Tuesday, July 1, 2008

On Interracial Relationships: Part I (My Own)

On Interracial Relationships: Part I (My Own),

It has come to my attention that the following passage I put into my previous (first) post is a bit problematic:

I have pondered long and hard how the racial identity of the mother of my future children would affect my ability to connect to them. I have also thought about how that mother's racial identity would either let down or make proud my grandparents.

I don't want my children to be whiter than me.

It's problematic on a number of levels (not all of which I will get into), of course, but the main one is this: as the product of an interracial conception, how can I - more so than anybody - be okay with race as a possible pre-requisite in a future wife?

Me - a "bridge between races" - trying to build that bridge up with thoughts of specifically avoiding a particular race (white) to date. How can that even be mildly acceptable?

I'm not sure if it is. Because, of course, my exposure to race has caused me to realize that race guarantees little in this life (other than how prejudice and stereotypes will be experienced). Truly. Sure, white folks are less likely to be aware of how white privilege works or all the little things that keep the racial hierarchy in order, but that's not everything. Because black folks are equally likely to be unaware of the Asian racial experience and to say ignorant things about it. Everybody is ignorant of Native American experience, etc.

So how can I possibly make such a statement as the one above? What is my opinion of interracial relationships?

The simple answer? I really have no idea. As with many of my thoughts on race, due to my experience, I'm mixed. I go back and forth. So let's start at the beginning (disclaimer, I'm going to stick to the heterosexual experience, because that's all I have, and I feel in no position to comment on a situation I have no personal insight on):

By definition, almost every romantic relationship I've ever been in has been "interracial." Only one time have I ever been quasi-involved with a mixed Asian/white girl - and that never made it to full-blown "relationship" status. In terms of mono-racial ladies, I have been involved with white, Jewish (it IS different than just "white"), Asian, and black women (to varying degrees of seriousness). I have also gotten mixed up with Asian/white, Mexican/white, and black/white bi-racial ladies.

So. What have these varying experiments in interracial dating taught me? Not a whole lot.

In my outside life, in terms of friendships, I have found myself most easily able to immediately connect to mixed folks. There's some sort of mystical bond going on there that causes us to be drawn together in casual friendship, all things being equal (i.e. in a room full of people I don't know, it's easiest to get along with the mixed folks - of course, there are seldom rooms of strangers with ANY mixed folks other than me, so it might just be an outlying statistic that cannot be treated with any real significance).

In relationships, being with another mixed person definitely opened up a level of unspoken understanding that was pretty nice. Being with someone that I knew could understand a way of being that so few people I ever talk to can understand was like snuggling into a warm downy comforter on a winter day. However, that's the only constant through those relationships. I'm not with any of those ladies now (and I don't think about going back), so - obviously - that wasn't enough.

So what about the other races? One of the white girls told me she "didn't even think of me as Chinese" - NEXT! One Asian (Korean) girl my friends tried to set me up with in college was probably the most annoying girl I've ever (and may ever) meet. I've had a black woman friend (granted, not somebody I was dating) argue with me about my experience of race (trying to tell me that I was wrong in what I was saying about other people's perception of my racial background).

My Jewish ex is/was probably the only non-mixed lady that seemed to get the closest grasp of it all. I think that's due to the ambiguous "other"-ness of Jews in America: sort of blending in at times, but then being completely left out of "standard" white culture during Christmas and other co-opted Christian Hallmark holidays. The (un-asked-for) ability to be a "spy" to people spouting anti-semitic speech thinking "they aren't around." It's not a coincidence that a bunch of my cousins ended up marrying Jewish guys. And that was the closest relationship (by far) of all of them. Of course, it was due to a lot of different things (she certainly listened the best of all of them). In the end, she dumped me, though, so . . . (just messing with you, A - sort of).

Right. So the overwhelming message? Race doesn't really mean anything at all in relationships. It's no guarantee of compatibility, understanding, communication, or anything else. Yeah - a lot of white women are ridiculously ignorant about race, but I wouldn't end up talking to any of them, anyway (let alone dating them). I'm commitment-phobic enough to be scared off of most women of any race, so anybody who made it through that particular set of defenses would be impressive enough for race to be the least important factor.

And yet I still think about it. Why?

Because of my future child.

I know, first-hand, what it is like to not look my parents. To have this strange racial barrier hanging between myself and them. To know that there are a lot of things about how I've walked through this world that they just cannot understand. It's not so looming with my mother (the forced bi-cultural immigrant experience echoing the mixed experience in America). With my dad? It's HUGE.

And I don't want that to be the case with my child. I don't want that barrier. And I know some of that can be alleviated (no matter what he/she looks like) by honest communication, but communication cannot fully make up for a disconnect in shared experience.

The other (bigger) part? I am a middle school teacher. I work with an interesting population of kids. One day, one of those kids (who is 1/4th Japanese - biracial mother, white father) came up to me. He told me how he had been walking down the street while some "chink" was following him, saying something, and he wanted to know if I knew what the word she kept repeating meant (he knew my background). I, of course, backed up a step and asked him if he knew what he just said was, and he responded, "No - that's why I'm asking you."

I was surprised for a minute until I realized that he thought I was talking about the "Asian" word he had asked me to define. He had NO IDEA that I was referring to his use of the word "chink." So I explained to him what that meant, why it was an issue, etc. And he got it (he even apologized).

But this is what I took from that experience - this kid, with a quarter Asian blood, was already so far removed from that part of himself (due to "looking white") that he didn't even know that "chink" wasn't okay to say. And that hit me so hard, and has sat in the pit of my stomach since. If I don't have a kid with a full-Asian or mixed woman, would that happen with my kid? Sure, I would make sure s/he knew what those words meant, but that couldn't avoid the disconnect with the race and culture. How people perceive us is largely how we experience the world, and I don't want my kid to lose that.

Especially knowing how important it was to my (Chinese) grandparents. My family has quickly faded towards white in three short generations. I may be the "last chance" to keep the Chinese blood flowing.

This is what it means to be mixed in America. To be torn both ways, never knowing which one is right.

For myself, on a personal level? The race won't make a difference. It's going to come down to the distinct personality and make-up of the woman that works for me. I DO know that whoever it is would have to be well-rounded and have a large range of interests. Racially? The quality of my relationship will have nothing to do with the race.

For my kids and ancestors? History and posterity? Race looms large. But if it's not the best relationship, won't that still screw up my racially-matching, possibly proudly-Chinese children? Absolutely.

So I end up back where I began it all. Mixed-up, confused, expecting that neither choice will end up feeling 100% right. Intuition telling me I have to just go for the best RELATIONSHIP, regardless of race, but knowing that that will leave me feeling that I let down my grandparents.*

Isn't race a wonderful thing?

And that's where I lie on interracial relationships as they pertain to me, directly. Next: my judgement on others.

*An interesting side-note: funny how I worry about letting down my Chinese grandparents (and ancestors) but don't worry about letting down my white (Russian/Irish) grandparents and ancestors. I'll just leave that at that for now - if you'd like to comment and ask for more about that, be my guest.


Jennifer said...

Hey CVT,
Just wanted to thank you for sending me your link to your blog. Kudos to you for starting one--I look forward to reading future posts and to be on the other side now, as one of your commenters rather than the blogger!

By the way, there must be something in the air because we both seem to have chosen Inter-racial relationships as our blog topic o' the day.

And for what it's worth, I appreciate hearing your perspective and the thorniness of it all--it's complicated, and you demonstrate that through openly sharing your own feelings about inter-racial unions, being mixed, and the identity of your future children.

Again, I look forward to reading future posts. And welcome to the world of blogging about race!

CVT said...

Thanks for stopping by (and commenting). I'm hoping to get this thing off the ground (bringing in visitors), so some real dialogue can start happening. We'll see how it goes.

mthgk said...


I accessed your blog via the link on Racilicious. Funny, I have been struggling with similar dilemmas my entire life. I am also half-
Chinese (on my father's side), but my mother is Anglo-Irish.

Basically all of my partners have been White, except my first, who was Mexican. I have two kids and am now divorced. My children have a White father, but both have distinctively Asian features that I and others notice frequently. In fact, my son, aside from his coloring, resembles my Chinese father to an uncanny extent.

My children, unlike me as a child, are learning about their Chinese heritage. They are open to and curious about it.

I understand the transition from being ashamed of your Asian-ness to embracing it so fully that you feel obligated to almost turn your back on the White part of you. I am currently in a relationship with a White man, but he has said subtly racist things that are alienating me from him.

Sometimes I wonder why I have dated Whites almost exclusively... Perhaps some residual shame about not being completely White in a culture that values Whiteness above all. Sad, but true. I'm slowly re-learning how to think about myself and others; de-constructing how racial prejudice has influenced the course of my life.

Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. It's nice to know that there are others struggling with similar dilemmas...

CVT said...

@mthgk -
I'm glad you found this blog and that it resonated with you. One thing I forgot to write in my post about Asians (specifically) dating whites is not necessarily about "shame." I think, for a lot of "Americanized" Asian people in the States, white culture is a lot more familiar (in many ways) than the Asian culture of our parents and grandparents. Thus, it makes sense that you just might have more in common (in terms of interests, personality, etc.) with white folks. Just a thought.

Don't know if it's my place here - but have you called out your boyfriend when he makes those comments? Maybe he just needs a little gentle education (and maybe I shouldn't be offering you relationship advice - no offense intended) . . .

Anonymous said...

Offering advice to mthgk on giving a little "gentle education" is very thoughtful. However, after reading a number of your posts and seeing that you are obviously capable of fair amount of introspection, I'm suprised you weren't able to gently educate your white ex. As a white person currently traversing a "bridge between races", I agree that there is an extraordinary amount of sensitivity required on my side (due to the fact there there is NO way I could ever fully understand the way another person - esp. mixed-race - experiences life). I would be nowhere without my significant other's curiosity and interest in the history and culture of both sides of his family and his willingness to share these things with me. This sharing has been frightning for him - for fear it might create a barrier between us - but (lucky for me!) he's been able to see that we carry an equal burden of responsibility in our unique relationship in order to create and maintain the amount of love we both deserve. There will be no "NEXT", and I think it's a shame that you weren't able to entertain alternate possibilities with your ex.