Learn how to talk about race with a non-Black partner.
Stories about the number of Black women who are single have made headlines for years, and many of us are tired of hearing them. But the reality often hits home during the holidays, when discussing your love life becomes an appetizer at meals with the family. What can be even more disheartening than seeing your beautiful, professional, well-educated sisterfriend still unattached is seeing a successful Black man settle down with someone of another ethnic group. The immediate thought for many is, With all the gorgeous, accomplished Black women available, why didn't he choose one of us? So it's no wonder we're thrilled for Black women who have found love—no matter the ethnicity of their partner. Though Black men are still twice as likely as Black women to date outside their race, it seems more and more of us are becoming open to dating beyond the color line.
Toya Lachon, 43, of Washington, D.C., says she feels frustrated, hurt and even betrayed when she sees Black men with women of other races, but happy when she sees Black women in an interracial relationship.
"I'm like, Yes, girl, do that," says Lachon. "We are not putting limitations on ourselves. Women are taking control of their happiness."
Dating interracially can still come with backlash for both Black men and women. Lachon, who is seeing a White man, has experienced her share of adverse reaction.
"I've come across a lot of men who tell me I should be ashamed and say things like, "It's not too late to come home" or "He won't know what to do with all of that." I've heard it all. You have to be strong," says Lachon.
But the negative comments can be more distressing when they come from family or close friends. Asia Diggs Meador, 33, had never considered marrying outside her race. The Memphis attorney had always talked about finding the Cliff to her Clair and having brown babies for a real-life Cosby Show family. So when she met a White accountant from Mississippi online in 2013, got engaged to him in 2014 and married him in 2015, her friends were shocked.
"When he proposed, they were like, "We didn't know it was that serious. Is she really going to marry him?" I had people question if this was what I wanted," says Meador, who serves as general counsel and vice-president at a nonprofit. "These are professional people who work with all races and ethnicities. We all have internal biases. They were supportive in the end, but we still have issues today."
Meador, who describes herself as a "chocolate, thick girl with locs," says she and her husband, Michael, 31, have clashed with her pals. She and her best friend even stopped talking for a month over a disagreement about something Michael, a Republican, had posted on Facebook.
"[My friends] said, "Asia, you were so down for the cause." I'm like, "I'm not down for the cause anymore? My struggles as a Black woman leading a legal department of a multistate corporation have just gone away?"" recalls Meador. "It was almost like they treated it as if I had switched sides, and I was no longer down for the cause because I married a White guy. That wasn't fair to me. It's also not fair to him."
Initially a few members of Michael's family were not supportive of the relationship. "He told his family, "I am marrying this woman, so either you're on board or you're going to have to watch from the sidelines,"" says Meador. "I knew we were going to have struggles as an interracial couple. I never thought about what he would be giving up. He was willing to give up those relatives."
Eventually some relatives came around and even danced at the wedding. But it's taking other family members longer. They didn't attend the marriage ceremony, and Michael hasn't spoken to them in two years. Things may be improving: The Meadors celebrated their first anniversary in August, and Michael's mother has invited them to spend Christmas in Mississippi with the family.
Go inside the minds of men
Harvey Hargrove, Jr., 41, a sales representative in Sacramento, California, knows the pushback that can come from relatives when we marry across race lines. When the former professional athlete announced his engagement to his college sweetheart, Trayce, a White woman, some of the ladies in his family did not hesitate to express their disappointment.
"It was hard for them," says Hargrove. "I was doing well at the time. When they found out I was getting married to a White woman, it was, "They're taking all our good men. Why does he have to marry her?""
Hargrove comes from a military family and says he grew up in diverse environments, including living in Germany for four years and moving to California when he was 15.
"Interracial relationships are all over the West Coast, so I could see a successful Black woman not be able to find that good Black man, in a sense. I do think there is someone out there for everyone," says the father of two. "In my situation, marrying a woman of another race just happened. It didn't matter to me if she was Black or White."
That's why he was surprised at the negative reaction he received from some loved ones, mainly those in North Carolina. A long conversation with his mother helped him understand why some Black women in the family were hurt by his decision.
"When I was able to step back and put myself in their shoes, I could understand their perspective, even though I didn't agree," Hargrove says.
But it just wasn't his relatives. Some of Hargrove's in-laws made it known that he wasn't welcome. He chose to live in California because he feels the state is more accepting of interracial couples and wants his kids to grow up in a diverse environment.
America's racist history of enslaving Black people and perpetuating a stereotype that Blacks are inferior still impacts our relationships and community. During their college days at the University of Pittsburgh, some Black male friends of Merrian Brooks, 33, would say they didn't know any Black women who were as attractive as White women.
"Some of the men I really respected would exclusively date White women," she says. "It felt like confirmation of my insecurity as a dark-skinned Black woman who was single."
But Brooks, a pediatrician, says she no longer cares who Black men date. "There are some who really think that White or non-Black women are superior," Brooks says. "I don't want these men anyway, because I'm not trying to be a part of somebody's intellectual development as a partner." Many of the sisters in her circle take the fact that some Black guys prefer women who don't look like their mothers personally. "Every time some famous man is on display with his White woman, a lot of my friends will have something negative to say or something that seems like they feel betrayed, as if that man is a representation of all Black men," Brooks says. Thankfully, she has armed herself with the data that more than 70 percent of Black men are married to Black women. "I have no doubt that I'm going to find the love that I want. Who somebody else is dating doesn't pertain to me," she says.
You have the right to love
Next year will mark 50 years since the United States Supreme Court struck down laws prohibiting interracial marriage in the case Loving v. Virginia. Richard and Mildred Loving, a White man and Black woman, fell in love in the midst of the civil rights era. They married in 1958 in Washington, D.C., returned home to Virginia and were arrested in the middle of the night five weeks later—charged with violating the state's antimiscegenation law. In January 1959 the Lovings pleaded guilty and were sentenced to a year in jail. The judge suspended the sentence if they agreed not to return to Virginia for 25 years. The American Civil Liberties Union took on the case in 1963, with several appeals leading to the Supreme Court ruling unanimously in 1967 that Virginia's antimiscegenation laws violated the Fourteenth Amendment. The ruling ultimately overturned the ban on interracial marriages. This fall Focus Features released a movie about Richard and Mildred's journey to legally marry.
Amelia Peterson, 53, of Laurel, Maryland, is grateful to live in a time when it's not against the law for marriage to transcend color lines. Her husband of nine years is from Poland, and they have similar values. "We share a love of family, God and honesty," she says. They also discuss their cultural differences and the issues associated with being Black in America. "He prefers that I don't perm my hair, because of the chemicals," the dietitian says. "Black Lives Matter is something that we talk about. I do have to bite my tongue sometimes while I listen to him work through what the movement means to him."
Being open to love and the many ways it can show up is a growing reality for Black women—and perhaps a part of continuing to dismantle systemic racism. "I truly believe that everyone has a soul mate," Peterson says. "And I have never considered that mine had to look a certain way."
Let's talk about race
At least 12 percent of newlyweds are married to someone of another ethnic group. As we assert #BlackLivesMatter, here's how to discuss race in your interracial connection
Find your blind spots.
Ishea Brown, 32, an advertising professional in Seattle, says patience and understanding have been key in her interracial relationship of eight months. "Certain things are new territory," she says. "We went to a bonfire and I was very concerned about what time the park closed and if cops would come. He didn't understand why I cared so much. Now he's more aware."
Be an active communicator.
Patience Peabody, 35, a Hyattsville, Maryland–based communications director, had a candid talk with her husband about racial stereotypes when they started dating. "It broke the ice and strengthened us as a unit," says Peabody, who has been married for four years and is expecting her first child. "Many of our differences were economic and geographic, not about race."
Protect your relationship.
Registered dietitian Amelia Peterson says Black women have to articulate what they will not tolerate and to focus on what's important. "Is it pleasing your mama, your girlfriends, the men in your life or a stranger?" she asks. "Or can you be strong enough to tell them this is your life and this is who you love?"