Advice for Interracial Couples - Tips for Recognizing (and Coping) With the Challenges That Interracial Couples Face
Dear April Masini,
I am a 35 year old, single, African American mom who has been dating a 38 year old white man who wants children and has just asked me to marry him. I love him very much, but I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to marry someone of a different race. Do you think interracial relationships can work? And do you have any tips for getting through the challenges we would face in our relationship?"
April Masini's Advice :
Dear Race Relations,
Like interreligious couples, there is no question that interracial couples face special challenges that same race couples and families do not face. And some challenges are more difficult to overcome than others. Marriage is a very serious proposition, under any circumstances, and I think that you are very wise to thoroughly examine the challenges you may face instead of jumping in without looking.
How to Recognize & Cope With Four of the Challenges That Face Interracial Couples
- There is often traditional prejudice within one or both of the families that is stressful on the couple. In other words, garden-variety meddling mother-in-law problems may seem like a walk in the park compared to a mother in law with prejudice issues! Sometimes family members may resent the opposite race person in the couple for "taking a husband or wife who 'doesn't belong' to that race away from theirs." In other words, the interracial couple is seen as a threat to the proliferation of the heritage line. Whether or not you agree, that sentiment does exist today.
Remedy: The significant way to deal with prejudice within a family is to balance understanding of the person’s (prejudiced) feelings, with an open heart and including that person in family events whether or not they come. The worst thing you can do in a prejudiced situation is to slam the door on that family member. Putting up boundaries in case a family member has an out and out rant or rage is appropriate, but a letter or a phone call two weeks later, extending a kind word, may help the person come around.
This is a lot of work. And it is work that same race couples do not usually have to do. But because you are dealing with family, it is important to try and maintain some communication, an open heart, and an open door – if behavior is acceptable. Taking the high road is often an uphill trudge.
- If the couple has children, it is very likely that the child may not have evenly mixed skin tone. The child of a white and a black parent may have Caucasian skin and an afro, while the next child of these same parents may have very dark skin. At first glance this does not seem like a problem, but any quick glance at a Little League game will remind you how important it is that father’s feel their sons represent them. And if the son does not look like the father, there could be problems.
Within the family, the parents have to deal with not just gender issues, but race issues, and why mommy's skin isn't the same color as my skin, etc. In fact, looking down the line, a very light skinned child of a mixed race couple may grow up and marry a Caucasian woman and the two of them could have a dark skinned baby because of the gene pool.
Remedy: Don’t deny the differences. Keep communication open and talk about the differences in skin tone and hair texture – not just between one another, but also on each body. The palms of the hands are usually a different color than the back of the hands, etc. Start the communication early, and at home so that when a child hears about these differences at school, he or she is already “armed” or prepared with answers not just for the other schoolmate, but for him or herself about why he or she looks the way he or she looks.
- Neighbors and schools are often not enlightened about different races, and some interracial families feel that this is a problem. Many neighborhoods and schools are not equally mixed in racial make up.
Remedy: There are different ways to deal with this as parents of a bi-racial child. The first way is to choose a school that deliberately chooses a selection of children from different races, ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, etc. in order to give the child a "balanced" environment. The other way to go is to choose the neighborhood you like best, regardless of whether it is predominantly inhabited by one race or another and allow the child to see a slice of "the real world," and to develop an understanding of this world from an early age.
- It is important to honor both family heritages within the home -- whether by celebrating the holidays of the two parents, the family traditions, or the homeland pride of the two parents. This can be done by displaying art, taking vacations or joining community groups to show a family interest.
For some great date ideas you can do with anyone, check out my books, Ideas for a Fun Date and Romantic Date Ideas!