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Sometimes, it is Black and white: navigating interracial relationships

Learning to balance love while acknowledging differences
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MIA CARNEVALE/THE VARSITY
MIA CARNEVALE/THE VARSITY

Do you remember the scene that went viral from This Is Us — when Kevin’s Black girlfriend, Zoe, became upset with him because he forgot to bring her silk pillowcase, and he had no idea why? Or recently when the internet went into a frenzy after seeing G-Eazy suck the Fenty foundation off Megan Thee Stallion’s face? Seriously, what in the ‘caucacity’ was that?

Maybe you recall when the entire universe needed so badly for Kevin Costner and the late Whitney Houston to imitate their on-screen romance off-screen? These are all examples of how interracial fraternization is represented in popular culture — whether we support them or not.

Personally, I am the product of a 25-year interracial marriage between my white Canadian father and my Black Jamaican-Canadian mother. I would characterize it as a generally happy marriage, aside from when my Black mother is running late — I’m sorry, but Island time is a real epidemic — or when my white father turns the temperature down to an ungodly 14 degrees Celsius in the middle of winter.

I’ve grown up in a family in which it’s a requirement to tease and make fun of each other’s ethnic quirks, but in a way that isn’t insulting. That comfort with each other allows for open communication and limits the potential for a culturally ignorant environment. Luckily, my parents have been surrounded by and thus have immersed me in diverse communities, so cultural ignorance has never been a factor in my upbringing.

My parents come from completely different backgrounds, yet they have managed to create a balanced environment where we are all able to benefit from and enjoy each other’s cultural traditions. The best example of this cultural balance would be Christmas Day. In the morning, it’s a Jamaican brunch with my mother’s side of the family, the spread including escovitch snappers, jerk pork, fried plantain — pronounced “plan-tIN,” not “plan-tAIN” — breadfruit, boiled banana, callaloo, bammy, and ackee and saltfish.

After a much needed food-coma nap, we head over to my father’s side of the family for a classic Canadian Christmas feast filled with turkey and sweet potato mash — with roasted marshmallows on top. Yes, the whiteness jumps out of all the fixings. Christmas is just one example of the many ways I am fortunate enough to be able to experience cultures from both sides of my family, who are equally accepting of each other’s values and traditions.

My parents aren’t the only couple in my family channelling Zoe Saldana and Ashton Kutcher in Guess Who, since my Black Jamaican-Canadian great-aunt and white British great-uncle do as well. Think Prince Harry and Meghan Markle minus the Megxit — my aunt and uncle were not pushed to go back to Canada from England. Rather, they have established a content life in England with a beautiful home and loving family. I asked my aunt how she and my uncle have been able to maintain a successful relationship, given their different backgrounds. She said that the main things to maintain are respect and communication. Love is fleeting, but respect is vital and communication is necessary. Everyone always thinks they’re right, so they have these little prejudices toward other cultures. However, if you have respect for each other’s views, then the culture question becomes palatable. You can communicate and begin to understand each other’s way of doing and saying things.

I can recall my own experience with an overly tall white boy. He said to me, “Wow, this is my first time being with a Black girl.” My first thought was, “And? Do you want a trophy?” Yet I suppressed my anger because that’s what Black women are supposed to do in the presence of a white man, right? Needless to say, that night fizzled, as did his chances.

Racialized people do not exist for others’ fetishization. We are not something that you can obsessively fantasize over and conquer. Neither do Black people exist for the sole purpose of creating light-skinned babies as accessories with ‘good’ hair and light eyes just so you can up your Instagram clout. If you have talked or even thought about dating only people from a specific race, that’s fetishization coupled with a racial microaggression, and it’s entirely problematic.

It’s demoralizing. Yes, white people who have an ethnic ‘type’ — I am speaking to you. And to the racialized people who seek out the white saviour partners for the benefit of cultural and financial status, that’s an equally damaging process.

Interracial relationships are valid and enriching, but if you find yourself in one it should be for the right reasons.