I personally have always chosen to befriend, acquaint, and build my community with folks who share similar radical politics to me. I am blessed to have friends of all colors who are cultural workers, artists, professionals, or organizers that are showing up for their community in some way. I begin this piece on interracial dating with this disclosure because dating for me has always been political. I choose to date someone based on similar life experiences, interpersonal dynamics (“chemistry”), and someone who is pursuing their passion. But, what specifically draws my attention to someone is if their personal politics align with mine, and most importantly if they practice the feminist principle the “personal is political.”
To me, interracial dating can mean people of color dating white folks, and it can also mean different communities of color dating or partnering with one another. I cannot speak to dating other people of color outside of my ethnicity because I have never done so. Most of my partners have been Latinx or white. The racial and cultural background of a person is something that I consider to be an important aspect of a person I am choosing to date, but is it just one among many. What is also important to me is another person’s understanding of gender, class, sexual orientation, neurodivergence, ability, and size. Instead of interracial dating, I would like to invoke what may be called intersectional dating or intersectional partnership.
My partner is a white genderqueer. She is a writer/poet and community college English professor who teaches Paulo Freire, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and many others. She teaches a LGBT Literature course where she has her students read the works of writers such as Audre Lorde, Janet Mock, James Baldwin, Judith Butler, and many others. These aspects of my partner’s professional preferences is what immediately drew my attention to her. She is a person who holds power at a white institution who makes a conscientious choice to teach her students about people of color and queer and trans activist and writers of color. I was also drawn to my partner because we both have similar life experiences with mental health issues and share a profound passion for advocating for radical mental health. We are also both queer and genderqueer. And, of course, we bonded a lot over voicing our healthy disdain for neurotypical white cis straight men.
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- Each Partner Must Hold Themselves Responsible For Their Respective Privileges.
Upon starting to date, we both held ourselves accountable to our respective privileges. I said I would hold myself accountable to my assigned-male-at-birth privilege and male socialization, and she said she would hold herself accountable to her white privilege. We also made a point of saying that it was not our responsibility to hold each other accountable to our respective privileges, but our own. However, we agreed to call each other in when we did need to be held accountable to things. This, for me, was a healthy start to our intersectional dating.
People of color dating white folks brings up a lot of political feelings for some. I believe that people of color dating people of color is an act of resistance against assimilation into whiteness. I recognize that some people of color will not date white folks because white folks do not and will not understand the struggles that people of color personally face on a day to day basis. I also believe people of color dating white folks can also be an act of resistance against racial apartheid.
Dating outside of a person’s race or cultural community may cause one to question another person’s loyalty and alliance with one’s community. I have been guilty of employing this tactic. Sometimes I see people of color with white partners and I immediately begin to question their cultural integrity: “How down are they for their community?” “How many people of color partners have they had ‘before’ they started dating white people?” This is a form of internalized racism I have learned. I am policing another person of color’s identity simply for who they choose to date. It also erases the political potential of the white person they are dating and that person’s ability to continue to grow as an ally. I think this way of thinking is based upon something problematic, and that something is racial or cultural essentialism.
By racial essentialism in the context of dating and partnership, I mean people of color “should only” date people of color, and white people “should only” date white people. This racial essentialism also relies on a political essentialism which is that people of color are the “perfect” radicals and white people are “inherently colonizable”. Just because someone is a person of color does not necessarily mean they will posture radical politics, and just because a person is white does not mean they are completely oblivious to issues of race or their white privilege. Let me touch upon the first point as a person of color.
There are plenty of people of color who have yet had opportunities to enlighten themselves on the politics of gender, sexual orientation, or ability. I have known and been friends with plenty of men of color who would be flabbergasted if someone attempted to check their male privilege, and yet they continue to be in heterosexual relationships with women. Ironically, while the heteronormative conversation on marriage equality hyper-focuses on same-sex partnerships, this completely erases the importance of centering how heterosexual relationships are fundamentally inter-gender relationships, obfuscating how male privilege plays in them.
I was also in a serious relationship with a woman of color who was pro-life and believed that abortion was wrong due to her religious views. She also said she believed in gay rights and had gay friends, but ultimately said that as a social worker she would not work with queer clients. She was also very comforted by a court decision she read in the media that declared queer people could not sue the church for sexual discrimination. When I came out to her as queer, she insisted that I was straight, and she did not desire to hear my journey around dating a cisgender Latinx man, nor did I feel comfortable doing so with her. Throughout our relationship as partners and friends, I patiently attempted to prompt radical reflections about her views, but they proved to be ineffective. This relationships did not last.
I believe that white people can grow to learn about their white privilege and their own white domination. However, personally-speaking, when dating white folks, I have never chosen to date just any white person. I always wanted to know where the white folks to whom I was attracted politically stood on issues of race, class, gender, and ability. I met a few white women who I found very attractive. But I would never think to ask them on a date because they’re politics were not aligned with mine, and that fundamentally made them unattractive. I also had a standard when dating white folks, which is they have to have a personal understanding of their own white privilege and white liberal racism. My partner does this. She brings up how she is conscious about how much she talks as a white person in staff meetings at her place of work, or how she tries to listen more than speak when conversing with her colleagues of color as a means of learning and refraining from whitesplaining.
While there tends to be a lot of focus on how inter-racial dating highlights differences between cultures, I think this can be can be misleading. Dating within one’s race also comes with many differences and to which two people of the same race can learn a lot of from one another’s own culture that they never knew. As a second generation Mexican American, there was a lot I learned from my previous first generation partners. For example, that some 1st generation Latinx folks call their father’s “apa” or mother’s “ama”. Or, that some 1st generation folks open their Christmas presents at 12 midnight of Christmas Eve. I call my dad “dad” and my mom “mom”, and my family opens presents Christmas morning.
- Be curious about understanding one another’s intersections and how each partner engages them.
We are always asking each other questions about how we are gendered by others on a day-to-day basis, and our gender feelings in a given moment. We are also asking each other how we experience our individual neuro-divergences, and how this influences are day-to-day interactions with the world. There was a particular sweet moment that we shared together when we first started dating when we went to the Oakland Museum. We were attending an exhibit in which an historical item was marked the date 1848. She all of a sudden said, “That’s the year the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed and the same year the Communist Manifesto was published.” Before then, I never thought to put these two events together. I also felt honored that she knew this specific event in Mexican history which many people would not know. I was smitten in this moment. For anybody that I meet who is curious about Mexican culture, I would definitely let them know about The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, but she already knew. I was also very honored when we were discussing a Latinx friend of hers and she said she was unsure as to if this person identified as Chicanx or Latinx. I was glad she knew about the existence of Chicanx identity.
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- Support Each Other’s Reflections on Racial Interactions
Lastly, my partner also prompts me to reflect upon my own racial interactions and supports my racial process as a person of color. Recently, my employer hired a white man as a member of our team of social workers. The first week he was hired, I messed up on scheduling some things. I became anxious and thought he would go over my head, and tell my supervisor how I was messing up. Upon telling my partner this, she prompted me to reflect upon if I was having these feelings because he is a cis straight white man. And, indeed, I was subconsciously, which were reflected as conscious to me by her.
My relationship with my white genderqueer partner is based on mutual decolonization and mutual aid. Our relationship is based on recognizing our respective privileges, and prompting each other to reflect upon our individual intersections. Building interpersonal alliances across race is only one intersection we are are developing and will continue to develop. We are consistently building alliances across gender and gender expression. We consult with each other regarding our respective professional roles, and how to radicalize dominantly cis straight white spaces and institutions. We are constantly dialoguing about how to solidify our radical politics as individuals and as a partnership.
We are a comrade couple.
[Featured Image: A photo of four fists bumping together. Two wrists are wearing watches. One wrist is wearing a purple sleeve. One wrist is wearing bracelets. Pexels.com]