6 Myths About Interracial Couples We Need to Retire Immediately
Nearly five decades after the United States Supreme Court struck down statewide bans on interracial marriages in the landmark Loving v. Virginia case, 87% of Americans approve of such pairings, according to a 2013 Gallup poll. In fact, about 15% of new marriages in the U.S. were between two people of different races in 2010, according to the Pew Research Center. That's more than double the rate 30 years prior.
But despite general approval, myths around those people in interracial relationships have stuck around. Here are some of the biggest misconceptions about the experience, according to several interracial couples.
1. Interracial couples are together for reasons other than love.
"I'm not with my partner to make some big statement about anything," Sabrina Nelson, a 19-year-old white woman in a relationship with a 19-year-old black man, told Mic. "I'm with him because I love him and he's one of the best people I've ever met."
And yet Nelson and others told Mic that they have encountered many people who believe they must be motivated to be together by some, external factor other than the desire to share their lives.
Many assumed that Nelson's relationship is "some sort of political statement or rebellion or fetish experiment," she said. Adam Campbell-Schmitt, a 31-year-old white man married to a 30-year-old black and Latina woman (Mic editor Michelle Garcia), added that many people have assumed their relationship is based on "some sort of fetish from one or both sides of our relationship."
These assumptions, however, reduce couples "to nothing but our pigmentation," Campbell-Schmitt said, and neglect the real reasons couples come together. Reasons like, he noted, "the fact that we're both inquisitive, politically like-minded children of the '90s with obsessions for comedy, pizza and Downton Abbey."
2. They have the same experience in public as any other couple.
Despite the fact that the vast majority of Americans claim to support interracial couples, many still face public scrutiny.
"It's shocking how many weird looks we get on the street," Nelson said. "Sometimes the way strangers react makes me feel very conspicuous."
Campbell-Schmitt and his wife have dealt with these public microaggressions for years. "My wife and I started dating in a small college town, and certainly were the subject of everything from glances to pointing to straight-up scowling," he said. Now living in cultural capitals like Los Angeles and New York, it seems "cashiers, waiters and bartenders constantly ask if we're paying together. We've been in lines at registers and witnessed same-race couples not received the same line of questioning."
3. Friends and family members don't see these relationships as an issue anymore.
Studies show that those who come from racially intolerant places are more likely to prefer to date someone of the same race than those who hail from more tolerant places, according to Big Think (and common sense). It follows, therefore, that those who resist this pattern may be the only person in their family to do so.
Geraldine Buchanan Rogers, a 52-year-old black woman, married into a family that was not welcoming to her. "My former mother-in-law didn't attend the wedding or speak to me for many years," she told Mic in June. "She met her only grandchild, our son, when he was almost 3 years [old], after my ex-husband and I divorced."
When Nelson showed pictures of her boyfriend to her extended family, "there was a palpable awkwardness." Although her family's reactions weren't blatantly racist, she said, there was an "underlying uneasiness, like they were worried about saying the wrong thing. They're still reacting to the race and not the person."
Even when loved ones profess to accept these relationships, though, they may make well-intended comments that are nonetheless offensive.
"People are also always pleading with us to have babies," Campbell-Schmitt said. "They say they'll be so cute because 'biracial babies always are.' People aren't saying, 'I like you two as people; your kids are going to be awesome.' They're fantasizing about breeding us like designer dogs."
4. Dating someone of a different race means you can't be racist.
All healthy relationships involve listening and accountability, but these responsibilities take on a unique role in interracial relationships. While Buchanan Rogers said she has encountered people who think interracial couples "don't have candid discussions about race," this is hardly the universal truth.
"I think some people also have the misconception that when you're in a relationship the race issue becomes irrelevant," Nelson said. "It doesn't, and it shouldn't. Just because you're in love with someone doesn't mean you don't still have to do the important work of checking yourself, making sure you're being respectful and understanding and, well, not racist. Being a white person in a relationship with a person of color does not absolve you from anything."
In fact, directly addressing race may be one of the healthiest things partners can do for their relationship.
"Being able to talk about race in a conscientious way is an avenue to showing love toward our partner," writer Melissa Fabello noted in a recent Everyday Feminism article. "Being honest about the ways in which race is complex — both inside and outside of your relationship — shows a willingness to engage with a part of your partner's identity and experience in a way that really holds them."
5. The differing historical treatment of each partner's race is irrelevant.
"Race still carries an immense amount of social, political and historical weight, and you cannot ignore the ramifications of that," Nelson said. "I'm a white woman in a relationship with a black man, something that is historically very, very loaded ... It comes along with a messy set of stereotypes for both of us, him especially."
While Nelson said she has faced stereotypes that she is a "slut" who is "rebelling" by dating a black man, her partner faces other loaded myths, such as that he's "stealing white men's women."
The idea of stealing is something Campbell-Schmitt said he also experienced.
"The most backlash we get is from older black men who somehow feel they should have been entitled to a shot at my wife before I got to her, completely disregarding the thousands of other factors about personality, physical attraction and circumstance that all play into the compatibility of a relationship," he said.
6. The media authentically reflects interracial couples' relationships
While many people loved a 2013 Cheerios commercial featuring an interracial couple and their child, there was still a shocking amount of backlash. Perhaps that's because the media tends to portray interracial couples in highly stereotyped terms — when they are present at all.
"Media constantly perpetuates the otherness of interracial couples," Campbell-Schmitt said. Nelson agreed, noting that "race comes first and the relationship comes second," in many depictions. "They are denied the complexity, the nuances of other, particularly white, couples."
More authentic depictions of interracial couples as just that — couples — could destigmatize the common understanding of these relationships.
"There needs to be interracial couples who are written in the same way as other couples," Nelson said. "Interracial couples have the same issues and triumphs that any other couple has and I think the media can lose sight of that sometimes."
Ultimately, it's high time people accepted that interracial couples are nothing more than two individuals who choose to be together for the same reasons any two people of the same race would. They may face unique obstacles based on their respective races, but as Nelson concluded, this type of relationship must be "seen as what it is — love."