This Week’s question comes from a Black woman whose White boyfriend is constantly hit on by White women who don’t realize they’re a couple.
I am Black and my boyfriend of three months is White. Everything is going great when it’s just us together. The problem is when we’re out in public, especially somewhere social like a party. No one who sees us thinks we’re together. Wherever we go, White girls flirt with him blatantly like I’m not even there. This happens even if we walk in holding hands. One girl actually tried to give him her number in front of me. He never responds to their flirtations in kind, but he doesn’t take a stand either. He just laughs their behavior off and tells me to lighten up. I don’t think it’s funny at all. I just want him to make it stop!
What should I do?
I think every member of the Multiracial community can relate to this in some way.
Who hasn’t been in a situation where an intimate relationship—be it with a child, parent, sibling or significant other—was completely invisible to outsiders because of contrasting skin tones?
You have every reason to be exasperated. I wonder though, which is bothering you more: the advances of the other women? Or your boyfriend’s lack of concern? If your boyfriend were enraged about the attention of these brazen females, you might be less so. You’d feel confident, knowing where he stood. The fact that he’s telling you to lighten up means that he fails to grasp the implications of these episodes. My guess—though you haven’t described him—is that he is either very good-looking or highly charismatic. I am sure he’s accustomed to the attention and considers it inconsequential. And it might be—if you were White. Sure, it would still be annoying, but there would be no racial context to complicate matters. Of course, if you were White, the women would draw the logical conclusion that you were his date and refrain from flirting. As it is, they’re either blinded to the possibility of your relationship or else, hostile to it. Either way, they are invalidating you along with your relationship.
I wonder what conversations you have had with your boyfriend about these encounters where you seem invisible to White women. Have you explained your feelings to him in the context of race? Educated him about the cultural experience of being a Black woman in a world that still idealizes White femininity? I’ll bet your boyfriend never gives this much thought, especially since he has chosen you as his girlfriend. In fact, he probably thinks you’re more attractive than any White woman out there. Nevertheless, if your relationship is to succeed—which means you not being consumed with resentment—he must be made to understand what you are feeling and where you are coming from. That means you will have to talk about race if you haven’t done so already.
Many young interracial couples avoid race talk because they fear it will create a chasm between them.
They say, “Can’t we just focus on all the beautiful things we have in common?” Of course you can. Of course you should. But talking about race should bring you closer together by opening each other’s eyes to the partner’s full experience. Avoiding something as visible and obvious as racial difference will lead to anxiety and estrangement. Not talking about race makes the discussion taboo. Before you know it, you’ll be walking on eggshells around each other, which spells disaster for intimacy.
So, brace yourself and jump in. Say: “It is so annoying how these girls never see us as a couple, right? As if you couldn’t possibly have a Black girlfriend!”
He might say, “I know—it drives me crazy too!”
He might smack his head and say, “Oh wow! It never occurred to me that they were thinking that. You’re right!”
On the other hand, he might resist the discussion and say:
“What? How can you make this about race?”
His reaction will give you an idea of where he is on the subject.
In any case, this may be a milestone in your relationship: the first Big Talk About Racial Difference.
How it goes will tell you a lot about how much future potential the relationship has. You have been together for three months, which is about when couples figure out how serious they are going to become. If he dismisses you, if he refuses to acknowledge that race is even “a thing” here, the relationship may not be worth it. If he’s open, on the other hand, if he listens, empathizes, asks questions, and wants to learn—the relationship will be far richer in the long run. In the short run, you can strategize together, plan how to handle these women as a team. Maybe the next time you run into a would-be poacher, he’ll sweep you off your feet with a big, wet, pre-emptive kiss!