Gina Florio
June 21, 2016 2:36 pm
Instagram/Gina Florio

It’s sad to admit, but we’re still stuck in a world where interracial couples still experience discrimination. You’d think we’d have moved past that nonsense by now, but as a person who has been in interracial relationships throughout her whole adult dating life, I can tell you that we definitely haven’t.

I’m half Korean and half Italian, and all of my relationships have been with people who are racially different than me. Some of my past pairings have invited harsher comments than others, depending on the difference between our physical features and skin tones (awful, I know). And unfortunately, I’ve been in a lot of verbal disagreements with family, friends, and even strangers over these relationships.

It hasn’t exactly been easy, but I’ve gained a lot of self-confidence and reassurance in myself along the way. Here are seven things I’ve learned from being in interracial relationships.

The right partner will always stick up for you.

Couples who look racially different catch a lot of heat for simply being together. The most unassuming of people might slam you with inappropriate questions or remarks, whether it’s a friend, a co-worker, or family member.

You learn pretty quickly in these situations what kind of character your S.O. has. Do they stand up for your relationship right away? Do they only do so when it benefits them? Keep an eye on these interactions and you’ll find out really quickly just how invested they are in the relationships. And the second you feel like they’re not, at least have a conversation with them about it.

Your true friends will speak up, too.

It’s not uncommon for people to stand idly by when they see an injustice taking place. We see it happen all the time in all kinds of circumstances. Loyal friends will be on your team through thick and thin — they won’t just sit there while people ridicule your relationship.

There have been quite a few friendships in my life that have gradually faded. This happened because they just didn’t care how rude people were to me, and they were too scared — for whatever reason — to stand alongside me in public and call out the racist comments that flew my way. If you’ve got a friend who isn’t stepping up to the plate, they may not be your true bestie after all.

Laughing at people’s jokes only means you’re okay with them — and if you’re uncomfortable, you don’t want to send that message.

It sounds weird, but I used to laugh at wisecracks directed at my boyfriend and me. I did it because I was uncomfortable, and I didn’t want to rock the boat by speaking up against them. I realized, however, that the reason these people kept saying the same things over and over again was because my forced laughs were sending them the message that their jokes were acceptable.

The WB

If you are nervous about speaking your mind — and that’s totally understandable, I’ve been there — start simply. Just don’t laugh when someone banters about your relationship in an inappropriate way. Keeping a straight face will let them knew that their words are not welcome here.

Families don’t always know best.

We often trust family with our lives — they’re our blood, after all. My family is everything. That doesn’t mean that they’re always right, though. There have been times when my parents were wrong about my relationship, and there have been even more times when an ex’s relatives have steered us down the wrong path.

We can’t deny the truth that they might be a little old fashioned, so their opinions about your interracial relationship may not be worth hearing. You don’t have to completely write them off; there’s a delicate balance between keeping them in your life and succumbing to their flawed opinions. 

Being strong doesn’t always mean fighting back.

There’s a lot of anger and embarrassment that comes from being at the receiving end of rude commentary. At one point in my life, I didn’t know how to channel those emotions — I’d often blow up on people in public. I would yell. I would curse. I would cause a scene. And at the end of it all? I always felt worse.

I had to learn that there’s a time and place for everything — in other words, I have to pick my battles. There are moments when you have to stand up strong, project your voice, and refuse to back down. Hopefully, you have your S.O. and some solid friends by your side. You also need to know when to stand down, either because it’s just not worth it, or you just know that it will escalate into something you don’t want to be a part of. That doesn’t mean you’re weak, or you don’t care about race issues. It means you’re smart, and you can decide for yourself which choices to make and when.

Not everyone is trying to be mean — they might just be ignorant.

I’m not claiming that being ignorant gives people a free pass to be inappropriate toward you — not at all. But there are people out there who truly do mean well, they just have no idea how to approach the subject of interracial dating. You’ll eventually be able to effortlessly decipher between those individuals and the ones who are just plain mean.

When you do encounter the former, you can transform your interaction into a learning experience for them. This is one of those times when it’s probably not useful to scream and shout. They won’t hear you, and they definitely won’t feel any different about the situation at the end of the day. Be firm with them, and explain exactly why their comments are hurtful, subtle forms of racism. If they care in the slightest, they’ll do their best to listen.

You only have to answer to each other.

This is the most important lesson of all. Because no matter how many people chime in with advice and guidance, you and your S.O. are the ones who will ultimately decide how you feel about each other, and how to move forward with your relationship. I’ve found that people are much quicker to give their two cents about my partner and me than they would be with a single-raced couple. I can’t tell you why, but I can say that it happens a lot.

After spending a lot of time trying to people-please, I finally learned that what everyone else says is just white noise. What truly matters at the end of the day is how you and your sweetheart feel about each other. Easier said than done, but try to block out all the nonsense, and just feel it out with each other.

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