Categorized | Sex & Health

(Color) Blind Date

Indian techno music blares through a crowded party, and a woman dressed in a beautiful pink and yellow sari pulls me away from where the other guests are dancing. “I want to show you how we dance in India,” she says to me. The end result was a home video of me doing what looked more like window-washer meets a bad Shakira impression than anything cultural. Relatives all the way in India are probably still laughing at that video and asking, “Who is that white girl?”
As the girlfriend of a son of Indian immigrants, I have been “that white girl” for the past four years. Besides making a fool of myself by attempting Indian dancing, I have learned a lot about Indian culture through watching Hindi movies, making Indian friends, even persuading my “ketchup-is-spicy” father to eat Indian food. However, dating interracially has also come with a price. As my boyfriend’s parents do not want their son distracted from his education by any girl, especially not a white one, they discourage our relationship and have openly expressed their disapproval. With so many cultural differences between our families, our relationship, like many interracial relationships, comes with challenges that others may lack. Still, I feel by not limiting myself to my own race, I have been able to learn a lot about a culture other than mine and have allowed myself to follow my heart in dating the person that truly makes me happy, regardless of the thoughts of those around me. With more young people entering into interracial relationships, a lot of couples are realizing that when it comes to dating, being colorblind is the best way to go.[bling]
“Race is physical and nothing more,” journalism senior Stephen Patterson said. “Fall in love with who you fall in love with. If you see someone you like and you don’t go for it because of racial differences, you might miss out on something really great.”
Patterson, who is African-American, has taken his own advice for the past two years in his relationship with journalism senior Kristen Lee, the daughter of an Asian father and Caucasian mother. Though both encourage interracial relationships, they do so for different reasons. Lee, like many people who date outside their race, is partly drawn to other races because experiencing different cultures is appealing.
“Growing up in a multiracial home, race and diversity were always on my mind,” Lee said. “My dad preaches diversity. He was always saying to me, ‘Kristen, you are biracial. Never forget that.’ My dad’s influence has always been a big part of my life and I like it that way.”
Lee’s father’s influence encouraged her to strive to expand her social circle beyond her race and to learn all she could about other cultures. She said she has always had a very diverse group of friends and has dated men of many races. “I have dated white guys, Asian guys. I am open to any race,” Lee said.
While race and ethnicity are defining elements in Lee’s life and her dating experiences, for Patterson, racial identity is not something he consciously considers. He said he doesn’t see color when it comes to dating. “While Kristen is ultra-racial, my race and other people’s races are not something I think about at all,” Patterson said. “I have a lot of friends that are from a lot of different backgrounds, but I don’t really think about them like that. I do the same with dating.”
MSU communication professor Steve McCornack, who has done an extensive amount of research on relationships dynamics, said it is people like Lee and Patterson, who have surrounded themselves with diverse groups of friends, that are more likely to date people of other ethnicities. “People establish two groups in their lives, what we call ‘in groupers,’ people you perceive to be like you, and ‘out groupers,’ people you perceive to be not like you,” McCornack said. “A lot of people only perceive a person of their own ethnicity to be similar to them, which is often a wrong assumption to make. Those people rarely date outside their race.” The key to meeting a soulmate may very well be not ruling someone out due to race.
[john]If people choose not to date outside their race because they think they are just too different, they could be missing out not only on a relationship, but also a learning experience. Lee and Patterson both stated dating each other has taught them a lot. For Lee, who is very interested in learning about other cultures, just observing and interacting with the Patterson family is an exciting experience for her. “The first time I hung out with his family, it was really exciting just to see the cultural differences and experience different family dynamics,” said Lee. Patterson said because of Lee’s interest in diversity, he has gotten a chance to learn not only about the cultures that she comes from, but many cultures, including his own. “I think I may be a little bit blacker from dating her,” Patterson joked.
For accounting senior Shannon Thomas, dating criminal justice senior A.J. Garcia for the past three and a half years has been a dating experience like none other. Since Garcia is of Mexican descent while Thomas is Caucasian, she has been introduced into an entirely different culture. “His culture is a big part of his life, so I have gotten very exposed to it, ” Thomas said. “He is involved in CRU [Culturas De Las Razas Unidas] and he is in the multicultural frat. He is 100 percent Mexican. His mom was born in Mexico City and his dad’s family lived in Mexico about six generations back.” Thomas is often immersed in Mexican food and music, and she has even learned a little Spanish from dating Garcia, though he does not speak it fluently. Other Garcia family traditions still stand.
“When they have family parties they have the mariachi band music playing and traditional Mexican food,” Thomas said. “It’s great. A.J. and I will sit with his mom watching Spanish soap operas and she will translate them for us. I have gotten to learn so much about Mexican culture from them.”
Besides learning about Hispanic culture from Garcia, dating him has allowed her to learn from her now largely Hispanic circle of friends. Growing up in Warren, Mich., Thomas said she doesn’t remember ever seeing anyone of Mexican descent. “Though I have always been open to other races, I had only dated white guys before A.J. and I didn’t have any Hispanic friends,” Thomas said. Since dating Garcia, almost half of her friends are of Hispanic descent. “One of the things I’ve learned from my friends is that Hispanic people are very proud of their culture,” Thomas said. “You can’t mix up cultures. Like if you think someone is Puerto Rican and they are Mexican, they will get offended.” This cultural specificity is not present in everyone’s heritage and can be an interesting thing to encounter.[blind]
Both Lee and Patterson and Thomas and Garcia are fortunate because all their families have been accepting of their relationship, which is not always the case for interracial couples. “The most I’ve gotten was curiosity from friends,” Patterson said. “The ‘Oh, you are dating an Asian girl, what’s that like’ thing. And I tell them it’s just like dating anyone else.” While their friends and family have been accepting, Thomas stated she has experienced some discrimination from the outside world. When Thomas and Garcia visit Thomas’s hometown they sometimes get odd looks from people in their 60s and 70s that are still unaccustomed to seeing couples of different races. She said visiting Garcia’s hometown also generates a few odd looks. “He is from a Hispanic area of Chicago, so when we go to his hometown I am the only white person around,” Thomas said. “We will walk into a store and I can tell people are thinking, ‘Why is that white girl in here?'”
McCornack said Thomas’ experiences are not unusual. Much of the older generation comes from a time when the principal way people defined each other was by race. While many older people do accept interracial dating, there are still many who do not. “There is a big generational gap still. The farther back through your family you go, the more likely you are to find people that are intolerant and are less likely to approve,” McCornack said. “Even in 2008, disapproval is very much alive.”
[orange]Age is not the only potential hurdle. Catholicism is a big part of Mexican culture – Garcia is religious, while Thomas is not. “Mexican people are very proud of their Catholic religion. He is very adamant about giving something up for Lent which is something I’ve never really understood,” Thomas said. “For Easter, we always go to the Catholic Church. It’s a little awkward because when they take communion, I am not allowed and so everyone there knows that I am not Catholic.”
McCornack stated people who choose to date other ethnicities often experience challenges like Thomas’, and even more difficult challenges as well. With family disapproval, societal judgments and differences in upbringing, dating a partner of a different ethnicity can come with a lot more stress than other relationships and can increase the uncertainty of the relationship. Due to these influences, according to McCornack, a lot of these relationships ultimately fail. However, there are ways interracial couples can over come this. McCornack said interracial couples must see themselves as highly similar, meaning they have similar personalities, views and interests. They also must spend a lot of time communicating and investing a lot of time and energy into their relationship. He also suggested in order to compensate for the lack of support from society and/or their social networks, they must create a social network of friends around them that does support their relationship. “Basically, all the same stuff everyone else should do to maintain a successful relationship, but more of it,” McCornack said.
Despite the challenges that can come from being raised in different backgrounds, Thomas still encouraged others to be open to interracial dating. “How are you truly going to experience life if you limit yourself to only people within your race?” she said.
Even aside from the positive aspects of interracial dating, society still does not seem to be fully accepting of the idea. Microbiology junior Lauren Peterson, a Caucasian who has been in a relationship with a Korean man for the past seven years, said she feels those who don’t accept interracial dating are ignorant. “Of course there are those people who say to me, ‘I would never date outside my race or religion,'” she said. “I just ignore people that worry about race. They obviously don’t have enough intelligence to understand and expand their thinking.”[peter]
However, her boyfriend, law student Bradford Bambusch, said although he personally encourages interracial dating, he can understand some people choose to date exclusively their own race in order to maintain culture and tradition.” I have a friend who is Vietnamese and his parents are very traditional immigrants,” Bambusch said. “They don’t want their kids to marry non-Vietnamese people. I don’t think there is really anything wrong with that; I don’t feel like you can tell them they can’t have those beliefs.”
Though there are still many families who feel they need to uphold those racial dating guidelines in an attempt to maintain tradition, some think it is possible that with effort, interracial couples can uphold their individual cultural customs. “I think that if you care enough about your cultural traits and beliefs then it can work, especially if you both do cultural things together,” Lee said.
Fear of losing the culture is only one of the reasons some people shy away from interracial relationships. It might also have something to do with the fact that the media and the advertising industry constantly reinforce the belief that interracial dating is strange and uncommon by not including interracial couples in many advertisements or television shows. “You are your parents and you are the world around you,” Patterson said. “When you watch TV and you only see white-dating-white couples or black-dating-black couples and you see your parents and they are the same race that is what you are going to do. Advertising is everything. It tells us what to wear and what to date.”
[phone]Although the media may not currently reflect it, people of different races are coupling up everywhere, especially in diverse communities like MSU. McCornack feels that soon, interracial dating will no longer be taboo. “Relationship literature is starting to suggest than social economic class is a bigger deal to people than ethnicity, especially for the younger generations,” McCornack said. “In the next 20 to 30 years, interethnic dating is going to be no big deal.”
If he is right, and all the societal taboos are removed, people will start to see that dating someone of a different race is no different then dating anyone else. When it all comes down to it, I don’t focus on the differences between my boyfriend’s family and mine, or the fact that I am sometimes the only white girl in the room. I look at my relationship as similar to other college couples. We go to movies, hang out with friends and even have dinner with one another’s families now and then…except I usually try to refrain from any type of dancing.

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