What Intersectionality Looks Like in an Interracial Relationship

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This article originally ran in the printed edition of WUSSY vol.04.
You can still order your copy
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There have been many conversations surrounding interracial relationships since the Loving vs Virginia case was decided over 50 years ago. But they’ve mostly dealt with society’s acceptance of those relationships. Very few have unpacked the challenges that an interracial couple will face within their own relationship. While love, theoretically, may be color blind, the world we live in is certainly not, and nor should it be. Although my wife and I have never experienced rejection or non acceptance from outsiders because we’re interracial, in the beginning of our relationship, we overlooked the idea that we were going to have to confront racism and recognize privilege within our own relationship. Neglecting to view our relationship through an intersectional lens damn near destroyed our relationship.  

“Neglecting to view our relationship through an intersectional lens damn near destroyed our relationship.”

My partner is a successful organizer, activist, feminist and she’s white. We started a long distance relationship and fell for one another, fast. We talked about our dreams, our passions, our families and we even discussed politics. She previously dated outside of her race, but never experienced a serious, committed relationship with a black woman. I, too, have dated outside of my race, but those relationships never became serious as well. Identifying as a feminist, my partner understood white privilege and always acknowledged hers. She also recognized that being in a relationship with a person of color doesn’t absolve you of that privilege. White privilege and white supremacy is not something we can just fuck away.

We fell madly in love. Regardless of our cognizance of intersectional feminism, I think we both fell into the myth of thinking that love is the only thing you needed to make a relationship successful, especially because we shared the same politics. But relationships, particularly interracial relationships, are more complicated and nuanced than that. Before Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term in 1989, intersectionality was already a lived experience. Marginalized people, particularly black women, have not only been subjected to sexism, but we’ve also been subjected to racism. Yes, my partner may have experienced microaggressions and discrimination because she reads gay, but she has never been subjected to oppression due to her race.

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Despite our many deep and personal conversations, we failed to discuss the importance of having honest conversations about the complexities of what our interracial relationship actually means in the social context. Race didn’t enter in our day-to-day connection as a couple. Decisions like whose turn is it to walk the dog were not decided based on our race. Because we both came from the same socioeconomic class, we naively believed by us simply having conversations about finances when we moved in with one another, we were doing the work required for a successful relationship. But race and its relation to privilege shapes nearly every aspect of our lives. Intersectionality is not only about how intersecting identities impact the way we experience oppression, it’s also about the institutions that use identity to oppress or extend privilege.

Our conversations about money failed to confront the exploitive systems she benefited from due to her whiteness and how those same systems affected my financial status because of my blackness. Full time employed white women only make 82 percent of what full time employed white men earn, according to a Pew Research Center survey. However, black women only earn 67 percent of what white men earn. Besides the disparities in wages, black Americans also face discrimination in employment and the housing market. We both knew these realities but failed to make the connection in regards to what they would mean for us as an interracial couple building a life together.

“Being an advocate of equality while simultaneously navigating your own privilege is an interrogation of self.”

Ignoring the financial and employment disparities between our races wasn’t the only thing that complicated our relationship. After the murders of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, we did have discussions about police brutality and the complete disregard of black lives in our society. I’m sure these conversations were similar to others in progressive households. But it wasn’t until we got pulled over for a broken tail light and I was questioned despite not even being the one driving, that we had to examine what overzealous policing means in the context of our interracial relationship. This incident sparked a deep, uncomfortable conversation that white couples simply don’t have to have.

When you decide to enter into an interracial relationship, everything must shift. The way you navigate conversations with your coworkers, family, friends, neighbors and on social media must shift. Each and every time we get into an argument, my partner has to be aware of internalized racism and privilege. And we both have to continue to talk about how each of us navigates the world differently. While intersectionality was coined due to overlapping discrimination based race and gender, its application has since expanded to other identities. There have been times when I’ve had to recognize my privilege and stand in that discomfort to truly hear my partner’s concerns.

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Just as we were getting used to navigating the complexities of an interracial relationship, Donald J. Trump won the presidency. After Trump’s election, we had to deal with a whole new set of complications. Because his racist campaign rhetoric and bigoted and xenophobic policies have emboldened racists, there are places where I am legitimately unsafe as a black person. And there were people I was no longer going to be around due to their support of Trump, including members of her family. And there are places where my partner is unsafe as a person who reads gay. We gladly embraced the uncomfortable conversations we had to have because throughout the years of us being together, we’ve learned embracing them is paramount to our relationship’s survival.

I never have to worry about my partner saying overtly racist comments or ever voting against my interests. She’s a devoted ally who has my back. Being an advocate of equality while simultaneously navigating your own privilege is an interrogation of self. It’s uncomfortable and sometimes hard. White privilege is not something white people ask for. Due to this country’s history with oppression, it just is. But true allyship is learning to sit in that discomfort and learn the ways to extend that privilege to marginalized people of color.

Any person of color can tell you that being in a relationship with a white person is sometimes challenging. Sometimes the most difficult journeys are often the ones most worthwhile. There are moments when you really just want someone to see you and the pain that often goes with being a black, queer woman in a predominately white society. But then there are the moments when I see the person I love do the work, check her privilege and step outside of it to be my ally and my life partner.