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Living in Australia, chances are you know someone who is in an interracial relationship. For me, I’m the product of one. My Mum is a white Australian and my Dad is Malaysian-born with a Sri Lankan background. Because of this I’ve always been fascinated with interracial relationships and how we choose to navigate them in society. There’s also a tonne of uncertainties about race that come with dating as a person of colour in Australia. How much of your culture are you willing to compromise for another person? How do you cope with racial stereotypes in dating? Is having a racial preference actually racist?

I really wanted to delve deeper into this topic because even though we feel like we’ve progressed passed the point of judging interracial relationships in society, there’s still a lot left to unpack about them. To help me explore this I spoke to the host of the incredible podcast Here’s The Thing, Tho, Soaliha Iqbal who comes from a Pakistani background and covers a number of hot-button topics in her podcast series, including race.

Internalised racism: what is it and how to manage it?

So before we get into interracial dating, it’s important to understand how internalised racism plays a part in it. According to Soaliha: “Internalised racism can be described as having a lot of either fear, embarrassment, humiliation, avoidance or anger etc toward your own race and culture. It’s something that is often used to reinforce white supremacy by people of colour.”

Some examples of internalised racism could be things like: “Being embarrassed to wear your cultural clothes, or being embarrassed to tell somebody where you’re from,” Soaliha said.

The reason why internalised racism is embedded in our dating lives is because your own insecurities around race will inevitably come out in your dating life.

“If you don’t value your own culture and you do value whiteness, then it’s going to show in your dating life when you start dating people that embody the values of whiteness that you’re trying to aspire to become,” she said. 

Speaking from personal experience this is 100% true. I constantly feel that I have to reassure people of my proximity to whiteness. Yes I’m brown, but I’m mixed-race. Yeah I’m not white, but I was born here. It’s so fucking exhausting and even though you think it won’t affect how you date, it always ends up coming up.

Navigating interracial relationships

So you’re dating someone of a different race? Now what?

Well, first it’s about being aware of your own internalised racism and accepting your culture, which allows you to set firm boundaries with your partner.

“You really need to have your boundaries and a strong sense of self because it’s really easy to start ditching your culture and losing your identity to suit a white guy,” Soaliha said.

George Clooney and Amal Clooney (Image: Getty Images/ Michael Tran)

Soaliha is currently in a relationship with a white man, and said that part of being in a relationship with someone of a different race (particularly if they are white) is about ensuring they understand what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour.

“The moment you accept some casual racism from your partner at the beginning, it’s going to go downhill from there,” she said.

“You can’t normalise that shit and allow it to happen.

“It is a constant educating process, it is emotionally exhausting. I think it’s one of those things where you’ve got to be dating somebody that you really like, just because it won’t be worth it. They’ve really got to be willing to grow and learn constantly for you.”

Racial preference and fetishisation: where do we draw the line?

Another issue that often comes up in discussions of interracial dating is the idea of racial preference/fetishisation. One time a guy told me he only really dates mixed-race girls, and I think I vomited a little in my mouth.

So is having a racial preference actually racist? Well yes, and no.

Soaliha puts it like this:

“I think that it’s ok to have a type. But to have an active racial preference, where you date specific people of a culture, or you specifically don’t date people of a culture, or you think some cultures are just inherently more attractive than others. It’s racist.”

“It’s assuming that they all look the same. Having a racial preference reduces them to skin colour. There’s actually a lot that makes up a person and that makes up your attraction to a person. You’re never just with somebody because of their race.

“On the flip side: to say that you’re just not into a certain type of race, to me, is just incredibly and quite blatantly racist. Because there is that assumption that every person of that race is unattractive.”

Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West  (Image: Getty Images/ David Crotty/Patrick McMullan)

Pretty privilege also plays a part in this discussion, because as Soaliha puts it, “if the only time you’re attracted to black women is when they’re models, it doesn’t count as being attracted to black women, it counts as being attracted to models.” YES.

No Greg, I don’t care that you think Beyonce is hot, you’re still a racist. Goodbye.

“Status and wealth and all those things play a part,” Soaliha said.

“We shouldn’t have to jump through all these hoops to be attractive to people. We shouldn’t need to be fucking models, or rich, whatever to be seen as hot.”

Why should we care? How can we learn more?

Because it’s fucking important! It’s not something that can be swept under the rug. Growing as a person is about analysing your own behaviour and being self-aware enough to realise that your dating habits may be inherently racist (internal or not).

“It’s all about critical thinking and I feel like not enough people do this. Do the reading, there are so many people talking about it online,” Soaliha said.

Speaking of, here are some great resources on the topic.

Internalised Racism Here’s The Thing, Tho with Soaliha

Interracial Dating – Here’s The Thing, Tho with Soaliha

Date My Race (2016)– SBS on Demand

Navigating cross-cultural dating and living with your partner Bobo and Flex podcast

Q&A is my white boyfriend fetishizing me? – Bobo and Flex podcast

You can also read about the real stories of Aussies dating cross-culturally here. 

Image: Getty Images / Time Life Pictures