Interracial love in the Millennial generation

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Interracial love in the Millennial generation

By Saher Khan

Though research shows Millennials are the most tolerant generation, college-age couples in interracial relationships still face obstacles that same-race couples don’t encounter.

From Pew Research Center’s 2010 report on changing American attitudes toward race and relationships, 93 percent of American 18 to 29 year olds agree with the statement, “I think it is all right for blacks and whites to date each other.” Even across different races, including white, African, Hispanic and Asian Americans, the acceptance is in the majority. And according to a Fusion Massive Millennial Poll published on Feb. 4, which surveyed 1,000 people ages 18 to 34 on various issues including dating and race, 54 percent of Millennials reported to have dated outside their race group and 88 percent said they’d be open to dating outside their race group.

However, there are still consequences that come from breaking societal norms.

Family obstacles

Victoria Cross, senior in LAS, and Cameron Okeke, senior at the University of Chicago, have been dating for just over 13 months. Cross is of German and English descent, while Okeke’s father is from Nigeria.

“I think that love may be blind, but I think relationships aren’t,” Okeke said. “Relationships don’t just run off your love, they run off understanding and reasoning and compassion. For an interracial relationship to work, you have to have the empathy to expand beyond your own experience.”

But despite acknowledging they are interracial, Cross said they don’t introduce themselves in such a manner — although sometimes that introduction may be needed. Even though her friends don’t see her and Okeke differently from another couple, Cross said they are often questioned about their relationship.

“It happens a lot that people assume we’re not dating, and I think a big part of that is that we don’t look like your stereotypical white couple,” she said.

The assumptions can drive Cross insane, such as when Okeke was mistaken for a coat checker as opposed to Cross’ partner.

However, the assumptions become more personal when it’s family. Older family members can often hold dated ideologies, and these differences in worldviews can put strains on a relationship.

Mary Ellen Ramey, who teaches interpersonal and sexual communication at the University, said that what remains a great challenge for interracial relationships is the lack of support they might receive from extended family and parents.

“The people in this relationship, the couple, they’re ready for those challenges, ready to compromise, willing to think about how this is going to work, but they don’t get that support from their families, and that’s the biggest hurdle,” Ramey said.

Priyal Amin, junior in LAS, is a first-generation, American-born daughter of Indian immigrants. Trent Rehusch, senior in LAS, has German roots. But Amin and Rehusch have never thought of themselves as an interracial couple. Amin and Rehusch see themselves as just a couple, not mixed-race, miscegenation, interracial or whatever other word one can label two people of different backgrounds who love one another. They’re just a couple.

“Really the only time it came up for me was when I met her family,” Rehusch said. “Especially because she’s first generation born in America, so it’s like different value systems. I was a little nervous about that.”

Amin explained that her parents had an arranged marriage and were not very accustomed to the culture of dating.

“When it comes to the families, that’s when it’s like, ‘Oh, wow, we are different,’” she said

For Cross and Okeke, Cross said her father does not have a problem with her relationship at all. But Cross and her father have conflicting views relating to race, sparked by recent events such as those in Ferguson last summer.

“It caused a big conflict between me and my dad,” Cross said. “I (had to say,) ‘Dad, I just really need you to see that this means something more to me than it would if I were not dating Cameron.’ … I think it’s important to recognize that you are going to have very different experiences in a lot of ways.”

Identifying the problem

But even among Millennialpeers, Okeke and Cross believe the notion that their age group is the most “tolerant” generation should be taken in context.

“I feel that we may be progressive cognitively but we’re still programmed the same way, we’re still exposed to the same insecurities of different races and how they’re supposed to be,” Okeke said. “There are still definitely places where people are uncomfortable or give looks; places you wouldn’t think it would happen, but it happens a lot.”

Social influence, a term in sociology, describes how others affect one’s emotions, opinions and behaviors. An aspect of social influence is compliance, which is the act of behaving a certain way to fit into societal norms and expectations while keeping true sentiments private. This part of human behavior may provide a scientific explanation for why society on the surface seems so progressive but its behavior tells a different story.

“It’s one of those things you can’t get down on paper,” Okeke said. “If you ask people, they’ll probably say yes, that conceptually they do (support interracial relationships) but when they see it, they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s a little bit weird’ or they look (at those couples) a little bit longer.”

Cross agreed that a problem in society and with interracial relationships is the large tendency for people to say that they wished no one cared what race anyone was.

“It sounds really nice on the surface, but that has a tendency to ignore the realities of people that aren’t white,” she said. “So I feel like that’s not the way to approach it. I think it’s best to say it’s okay that their race matters to them because that’s a part of their identity.”

Skepticism of mixed race couples can come from within minority groups as well. Okeke said he believes that in the U.S. people live under this idea of white supremacy in that there is an ideal of what a beautiful woman is — and that is white.

“I mean I’ve had people say, ‘Oh, you don’t like black girls because you’re dating a white girl,’ and I’m like, that’s preposterous. But that is what people think because there are instances of that in history. … I think you do get people being upset with or being uncomfortable with interracial couples in minority groups or people of color groups because they think they’re picking a side or they hate themselves which is thoroughly untrue,” Okeke said.

For any relationship to be successful,

Ramey said there needs to be open communication. People shouldn’t be afraid to talk to their partners about tense or uncomfortable topics.

“You can have that passion and chemistry and emotional intimacy, but ultimately you have to decide that you want to be committed to someone, and I think people don’t like to think that relationships have this cognitive component,” Ramey said. “We kind of have this expectation that it’s all romance and flowers and fun, but there is a little bit of a decision; I want to be with you and I want to stay with you.”

Saher can be reached at [email protected]