Content warning: This article discusses anti-Black racism, and includes vulgar and explicit anti-Black racist language. 

On November 19, 2023, news broke out that English actors Suki Waterhouse and Robert Pattinson were expecting their first child. Congratulations to them, but this announcement led me and the rest of Gen Z who are invested enough in celebrity drama to recall Pattinson’s previous relationship with singer-songwriter FKA Twigs. Pattinson and Twigs were together throughout the 2010s, then abruptly ended their relationship in 2017. 

Unlike the recent drama between celebrities Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber, and Hailey Bieber — which sparked TikToks about Gomez’s and Bieber’s eyebrow styling choices on their Instagram stories — the relationship between Pattinson and Twigs instead sparked a conversation about the realities of interracial couples. 

A few years prior, there was the relationship-turned-marriage between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the first interracial couple — and possibly the last — in the British royal family, who have recently become parents to two kids. It is these two relationships in particular, I think, that exposed white Gen Zs to the seemingly unchangeable fate of interracial couples. The microaggressions and macroaggressions brought down upon Twigs and Markle for being Black women in a relationship with white men are reflective of the societal barriers put up for non-famous, everyday people in interracial couples. 

These issues can arise even for some of the most watched people in the world; even the richest and most untouchable are, in fact, touchable. While all celebrities can be torn down from their golden thrones, it’s women — but even more so, women of colour — who are the easiest to reach. Whether you’re looking at it from the perspective of a nobody such as myself, or the perspective of celebrities, the experiences barely vary. 

The downfall of Pattinson and Twigs’ relationship and the current news of Waterhouse’s pregnancy, for me, should prompt a profound examination of interracial relationships within the celebrity realm, because of how it sheds light on the complexities of macro and microaggressions that such couples face.

How growing up as women of colour affects how we love

In the podcast Forbidden Fruit with Julia Fox and Niki Takesh, Twigs recounts her experience growing up in a small British town as one of the only people of colour. She says: “When I was in year seven, there was [only] one boy in sixth form that was Black as well,” and that this classmate, who was mixed-race, was considered among their peers to be “hot” while she, the mixed-race girl, was not. 

This is the plight of women of colour in predominantly white neighbourhoods, rooted in slavery and colonization. Black women are often seen and portrayed as masculine. bell hooks, in her book Ain’t I a Woman, brings to light how the Black woman was “exploited as a laborer in the fields, a worker in the domestic household, a breeder, and as an object of white male sexual assault.” Over time, this evolved into the “Sapphire” stereotype that depicts Black women as overbearing and masculine. 

This stereotype often plagues Black women both in fictional media and press coverage, and in everyday spaces like educational institutions and workplaces. In their 2015 article “Perceiving the Black Female Body: Race and Gender in Police Constructions of Body Weight,” Naa Oyo A. Kwate and Shatema Threadcraft mention that empirical evidence demonstrates “conflation in the White American imaginary of whiteness with female, and blackness with male.” Thus, because the ‘Sapphire’ caricature that runs rampant in the media constructs them as “rude, loud, malicious, stubborn and overbearing,” Black women are seen as undesirable because they are stereotyped as “emasculating.” Perhaps this explains Twigs’ experience with being deemed as “other,” as it might explain mine, and that of many other Black women. 

Twigs was shocked, as so many of us were, to realize the root of the differences between her and the rest of the people at her school. While almost everyone else was white, she was not, and therefore automatically considered less attractive. It was not only because of her Blackness but also because she was a woman. 

This experience is pivotal, yet far too common, continuously shaping the lives of children and adults of colour everywhere. It is why so many of us grow up thinking that we are incompatible with our peers and, worse, that we are ugly — that we are unworthy of the love everyone around us gives and receives. 

Even now, when I scroll through my TikTok page, it feels as if our generation is regressing. As internet users begin to embrace and reminisce upon their girlhood again, it seems to me that it is accompanied by anti-Blackness — specifically, the rejection of Black women, my own femininity, and my own childhood experiences of both joy and rejection. 

Take a minute to watch a TikTok slideshow displaying the beauty of girlhood; take another second to watch five more. How many of these slideshows include women of colour? How many of them include Black women? Almost all these slideshows depict skinny white women draped in frilly dresses with bows in their hair. If they want to avoid being accused of white normativity, they throw in one glimpse of an Asian or brown woman. It leads me to wonder if I can ever be loved, especially by people outside of my own race. 

For me, growing up in a predominately white town meant skip-roping to songs; the smell of mud on my fingertips; jumping into puddles; and watching the snow fall with my face pressed against the window and my sister buzzing excitedly behind me with both our snow pants in her hands. 

But it also meant hating myself and my hair. It meant teachers telling me to stick to soccer and track because I was fast. You’re fast, strong legs, they said. It meant my teachers, principal, and other parents implying that I was neither smart nor respectable enough. It meant tearing my hair out of my scalp and blaming my big nose and my skin for my ugliness. It meant that I was treated more grown up earlier than everyone else. It meant my body and identity were constantly scrutinized and picked apart when I was only twelve.

For other people, it might have looked different. Maybe it was people commenting that your name sounded weird coming out of their mouths, or teachers asking where you were really from, or your peers scrunching their noses up in disgust when they smelled your food at lunchtime. The act of constant ostracization. As James Baldwin put it in his memoir I Am Not Your Negro: “But what one does realize is that when you try to stand up and look at the world in the face like you had a right to be here, you have attacked the entire power structure of the Western world.” 

This scrutiny haunted Twigs at the start and end of her relationship. To an extent, the same can be said for Markle and her relationship with the royal family. 

This, of course, sets the example for interracial couples’ experiences. These two couples navigated the differences and problems that inevitably accompany celebrity interracial marriages, both featuring a light-skinned Black woman and a British white man. These two couples were publicly scrutinized for months, primarily because they were interracial couples who defied preconceived notions of what people wanted and expected from the white man. 

Women on the verge of a breakdown — but, surprise, it’s not their fault

The hardships accompanying Twigs’ and Meghan’s experiences with dating and marrying white men have been amplified due to publicity. They were not just dating white men — they were dating the Prince of England and Edward Cullen. Their fans, or the British royal family, were quick to criticize their every move. 

We watch celebrity couples face public scrutiny all the time — from Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik to Kylie Jenner and Timothée Chalamet — but racial biases separate interracial couples. Black people already face an unrelenting amount of public attention simply because they are Black. It was not Pattinson himself who initiated the public scrutiny that burdened Twigs from the start of their relationship, but rather his fans and the rest of the media. 

Moreover, despite the hatred and racism that Twigs encountered, for a long time, Pattinson never said anything to encourage his fans to stop. His silence at the time was deafening. Twigs recounted the relationship in what is now a famous quote in an interview on Louis Theroux’s podcast Grounded: “He was their white Prince Charming, and they considered he should be with someone white and blonde and not me.” Of course, the person to come out of the relationship with battle wounds was the Black woman. Twigs was just an accessory. 

Pattinson only seemingly spoke out about the racism when asked about his relationship and engagement in an interview meant to promote his new movie. This retroactive reaction on Pattinson’s part reminds me of a quote by Audre Lorde, who argued that a marginalized person who faces abuse is held responsible for “teach[ing] the oppressors their mistakes… [The] oppressors maintain their position and evade responsibility for their own actions. There is a constant drain of energy which might be better used in redefining ourselves and devising realistic scenarios for alternating the present and constructing the future.” 

On the other hand, Markle’s story has largely been simplified to a single famous interview with Oprah but even more so has been narrowed down to one of the many anecdotes that she has shared publicly about the royal family’s concern about “how dark” her children would be. According to stories that mixed race couples recounted to NBC, “Meghan’s experiences seemed like an everyday problem blown up on a royal, colonial scale.” 

Oftentimes, family members of white partners in interracial couples express unsolicited concerns stemming from their own racial biases, as was the case with many royal family members. The concern regarding Markle’s baby is, of course, ridiculous and belittling in general, but the conversations surrounding the publicized comments made by members of the Royal Family fail to address the other microaggressions that she experienced in Buckingham Palace. 

Markle also did not receive mercy from the tabloids. Since she became intertwined with the royal family, everything Meghan has done has been criticized and picked apart by media coverage — more than her sister-in-law Catherine, Princess of Wales and formerly known as Kate Middleton, and more than her deceased mother-in-law Diana, the former Princess of Wales. This is the constant pattern that women of colour in high-level positions must face. 

For example, in one tabloid article, Markle is described as having “exotic DNA” and in another, the headline reads, “EXCLUSIVE: Harry’s girl is (almost) straight outta Compton: Gang-scarred home of her mother revealed – so will he be dropping by for tea?” 

Then there are articles about Catherine. In one from 2007, when she was still known as Kate Middleton and the newest member of the royal family, Oliver Marre wrote, “The prince and his girl were first pictured together in April 2004, on the slopes of Klosters. Since then she has evolved from a figure of fleeting, flirtatious interest (‘Dinners at Highgrove, trysts at Balmoral’… ‘Finally, Wills gets a girl!’) to a fully-fledged obsession (‘Kate Can Save The House Of Windsor!’).” The differences are stark — Markle here seems to be confined to her race.

In contrast to Patterson, according to TIME, Prince Harry “released a public statement via Kensington Palace in defense of Markle’s privacy and safety, where he called out racist and sexist press and social media” when they first started dating. He continued doing so after their marriage and the birth of their son Archie. 

I am not arguing that there has to be a — in this case, literal — knight in shining armour to save women of colour in times of peril, but both members of interracial couples must be prepared for backlash. You can say what you will about Prince Harry, but he was committed to Meghan and prepared for the public scrutiny they have had to overcome by being together. 

Let’s hear it from normal people now

What seems to me to be the true problem of Twigs’ and Markle’s stories is not the white man themselves but the barriers that surrounded their relationships from their conception. 

Most interracial couples that have spoken about their experiences have faced some sort of racism, whether through covert or overt discrimination. For example, Margaret Wilkerson Sexton, a contributor to The Guardian, explains that people “often assumed [she] was [her] boyfriend’s prostitute; they called him sir and looked at [her] with disdain.” 

Has a partner of a different racial background than you ever professed their love for you, only to pivot and choose to date a white woman instead?
Xarnah Stewart

Furthermore, the couple frequently encountered racial microaggressions in their social circle that her husband tends not to notice. For example, one white female friend remarked that exclusively dating white women with natural blond hair is indicative of “higher standards” of dating preferences. So, not only were they masculinized, but they were also made to be sexual objects — as Jezebels. 

According to a 1999 article by Anita Kathy Foeman and Teresa Nance, literature on interracial couples demonstrates that when observing a relationship between a Black person and a White person, many people assume psychological issues, such as “(a) Black sexual acting out, (b) Black status-seeking, and (c) White neurotic acting out.” 

bell hooks describes that white colonizers, in the process of colonization, painted Black girls as overly desirable to the male eye from an early age and as “the embodiment of female evil and sexual lust.” One time, while I was on a date with a white man, another man approached him and asked him if he “liked Black pussy.” Another time, a man came up to me on a date and asked where I was from. I responded quickly, “My parents are Trini, if that’s what you mean.” He looked at my date and asked if he liked me because “I was a little bit of everything but Black enough to be cool.” 

These are all comments that are now easy to ignore simply because I have learned that they are unavoidable — this is the reality of interracial dating. When you are standing next to someone who is not the same race as you, you become more obviously the race that some people fear. Even more so, as a Black woman standing next to a white man in the case of Twigs, Markle, and other women, you become Black with scary connotations. 

Has a partner of a different racial background than you ever professed their love for you, only to pivot and choose to date a white woman instead? This is a common coming-of-age event among Black women. Some people brace for it, but a lot of the time, it catches us by surprise the first time it happens. 

Or, perhaps they instead broke your heart by revealing some frightening opinions about “your people or even a different population of marginalized identities. One day, they might say, “They should put Black women at the front of every store because people don’t fuck with Black women.” 

You might be scared to ask what they mean because, deep down, you know exactly what they mean. 

Yet you ask, and they say, “Because Black women are scary. Not you of course. You’re different. You’re cute.” 

You should have ended it right there. 

But you don’t. Because what did you expect? And if it’s not them, it’s the lack of understanding that they have about race and racism. Or maybe it is their families and their comments about you when you’re not around. Really, what did you expect?

The reality sets in: interracial relationships come with many and high hurdles that both participants must be willing to overcome. You may not be able to clear every hurdle together, but the determination to do it together must be there from both of you.