Essay: Families mean well, but they must discuss interracial relationships to erase bias

Many of the TV shows and movies that I watched as a kid, mostly on Disney Channel or Nickelodeon, made dating seem almost effortless. One character likes another character and the plot simply moves on. But, as we know, dating and all other life experiences outside of Hollywood are much more complex.

I didn’t have a serious boyfriend until I was in college. We met under Hollywood-like coincidences, first meeting at Colonial Inauguration and then running into each other in Hawaii while on vacation, and this turned our quick friendship into a real relationship. While my boyfriend and I come from the same ethnic background, that wasn’t what sealed the deal for us – but it didn’t hurt.

Both of us are Filipino, and having that shared background helped make him seem familiar to my family and friends. And his family and friends have thought of me in a similar light. In his family, aunts have often referred to me as his “Filipino girlfriend” because some of his family members have non-Filipino significant others. This emphasis on our shared cultural experiences is not subtle nor inclusive, and it quietly implies that members of his family approve of us more because we are ethnically the same. It is crucial that both white and minority communities strive to have constructive conversations about implicit and explicit perceptions toward interracial relationships.

While I have never been told I should only date Filipinos, I have my fair share of awkward and alienating memories. My cousin, who at the time was about 9 years old, was asked by our aunt if he had a crush on anyone at school. When he answered yes, the first question out of our aunt’s mouth was, “Is she white? Or is she like us?” Understandably, my cousin was uncertain as to why he was being asked those questions. But for our aunt, these inquiries seemed OK. While these questions and familial pestering are well-intentioned, they implicitly inform us of who we should date and more importantly – who we shouldn’t.

Interracial dating can be seen as being inclusive, a personal preference or just plain attraction between people. While pop culture has become more inclusive by showcasing interracial relationships, the real change starts with conversations between family and friends. While interracial couples are being represented more in movies and television, like in “The Big Sick” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” we can’t rely on Hollywood to have these hard conversations for us.

For many people, especially those from backgrounds that emphasize respecting elders, it is hard to talk about beliefs that go against tradition or social norms. None of my family members would say that I shouldn’t date someone who isn’t Filipino or isn’t Asian. But conversations that start with unnecessarily pointing out the race of a significant other rather than other attributes do nothing but bolden the lines that separate minority and white communities. That is why it is important to firmly call out friends and family when these issues arise. Without bringing attention to their beliefs, a culture of separation will continue.

This phenomenon goes beyond interpersonal conversations and also plays out publicly. Recently, Issa Rae, the star of the HBO show “Insecure,” has come under fire for comments in her 2015 memoir. Rae encouraged black women to date Asian men, as these two groups of people are often seen as the bottom of the dating pool. But Rae said that black women should not date Filipino men as they are the “blacks of Asians”. These comments are not only hurtful to the Filipino community, but to the black community as well. I was disheartened to see such explicit ignorance that was framed as advice rather than insensitivity painting the men in my community as undesirable or unlovable.

With a difficult subject like dating, there is no seminar that we can attend to automatically erase our implicit biases. While no relationship is perfect, the issues between significant others shouldn’t stem from their families’ or friends’ concerns about identity. We should push to have conversations with our families about their explicit and implicit stances on interracial dating and work together to avoid bias.

Although my current boyfriend and I are from the same ethnic background, that may not be the case in the future. And it shouldn’t come as a shock to family and friends when interracial relationships do occur. It is on us, whether we come from minority communities or not, to break down the stereotypes and implicit biases that divide us rather than bring us together.

Renee Pineda, a junior majoring in political science, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.

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