On interracialism in lesbian relationships
Izzy Rose Thompson
Dating as a lesbian woman of colour presents unique challenges, bringing to light many different issues. The mere fact that we are already deemed as inferior to heterosexual couples in public and in private means that when you add the exotic flavour of race to the equation, the amount of comments and aggression I could receive doubles. And unfortunately my experiences with this don’t just come from white people, but from the black community itself – something that has begun to worry me in recent years. In a time where the Black Lives Matter movement is sweeping the world and has created links of solidarity in the black community, divisions within the black queer community are the last thing we need.
One of my most vivid memories of such aggression towards my choice to date white girls occurred when I was twenty-one. It was at my birthday party in fact, I was with my white girlfriend. It got to around six in the morning and all of a sudden I’m sat with another lesbian of colour who is completely berating my choice in partner based on the sole fact that she will “never understand the black experience” and that by dating her I am “succumbing to colonialist structures that praise white women and white beauty over black women and black beauty”. This, to me, was shocking. To hear another lesbian of colour trying to constrain and limit who I decide to make me happy, and at the same time trying to explain to me that I had internalised racist colonial structures? I don’t think so.
It’s so disheartening to feel as though after coming out, after experiencing a black childhood, after finally accepting who I was and who I wanted to date, it’s still not good enough. I still don’t fit into the social mould where for some reason it is still weirdly taboo to date outside your race. What the girl at my birthday party failed to understand was that perhaps I don’t need every sexual or romantic partner of mine to fully live and understand the black experience. That sometimes it’s okay to not live exactly the same lives. And love can grow out of learning, relearning, reforming opinions and acknowledging that a lived experience gap doesn’t need to be a major obstacle in any relationship once you realise and recognise the oppression another partner faces.
From my own experiences within my personal queer support community, race never seems to be an issue. My friends, and the people I choose to surround myself with, have always accepted my relationship decisions. Nonetheless, this doesn't come without some comments. I’ve always been criticised for the fact that I only date white girls, even from my white friends. It does make me feel, sometimes, that I should reflect on my reasons for this. Until now, I haven’t found any answers. To put it frankly, I just love who I love.
If we look into the reasons behind the fetishization and demonization of interracial relationships, reasons to believe that interracial relationships are wrong may seem historically valid. With the mixing of world populations, through slavery and colonisation, came the mixing of race within romantic relationships. Fetishization of relationships between black women and white men grew roots in the gender hierarchies of American slavery. Mixed race children born from these taboo encounters between plantation owners and their slaves were seen as privileged because they may have been taught to read and write, whilst the black children on the property continued to be treated as slaves. The legacies of these relations have seeped into contemporary understandings of interracial relationships where these power structures are presumed to be carried through. I understand this, there are structures within interracial relationships that can reflect the fetishization of black women by white men. But within the LGBT+ spaces, I find it difficult to identify heterosexual racial relations. There is no female slave and male master, and this is where I begin to feel as if those who discriminate against my relationships due to the colour of my partner’s skin are coming from a whole other place than me. I’m not seeing this a heterosexual racial power play, but a sapphic fuck you to racial segregation and patriarchal standards.
My current partner, who is white, is actively anti-racist and fights for black causes. How can this be seen as a problem? The fact that the lesbian of colour at my party told me that interracial relationships are negatively affecting the black community because I’ve chosen not to date another woman of colour reveals deep problems that continue to exist within the black community towards white people. I understand that the existence of white bodies in replacement of black ones, especially in the media and labour world, is a severe and complex racist problem. But the assumption that every white person is looking to override the beauty of their black partner in a relationship, in fact, shows the ugly face of internalised racism. Presuming that my white girlfriend is only using me as a commodity, as an exotic story in her broader romantic life, and that our relationship feeds into the maintenance of colonial structures, highlights valid black insecurities surrounding the presence of white bodies. But that never gives anyone precedence to push their own negative experiences on me. These kinds of insecure feelings most likely stem from an internalised feeling that all white people must think that they are superior to black people. But then I begin to think, why do all white people have to be racist? Why do all white people have to dominate in relationships? I realise that obviously these racial power structures remain at play, but why can’t certain people (especially within the queer community) fight them? I understand that certain triggers can help to bring out insecurities in others, however there’s no space to project these onto other people. Especially the healthy and loving relationships of other lesbians of colour. It is never someone’s place to push their own opinions and trauma onto my own sense of happiness – certainly not in an attempt to “teach” me anti-colonialist theory.
The experience of discrimination towards my relationships definitely makes me question my standing as a member of both the queer and the poc community. It’s an uneasy feeling. I think I feel so strongly about the power and validity of interracial love because I myself am biracial. Not something I want to unpack in this article, as it comes with its own set of feelings of exclusion from the black community, but I think this is perhaps why I’ve felt that this interaction at my party was so traumatic for me. It unearthed something in me. It exploded this fear of exclusion from my very own racial community that was out of my hands. That I couldn’t control. It felt like another knock to my confidence as a person of colour living around a lot of whiteness. So by experiencing a criticism of my relationship, it felt like a criticism of my own integrity, agency and power to decide and control my own life.
If we’re going to create these divisions within black spaces and black communities, I cannot see a time in the future where I can happily enter a poc lesbian space. Which in turn will be very damaging to my own allegiance to the queer black community. This is certainly not something I want, but with the overwhelming amount of tension I feel now bringing my white girlfriend into non-white lesbian spaces after the interaction at my birthday party, I doubt anything will change anytime soon without action. This action involves solving the bigger problems first, so that our smaller ones start to disappear. Without first taking to the streets, fighting for racial equality and LGBT rights in the larger community, how can we start to dismantle intricacies and complications within our own immediate community?
graphics by Daria Canta