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When’s a Good Time to Address the Elephant? Talking Race, Religion and Culture on your Rainbow Date

July 3, 2010

It's an obvious question, but when is the right time to bring it up?It’s like trying to ignore whip cream on someone’s nose, or spinach stuck in the teeth.  It just stares right at you, you try to ignore it, but eventually, it must be addressed.  Here’s some tips on how to talk about the race, culture, and creed issue with your rainbow date.  Janice, take the floor!

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There are some people who relish the anticipation of that first date with all its hope and allure of something new, exciting and potentially worthwhile – kind of like the first day of senior year in high school (you know all you lived for was prom night and graduation day) or Christmas Eve night when you still believed in Santa Claus and had your fingers crossed that he was bringing you that fabulous toy on the top of your wish list because you had been SO good that year.

I, on the other hand, dread it as much as I did 10th grade picture day when I had braces and a Jheri curl. And as much as I’ve now started to enjoy dating again, I know I just over think the hell out of that first time out with a guy. What should I wear? How should I do my hair? Do I go with open-toed shoes or high heels? Cleavage? (Or more to the point, how do I get some?) If we go out to eat and something gets caught in my teeth, will he tell me or just stare stupidly at me? What will I do if the conversation goes south? Do I need an emergency out? (And what will it be?) Will I talk too much? (Well, duh, Janice of course you will.)

The hand-wringing is certainly exacerbated when the man in question is non-black or non-Christian. Then it’s: Will we have anything in common? What will I say if he brings up race or cultural issues? How will he react if people start to stare? What if I like him and turns out he’s an atheist?  Or, oh my God, what if this is nothing more than jungle fever? (Cue the Stevie Wonder soundtrack…)

Thankfully this has never been an issue for me in the past, but there’s always a first – and as a journalist, I like being prepared for anything. So as I prep for my first dates with Decio,* Ramon* and Chandler*, I’ve decided to chill out for a sec and revisit my interview with Detroit psychologist Gail Parker, PhD.  She’s an absolute fount of knowledge on the subject of interracial and intercultural relationships  and has three rules of thumb on addressing the conversation of race, culture or creed that might just help calm those first date jitters.

Is the timing right? “You wait until it spontaneously bubbles up,” says Dr. Parker. “If you are so anxious to have the conversation, I guess you can. But when you feel compelled to have that conversation up front, it’s almost like having the conversation of What are your intentions, up front. That’s like asking about marriage on a first date.  He doesn’t know you yet, so why have that conversation now?”

Is it relevant? “Let’s say you’re a Christian and you’re dating someone who is Islamic,” says Dr. Parker. “I’m sure there are a lot of curiosities about each other’s religious practices, so if it seems natural and normal to bring that up why wouldn’t you? But to impose it on the conversation because I’m anxious and in a hurry to find out if we are compatible seems to me to be putting an awful lot of pressure on a relationship that doesn’t exist yet. So if this is the first time I’m meeting you and you mention to me, I’m a Muslim or I’m a Christian or whatever, then the response is: Really? I’ve always been curious about that. Can we have that conversation? Otherwise it’s too soon. It’s not relevant.

Is it relationship enhancing or affirming? “Race and culture are relevant aspects of each persons identity,” says Dr. Parker, “and hopefully as we’re trying to get to know one another — and that’s what intimacy is based on, getting to know you – and that’s why it’s on-going. It’s not like, Okay, now I know this about you, end of conversation. No. It’s an on-going process and how relationships can deepen and continue to grow.”

Whew! Thanks Dr. Parker! My only dilemma now is what to wear. Paging Tim Gunn…

*Names have been changed.

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. beauitfulbrown permalink
    July 3, 2010 6:00 am

    a lot of black people that i have come across have the mentality that once you date within your race it will be peaches and cream which is lie considering the fact that despite your race you both are two individual people and have different likes and dislikes. my boyfriend and i don’t always get along but not because of race but truly because we are two different persons. i am still young and not that experienced in the dating world and i know i have plenty to learn. but i do know one thing i would never want to be in a relationship with someone who has different religious believes from me or has none at all… that relationship is destined to fail on eyes…

  2. Christelyn permalink*
    July 3, 2010 6:35 am

    Beautifulbrown, I think that even more than race, religion is a sticky situation to overcome, and I too might pass on dating someone of a different religion, because I am a practicing Christian. My husband and I go to a nondenominational Christian church. Prior to our marrying, he was a practicing Catholic. I come from a Baptist background, so we met in the middle. I think that we were both a little disillusioned with both sects, so switching to nondenom was no big sacrifice.

  3. July 3, 2010 11:06 am

    Religion becomes a VERY narrowing condition for atheists who date, especially since most religious people assume it’s choice made to escape moral obligations — rarely true in my experience. I am NOT saying people are wrong to eliminate atheists from their pool of suitors. They are probably right that it would be a relationship killer.

    Fortunately, having children is unlikely to be an issue at my age.

    It also doesn’t help that a lot of atheists are former believers who are resentful towards religion. I am not angry with religion at all; I was raised agnostic, therefore never oppressed.

    This something to think about for those of you who are considering a European option. Faith has a much lighter (often non-existent) hold on Europeans.

  4. Christelyn permalink*
    July 3, 2010 11:30 am

    Aabaakawad :

    Religion becomes a VERY narrowing condition for atheists who date, especially since most religious people assume it’s choice made to escape moral obligations — rarely true in my experience. I am NOT saying people are wrong to eliminate atheists from their pool of suitors. They are probably right that it would be a relationship killer.

    Fortunately, having children is unlikely to be an issue at my age.

    It also doesn’t help that a lot of atheists are former believers who are resentful towards religion. I am not angry with religion at all; I was raised agnostic, therefore never oppressed.

    This something to think about for those of you who are considering a European option. Faith has a much lighter (often non-existent) hold on Europeans.

    Aaby, you are an athiest? But a while back you said you were involved in some church recruiting activities…

  5. July 3, 2010 11:44 am

    Believe it or not, you can be an atheist and part of a UU congregation. There are also Christians and other faiths in UU congregations, plus people still trying to figure up what’s up. I think of myself as very spiritual, but I don’t believe in anything supernatural. I know that sounds like a direct contradiction to most people; explaining it doesn’t fit well into a sound bite.

    • boomer babe permalink
      August 4, 2010 9:12 am

      TYPICAL MAN: I notice that men are MORE ‘atheists’ than women anyway. Women almost have a stronger connection to GOD because we have the ability to hold a human soul for 40 weeks.

  6. Christelyn permalink*
    July 3, 2010 11:59 am

    Yes. You now have me throughly confused.

  7. July 3, 2010 12:22 pm

    I would LOVE to have a theological discussion, but that is so far out of the scope of this blog post that it would be hijacking.

    Most people who feel like I do label themselves agnostic, but I think they are really just being politic, not wanting to offend. Atheism has such a hard-edged reputation in this country.

    I believe in God the same way Einstein quote “believed” unquote in God.

    • July 3, 2010 1:01 pm

      … or they label themselves [Secular] Humanist, which is accurate but mysterious to most folks.

    • Hodan permalink
      July 5, 2010 2:19 pm

      I think many people, even those of us who believe in a given God or faith hate or dislike the dogma of religion that’s often corrupted by patriarchy and culture. I’ve been agnostic in my teens, but a practicing Muslim today with a secular/humanist political perspective. People need to learn in a democratic/secular society, religion and all kinds of faith flourishes for the simple fact its been personalized & taken out of the political sphere.

      When you mix politics with religion is when things gets F$%& up, pardon my language. I don’t drink or believe in premarital sex that DOES NOT mean I expect everyone to adhere to my moral code. Same goes for abortion and gay marriage. I believe in human rights principles and the rule of law, and oppressing any group of people because of your personal believe is antithesis to a compassionate loving God. If eventually we will be judged by God in the here after, than why the heck people are so preoccupied with policing someone’s personal choices, when its not violating anyone else’s right or safety?

  8. Browncow permalink
    July 3, 2010 12:36 pm

    Yeah, as far as religion goes, I describe myself as a Vaishnava (think Hindu) Unitarian Universalist. Yes, different. I was raised Christian. My husband is Buddhist. Close enough. I was going to a temple that I still attend from time to time, but we wanted to meet in the middle. I loved the UU church’s take on things. There are atheists who go to the church as well as agnostics and I’m happy to be a part of learning about the different faith traditions and how even an Atheist (Humanist) philosophy has a moral compass to live by. I couldn’t see past it when I was younger. I was really into going to my temple and following all the rules to live by. With that mentality I was a “nothing but Vaishnava” sort of girl. Very similar to the “nothing but a BM” ladies. You lower standards. You make excuses. If you’re a BW in this faith, you’re single for a long time or at least I was. I know BW who got married with guys from the temple, but they weren’t Indian, they were white or from another country. I even turned down a date with a really nice guy I met when I was 23 because of being so caught up in this faith. I still love it and have friends that I’ll be with for a lifetime, but when I realized that I was really limiting myself and that the good pickings were slim, it started the wheels to turn in my head. Then I had a few bad experiences with Indian men in this faith and that was all she wrote. I decided to expand my options outside of my faith and found a wonderful man who I really love.

    As far as tackling the race issue in our relationship, we had been dating for a month when I asked the question, “so what would you do if your parents/family don’t like me because I’m black?”. I had to ask. I had so many issues with other men and this bullshit that it was important. I think you’ll find that if the guy is serious, he won’t mind answering the question. My husband just said that if he wanted to marry me then his parent’s opinion would have no bearing in the matter. He said that if they didn’t except me that they didn’t except him so f*ck ‘em. Happily enough his parents really liked me upon meeting me and the family is very protective of me and our little guy. So I think maybe not going in on the first date with these subjects unless you’re comfortable is best. I just did it early on in the relationship because I really liked him a lot and wanted to know if I had to let him go so I could go out with someone else, or what. I also had another guy waiting in the wings too so I knew that if my husband answered this question correctly for me that I would let this other guy go. You’ve got to keep a few waiting in the wings just in case your number one isn’t what you thought.

  9. Bunny77 permalink
    July 4, 2010 7:02 am

    I liked what the psychologist had to say about timing.

    I think too many black women shoot themselves in the foot early in the process by wanting to grill a non-black man about his thoughts on race relations or his familiarity with black people. First of all, it’s a first/second date… it might not get past that point for multiple reasons, so bringing up a heavy topic with a random man you might not see again is a fruitless endeavor, in my opinion.

    No. 2… the non-black man might be more than happy to answer your questions down the road, but early dates are supposed to be a time in which you have fun and sell yourself. I’ve had many a past first date ruined by a man who wanted to talk about his “emotionally abusive” parents, his divorce, his therapy sessions, the child support he’s paying and all that. Some of these men might have been okay guys, but there certainly was no second date after that.

    My fiance said he went into our date expecting to be grilled… or expecting me to ask early on if he’d ever dated a black woman. It’s like he was already stressed about the idea of having to deal with racial issues so early in the process, but he still was going to go on the dates. He said he was surprised that I never asked those questions (until much later) and that we were able to talk about race much later after we’d become comfortable with each other as people. Now we talk about it all the time! :)

    • Christelyn permalink*
      July 4, 2010 7:20 am

      Bunny, I think the way you handled it with your future-husband was perfecto. I went out on a few dates with rainbow men, and I made the mistake of ALWAYS asking, “have you ever dated a black girl?” I did so out of insecurity–I wanted to gauge the man’s agenda. Was he just looking for some ‘jungle booty’? Unfortunately, for a long time I bought into the propoganda that our community often spouts about non-black men only wanting us for sex. Not saying it’s completely not true–some of the guys DID just want sex. But by far, the majority were truly interested in me as a person. Oh! I also had a pretty nice rack too. hahaha. j/k

      On an aside, the one guy–who was Persian–who I was convinced just wanted the booty said what turned him one was my body and, he was impressed with how smart I was. We took the same literature class, and apparently he was used to being the smartest kid, so when he saw I out outshown him, he was delighted and impressed, but I knew nothing would ever come of it–his parents were way too involved with making sure he married a nice Farsi-speaking Iranian girl.

  10. July 4, 2010 8:05 am

    Very Good Post. As a Christian and a Black woman I struggle with the whole “will we have anything in common” thing too. It is hard because there are certain teachings from the church that cause me to feel confined and limited as a woman and when you add race and class to the mix it just becomes more complicated. I have always been open to interracial dating but I have had experiences on my job and in church that lead me to believe people in this nation are not as open as they like to say they are. Currently, I am blogging about professional women of color, dating, love, and relationships. Please check out it out at http://smelodydiva.wordpress.com. I’d love to get your feedback on my posts. I look forward to reading more from you.–Afua

    • Christelyn permalink*
      July 4, 2010 8:47 am

      Thanks for sharing this. It is profound, sad, and hopeful all at once.

  11. Bunny77 permalink
    July 4, 2010 9:47 am

    Christelyn :
    I went out on a few dates with rainbow men, and I made the mistake of ALWAYS asking, “have you ever dated a black girl?” I did so out of insecurity–I wanted to gauge the man’s agenda.

    It’s funny because future hubby and I just had this discussion yesterday. He said he was just waiting for the “Have you dated a black woman,” question in the first month and was pleasantly surprised that it never came!

    (Well, I asked maybe around Month 4… he said yes, but it was like, just two dates. lol)

    The way I looked at it was like this — his past dating habits had nothing to do with any potential relationship that we had. Dating black women previously doesn’t necessarily mean anything about a man’s openness to dating and marrying YOU! :)

    While I appreciated the fact that he was open to dating me no matter what, I wonder if some rainbow men might feel that it’s not even worth it after a while to attempt to date black women if they feel they’re going to be put on trial.

    Plus, I don’t think many of these white men are even aware that there’s a stereotype that white men only want black women for sex! Seriously, I think this is another contradiction that black women have… we say white men never approach us, but if they supposedly all want sex from us, wouldn’t they be approaching us a lot more? So how can these “rainbow men” all want black women for sex, but never approach us?

    Now, I did run into some men who just wanted sex, but I didn’t automatically assume it was because I was black. Maybe it was simply because I was a woman, he was a man and he was horny, lol!

  12. Browncow permalink
    July 4, 2010 12:32 pm

    “The way I looked at it was like this — his past dating habits had nothing to do with any potential relationship that we had. Dating black women previously doesn’t necessarily mean anything about a man’s openness to dating and marrying YOU! :)”

    This. My husband had never dated a BW before he met me. He was attracted to all women and his last(and only, he was socially awkward in his 20′s) girlfriend was Japanese-Brazilian. He went on dates with WW and it never got to a serious place. One date here, two dates there, then he figured that they were either playing or didn’t know what they wanted. He met me and our personalities really clicked. So even though a guy has never dated a BW it has nothing to do with you and why he likes you.

  13. Hodan permalink
    July 5, 2010 4:40 pm

    I think religion and culture has more power over people than race, specially the younger and hopefully more enlightened generation. I never felt race, ethnicity or nationality was an issue for me, rather religion is a bigger one in term of committing to a life long partner. Perhaps some of the insecurities within interracial dating for black women comes from the fact we are constantly on the defense over our community and life choices. If you are concerned about the guy dating you because he has some ‘jungle fever,’ than its up to you to recognize it and prolong the dating process until you are sure about his character. Usually the white guys I know bring the race issue up front, its like they want to make sure they have no racism towards anyone. Its really funny, I keep telling them its ok to be white….in other words you don’t need to prove yourself to me or my friends.

    I think as you get to know someone, many of these issues will come up and give you a clearer perspectives on the person’s conscious and subconscious believe about race, ethnicity and religion.

  14. BlkQueenBee permalink
    July 5, 2010 5:14 pm

    “Plus, I don’t think many of these white men are even aware that there’s a stereotype that white men only want black women for sex! Seriously, I think this is another contradiction that black women have… we say white men never approach us, but if they supposedly all want sex from us, wouldn’t they be approaching us a lot more? So how can these “rainbow men” all want black women for sex, but never approach us?”

    Exactly. Black people recite this “fact” all the time, but I don’t think white men think this or have ever even heard this said by anyone. My personal experience is that white guys tend to take it pretty slow sex-wise with black women, even slower than they do with other-race women. It seems like they want to make it’s all OK with you as things progress.

    I’ve even asked a couple of white guys I dated if they were more cautious in getting to the sex part with me than they would have been with a white chick, because it seemed like they were, like it was so s-l-o-w, and they replied in the affirmative. And then apologized, but said it was just a matter of making sure they were reading the signals right.

    BTW, after that intial ice-breaker, all the guys very much made up for lost time. Yes, indeed.

    • Hodan permalink
      July 5, 2010 7:03 pm

      I agree. Besides, any hetro dude wants sex and thinks about it often….it goes beyond race and religion. Its not like black guys don’t think about it when they are dating black women. You just have to be savvy about it and have enough confidence and respect over your sexuality and body….to dictate if and when you’ll be intimate with any man.

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