is key," she adds.
When I discussed this with Black women, I found that some of those “teachable moments” were not only familiar to me personally (I’ve been in interracial relationships), but they also show up in pop culture. For example, there was the “washcloth debate” between Tichina Arnold and Beth Behrs in a fall 2018 episode of the CBS sitcom The Neighborhood . The Black character is shocked that her White friend never uses a washcloth and the White character is shocked that her friend always does. And in the 1994 film “Corrina, Corrina,” the Black housekeeper played by Whoopi Goldberg completely confounds her White employer and his daughter with her “spicy” recipes.
One woman I spoke to, who’s been married to a White man for nine years, confided: “[Some people outside our culture] don't understand why lotion is a must for us, because we’re preventing ashy skin. You have to teach them these things.” Another, married to her husband for 10 years, was exasperated with “the lack of security consciousness. Like, why are you not locking your doors?!” Another topic that came up often was hair. “[Men of other races] don’t get why we gotta wrap our hair every night, or why you put oil in your hair when they wash oil out. A Black woman saying, ‘I can’t, I gotta wash my hair,” isn’t a blow-off. It’s a literal evening, a full-out commitment!”
Of course, there’s humor in these comments. But, as we talked further, more serious concerns started to emerge. Here are five things the women I spoke to (most of whom asked to remain anonymous) want you to know about developing a serious relationship with a man of a different ethnicity.
1. “Folks may not believe you’re together — even when you’re clearly together.”
This was a point raised by many, and it’s something I’ve experienced myself. I can walk into some places with my white boyfriend and people — particularly white women — will feign ignorance of us being a couple, even if we’re holding hands or he has his arm wrapped around me. And it’s both a funny and insulting experience to be on a date and to have a server hand you the check, like your man isn’t sitting there. Still, it’s not as bad as the story another sister shared of approaching a Black clerk at the DMV with her Asian husband and being told outright that they were “the weirdest couple” the clerk had ever seen.
2. “If you date a white man, some will question your ‘Black card.’ ”
With Sen. Kamala Harris’ entry into the presidential race (her husband is a white man), I’ve been hearing this particularly obnoxious sentiment more often. And it’s interesting that when it’s a Black man who dates outside his race, his “Blackness” is rarely questioned. But when it comes to Black women, in some circles, you may as well wear a scarlet letter. “There’s some significant backlash sometimes,” one woman told me, theorizing that it’s due to “the systemic denial of Black women’s autonomy.”
3. “Just because he’s dating a Black woman doesn’t mean he’s not biased.”
Assess the content of your date’s character and don’t forget to have the DTR (defining the relationship) talk. Of course, there are men out there — of all races — who aren’t looking for a serious relationship or to bring a woman home to meet the parents. But some women talked in hindsight about feeling like the research subject in their non-Black love interest’s interracial dating experiment rather than a serious romantic prospect. I once dated a White man who swore up and down that he loved Black women, and dated us exclusively. Then one day, I stumbled upon a Facebook post of his, discussing how much he loathed Black men. Stunned, I asked him, “What will you do when you have a Black son?” Bizarrely, it seemed not to have occurred to him.
4. “He may not believe you the first time you try to explain a Black experience.”
“It seems obvious that your White partner wouldn’t understand the struggles you deal with as a Black woman,” another woman told me. “But the surprising part is their willingness to give the benefit of the doubt to the offending party [due to not understanding microaggressions]. Or they themselves are the offending party, letting something slip that isn’t intentionally hurtful or racist but still is.”
If you’re dating a non-Black man who’s new to interracial relationships, know that there will be some additional labor on your part. No, it’s not your job. But if you want the relationship to succeed, you’ll have to commit to teaching him. So, be honest. And if he seems dismissive of your concerns, call him on it. In the best-case scenario, as one woman told me: “He will develop more empathy and awareness than he knew possible, because his job is to support, honor and protect you.”
5. “You’ll learn firsthand about white male privilege.”
We’re all familiar with white male privilege, but it’s quite another thing when the beneficiary is your partner — especially if he doesn’t recognize it. “We'd walk into stores, and at the checkout counter he’d always be addressed before me, even though I was standing in front of him,” one woman complained. “He was a 6-foot suit-wearing businessman in academia. [But] I'm in academia, too. He also got better loan rates, among other things.”
“It can be uncomfortable to discuss the experience of being profiled or followed around a store suspiciously,” says Erin Tillman, a “dating empowerment coach” known online as the Dating Advice Girl. “But it can be tough for people new to the POC (people of color) experience to believe and understand that everyday life experiences [for us] can include a mixture of emotions, anxiety and potential confrontations.”
However, psychologist and relationship expert Steven T. Griggs— who also happens to be my boyfriend’s father — offers some good news. “I know people who are from different cultures, are of different races, speak different languages and who have wonderful long-term relationships. I also know people of the same race, culture, relative intelligence and education who fight like cats and dogs. Why? What makes or breaks relationships are not the similarities and tastes. Rather, it’s the underlying dynamics of the partners in the relationship.”
And another woman I talked to agrees: “I‘ve been married to my husband for 20 years. There are small things that are different, but the respect, trust and love is what matters most. People staring and making comments doesn’t hurt. Going to the store and seeing the surprise and sometimes hateful look on the cashier’s face when she realizes we are together is sometimes funny, sometimes not. But with a relationship built on respect, we take it a day at a time. Nov. 6 will mark our 20th anniversary.”
Read more relationship articles from Sisters From AARP here. AARP supports you in connecting to your passions—and discovering new ones—at every age and stage. Join us or renew your membership to explore the possibilities for fun, friendship and fulfillment.