Thursday, July 3, 2008
On Interracial Relationships: Part II (From the Outside)
On Interracial Relationships: Part II (From the Outside),
So now that I've laid out my opinions (and personal demons) about how race falls out in my own personal romantic life, it's time to move on to the fun part: stating my opinion on OTHER people's relationships. That's right - I don't consider myself a gossip-y type of person, but I sure seem to enjoy talking about what I think other people should or shouldn't do.
Anyway. We'll start with the basics and then move on to the juicier stuff. First of all, I am a result of an interracial conception (as I stated before), and I am very happy with the distinct experience that has brought me. I believe it has made me better able to understand racial dynamics (on all sides) in this country, and I would never ask to change that (even on the days when it causes some grief). Therefore, I am obviously all for interracial relationships, on a very general level. I think this world could use some more mixed progeny out there.
That said, it's not so simple as that.
I think about racial fetishes a lot (NOT in that way - damn). My mother is Asian (Chinese). My father is white. That's not a very shocking combination for an interracial relationship (for those familiar with any of the statistics or just the common debates). So, accordingly, I often wonder if my father has (or had) an "Asian fetish." His first wife was also Asian. She went on to be with another white man later on. There seems to be a lot of circumstantial evidence here.
However, one thing has always stood out to me about my parents' relationship - they love each other. Truly. I'm very cynical when it comes to love and marriage in general, but I have always held my own parents as the exception to the rule. So - can it be a fetish when they are very much in love? Or - if it actually STARTED as a fetish, but then led to a loving relationship, does it really matter? Arranged marriages can end up in love, so can they be all that bad? That's the question.
And I go back and forth on my answer. Because I definitely find myself mentally tsk-tsk-ing when I see an Asian woman out and about with what I perceive to be a white boyfriend. I find myself automatically assuming that the guy has an Asian fetish, and that the woman isn't attracted to Asian men. I condescendingly nod to the couple and tell whoever is with me, "See? White man and Asian girl - again."
So why do I do this? It seems so ridiculously hypocritical. Because I'm definitely not one of those Asian men who feels like the white guy is stealing "my" women or my chances to get that particular girl. I've found that my mixed-ness has made me relatively "accessible" in terms of interracial dating (I have pretty much been the "first" Asian and/or mixed guy that ANY of my past romantic interests have been involved with - aren't I just "breaking down barriers" one woman at a time?).
So - what bothers me? Mostly - and this can be applied to any white man/non-white girl couple - it's my assumptions about the man's respect for the woman. I assume that the man just thinks "Asian women are hot" - that whole exotification thing - without being able to see beyond that. I had a friend who had a definite Asian fetish (he told me so) to the point where he LITERALLY thought EVERY Asian woman he saw was hot (linking to the "they all look the same" theory). I assume that the woman lets that happen because she has (consciously or no) bought into the mainstream distaste for Asian men.
And I don't think that that is a stretch, every time. I've known plenty of white guys who tell me how they are just attracted to "exotic women."* And I don't think they mean that in terms of cultural respect and without stereotypical assumptions.
Then there are the guys (and girls) who say things like, "I can't be racist, my girlfriend/boyfriend is - fill in blank with non-white race." My dad even said that once. And that makes me sicker than any of the rest. The perceived use of an "exotic" trophy-girlfriend to carry as a banner to prove the white partner's "open-mindedness."
These are my hang-ups. They pop into my head almost every time I see an interracial couple. And I know it's ridiculous (because I've known couples that are nothing like this, I've been PART of couples that are not like this), but it's still there. I don't necessarily ACT on these split-second reactions, thoughts, and assumptions, but they hit me every time.
So then - how does this particular bi-racial boy want to see interracial relationships fall out? Based on my own experiences, from how my parents have done it right (and wrong), this is what I've come up with:
First - there HAS to be respect, and a true, full desire to bring things equal. What I mean is that there must be a leveling of racial understanding - and a lot of that is going to fall on the white partner (if there is one - if it's an interracial relationship with no white partners, though, these rules still apply). Both partners need to be willing to both share their backgrounds and experiences fully, while simultaneously giving up some of that access in order to try to better understand where the other person is coming from - and their experiences and culture.
That means that if your partner is Chinese, for instance, you best be fully willing and wanting to go to China with them. To study up on Chinese history. To be uncomfortably non-Chinese amongst your partner's all-Chinese family (or friends). It means that both partners need to be willing to carve out a social existence on their partner's cultural terms (which is generally harder for the white folks). BOTH people need to embrace the uncomfortable exclusion from the other side - because that's how shared understanding is going to happen.
And that's how it's going to be for the kids. This, of course, is where it gets super-personal for me. Both parents of a mixed child need to be fully involved in the OTHER side's experience. For instance (to continue using myself as an example), it can't be "the job" of the Chinese parent to initiate Chinese-language lessons. It can't just be the Chinese parent that brings the kid into Chinatown to see relatives. There are certain levels where the non-Chinese parent obviously cannot share experience with the mixed kid, but they have to BE THERE. They have to be willing to give themselves over to half of their child's life and experience - no matter how uncomfortable or out of place that makes them feel. And neither parent can simply "give in" to the other's culture, keeping one half (or more) from the child).
And both parents need to understand that their child will never be able to fully walk in either side's racial world. No matter how hard the parent tries, the kid is going to be left out, in some way. They are going to be treated differently. And - unless both parents acknowledge that - the child is going to be largely on her/his own in building their racial understanding of themselves and the world around them. Parents need to ask the child questions about how they feel and are experiencing certain situations - and they must encourage questions from the child.
At least - that's what I THINK would work (judging from what did/did not work in my case). At least, it would seem like the best chance at working and being fully respectful and truly equal. Again, I stress that these are mostly things that are/would be difficult for a white partner in a relationship. Automatically, a non-white American knows what it is to be uncomfortably out of place and on somebody else's terms. White Americans do not (in general) and are often VERY hesitant about being in that situation.** And that's something that both sides need to be fully cognizant of and communicating about.
So there are the CVT's rules (and judgements) on interracial relationships and parenting. Take it with a grain of salt, and feel free to set the record straight on any number of areas I stomped on.
* Side note - I had one "friend" who asked me if I was into "exotic" women - to which I answered, "I don't know - am I exotic?"
** This is why white folks are always arguing against all-black fraternities as "racist." Claiming how "unfair" it is if they go to a party that is pre-dominantly black and "everybody is staring at them just because -gasp- they're white." White people out there - see how uncomfortable that makes you? Use a little bit of logic, then, and see that that is EXACTLY why there ARE all-black fraternities (and people of color like to hang out in crowds that look mostly like them, at times).