It is said that love is one of the purest things one can ever hold and bestow. It’s kind, it doesn’t envy, it doesn’t boast and it rejoices in truth. The Beatles once sang: ‘All you need is love.’ Yet perhaps one of the most flimsy, if not pernicious, of all these romanticised notions is that love doesn’t ‘see’ colour. I understand the rationale for this thought: how young children can form friendships without race being an issue, and how two people can fall in love despite the invisible systems that make interracial relationships still feel unacceptable in 2020.
The truth is, for many interracial couples, discussions around race, privilege and disadvantage form the background of our lives and how we navigate the world together. Not only do we deal with being racially different, we also deal with the differences in culture and mentalities. This is all the more apparent when dinner-table chat around politics, current affairs and indeed race – particularly in light of the recent killings of Black people – triggers impassioned debate on everything from what actually constitutes racism to our own culpability in upholding oppressive systems. Among family and friends, discussions within this so-called safe space can emphasise a gaping disparity in lived experiences, which can be alienating and a surprising arena for racial gaslighting.
I’m an African-American woman married to a white British man. When Alex and I first started dating nine years ago – we met on a masters degree course in London – and even into the first few years of our marriage, race was a problematic topic for us. Difficulties would arise when friends or even strangers would make insensitive, inappropriate or subtly racist comments – and my husband would not perceive this or call them out on it. On occasion, he would even defend them.
If internal relationship struggles weren’t enough, dealing with daily microaggressions compounded the difficulties. Stares, laughs and racially inappropriate questions are still a regular occurrence for us. When other people react to our relationship, Alex and I have different experiences. White strangers are often surprised when they discover we’re married – even if they see us holding hands with our wedding rings on full display. Neighbours have made assumptions that I’m merely my husband’s flatmate; some even say to him that it ‘must be hard being with a Black woman’. Meanwhile for me, some men in the Black community query why I’m not with a Black man instead.
When the 2017 movie Get Out became a box-office hit, interracial couples started becoming ‘cool’. Optimistically, I began to think that perhaps the tide was changing and couples like us would finally be accepted. Then a Black man spat in my face when he saw me kissing my husband in the street – a humiliating experience and one that, I assume, was designed to make me feel like a traitor to my own race.
I’ve grown up having to fight to be heard and respected. But the treatment I sometimes receive for being with my husband does make me hesitant at the idea of starting a family. I know what it’s like to navigate this world as a Black woman. But I don’t know what it’s like to be mixed race. How can I teach someone to navigate this world as a part of two identities if I don’t even know how to myself ?
READ: More real-life stories from Grazia
Things You Only Know If...
Things You Only Know If You've Experienced Post-Adoption Grief
When Claire Moruzzi, 39, gave birth to her son, it unlocked unpacked painful feelings about her own adoption.
Things You Only Know If You have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Jessica Evans reflects on the condition that affects one in 10 of us but is rarely talked about.
Things You Only Know If You're The Other Mother
If your partner carried your children, what does that make you? Jen Brister tells Grazia about life in a two-mum family.
Things You Only Know If Your Marriage Lasts Less Than A Year
The wedding was amazing but a Band-Aid Big Day couldn't save the relationship – and so an embarrassingly short marriage ensued.
Things You Only Know If You Walk Away From A Six-Figure Salary Job
As new figures reveal that record numbers are now 'overeducated' for their jobs, Lil Caldwell, 37, explains why swapping the law for floristry was her best decision yet.
Things You Only Know If: You're The Only Muslim In The Village
When Ayisha Malik moved to Dorset, she braced herself for reactions to her hijab. And was surprised at what she found.
Things You Only Know If: You're Going Through The Menopause At 30
A medical breakthrough now means the menopause could be delayed for 20 years. It's come too late for dancer Lindsay McAllister.
Things You Only Know If: You've Finally Conquered Your Alcohol Problem
When Catherine Renton chose to end her damaging relationship with booze, she lost friends, too. She reflects on the decision that changed her life.
Things You Only Know If You've Been On 100 First Dates
Charly Lester, 35, challenged herself to go on 30 blind dates before turning 30. Then things snowballed.
Things You Only Know If: You've Gone From Committed Singleton To 'Basic Bride'
'Suddenly, I want all the things I used to roll my eyes at: the dress, the flowers, the inexplicably expensive cake. There is a new and very loud voice in my head, it insists that this is my special day, I'm a f**king princess and I should have exactly what I want'
Things You Only Know If You Don't Have A Girl Gang
As a child, Amy Jones looked forward to the day she'd find her squad. No 29, she's still wondering where it is.
Things You Only Know If Your Babies Arrive 10 Weeks Early
After her twin daughters arrived at 29 weeks, Francesca Segal spent 56 days with them at the neonatal intensive care ward - an experience that changed her forever.
Things You Only Know If… You Live With Your Parents At 29
Anna Behrmann, 29, moved back home to save money. It's had its ups and downs.
Things You Only Know If You Earn Significantly Less Than Your Friends
After losing her job 31-year-old Olivia Foster found out the uncomfortable truth about what it means to be the broke friend.
Things You Only Know If You're Living With M.E.
When Hollie Brooks found herself so weak she couldn't even dress herself, she knew something was desperately wrong. To mark the end of ME Awareness Week, she tells her story.
Things You Only Know If You're Plus-Size And Online Dating
From men who think they're doing you a favour, to feeders who fetishise your body.
Things You Only Know If You Gave Up Your Job To Follow Your Partner Abroad
'On bad days it could feel a bit 1950s'
Things You Only Know If You've Chosen To Have A Baby Alone
Aged 37 and single, Genevieve Roberts decided to become a mum with the help of a sperm donor.
Things You Only Know If You're An Adult Orphan
Emily Dean lost her parents and sister in the space of three years - and changed her whole life as a result.
In the States, someone who is half Black is usually accepted within the Black community; they are regarded as Black and embraced as one of our own. But in the UK, I have witnessed how mixed-race friends have been told by those in the Black community that they are not Black, despite them identifying as such. To be told by the community you identify with that you don’t belong is heartbreaking. Do I want to watch a potential child of mine be alienated in such a way?
Alex and I have lots of conversations about race. Though the topic is emotively heavy, we’ve definitely become closer and I feel he now has a better understanding of the daily oppressions that people like me face. He’s also more aware of the existence of his privilege and can identify racist behaviours he might not have previously been able to see.
However, we view this global Black Lives Matter movement differently. Sometimes, Alex’s eyes glaze over when I start to give him yet another – what he calls – ‘lecture’ on race. But, like it or not, BLM has forced interracial couples to re-evaluate the dynamics of their relationship and their perception of each other within today’s society. It’s a trying process than can test love to the very limits. But these differences don’t need to be divisive. They can unify and help us learn.
And, as I always remind Alex, if he finds it exhausting to hear me talk about racism, try living with racism every single day.
Tineka Smith is the co-author of‘Mixed Up: Confessions Of An Interracial Couple’ out now on Audible