Interracial Couples Know The Pressures — And Pleasures — Of Difference

If you want to understand something about our culture today, YouTube is a good place to start, and while it’s not always the most accurate source, the website is certainly home to a variety of perspectives. Still, as a white woman who spends a fair bit of time on YouTube, it came as news to me that there’s an entire corner of the video site devoted to interracial couples, often known as “swirl channels.” And as outlined in this article from i-D, while these channels can seem voyeuristic, they also help normalize the relationships and share valuable information about couples navigating issues of race in a racist society.

The Stats On Interracial Relationships

The United States marked the fiftieth anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court case that legalized interracial marriage in all fifty states, in 2017, and in some ways we’ve made major strides since then. Back in 1967, just 3% of newlyweds were married to someone of a different race or ethnic background, while today that number is 17%, while across the country about 10% of all couples are married to someone of a different race or ethnicity. While it may not be considered common, interracial marriage is no longer totally out of the ordinary.

Cultural Invisibility

While YouTube may be helping to make interracial relationships more visible and there are many high-profile celebrity relationships drawing attention to the subject, one reason that there’s still stigma about interracial relationships is simply that they’re made culturally invisible. In fact, many people say that no one ever assumes they’re with their partner, which can lead to a variety of awkward interactions.

In recent years, increased representation in movies and on television is helping bring interracial relationships into the public eye; 2017 brought the first Black Bachelorette, while The Big Sick and Get Out, also 2017 releases, took differing approaches to interracial dating. Still, for the time being couples continue to face backhanded comments about race and attraction and awkward and downright inappropriate jokes about their choice of partner.

Tackling The Tough Stuff

Outside pressures may strain interracial relationships, but they’re hardly the only problem that couples encounter. As many individual in interracial relationships explain, dating someone from a different ethnic or cultural background means that you’ll always be learning.

Of course, the downside to always learning is that you’re bound to make mistakes, some of which will be more hurtful than others. This is true in interracial friendships as well, but the expectation is usually higher among couples and if you’re a white person in a relationship with a person of color, you need to be aware of how you can advocate for your partner and vocally counter racist sentiments. That means paying attention, listening when you mess up, and committing to doing better, and not everyone has an easy time admitting when they’re wrong.

Interracial couples may have to work harder to make their relationships work because they’re under more external pressure, and knowing how to talk about race can make or break the partnership. For those who master the art of navigating difference with grace, though — well, they could probably teach the rest of us a few things about conflict, communication, and loving each other through the tough stuff.