Interracial relationships are still taboo in many families. This article offers some insight on how to manage difficult conversations with family and friends about being with the person who makes you happy, regardless of their race or ethnicity.
These taboos may be connected to the long-standing effects of institutional racism or the lingering presence of white privilege, both of which can affect the way people view the world. Although years have passed since the Equality Act, many people from ethnic minorities still worry about being subject to racism and may choose partners from similar backgrounds as a result.
If you are in a relationship with someone from a race or culture that is different from your own, you may already have experienced the negative impact of taboos, stereotypes, racism, and the negative attitudes of family members.
We are here to remind you that you are not alone in your relationship, even though family and friends’ opinions can make you feel so. The following accounts are from real women who have been in interracial relationships and the emotions they went through when telling their parents or their partner’s parents.
“After telling my parents, I was overthinking whether it was the right decision to be together which may have indirectly affected our relationship at the time... His parents were unsure about our relationship at first as they played to the stereotypes of me being Indian and thought I was with him for fun, only to get an arranged marriage after”
“We had to keep our relationship secret from his dad for a while... when he found out he didn’t say much but made a comment about my partner saying, ‘he will learn from his mistakes’.”
“They were disappointed and ashamed when they found out and my dad made the comment, ‘One thing we told you was no Pakistani boys’... I was frustrated that they only saw ethnicity rather than the person I was with [...] His parents reacted worse than mine, which bought up plans about the future... some cultural aspects didn’t align, and we realised that we had more differences than we thought”
Opinions of family and friends can have negative effects on a relationship. In a situation where your partner does not understand why their family’s comments are hurtful, you may feel you cannot speak to your partner, causing a lack of communication and distance between the two of you. It is easy to feel discouraged if your families are not supportive, but these issues can be worked through.
Something that seems small to you may be big for your partner. Don’t ignore or dismiss their partner’s feelings as this could push them away, or lead to feelings of bitterness. Listening to your partner and sharing issues about your families can take some of the load off for them and help with the healthy progress of your relationship.
The desire to keep in touch with your own culture and embrace your partner’s culture is natural. However, compromise is essential to make sure something that you are passionate about is not being disregarded. Set boundaries with your partner about what aspects of culture and religion are important to you, so that your roots are not being forgotten. Relationships are a two-way thing; in an interracial relationship, cultures and religions from both sides must be taken into consideration and appreciated.
The reality is that a lot of parents won’t understand your relationship but dealing with this doesn’t have to be confrontational. Explain how you feel in a calm manner, using soft start-ups like, ‘I feel...’ or ‘It upsets me when you say...’. This can help them see how their words affect you, which they may not have considered before. Hearing their point of view is important too as this can be part of a discussion that dissolves stereotypes around your partner’s race and brings more normality to interracial relationships.
It is easy to overthink what the future may bring for you and your partner when the odds seem against you now. However, living in the present and taking everything one step at a time is more manageable. This allows you both to slowly normalise your relationships in your families and focus on what is going well in the moment rather than what could go wrong in the future.
Let’s meet those couples again and hear how they moved forward from their parents’ reactions. As you’ll see, things don’t always work out, but there is certainly hope. If you’ve been in a similar situation, we’d like to hear from you in the comments below.
“I managed to win [his parents] over and they were welcoming and looked after me whilst I was away from home, which had a positive impact on our relationship. But I never felt we were going to progress as he was never close to my parents […] maybe if my parents were more supportive, we could have still been together now.”
“His dad is a strict Christian and doesn’t believe in sex before marriage, so our relationship was never discussed with him... that being said, my partner never spoke about his relationship with his dad and how our relationship may have affected it”
“We reassured each other that we’d take our relationship one step at a time and focus on now instead of the future. My parents met him and apologised for judging on stereotypes, and we’ve compromised on things we didn’t initially agree with.”
By Sereena Vaja
Brooks, J. E., Ly, L. M., & Brady, S. E. (2021). Race talk: How racial worldview impacts discussions in interracial relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 38(7), 2249–2267.