The stars have aligned. You and your sweetie are in love. Aside from all the wonderful things you have in common, race isn’t one of them. So now what? How do you make this one wild card in the relationship work? If you think being blind to racial differences makes it all good, you may have some surprises coming … but they’re still within your control.
Rock solid relationships require hard work. Interracial relationships will probably kick that hard work up a notch. Getting involved with someone of a different race means you’re probably going to be confronted with a new set of traditions, beliefs, ways of perceiving the world and living in it; that of your mate.
Relationships don’t operate in a vacuum. You each have a set of friends and family. They may not be as accepting and open as you are with regard to racial differences. And, if you two enter into marriage, that warning goes double. As the saying goes, “You don’t just marry the individual; you marry their family.” There are the parents-in-law, siblings-in-law, their spouses and children, grandparents, step-parents, ex-spouses and so on.
The Survey Says …
Prevalence of interracial relationships is definitely on the rise. The number of interracial marriages has increased 5-fold since 1967. Today, approximately 17% of married couples are interracial. One out of 10 married couples are in interracial marriages.
What are the percentages of non-black adults who oppose a relative marrying a black person today? Society now is much more accepting of interracial marriage. Just a little more than 25 years ago, 63% of non-black adults opposed interracial marriage. Today, that number is down to 14%
But don’t let those numbers, as low as they might be, discourage you. Relationships are challenging regardless of racial differences. Approximately 41% of mixed race couples end up in divorce within the first 10 years of marriage. If that seems high, consider that approximately 31% of same-race couples end up in divorce after 10 years. A difference, but not much.
What You’re Up Against
Even in this day and age, racial bias exists. Let’s be realistic; People are going to judge you … maybe in ways you had not anticipated. Old-fashioned and prejudiced attitudes are probably one of the biggest stumbling blocks to overcome for interracial couples.
Racial bias may have developed from attitudes our parents held. These differences make some people uncomfortable, act and behave in ways that express bias or intolerance. Some people are quick to judge couples solely based on the color of their skin.
Historical and political tensions between cultural groups may come into play. You or your family might harbor anger over the way your culture has been treated by your mate’s culture. Are you and your mate able to see why this history might bother either or both of you? Maybe you lack forgiveness; maybe they lack understanding or vice versa.
Everyday life may throw some curves. Racial bias may affect not only family and friendships but business transactions, your job, social functions, the children you may decide to bring into the world.
How will you handle tasteless remarks or jokes, and offensive assumptions? (“Do you have a thing for white women? Black men” or insert other race here). Eventually, you will run into some of that.
Even awkward but well-intentioned remarks can unexpectedly pop up (“You two are an inspiration. You complement each other well.”)
How will you deal with and help your children deal with attitudes about and treatment of them in public, in school, with classmates, employers?
Learning to Accept It or Express Yourself
Learning to accept others’ attitudes is key to having a harmonious marriage and social life. It might not be so easy at first, but if you can learn not to care about what others think, you’re ahead of the game. At least don’t sweat the small stuff.
If what someone said is offensive, if they looked at you funny, if they acted in such a way that you and your mate were bothered by it, what would you do? Have you considered responding to them about it? Go ahead. Get it off your chest. Maybe they need to know you are offended, that they stepped out of line.
What should you say to them? Be honest, be open, without blowing your cool. Express that you feel hurt by their words or actions. What can you expect in return? They may stop behaving that way. Or, they may disconnect from you and your partner completely. They may choose not to be a part of the gatherings that you attend. But maybe, just maybe, they’ll change their attitude or at least their behavior. Maybe they’ll surprise you.
If it’s your parents or theirs who are having trouble accepting you and your partner, be understanding but firm. Help them realize that the two of you got together because you love one another and share common interests, attitudes, values.
Look for ways to bring the family and friends together, to bring closeness. Maybe they can’t or won’t embrace your partner the way that you do – at least not right away – but in time you may notice a shift in a positive direction.
What can you and your mate do to grow the relationship?
· Celebrate each other’s cultures. Accepting and becoming immersed in each other’s traditions is one of the ways you can show your commitment to each other. New languages, food, music, histories … Think of these as educational experiences and nurturing the bonds between you.
· Have agreed-upon core traditions and values (attending church, cooking, work ethics, saving and spending money, child rearing, for examples).
· Race may not enter you and your partner’s daily life very often, but when it does, look for positive ways that it can be a catalyst for helping you learn and grow together.
· Connect with others. A relationship isn’t just about two people. Broaden your circle of friends and celebrate racial diversity. Consider gestures such as inviting a friend or relative to dinner or to an event that celebrates your loved one’s culture. Serve food from your mate’s native country or cultural upbringing. Invite your best buddy to a ethnic festival. Share a book or article with others that illuminate issues or everyday life of mixed-race couples.
· Have realistic expectations of others. You can’t force people to automatically accept you or change their attitudes.
· Don’t let negative attitudes poison your marriage.
· Don’t get angry or defensive. Talk it through with them or walk away.
· Understand where your spouse is coming from on key issues. Learn about their background and respect what’s important to them.
· Search within for any of your own prejudices that might be lurking beneath the surface. Perhaps you have a certain perception about something. Consider how you were raised and how that has shaped your experiences with and attitudes about other races.
Healing Racial Traumas
We probably don’t need to be reminded that society has a long way to go towards healing from its racial traumas. As a couple, it’s not just having different cultural differences that can come between you, it’s how you choose to handle those differences. The amount of empathy you each feel for each others’ values, worldviews, ideas, feelings, language, and background, can bring you together or drive you apart.