Interracial Privilege?


How many of you watched this and said: 'Ive GOT to get one of those watches!'?


"Interracial intimacy is subversive of the racial order."

Believe it or not, I’m an introvert.  I love going to movies alone, dining at a table for one, and wandering through the grocery store at my leisure.  I embrace “awkward” moments of silence during conversations, and I welcome moments of solitude.  I don’t make small talk on airplanes, I avoid sitting next to people at bars, and at schmoozing events my priority is finding a strategic location to camp out that’s equidistance to the bar and where the food comes out.  In those types of settings, I think the most important people to know are the wait staff and bartenders.

I also love challenging the assumptions and expectations others have about me, which is the only way I can explain my impromptu infiltration of a “White Dance Circle” (WDC) at our friend’s birthday gathering some time ago.   As we sat with our friends and their other guests in the venue’s lounge, I noticed a translucent curtain sectioning off our group—a mix of black, brown, and white people--from the group next to us that appeared to be entirely white except for one black guy.  To protect his identity, I’ll simply refer to him as “Undercover Brother” (UB).

Now, like the lone black guy in the other group, many of us have experience being "the only."  Typically this occurs when you walk into a setting-- maybe it’s a networking event, a classroom, a meeting, a conference, a boardroom, a country club, a job fair, a Justin Beiber concert, a fish fry, a rodeo, a Renaissance fair, a step show, a cruise ship, Congress, wherever--and it appears that you share absolutely nothing in common with anyone else in the room.  Generally, if you are “the only” and you happen to see another person with whom you sense a connection, it’s common courtesy to smile, make eye contact or give the “wassup” head nod.  But I suspected that UB suffered from “White People Territorialism” (WPT, also known as ‘These-Are-My-White-People!’ Syndrome) a condition stemming from extreme insecurity. Symptoms of WPT include jealousy, rage, or passive aggression (similar the behavior exhibited by toddlers and infants competing with newborn siblings).  Because once our group arrived, he was no longer “the only” no longer “special,” “unique,” “unconventional,” or the only person on the dance floor presumed to have rhythm.   And he confirmed my suspicions when I overheard him say to one of his friends: “Watch out, there’s a black girl dancing behind you.”  Now, I’m not a violent person, but the “PG” in me wanted to hand my husband my purse, take off my shoes and earrings, tie my hair up in a bun, tap him on the shoulder, get up in his face, and say “I bet you won’t say that to my face if we step outside.” But I thought it better to just let it go. 

So as the night progressed I took note at the circular formation in which UB’s group danced, and I leaned over to my husband and whispered, “Watch, by the end of the night, I’m going to be in the middle of that dance circle.”  And that’s exactly what happened.  A couple of songs later, the curtain had been pulled back, I was hi-fiving a bunch of strangers, and Mission: Dance Circle Infiltration was a success.  While chatting with a friend about everything that happened, I was surprised to hear about the extreme discomfort she feels as the only black woman in a group of white men.  I just couldn’t relate, and I didn’t know why.  We both grew up in the same geographic area.  Attended similar schools and attained similar levels of education.  We’re both “introverts-who-happens-to-be-personable” and throughout our lives we've both worked in professional fields and institutions dominated by white men.  

But when I think about that night and similar social settings, I wonder whether my marriage to a white man, and the implications of that aspect of my socialization, produces a sense of ease when I’m in a room full of people who don’t look like me. And taken to an extreme, does my interracial marriage give me the privilege of connecting with a racial group different from my own, in a way that I wouldn’t but for my interracial marriage? To what extent does my husband’s race connect me to a group of people and social context different from the one in which I grew up, or the one in which I would function if I married someone on the same race or ethnicity?  

However intimate the relationship, I don’t think that interracial intimacy guarantees complete and automatic embrace and identification with another culture.  Like the curtain separating our groups at the party, it may be translucent, and it may get pulled back from time to time, but it’s still hanging in the room.

18 comments:

  1. “White People Territorialism” (WPT, also known as ‘These-Are-My-White-People!’ Syndrome)

    Definitely experienced that.

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  2. WPT, that's hilarious. I've never experienced it but I'll be looking out. I don't think I've felt weird being 'the only' in Seattle the percentage of black people is small and I worked in the legal industry as a paralegal for 10 years so I was frequently the only, I was frequently the only in college b/c I got a history degree and not AA history. I thank my parents for never having to feel weird b/c they exposed me to different ppl and situations so I'm very flexible and versatile so I never had feel out of place. I can talk about almost anything and with ease. I'm an introvert too but I thank them for exposing to me more than just black ppl and that was in Houston. It helped me figure out that yea they're just people just like me.

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  3. @Tinu, I'm from Montgomery County BTW :-)

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  4. Great article! You know what gets to me is when we're the somewhere and there is another interracial couple & they don't acknowledge us...seriously?? Were in the same boat people, LOL. I grew up in a diverse area in So. Cal so I have always felt comfortable with any race but being in an interracial marriage really puts me at ease with other races because it has taught me there has to be a common ground with anyone.

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  5. @Flaming
    Thank you, yes, I've developed quite a knack for acronyms lately.

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  6. @Zabeth
    Ah, okay, MoCo, I see you! Not as cool as PG, but still Muryland nontheless.

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  7. @Angelique
    Thanks for your comments and feedback. I think the issue with other interracial couples can be solved by creating our own official gang sign. My husband and I are working on it.

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  8. Hi! I'm in Mo.Co. and I am a PMF too! I am not currently in an interracial relationship, but I have been in a few.

    I often felt conflicted about what to do when I am the "only" black in a setting with whites and another black comes in. I used to be all about being friendly and smiling or saying hello, but I have not always had good receptions to that. Then I started not really going out of my way to acknowledge them, but then I felt awkward.I'm sure that I have been perceived by others as having WPT, but in reality, I was just trying not to feel rejected if the "brother or sister" ignored my attempt to acknowledge them (I will say, brothers have ignored it more that sisters).

    Now I have a general mantra to smile at everyone. Most people in the DC area don't smile back, but I feel good for doing it anyway. And when someone does smile back, I feel even better!

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  9. @Mae & @Zabeth I'm a new HoCo resident & part of a blended interracial/multiracial family. Anybody here a member of/familiar with SWIRL, Inc? Thinking of starting a chapter in the area.

    @Yes,We're Together I love your blog, this post, & laughed out loud @ your infiltration of the WDC &the WPT. As for the translucent curtain--not so funny--because it's sadly true.

    @Angelique Yes--what is up with that!? LOL
    My fiance & I have started a "Be The First To Spot The IR Couple/Family" game when we go shopping @ Walmart/Target/etc Return the smile/eye contact people!

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  10. @Mae
    Good advice. I always tell my husband that a smile is the universal language. Works sometimes in Boston too!

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  11. I've been the UB at many functions and would have loved to have you infiltrate... Nice post!

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  12. @Kevin
    Don't tempt me! I might just show up! I think this could actually turn into a legitimate side-hustle. Lol. Thanks for reading!

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  13. I do think being in IR gives you a level of comfort with your spouse's culture. It goes both ways, too. I think my husband's Asian coworkers often feel more comfortable talking to him because they think he'll get it.

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  14. @HapaMama
    Co-sign. I definitely think it can make some interactions less intimidating. Just the other day I ended up talking NFL football with a bunch of guys (COMPLETELY my husbands doing) and thought nothing of high-fiving the guy next to me (complete stranger of course) who agreed that the Pats are going all the way this year. VERY wise man indeed :)

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  15. Super late I know...

    Angelique, being part of an interracial couple myself, I will admit that I don't always acknowledge other interracial couples *especially* when the woman is Black.

    Why? I am made conscious of it all the time as is and sometimes not too positively. I would love to walk into a room and not have anyone bat an eye because they consider our pairing COMPLETELY normal.

    I don't always like the sense of "otherness" I get being in an interracial marriage and I assume (rightly or wrongly) that others feel the same.

    I don't go out of my way to ignore, but I don't go out of my way to acknowledge either. Maybe it's naive but I want the idea of BW/Non-BM couples to be old hat. I want people to see me and my husband as just another married couple as opposed to some poster couple for interracial marriage. I hope that makes sense!

    I don't know if that helps...but just another perspective from someone in the same boat as you :-)

    p.s. Yes my inner self does smile when I see other IR couples, I just don't always let it out.

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  16. @KayC
    Never too late! Thanks for chiming in!

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