1. “Oh, I have a huge thing for Jewish guys.”
Across the table from me was a South Korean guy who had watched videos of me eating KFC during his time serving for his home country’s national military. He had told me that watching my videos made him happy and miss America. Now we were on a first date because I am a crazy narcissist.
I asked him careful questions about his years in the service and his home country. He gave me polite answers and told me, a white boy from New York, that I should really make it over to Asia at some point.
“Do you speak Hebrew?” he asked.
I laughed at his question because I hadn’t even said that I was Jewish yet, and I definitely didn’t speak Hebrew. I’m one of those young chosen people who qualify as “Jew-ish” at best.
“Oh, I have a huge thing for Jewish guys. One time I memorized a whole Hebrew pop song just to impress this Israeli guy,” he said to me with eyes the size of my grandma’s matzoh balls. He started singing and I envisioned my Hebrew school teacher Mr. Shapiro correcting him sternly.
I asked him what he likes about Jewish guys and the answer, of course, didn’t surprise me: “Oh, it’s their beards for sure. Love their noses too.” I quickly chugged the rest of my beer so the date could be over.
2. “His mother had been recently mugged by a black man…”
I am Asian-American, and my college (and post-college) boyfriend was (and still is, I guess) half black and half white. We were driving cross-country one summer with two other friends, staying with whomever we could to save money. I had asked a friend who lived in Chicago if we could crash with his family. He enthusiastically said yes. This friend was Mexican-American and came from a middle-class family.
As we approached Chicago, I called him from a pay phone (this was pre-cell phone era) to let him know when we were arriving. He sounded very stressed; he said that we could no longer stay with him because his mother had been recently mugged by a black man and would not stand to have a black man in the house. He felt so bad that he said he would pay for a hotel. I told him he didn’t have to do that, but he insisted. He directed us to a hotel where he had already made a reservation. He probably had less money than we did, and the hotel, more like infested motel, certainly reflected that.
I recall much argument that night among us four travelers about what my friend should have done or what each of us would have done, but I never blamed him. Each generation can only try to make fewer mistakes than the last. Now, 20 years later, we are all still friends.
3. “You’re a lesbian, interracial couple? Wow.”
I never thought I had a type, but I had also never dated anyone who wasn’t white before I met my current girlfriend. When I first saw her (and her smile), I was smitten. And there was a comfort and an instant ease that I’d never experienced before. I don’t remember thinking about the possible issues we could face as an interracial couple or from the fact that I would be a Jewish woman from New Jersey dating a Bangladesh-born, Queens-raised Muslim woman.
It’s probably a mix of naïveté and the way infatuation clouds clarity, but throughout our now two-year relationship, race hasn’t been an issue for us. Of course, there are always the people who meet us for the first time and automatically assume the odds stacked against us. “You’re a lesbian, interracial couple? Wow.” But what those people see in us says far more about who they are than it does about who we are.
4. “My mother actually asked him if his older brother was ‘as pink’ as he was…”
I’m a black girl who grew up in a predominately white neighborhood. When I was younger, my mom always told me I should date (and eventually marry) “within the race.”
When I invited my first serious boyfriend — who was white — to the house to meet my parents, my mother actually asked him if his older brother was “as pink” as he was, referring to his skin color. I was mortified. A few years later, when I was in college, she told me she had given up on the idea of me marrying a black doctor and was beginning to look forward to the day when she could meet her “zebra-baby” grandkids.
5. “I can’t say I’m sure it was just a race thing.”
I’m Hispanic and dated an Italian girl from college a few years ago. It wasn’t really a big deal for either of us. Her mom was sweet and I always felt like she had my back and made an effort to get to know me, but my girlfriend’s dad definitely gave off the “you’re not good enough for my daughter” vibe. Actually, I stopped by their house before our second date and he thought I was just her friend and we had a blast, chatting and laughing and watching sports while she got ready.
But the next time I stopped by to pick her up, after she had told him we were seeing each other, I felt the chill from him. It was only after this that I saw him as a doctor who watched Fox News a lot and not as the cool, hip dad he came off as initially. I can’t say I’m sure it was just a race thing. I was starting my career then and felt like he wanted someone more successful and established for his only daughter. Oh well, I’m established now.
I pretty much have dated Latinas and black girls since then. Not really for any particular reason, but just because those are the women I’ve been drawn to and have been drawn to me. But I guess I do miss the homemade pizza for dinner, if I’m honest.
6. “How’s Yellow Submarine doing?”
When I was 15, I started dating this guy who was half Chinese, half Polish, and born in Brazil (what a mix!). His dad traveled a lot so I never really got to see him. On my boyfriend’s 16th birthday, I was invited over for a family dinner. It was the first time meeting his parents. Needless to say, I was freaking out.
As soon as his dad met me, he said in broken English, “You can date my son all you want, but he has a wife waiting for him in China so you’re wasting your time.”
I awkwardly smiled, thinking, What the hell did I get myself into? When I thought things couldn’t get any worse, dinner was served, and there were only chopsticks for us to use. I had never in my life even come across these, but I knew that if I wanted the dad to approve of me I had to at least try. Luckily, my motor skills were on fire and I didn’t make a fool out of myself.
After that night his dad was actually super friendly and nice. And no, my boyfriend never married the Chinese woman he had chosen for him.
Side note: When my parents found out my boyfriend was half Chinese, they started calling him “Yellow Submarine.” Embarrassing and rude, but to them it was hilarious. To this day, they still ask me things like, “How’s Yellow Submarine doing?”
7. “I had no desire to learn anything about country music or wine or eating steak medium rare.”
Around the time that I finally gained some conviction about myself, I took up with my first white girl. I was 22 and had never been in a serious relationship with anyone, not even a black girl. So it was destined to be a bad fit.
We still pressed ahead, hard, each the other’s first in one way or another. I had no desire to learn anything about country music or wine or eating steak medium rare. And I let her know it. She made me feel like an oddity at times, from the way I pronounced “ask” to the grade of my pubic hair. We didn’t share much but love and mutual respect. So, obviously, it wasn’t enough.
8. “Aren’t they the weird ones?”
I’m a white woman who grew up in a city where Hispanic people are close to 50% of the population. I’ve been in four serious relationships since I picked up my first boyfriend at the local Mexican grocery store (really), and three of the four relationships have been with Hispanic men.
I’ve never thought that said much about me; the numbers there are close enough to mirroring my environment, and I never found any need for self-reflection on the topic. Still, my “thing” for Latin men has been a persistent joke among friends and family. It’s nothing terrible, and these are all accepting people, but it’s hard for me to keep my mouth shut when people who’ve only dated within their own race make jokes about my apparently notable attractions to non-white men. Aren’t they the weird ones? My boyfriends have always been fine as hell.
9. “I saw a group of black guys a bit older than us across the street just sort of staring at her.”
My girlfriend and I were in our early twenties, and we didn’t have a particularly openly complicated or interesting relationship around race. The Midwestern city we lived in was an extremely conservative place, very segregated, but also a place where nobody ever talked about race.
The one thing I only realized afterward was how much shit she was putting up with, as a black person in this conservative city in general, and as a black woman dating a white guy in particular. Two moments I remember: One time we were walking down the street together and I could just feel her tense up and for a second couldn’t figure out why. Then, I saw a group of black guys a bit older than us across the street just sort of staring at her, not saying anything even. We didn’t talk about it, and I didn’t (and still don’t) completely understand the situation.
Another time when we were driving separately and I kept nearly blowing lights, she kept falling behind because she was obeying traffic laws. When we arrived, she said she’d seen a cop and was really avoiding being pulled over in a way I was really not bothering about.
10. “I love your hair.”
I am biracial. After years of torment from peers in nearly exclusively white schools, I began straightening my hair. After even more years of spending an inordinate amount of money on serums and salon services, I began braiding my hair. And after about two years of making six-hour round-trips for 11-hour braiding sessions every season, I started wearing my hair naturally because life is too damn short.
My decision to go natural has been one of the most overwhelmingly positive choices I’ve made in my life, and I say this without exaggeration. However, it does have one drawback: People feel compelled to comment on my hair. Every. Single. Day. I have noticed this particularly among men who try to date me, who in the past years haven’t been able to come up with come-ons or opening lines that aren’t some variation of “I love your hair,” even when they have at their disposal a full profile detailing countless things more interesting about me.
The problem, of course, isn’t that it’s wrong to love my hair. I love my hair too. It’s just that the preponderance of remarks about my hair among potential partners points to a fascination that isn’t about celebration, but exotification. When you say you “love my hair,” I hear the high school football player who told his locker room buddies that because I’m half black, half white, I’d be twice as good in bed. In certain cases, I may be wrong. But I’d rather fail a hearing test than find out.
When my boyfriend first messaged me on OkCupid, he teased me about not knowing who Richard Pryor was in the eighth grade. On our first date, we debated tuna versus salmon in sushi and discussed the etymology of random words. On our second date, we roamed the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and made friends with a little girl named Sophia. At this point, we’ve been dating for seven months and he has still never told me, “I love your hair.” He tells me, “I love you.”
11. “I feel as if I’m some sort of Venus Hottentot…”
My experience with interracial dating in the South as a gay black man has been emotionally exhausting. More often than not, I feel as if I’m some sort of Venus Hottentot to the white men who pursue me, and that all they want is my “BIG BLACK COCK” and nothing else. Conversely, white men here in Georgia often go out of their way to shut black men down on the sole basis of them being black. All too often do I see the words “NO BLACKS” on various dating and app profiles, which doesn’t provide much insight as to why they feel this way, and what made them declare it in such an aggressive and demeaning way. Honestly, as a black man in the South, you’re either fetishized to the point of having a wounded body image and self-esteem (at least in my experience), or you’re so ostracized and hated by your white counterparts that you also begin to question your own body politics, but for different reasons.
12. “My gay social media profiles say things like ‘like ‘em darker’ or ‘fan of diversity.’”
I like having sex with black men, and my desire puts me on a hazardous line between racism and diversity. I try to own it. My gay social media profiles say things like “like ‘em darker” or “fan of diversity,” which are attempts, perhaps only somewhat successful at best, to live and project my desire in terms that the other will experience as inclusive, not racist. My black sex partners seem to walk that same ambiguous line, pleased that I desire them, eager to satisfy me, and yet never able to escape completely the sense of being fetishized by me. I know this because some of them talk about it directly; in other cases, it’s just a look in the eye, a tone of voice, during our pre- or post-repartee.
I’ve lived and worked in places where white men justify their racial discrimination with lines like, “It’s not a prejudice, just a preference.” In those locales, my overtures to men of color provoke the greatest response; but even then, the subtle suggestion lingers between us, that they know that I know that they should not have to be grateful for something so simple as the granting of dignity, that dignity should not have to be granted, least of all this way.
Even when I allow myself to think or put into words why I like these men, it feels potentially racist. The black men I choose to have sex with are, yes, big and strong and sexually dominant, but their size and strength and dominance never, never make me feel small or weak or submissive, except to the extent that I take pleasure in feeling that way. Instead, they make me feel cherished, respected, desirable. I find these men to be warm and generous of body and spirit in a way that feels culturally bound, if not racially specific. And I enjoy it, and I want it in my life.
13. “He acted like I wasn’t there.”
In high school, I dated a tall, handsome, green-eyed white boy. The first time I had dinner with his family, my boyfriend’s father spoke to his wife, acknowledged his daughters, and joked with his son, but acted like I wasn’t there. I was salutatorian of my graduating class, college-bound, articulate, appropriately dressed, charming, kind, and loved his son fiercely — the kind of girl most fathers want for their sons.
But I was black. So he acted like I wasn’t there.
14. “Thick?! Did this dick call me fat?!”
At the prompting of some friends, I joined OkCupid. The first guy I went out with (the one who didn’t send me a dick pic) was a pedicab driver. He brought his dog to our date. The dog was wearing a dress. Over the course of three cocktails, the guy told me he owned a ferret and kept chickens. In his house. Indoor chickens. No second date. But, it turns out, driving a pedicab gives you incredible glutes and thighs.
The second guy from OkCupid I went out with was Omar. On his profile, he was this beautiful Hispanic man with giant muscled arms, thick dark hair, and beautiful dark skin. In real life, he probably had been all of those things — about 10 years ago. Still, he was cute enough. And into me. Even though he said he usually “liked his women dumb.” We didn’t really hit it off. On the way home, he sent me these flirty texts about how he wished he had his arms around my “thick, hot body” and what he wanted to do to my “thick little body.” I read it and was all, “Thick?! Did this dick call me fat?!”
So, I never responded. Asshole. And when I told my beautiful Hispanic therapist about how offended I was, she started laughing. Hard. And said, “Oh, mija. That’s a compliment. For Latin men, thick is beautiful.”
15. “Oh, wow. I’ve never dated an Asian girl taller than 5 foot.”
I’m an Asian-American woman and 5 feet 8 inches tall. I don’t think I’m that tall, but most of my dates, usually white or Latino guys, find a way to bring it up in conversation. “Oh, wow. I’ve never dated an Asian girl taller than 5 foot.” When I meet an OkCupid date for the first time, I usually get, “I thought you lied about your height!” Guys will even say I’m curvier or have a more “womanly” body than most Asian girls. Thanks?
I told one guy that, as a New York native, I finally got my driver’s license at age 22. I was super excited about it, but he killed the mood pretty quickly when he said, “How? You’re Asian. I’m staying off the road for good.”
16. “How many?”
My husband is Irish and I’m an African-American woman. Even in the diverse neighborhood where we live, we sometimes get not-so-subtle hints that we are breaking an unspoken rule simply by being together.
We’ll walk into a restaurant, laughing and chatting. No one else is behind us. The host asks, “How many?” Or, at the grocery store, we’ll work side by side, sliding fruits and vegetables along the conveyor belt. The cashier looks at us, puzzled, until I say, “We’re together.”
Do these things happen to all couples, or is it all in my head? Even asking that question is part of the reality of being part of an interracial couple or family. My parents are also an interracial couple, and we rarely talked about race. I have realized it’s good to talk these things out, and acknowledge what’s happening.
17. “I’ve been asked by my mom to refer to him as a ‘friend’ if my dad asked…”
It was made very clear to me at an early age — if even in the half-joking tone it was typically expressed, usually apropos of nothing — that if I ever “brought home” a black boyfriend, my family simply would not tolerate it.
Eleven years out of teenagehood, and three long-term boyfriends later, here I am, living in my parents’ home again, and dating a black man. My parents own a two-family home; they live in the downstairs apartment, and I live upstairs.
I’ve been asked by my mom to refer to him as a “friend” if my dad asked; once he realized the truth, I was asked by my dad to refer to him as a “co-worker” if the rest of my family asked. There have been tears following rejected favors as simple as asking them to give him a ride on Christmas Day when we’d all be headed in the same direction to see our respective families. (After I’d threatened to not attend Christmas dinner, my father changed his mind.)
Slowly, they’ve begun to acquiesce to the situation; there have even been gifts given, hugs exchanged. But still, there’s a tension that I’m unsure how to respond to — in realizing, for instance, my parents are concerned about my grandmother stumbling across Facebook pictures of the two of us because it “wouldn’t be good for her.”
18. “Desire so often laughs in the face of our politics and what we think we stand for.”
Once, I hooked up with a white dude on Grindr. When I got to his place, the walls of his living room, his couch, and all of the decor was zebra-striped. I was speechless, both because it was as gaudy as it sounds but also because I was fearing the worst. Before I could say anything, he saw the look on my face and said — without a hint of shame — “Well, I love black guys so I tend to think of myself as a bit of a zebra.”
And I slept with him. Not because I was thrilled or even cool with his…schtick. It’s just that it was another cold night in the city. He was cute. And I wanted a body against my body. Also, though I didn’t realize this until after we had sex, I was kind of impressed with his candor.
I mean, the heart is rude. And desire so often laughs in the face of our politics and what we think we stand for. We feel what we feel. That’s not an excuse but it is the beginning of a necessary conversation.