More Racist and Inappropriate Comments Directed at Interracial Relationships

Comment: What is the sex like?

Variations: Does he have a big/small penis? Is she a freak?

What the comment really means: When I see people of different races together I think they are primarily together because of the sex. I believe racist stereotypes about Black/Asian?Latina/o/American Indian sexuality. I think white women who sleep with Black men are sleazy.

Why the comment is inappropriate: Clearly this falls under the none of your business category, and it also feeds on a very long tradition sexuality being used to enforce racism. People of color have routinely been stereotyped as sexually provocative and or promiscuous, so such questions always need to be interpreted in this context. At this point in history, people also tend to have stereotypes about Whites who have sexual relationships with Blacks, especially White women. Moreover, these types of questions seem to challenge the legitimacy of interracial relationships by recreating the notion that they are all about sex.

Comment: Couldn’t you find a person of your own race?

Variations: You can do better. What are you doing with a Black/White/Asian/American Indian/Latina/o person?

What the comment really means: I think the only types of people who intermarry/interdate are people who are desperate. People who have IRs are selling out their group because it is clearly better to date/marry people within your own group.

Why the comment is inappropriate: First, of all this sort of comment feeds into the idea that interracial relationships are somehow inferior to same race relationships and a sign of desperation. The assumption here is also that the person’s partner is less than because he or she is from a different background.

Comment: Well you can’t help who you fall in love with.

Variations: Love is blind. Race doesn’t matter. Anybody can fall in love.

What the comment really means: Some sort of spell must have come over you because if you could help it you would not be with that person.

Why the comment is inappropriate: This sort of comment is problematic on a few levels. When the person says love is blind or colorblind it ignores the reality that race is important. Can you imagine a same race couple being told you can’t help who you fall in love with? The truth is that we can and do “help” who we fall in love with. Even though most people are not willing to admit it, relationships are not colorblind, and even people in interracial relationships fall into the love is blind trap. The other problem with this sort of statement it that it assumes that love is a spell that just sort of comes over you, and if you could help it and could fight it you would never choose this sort of person.

This entry posted in Race, racism and related issues. Bookmark the permalink. 

32 Responses to More Racist and Inappropriate Comments Directed at Interracial Relationships

  1. 1
    Andrew says:

    It is to my own great shame that when interracial sex has come up in conversation, I have been guilty of asking the sort of question that translates into, “So is it true that the black man is a raging dynamo of sexual potency?” There is a whole fabric of toxic assumptions built into the implicit idea that there is a sliding scale of sexual potence and vitality with Black men at one end and Asian men at the other with whites in between.

    Which brings to mind a question. Where could I find some good academic work that goes into the tissue of cultural semiosis surrounding interracial sex?

  2. 2
    sly civilian says:

    Amen and huzzah. I hate, hate, hate the way that a varients of “Well you can’t help who you fall in love with” are used in advocacy for gay and lesbian couples…it performs erasure on bi and other queer identities, and is fundamentally flawed for the reasons you point out…it still prioritizes hetero pairings.

    I don’t know about some folks, but I’d rather work for recognition and respect for individual choice and agency in our intimate relationships, and not just the washed up idea that “we can’t help it.”

  3. 3
    Lucia says:

    People actually ask about the sex? And they don’t know that’s offensive?!

    I think after “Why this is inappropriate” you could just write: “Come on, isn’t it obvious?!” It’s inappropriate to ask that if both members of the couple are of the same race. How could it become appropriate if they are of different races?

    Actually, all three of those statements are just flat out rude, period. The fact that people who meet an interracial couple set aside ordinary manners is pretty offensive!

  4. 4
    Nemo says:

    Thanks for your post. Oh, dear. I see the more it changes . . . .

    When I was in college I dated a Jewish guy. One of his roommates, also Jewish, said to him: “Once you go black you won’t go back.” Not only was this shocking in and of itself, I admit to being dismayed because up until that point I’d thought that most Jews were less racist than other whites.

    At a job, I recall an ugly, obese white secretary asking my boyfriend of the time what he was doing with me when he “could be with anyone?”

    In the last couple of months, on a broadcast network or maybe it was CNN, I heard advice columnist E. Jean Carroll, a white woman, describe her ex-husband, a black man, as “a very sexy guy.” That was the only attribute she felt was worth mentioning and she seemed to have no clue how that sounded. Then she explicitly made the point that sex is what holds people together in interracial couples.

    So, as you can tell, I’ve heard them all. I thought your discussion of what was wrong with the third comment was especially interesting. BTW, the black-male version of that, used in the sixties and seventies, was, “My wife *happens* to be white.”

  5. 5
    Dee says:

    At a job, I recall an ugly, obese white secretary asking my boyfriend of the time…

    Me-ow!

  6. 6
    Jonathan says:

    Rachel,

    Thanks for your thoughts on racism. I’m a white male in a relationship (two years plus!) with a black female. I live in Austin, which is not a bad place to be if you are in an IR relationship or if you are GLBT–especially considering that Austin is in the middle of Texas.

    Even still, though, it’s incredible to see how persistent racism is here. Once we were in a local burger joint. We had gone there because they have great milkshakes. We sat at a booth near the cash register, in plain view of the waitstaff who clearly took note of our presence. Yet, it took twenty minutes for anyone to come over and take our order. The place was not busy and several other white couples had come in after us, whose orders were taken before ours. There were even two waitpersons who were standing around by the register, apparently with nothing to do. How else were we to intepret the situation?

    Also, although racism in society is terrible, it seems so much worse when it comes from one’s own family members.

  7. 7
    Nemo says:

    In response to Dee:

    Coming from anyone, the comment would have been unacceptable. Coming from an ugly, obese white woman secretary to describe an attractive African American professional who had never been anything but polite to her — ridiculous.

    My boyfriend thought so, too.

  8. 8
    Deborah says:

    The problem with the “love is blind” comment is normativity. It assumes that love is MORE blind for IR couples than for same-race couples.

    As to being obese, I don’t think one’s size affects what is and is not appropriate to say, anymore than one’s race does. You’re either an asshole or you ain’t.

  9. 9
    Nemo says:

    Well, that secretary was an asshole. And although I’m a feminist and very sensitive, yes, I did happen to notice how extremely unattractive that woman was, and yes, it did make the comment even more bizarre and insulting.

    And let’s not pretend that White, Asian, Latina, and African American women are viewed or treated in the same way. Having a fat ugly white woman make that kind of comment is a throwback to the idea that any white woman is better than any black woman no matter the latter’s attributes and accomplishments.

  10. 10
    Sailorman says:

    This list strikes me as entirely different from the first one. Those questions were (in theory) more defensible at times, because at least some (not all) of them were objectively neutral. These…. sigh. Do people really ask these without knowing they’re being assholes?

    I think you should remove the “why they’re offensive” explanations and replace them with “duh” ;)

  11. 11
    NancyP says:

    People must have no manners.

    I confess the None-Of-My-Business question that pops into my head is “are the in-laws giving you shit for your IR?”

  12. 12
    belledame222 says:

    Honestly I think with some people the only possible response is something along the lines of

    “Were you raised in a barn?”

  13. 13
    Nemo says:

    Deborah wrote:

    “As to being obese, I don’t think one’s size *affects what is and is not appropriate to say, anymore than one’s race does.* You’re either an asshole or you ain’t.”

    It’s not always that simple. For example, I hate hate hate the use of the “N” word. Despite the flimsy arguments I hear, it is not empowering or completely stripped of negative connotations the way, say, the term “queer” is as used by gay people. (“Queer,” horrible as it was, also is not comparable to the “N” word, but that’s another discussion, one that has taken place many times already.)

    If another black person were to use the “N” word, I would strongly suggest that s/he not use it and probably would leave the room if the person persisted. I would concede the other person’s right to use it, no matter how misguided, although I’d draw the line at sticking around to listen to it.

    If a white person used it, I would not tolerate it at all. It would be at best, presumptuous, at worst, racist. There are certain terms that you simply are not entitled to use unless you are a member of the group, and even then, as I’ve pointed out, you may be strongly criticized.

    All kinds of factors affect what is appropriate for people to say in a particular context.

    I may be coming across as overly harsh, as I think Deborah’s point was more “Don’t pick on the woman because she’s fat; you’re diluting your point.” But politically correct as I try to be, in the good sense, it’s silly to pretend that we don’t interpret things in a context and that we don’t react to the speaker as well as the speech.

    God, I’m going to melt in this weather!

  14. When I lived in South Korea, I had a Korean girlfriend—actually two at two different times during my stay. Each of them asked me the sex question at some point after we had become sexually involved. The Korean men I knew who knew I was involved with a Korean woman asked me the question as well.

    I learned, actually, early on not to tell any Korean men who was not my friend that I had a Korean girlfriend, since the taboo against interracial anything was pretty strong there and the woman would have been immediatley branded a “slut.” (Indeed, I once went to Chejudo–an island off Korea’s south coast that was at the time the hot vacation spot–with a female friend who was just a friend and people called her a whore just for being seen in publich with me.) But these same men to whom I knew I could not tell the truth about my having a Korean girlfriend thought nothing of asking me if I’d “had” a Korean woman yet, as if the women of different races were like different brands of cigars or kinds of beer; and one man actually went through a list with me. He wanted to know if I’d “had” a Black woman, a Latino woman, a Jewish woman, etc. and so on.

    On another related note: I have no idea how true this is, but I was told when I was in Korea that they have a specific idiomatic expression for sleeping with a white person–and the way it was explained to me, it applied to either a man or a woman: “to ride the white horse.”

  15. 15
    Richard Bellamy says:

    I live in Austin, which is not a bad place to be if you are in an IR relationship or if you are GLBT–especially considering that Austin is in the middle of Texas.

    Immediately made me think of this minimalist conversation from John Sayles’s movie “Lone Star” about IR in Texas, with two white guys talking about one’s impending marriage to a black co-worker:

    Mickey: Are they gonna be okay with you being a white guy?

    Cliff: According to her they’ll be happy that I’m a man. Apparently they think any woman over 30 who isn’t married is a lesbian.

    Mickey: Yeah, its always heartwarming to see a prejudice defeated by a deeper prejudice.

  16. 16
    Lucia says:

    Mickey: Yeah, its always heartwarming to see a prejudice defeated by a deeper prejudice.
    When in college, my Irish American Catholic roommate dated a short Italian American for a short time. Her parents objected strongly; to both his Italian heritage and his short stature. She eventually broke up with him for reasons unrelated to her parents objections — she discovered he was mean.

    My roommate then began dating a rather nice, tall, bi-racial man whose black father was from Zaire and white mother was from Indiana.

    Suddenly, her parents began to suggest maybe she could men fences with that “nice Italian boy”, who was, after all, at least Roman Catholic “like us”!

  17. 17
    jah says:

    I’m a “fat, ugly white woman”. Why did you feel the need to point it out? It was a ridiculous, unkind, ignorant and bigoted statement even if she was a slender, attractive white woman.

    What I hear you saying here is that an attractive professional black woman is leagues above an unattractive, fat white secretary.

    It’s a statement of superiority; but instead of the race factor, it’s the attractiveness factor, with a little of the class factor thrown in as well. Why is it OK if you do it, but not OK if she does it?

    What she said was wrong, wrong, wrong. In your estimation, if she’d been a pretty, slender, white professional, and you a fat black secretary, would her statement to your boyfriend have somehow been less wrong?

  18. 18
    Barbara says:

    Is the idea that people are more likely to ask these questions of interracial couples? Because these are rude questions to put to any couple. And for Nemo, many fat people get similar kinds of comments — as in, why are you with someone who is so overweight when you could be with anyone? So the fact that your indignation appears to have been especially stoked by the woman’s size doesn’t gain you much sympathy over here. It sounds like: “Can you imagine some fat chick thought she had it over me when I’m so thin and attractive? What she said was wrong and prejudiced, but your response also endorses another kind of prejudice that isn’t mcuh nicer.

  19. 19
    Nemo says:

    To Jah and Barbara:

    I think you’re missing the point. I had always been perfectly polite to this woman until she took it upon herself to communicate her opinion to my boyfriend. Just think about the lack of respect in doing *that.*

    As I’ve said at least three times, it would have been unacceptable coming from anyone. But in addition, (and this a rule that’s been applied to me plenty of times and I would never be confused with a supermodel):

    You should know what you look like.

    Further, I treat all people with respect. And don’t get me started on the lack of respect and sometimes undermining treatment that women, in particular, women of color, sometimes get from secretaries and other support staff. White men scream at these people and their work gets done. I ask politely, well in advance, and the work does not get done or I get all kinds of attitude that white men don’t get. Obviously, I try to work with cooperative, competent people of either sex whenever can, but this kind of conflict has come up more than once and it’s definitely sex- and race-related.

    If you want to work in an environment where there’s absolutely no hierarchy, no distinctions based on responsibility and experience, that’s your choice. Most jobs are not like that.

  20. 20
    Nemo says:

    Why is it OK if you do it, but not OK if she does it?

    SHE’s the one who inserted herself into my affairs, not I. That’s an important distinction.

  21. 21
    Rachel S. says:

    Barbara said, “Is the idea that people are more likely to ask these questions of interracial couples? ”

    Yes, it is, but often these questions are explicitly or implicitly racial in nature. People don’t want to know what another person’s sex life is like. They want to know what sex with an Asian woman, Black man, White woman, etc. is like. The other questions/comments are similar–You can help that you fell in love with an Asian, Indian, Black, White, Latino, etc.

  22. 22
    Nemo says:

    People don’t want to know what another person’s sex life is like.

    Actually, there’s a lot of prurient curiosity out there. :-) More seriously, you’re absolutely right, as was the fellow who commented on the Korean man who wanted to know if the poster had “had” women of various ethnic or religious groups as if they were offerings on a tapas menu.

    In point of fact, I’m actually a pretty demure woman. But I’m sure at least part of my restrained nature is in response to all the stereotypes about being a wild, slavering, jungle bunny (Those gross hip-hop videos don’t help). As I’ve grown older and become relatively more comfortable with expressing my sexuality, it’s still a problem.

    Re the “fat” comment, I can’t bring myself to apologize because I don’t think I was out of line, but I assure you that I do not routinely make nasty comments about overweight people. My understanding of how hard it would be to lose weight is one reason I try to control mine.

  23. 23
    Nemo says:

    Three Problems I Had With The Movie “Jungle Fever”

    1. The shock that Spike Lee’s character had upon discovering that Wesley Snipes’s character was having an interracial affair struck me as completely phony. How many African American men prefer dating/marrying white women?

    2. The character played by Annabella Sciorra was so sympathetic it was impossible for me not to think, “Why is Wesley Snipes’s character being so mean to her? Why is he acting like she’s the superior, imperious white woman villain when this character clearly is not like that?”

    3. And worst of all, when Wesley Snipes’s character goes back to his wife, there was a scene at the end where their small daughter is shown looking ecstatic as she hears the sound of Mommy and Daddy making love in their bedroom. –I don’t know of any black child of my generation who wouldn’t have been shocked and run in the opposite direction. Totally unbelievable, in my experience.

  24. 24
    jah says:

    Nemo, I do get what you are saying, and I do understand that she opened her mouth and said that to you. Frankly, whatever you had said in return TO HER I wouldn’t have a problem with. She was rude, you can be rude back, or icily polite, or bitchy or whatever. She needed the lesson.

    What I have a problem with is that you appear to be implying “She’s fat (and I’m not)” (with the implication of “I’m superior”), while she’s implying “You’re black (and I’m not)” (also with the implication of “I’m superior”).

    Do you see how it’s very similar?

    What do you get by describing her as fat, ugly and a non-professional? For one thing, you get to soothe some of your still-hurt feelings (which I would have as well), but you do it by implying “She’s so much less than I am”. But by that implication, if she was above you in the hierarchy, then could she have said that with impunity? Would you feel that it was somewhat justified then?

    There are a lot of things that go into attraction, and looks are not the sum total of the person involved.

    Nemo, from what you are saying above, the implication from you is that fat people don’t deserve attractive boyfriends, because a fat, ugly person and an attractive person don’t match. Just like the secretary was saying that a black person and a white person don’t match.

    You and your boyfriend chose each other and for anyone to question that FOR ANY REASON is rude and wrong, no matter who you are or what you look like.

    Does this make it clearer? It was wrong for her to say that. It is wrong for you to do the same thing.

  25. 25
    lynne says:

    All I know is that as an ugly, obese, white woman, I found Nemo’s comment to be hurtful. Certainly not as hurtful as she found that woman’s original comment, but hurtful nonetheless.

  26. 26
    G Bitch says:

    It IS necessary to explain why these comments are inappropriate, racist, offensive, etc. The comments happen all the time, esp. here in the south. 9 times out of 10, when my (white) husband reveals he is married to a black woman, he gets some variation of these comments and others (one of my ‘favorites’–well, that’s okay but I just don’t find them attractive). As a black woman, I get accused openly and confidently of being a self-hating black person and asked often if i EVER dated black men and at my job at a black college, it is a fact that could delay, complicate or even derail my career there b/c of ideas like those above and myriad others.

    There are more stupid-ass statements. This list could be explanded and added to for weeks.

  27. 27
    Rachel S. says:

    G Bitch said, “but I just don’t find them attractive.”
    Yeah, I get tired of that, too. And you get the response even if you don’t solicit it.

  28. 28
    Robert says:

    Smile and say “good, that leaves more hard cock for me”. (Or “sweet jugs” or whatever crude expression will cause maximal spluttering from your victim.)

  29. 29
    Nemo says:

    G Bitch said, “but I just don’t find them attractive.”
    Yeah, I get tired of that, too. And you get the response even if you don’t solicit it..

    How ’bout (As was said to a friend of mine)? “I’ve never thought of them that way.”

  30. 30
    Nemo says:

    To: Lynne, Jah, et al.,

    I give up! I’m sorry about the “fat” comment. Please don’t call yourselves ugly and obese. I’m sure you’re not, and thinking about it makes me feel terrible. You took my main point, which is what counts.

    And a good evening to all (I hope).

  31. 31
    jah says:

    Nemo, I wasn’t angry with you — I just wanted you to understand. And thanks for hearing what we had to say.

    I’m 50. Mostly I’m invisible except for tiny children and other women my age.

    I am overweight, and have a lopsided face, sagging skin, some liver spots and can’t wear makeup. Don’t feel bad; it’s the truth that most people who don’t know me would find me physically unattractive.

    That doesn’t make me a bad person, though, and I objected to having a bad person lumped in with me because we share some physical unattractiveness. Ugly is not equal to bad. Ugly just is. Fat doesn’t mean unloved. Fat and ugly don’t even mean undesirable.

    As you said above, I understand what I look like. I just don’t let my physical appearance limit my life.

  32. 32
    lynne says:

    Thank you for your apology, nemo.

    As it happens though, I am obese (300lbs more or less) and obese often means ugly to a lot of people although I will admit that I dont consider myself ugly.

    As a fat woman who occasionally dates black men, I sometimes have people ask me if the reason I date black men is because they are more accepting of fat women. I dont even know how to respond to that. Obviously the men I date are accepting of fat women. Are they implying that if I were thin I wouldnt need to date black men?