loading
drag

I’m in an interracial relationship, and the BLM movement taught me a lot about its intricacies

PHOTOGRAPHY BY JORDAN DRYSDALE

WORDS BY TARIRO LISA MUKANDO

Ignoring race isn’t an option in interracial relationships.

My first real crush was Jesse McCartney. I was nine years old and had recently moved from Zimbabwe to Western Sydney when ‘Beautiful Soul’ was released. I remember sitting on my living room carpet, legs crossed with a packet of Tim Tams in-between them when I first laid eyes on Jesse. I was instantly taken by his angelic vocals, cherub-like face and blue eyes.

My next crush was Luke Erceg as Leon Lipowksi on Disney’s Mortified, then Chad Michael Murray in A Cinderella Story, followed by Adam Brody in The O.C.. I had left Zimbabwe before developing an interest in boys and growing up in Western Sydney, where there was a shortage of Black boys around me, I turned to pop culture for “love”.

All I saw were White boys. That alone is a whole other issue, but fast forward to today, and I’m in an interracial relationship.

My boyfriend and I met on Tinder in 2016, but we didn’t start dating seriously until the latter half of 2017. I had never been in a serious relationship before, so navigating this one was completely foreign territory.

I knew how we both felt about each other but I still had some cultural hesitations at the beginning of our relationship. Would he care that I have to wear a bonnet before going to sleep? Or that I’m always hesitant to eat at other peoples’ houses, family or not, due to Zimbabwean superstition?

These cultural quirks turned out to be less relationship-defining than I had initially thought they’d be. Instead, race had become a much bigger issue than nine-year-old me thought it would be when I was dreaming of dating Jesse McCartney.

The recent Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests illuminated to me that I subconsciously resented my boyfriend’s privilege, while also wanting it for myself. But they also taught me how to communicate my issues about race better to my boyfriend.

Is your family racist?

It’s not a question I’ve ever asked before but it’s also one that makes a lot of sense. In an article shared three years ago, model Ashley Graham detailed her grandma’s disapproval of her dating her then-boyfriend and now-husband, Justin Ervin, because he’s Black. The ideas the article explored have stuck with me since.

The whole situation – from Ashley not warning Justin about her grandma’s views prior to them meeting, to her spiel on how Justin essentially had to prove to her racist grandma that he was deserving of Ashley’s love – was highly problematic.

There’s no shortage of interracially-coupled content creators on YouTube and other platforms sharing their lived experiences online, but the one thing that they seem to gloss over is the difficulty of being in an interracial relationship.

Is the other person’s family racist? Does your partner hold racist views or believe certain stereotypes to be true? Do they have a preference for mixed-race children? My guess is that a lot of people shy away from talking about how difficult it is to navigate an interracial relationship, because it might bring up things they aren’t ready to face, especially publicly on YouTube.

Race has never been something that my boyfriend and I ignored – in fact, we discuss it, and our different experiences regularly – but the recent global BLM protests made discussions about racism something we were forced to have every time we spoke.

As a Black woman, this is not my idea of a good time and put frankly, seeing people pretend to care about my life and the lives of people who look like me while exhibiting anti-Black behaviour in their day-to-day lives is draining. I know Black people are treated awfully everywhere, I don’t need non-Black people to tag me in posts or come to me and ask me to be the sounding board for their hot takes on the state of race relations in Australia.

For my White, upper-middle-class boyfriend, talking about race is something he wanted to do to check in about the state of my mental health. It’s this privilege, one that I’ve always been aware of, that became a source of frustration for me.

One person’s theory is another person’s lived experience

It’s not new to me that he can only ever understand racism in theory. It’s not his lived experience. He’s never going to understand what it’s like to have to check if a country is racist before visiting, or how it feels being followed around in a store because you “look suspicious” (read: are Black).

He’s also never going to understand the deep sadness I felt when I heard of the passing of London rail worker, Belly Mujinga, after she was spat on by someone who claimed to have coronavirus; or how it feels to read the racist abuse three Black women in Queensland are facing for shirking state rules and spreading the virus. We’ve spoken about these incidents in detail and a huge part of me feels overwhelmingly jealous that he’s an outsider looking in, living in a society where he’s the default.

Although my boyfriend and I have discussed race and privilege at length, I never truly felt the weight of his privilege until recently. The global BLM protests really emphasised what I had already known deep down – that he’d never be able to fully understand my experiences. This realisation was strangely relieving and opened up the floor for further discussions.

My boyfriend shared how he felt about his inability to understand my struggles as a Black woman despite wanting to, his feeling of helplessness when I cried every time I mentioned Belly Mujinga’s name, and not knowing what to say when I became overwhelmed by what was happening. I had never thought about how it’d feel for him to not know how to comfort me when our experiences are so different.

“I don’t see colour”

Being “colourblind” and ignoring race isn’t an option in interracial relationships, or in society. In my relationship, we can never stop talking about race. As we get older, these conversations will only get more important as our lives become more and more intertwined.

Since the recent wave of BLM, there hasn’t been a great shift in our relationship or how we approach race. And as the protests become less visible and brands get back to their regular posts, the tensions surrounding race and privilege in my relationship have returned to pre-protest levels.

But acknowledging my frustration at my boyfriend’s privilege has opened up the floor for me to allow myself to experience other feelings that may cause me discomfort, not just in my relationship but in other parts of my life.

The process of learning and unlearning is lifelong, exhausting, and will be challenging regardless of whoever I choose to be with, due to the various intersections of my identity. That said, I love my boyfriend and I’m willing to be patient with him as he learns and addresses the ways he benefits from White privilege.

Lazy Loading