Dating is tricky -- even more so when you don't follow the cookie-cutter mold of what a relationship should look like. Less than 50 years ago, interracial marriage was illegal in the United States and even when the anti-miscegenation laws were deemed illegal by the Supreme Court in 1967, interracial couples were harassed and discriminated against for decades.
Now we live in a new, global era with more tolerance and understanding for couples that exist outside the "norms" for relationships... yet many interracial couples still attract stares. As the "white" half of a Japanese-American couple, I noticed some of the same questions keep popping up again and again.
After a quick chat with some other interracial couples, I realized my experiences were not unique. These are eight seemingly innocent questions that have deeper, darker implications for interracial couples.
1. How does your family feel about your partner's race?
Do you want the long version or the short version? Race is surprisingly difficult to talk about -- you can't just ask an interracial couple about their family's reaction to the race of their partner and expect a single-sentence answer.
If you seriously want to know the struggles interracial couples go through, you can go ahead and ask this question. If you're simply asking for formality (or because it is the first thing you can think of), skip this question.
2. You're dating a [insert race or ethnicity]? Aren't you worried about [insert country/ethnic stereotype here]?
Here's the thing about stereotypes: they are usually offensive and misplaced. Not all African-American men end up in jail; not all Japanese men are emotionally unavailable; not all Mexican men cheat on their spouses; not all white women are loose; not all Arabic women are docile. The Internet is full of all sorts of untrue stereotypes that are passed off as "facts."
Don't ask me if my Japanese fiancé is a work-a-holic with a small penis who loves to drink sake, kill whales and pressure his wife (me) to do housework all day.
3. Wouldn't it be easier to just date your own race?
I understand the intentions behind this question are pure, but it always comes off a bit racist. By only dating white men, I would be cutting out a whole group of viable dating candidates.
Answer: Dating (and deciding to marry) someone outside my culture was one of the best decisions I ever made.
4. But think of the children! Aren't you worried they will be bullied?
In this day and age where divorce is becoming the norm, I'm more worried about making it to our 10-year anniversary than whether or not my possible future children will get bullied because of their mixed heritage.
Of course I'm worried about racism. I grew up all over the globe (Texas, Ghana, Japan) and saw racism in all sorts of forms. Sometimes I was the recipient; sometimes I was not.
Answer: I would rather my hypothetical children grow up as interesting, deep and charismatic bi-racial children in a loving home than to be just another statistic.
5. Do you only date [insert ethnic group]?
There is no way to ask about someone's dating "fetishes" and not come off as rude. No, I do not have "Yellow fever" (inappropriate slang for someone who is only attracted to someone of an Asian diaspora), "Jungle fever" (likewise for dating people of an African diaspora) or any other fetishes you can think of. Furthermore, even if I did have a preference toward a specific race, I am free to love whomever I want..
Answer: I don't know. If a white man only dated white women, no one would look twice. If a white man only dates Asian women, though, everyone seems to assume he is a 'creep.' That's not fair.
[For more, see: Asian Male, White Female Couples: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly]
6. Can you help me find a [insert race/ethnicity] boyfriend/girlfriend?
If I find someone of your preferred ethnicity and gender who wants to date your ethnicity and gender, I will let you know, but I'm not going to go digging through my fiancé's friends, trying to find someone who "wants to date a hot, white girl."
Answer: I can, but I would rather not.
7. Don't you get frustrated not being able to express yourself in your own language?
We speak the language of love; we don't need fluency in English.
Of course couples with different mother tongues have communication problems -- but so does every other couple. In fact, interracial couples might be better off because when your partner was raised in a different country, you automatically assume they do things differently. Disagreements are natural, rather than the sign of an "unhealthy" relationship.
8. Do people stare at you when you go on dates?
Of course people stare. By asking this question, you're acknowledging that interracial relationships are "outside the norm." If you have noticed this, other people have too and if they have noticed it, they have probably also stared (without meaning to).
That being said, I stare at couples all the time, regardless of their race. I am a sappy romantic who loves couple-watching. In the same way, I like to give others the benefit of the doubt. I can never tell if they are staring and thinking:
"Oh man, that guy is so hot. Too bad he's taken..."
"Woah. An interracial couple. How weird."
"Dang, I love her shoes!"
Questions that are OK to ask:
How did you two meet?
People love to hear love stories, regardless of race.
What is your favorite part of your partner's culture?
There is no judgment in this question, rather the person is genuinely curious to learn something about a foreign culture.
Do you speak [insert partner's language]?
Much like the other two questions, this is simple curiosity. I have met interracial couples who speak each other's languages fluently and couples who cannot speak a word of their partner's language. It varies depending on the language, culture and length of the relationship.