Relationships between people who claim different racial identities aren't new (hey, Barack Obama's parents, tons of other Americans and, according to the hope to which some fans are still clinging, Lupita and Jared). Nor are they all that controversial these days. (A full 86 percent of Americans approve of black-white pairings, for example.) So while it's not quite as if everyone's doing it, things do seem to be going pretty OK for people who are inclined to find love across the old color line.
At least they were until this unfortunate reality dating Web series hit the Internet. It's called Swirlr (and it's quite possibly one big, ill-conceived advertisement for an online-dating service of the same name). In its premiere episode, Christelyn Karazin, acting like a YouTube version of Patti, the Millionaire Matchmaker ("Miscegenation Matchmaker"? No, that won't work), conducts preliminary interviews with a black woman and a white man she plans to set up. The result could be the start of one of the worst things to happen to interracial dating in recent history. Here's why:
The host: Let's start with Christelyn Karazin, editor of the website Beyond Black & White; author of the book Swirling: How to Date, Mate, and Relate Mixing Race, Culture, and Creed; and proponent of the No Wedding, No Womb initiative. Along with Jordan Harbinger, she hosts Swirlr, and she takes the lead on matching candidates on the first episode. Karazin is not a fan of black women limiting their dating options to black men, and she's not huge on nuance, either. (Read her "My Story: Jumping the Broom With a White Boy" blog entry here for a taste of her perspective.)
"If black women—regardless of class and education—were really honest, most will tell you that their ideal mate is a black man. The problem is, the chances are slim," she warns. Not really true. But whatever, it sells books.
To those who aren't on board with the "date different" plan, she has this to say: "It's a betrayal of the Afro-centric us-against-the-world groupthink, and a heartbreaking remnant of slavery."
OK, this just got serious.
No, really, she brings a lot of baggage to her matchmaker role: "[My] 12-year-old daughter's father, who is black, outright refused to marry me when I became pregnant in college, despite dangling the marriage carrot in front of my nose for a year prior. His parents never married. His own father has three illegitimate children (that we know of) … " she writes. It's part of her push for black women to say, as one of her Beyond Black & White contributors puts it, "I want a good man, I am not interested in limiting myself to black men, and only men of a CERTAIN level need apply."
Wow, really gets you in the mood to open your mind and find love, doesn't it?
The daters: You really don't know whether to hate the Swirlr "daters" Quintana and Kurt (those are their real, perfect-for-this-project names) or to feel sorry for them for getting roped into this thing. Kurt starts off by saying, "My type is … don't kill me for this … " (Why would we kill you? At least outside of Karazin's website, you're allowed to have a same-race type.) "A Taylor Swift type. Tall, thin, typically blond."
"Outside of white," says the golden-haired part-time model, "I find myself most attracted to Asian woman." OK. "I haven't actually really dated a black girl," he adds. "I just don't know what to expect!"
Then there's Quintana, who just moved on a whim from Atlanta to Los Angeles, likes holding hands and walking on the beach and listening to Frank Sinatra (she actually said that) and has all sorts of coded and not-so-coded commentary on black men. More on that later.
The clumsy messaging: It's not surprising, given the host's background, that this first episode sticks to a "Black women don't have to settle for terrible black men" and "There's nothing wrong with white women, but maybe white men could help us out and try to be attracted to other people" theme. But it's all a little heavy-handed.
Why Karazin is trying to make Kurt date someone who's the furthest thing from his type is anyone's guess. She implies to him that he'll somehow be left behind if he doesn't go out with a black woman, saying, "It's just the world that we live in. People are really getting together and making those connections." That's not actually true when it comes to this particular combination of race and gender but, whatever. Details, details.
The stereotypes: The host is quick to label poor, Taylor Swift-loving Kurt "the most vanilla-country boy that I've ever seen walking around Hollywood." (He seems to get this honor based solely on the fact that he's, well, white.) Then there's a sidebar about the many generations of farmers in his family that seems designed just to back that up.
Meanwhile, Quintana sounds like a stop-and-frisk proponent or friend of Don Lemon as she riffs on the men of Atlanta: "I dated the bad boys … the tattoos, with either the dreads or some crazy hairstyle and saggy pants," she says. Wait, are you taking about "bad" or "black"? Or are those synonyms? "I feel like the only reasons I dated black men were because they were the only ones who would understand my attitude," she wraps up. Right. Got it.
Nothing like drilling down on worn-out stereotypes to set the stage for cross-racial love and harmony.
And that's just the first episode. If this is what dating "different" looks like, we couldn't blame Swirlr viewers at all if they opted for more of the same.
Jenée Desmond-Harris is The Root’s senior staff writer. Follow her on Twitter.