I have been in a relationship with a black man for almost five months, and it’s made me realize a lot about racism and stereotypes that still exist in our society. I’ve experienced things as commonly thought of as my friends asking me if he’s more well endowed than white men I’ve dated to things as extreme as people telling me to enjoy standing in food stamp lines the rest of my life if I planned on marrying him. Now I feel I could write an entire blog site on being in an interracial couple, but for this post I would like to touch on one specific thing.
Recently I made a comment about how frustrating I found it that when my boyfriend and I first began dating, so many of my friends told me they did not realize I was “into black guys” because I felt it suggested that interracial relationships were somehow abnormal, and there had to be something particular about me to want to be in one. Someone replied to me saying that psychologically speaking, they were abnormal because people are usually attracted to people within their own race. Now, I vaguely remembered some section of my Psych 100 class talking about attraction, but knowing very little about the subject, I didn’t want to give any response that I couldn’t back up. So I decided to do some research.
First I looked at the statistics. According to a study by the Pew research center, interracial marriages are on the rise. 2008-2010 Census data showed that new marriages involving a spouse of a different race or ethnicity have more than doubled between the years of 1980 and 2010. I know that the aim of psychology is not to explain the thoughts and desires of every individual and rather to examine overall trends, but since I have to assume that these people getting married must be at least somewhat attracted to each other, I wanted to see the psychology that said that was abnormal.
Donald Symons, a professor of anthropology at UCSB and author of “The Evolution of Human Sexuality,” helped shed a little light on the subject for me. He mentions that since during the vast majority of human history, our ancestors were unable to to travel very far from the place they were born and rarely encountered individuals who looked any different than them, it is unlikely that we developed any physiological adaptations, sexual or otherwise, having to do with race. But where does that leave us today? Obviously we are exposed to plenty of people that look different than us in the United States and obviously we have a greater ability to travel and experience people of other races and ethnicities.
I tried to do some digging into the research surrounding this subject, but I had a very hard time finding a lot. I think an important thing to remember is that much of the research may have been done during times when being with someone of another race could result in public humiliation at the very least. And this kind of threat could very easily have affected the answers people provided. Now, I’m not saying there are no grounds to support the theory that people are attracted to people of the same race, but these grounds are based on very simple psychological concepts. For example, the age old theory that people seek out partners that remind them of their parents, who are often the same race as us. It’s not because of a psychological prejudice to those of another race.
Now I’d like to examine what the surprise people express towards my “interest in black men” really is. It is called a micro agression, which simply explained is a relatively common interaction that either intentionally or unintentionally communicates a hostile or derogatory message regarding a marginalized group. By people telling me that they did not realize I was attracted to black men, people are communicating that there has to be a specific reason for me to find a person of that race a worthy partner because they would not normally be.
So coming from someone who is sick and tired of hearing both the intentional and very intentional aggression regarding my relationship, I ask everyone to please consider the hidden meaning behind what they say to those involved in interracial relationships. And make sure you understand all the complex dimensions of a claim you use to invalidate that relationship.