I’m in an interracial relationship.
Mike is black and I’m white. I’ve always been attracted to men with darker skin, and Mike’s always been attracted to lighter-skinned women.
We’re both incredibly blessed to have parents who supported our relationship right away, which isn’t always the case for interracial couples. The Lord has blessed our relationship from the beginning — though we’ve had to work through a lot, including our cultural differences.
So here’s some of our story, about us working through some differences. And even if you’re not dating interracially, chances are, your significant other is vastly different from you.
Ask questions. It’s really OK.
When dating someone of another race or background, the most important thing is this: humbly ask questions and take time to listen and respond to questions you’ve asked. Issues of race, ethnicity and culture can be touchy topics, especially if you don’t understand the details. But how will you understand the details until you’ve asked the questions?
Mike and I have learned the importance of talking about everything. And I mean everything. I’m not embarrassed to ask questions — even questions about black culture that might confuse me.
Near the beginning of our relationship, I said something really stupid to Mike. I was putting on sunscreen. Thanks to my daddy’s heavily Irish genes, I’m ghostly pale. Without even thinking about it, I gave Mike the bottle of sunscreen and told him to put some on. He looked at me, smiled, and handed back the bottle.
“No, Mike,” I said. “You don’t know what you’re doing. Listen to me, put on the sunscreen.”
He laughed and motioned toward his skin. It finally clicked.
“Wait.” I paused. “Can black people get sunburned?”
Looking back now, it was an innocent question. How would I know? But at the time, it felt so insensitive, so offensive.
“I mean …” I immediately tried to correct myself to make it sound better, but I only made it much worse. “You know what I mean, because, like, it wouldn’t show up on your black skin.”
Foot. In. Mouth.
Mike, being the considerate, grace-filled person that he is, simply laughed. He explained that black people can still get a sunburn, but they absorb vitamin D at a lower rate than white people, so some sun is OK for his skin — though he could still theoretically wear sunscreen if the sun is too intense.
I wasn’t being racist. I was ignorant, so I asked.
If your partner is of a different race than you and you ask a question out of concern or genuine curiosity, chances are, he or she will laugh or answer kindly. It’s sort of like meeting someone with an accent. Asking that person where they’re from — whether that’s from Boston, Holland or South Korea — isn’t offensive. As long as you ask kindly and respectfully, most of the time, people are happy to give you an answer.
People are people — black, white, Asian, Hispanic … we’re all created in the Lord’s image.
You’re not THAT different. Trust me.
We’re each unique, but there are more commonalities between us than you’d think. I’ve learned that.
Your significant other’s family dynamic can take a long time to understand. And if you’re dating someone of another race, it might take even longer.
Family parties are different, jokes are different and even food can be different. I was raised in a majority black church, so I’m a lot more comfortable with black culture than some white people I know. But I’m still not used to eating soul food on Thanksgiving. I remember going to Mike’s aunt’s house our first Thanksgiving together. I wasn’t used to eating fried chicken, pigs feet and turkey for the holiday — but I gave it a go and had heart burn after. The next time, I stuck with the turkey and it didn’t hinder my relationship with Mike or his family. At all.
The best advice I can give is to be yourself.
Families can often tell right away if the person their son or daughter is dating is being sincere. It’s unlikely your significant other’s family is going to judge you based off whether or not you laugh at the same jokes or like the same food. But your significant other’s family will likely judge you by how you carry yourself, how comfortable you are in a new surrounding and if you clearly care about the person you’re dating.
I’ve learned a lot. But I’m still learning.
Mike and I have been dating for over five years. And as of May 12, we’re husband and wife. It’s crazy to think about.
Throughout those five years, we’ve talked a lot about issues of race and culture. We’ve talked about injustice and the Lord’s provision. Now that we’re married, we often talk about having children eventually. I’ve talked to biracial friends of mine who say that growing up biracial wasn’t easy. It brought on different frustrations than being just white or just black. And often biracial children have a hard time figuring out which culture or group they fit into.
I think an important element is the larger family dynamic. Mike and I try to spend time with both of our families. Mike’s parents and extended family treated me as family the first day I met them. My family was the same way with Mike. Although cultures have differences and people have differences and preferences, something Mike and I always want is for our children to be seen as an image of the Creator first and foremost and for them to see all people in that same light.
That’s not easy. It’s messy and complicated and full of uncertainties and frustrations. But that’s life. The messier and heavier our load is, the more we find rest in empathy and compassion. If you’re in an interracial relationship, it won’t be easy. But give one another grace, ask questions and see the goodness of the Lord in the messiness of life.