“I wonder if you’ve addressed the interracial-couple dilemma: the questions, side glances, comments (‘You’re such a cute couple’), etc. I’m a black woman and have been with my boyfriend for five years. While I’ve inoculated myself against the stares and comments, I still struggle with the knowledge that our skin is all some people see. This has influenced where we eat and choose to live.
“Of course we didn’t enter into a relationship to make a statement, but that’s all we invite. Since the ‘problem group’ are strangers, how do we address this?” —Mixed Feelings
It may be 2014. Scandal and its interracially dating (or affair-having, but whatever) protagonists may dominate Thursday-night television, Lupita may possibly have something going on with Jared Leto and New York City’s first family may be on “Team Swirl,” but alas, none of that means people aren’t going to look at you and your boyfriend. A lot. And say weird stuff. A lot.
“As much as we hear that interracial couples have become more common and are acceptable, people like to pretend that they don’t get stared at and get extra attention, but they do,” says Erica Chito Childs, associate professor of sociology at Hunter College and author of Navigating Interracial Borders: Black-White Couples and Their Social Worlds.
Plus, she adds, interracial couples, from a sociological perspective, are still considered “deviant.” The result? “The standards of behavior and etiquette when it comes to interacting with them can really often go out the window,” Childs says. Given that, we came up with a list of tips for how you can make the “interracial-couple dilemma” less of a dilemma.
1. Keep in mind the context.
According to the latest stats, 84 percent of Americans approve of interracial marriages, so it should be some comfort that a lot of people’s looks probably aren’t meant to come off as the evil eye, and most of the people you encounter probably aren’t going home to make insane YouTube comments about Cheerios commercials. But keep in mind that despite increasing numbers of interracial relationships, black women are less likely than just about anyone else to jump on board with them. That makes you and your boyfriend an especially rare sight, and the subject of what might be just visual interest, paired with some curiosity.
Have you ever let your eyes linger for an extra moment when seeing something for the first time? Ever given an overcompensating compliment because you weren’t sure what else to say? I have. It doesn’t make these interactions pleasant when you’re just trying to, say, see a movie and some creepy stranger tells you how beautiful you look together. But it’s helpful to remember that all the attention has little to do with you as individuals and a lot to do with cultural context and just plain numbers.
2. Don’t be scared, but do be strategic about where you spend your time.
I don’t like the idea of living in fear of your social life in order to avoid scrutiny. Childs agrees that there’s a balance here.