The inspiration for this article came as I traced my personal evolution over the last 12 years. In 1997, I was forced to re-evaluate the lenses through which I viewed the world as I moved from the middle-class Cleveland suburb of my upbringing to the Ivy League where I encountered all races, cultures, and religions.
And whenever people mix, attraction happens.
What is “interracial”? I won’t get into biological or social constructs of race. For the purpose of this article, “interracial dating” refers to dating into a distinct cultural community other than one’s own. A white man dating an African- or Asian-American woman is dating interracially, but a white man dating a “fresh-off-the-boat” white woman from a closely-knit Eastern European immigrant community may experience more pronounced cultural differences.
Why date interracially? Examine your own motivations. Do women of other races fit your standard of beauty better than your own? Is it the lure of the exotic or forbidden? Is it the challenge of relating to a new group of people? Maybe more than one of the above, since the ideas of “self” and “outsider” are deeply ingrained into the human psyche. I won’t critique or psychoanalyze you, but you need to be honest with your own motivations, more on that below.
Don’t assume someone doesn’t/does date interracially. Self-explanatory. While certain cultures and races frown heavily upon dating outside of a their race or religion, this is not universal and varies widely even within a single cultural group.
Take three Chinese-American women I’ve known: 1) one was disowned by her family for falling in love with and marrying a Korean-American man, 2) one told me that her parents would prefer she date either Chinese or white, so as to avoid regional rivalry, 3) one dates almost entirely interracially and enjoys a great relationship with her family. Go ahead, strike up that conversation, and ask for the digits—there’s only one way to find out.
In the realm of online dating, I read her profile carefully. If she says outright that she only dates men of a certain ethnicity that I do NOT belong to, or expounds on how important it is that a date/boyfriend/husband understand a culture that I know little about, I leave her alone.
Know something about their culture, but don’t stereotype or patronize. Everyone loves it when you show an interest in things that mean a lot to them. If she’s from another country, have you been to her home country and had an exciting experience there, do you know even a few words of her native language? It’s great to work from a common bond.
At the same time, don’t assume or stereotype based on her background. Around the time of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, a man tried to pick up an Asian female friend of mine by speaking Chinese and asking if she had been to the Olympics (and to think she was Korean-American, LOL). That conversation lasted all of 15 seconds and no phone numbers were exchanged.
Don’t patronize or try to ingratiate yourself. This is a weak-looking move in any dating context. Don’t say what you think she wants to hear or try to mirror what you think her values might be. Regardless of culture, she wants a man, and a man does not alter his worldview to score points with a woman.
And never say, “(Date’s race) women are so sexy.” Speaking of which, fetishization is a bullet train to the “creep” zone. If you’re looking for an ethnic stereotype, you will be sorely disappointed when your date doesn’t match it, and may even actively rebel against it. And she will be offended and creeped out when she realizes you appreciate only one facet of her being.
If you only date members of a certain other race, that itself may come close to creepy. But there are exceptions—I knew a white woman who only dated Asian men, but her interest was genuine. As in, her professional and personal goals all involved living and working in Asia, and she needed to be with a man who could relate.
Both you and she (and society) will be conscious of racial and cultural differences. Pretending they don’t exist is delusional. My home country (the USA) and many others have a long history of racial conflict. Laws prohibiting interracial marriage weren’t even struck from the books until the 1960s.
Even in cosmopolitan Boston, I’ve gotten strange and even confrontational looks when out in public with a woman of another race. Some unhappy people have a racial/cultural axe to grind. Similarly, the family may not approve—they may see your woman as a “phase”, they may ask if you’re “losing your identity,” they may make backhanded comments behind your back. As in many other aspects of life, crossing societal boundaries will test your insecurities.
You’re not going to be able to change your family’s perspective, let alone society’s. So what’s the best defense? Keep your masculine poise about you. Don’t back down, or apologize for dating who you do. Don’t get defensive. Don’t start fights. Your woman will appreciate this.
In conclusion, interracial and intercultural dating is more similar than it is different. Men are still men, women are still women, and our own stereotypes of the “other” are the biggest stumbling block to recognizing that. Keep your chin up and get out there!
– Joe Jensen