Friday, August 10, 2007

On race and relationships

By Kristine Thiessen

Last Saturday, News columnist Ken Herar appealed to youth in Abbotsford and Mission to share their thoughts on building inclusive and diverse communities. My own thoughts meandered to the topic of misconceptions about interracial relationships and their impact on society.

With Abbotsford’s ethnic minority populations growing, the instances of interaction between different races will also grow. Fears, wariness, and misunderstandings lessen, and more interracial dating occurs.

Interracial relationships are usually seen as symbolic of an increasingly inclusive community. Often, interracial relationships are deemed “trendy,” and year after year articles on how it is becoming hip to mix appear as news.

When these articles do appear, the increase in mixed couples is sometimes touted as the beginning of the end of racism, or the end of race mattering, in whatever multicultural community is being discussed.

And for some who enter into a mixed race relationship with a minority, they see it as proof that they are completely acceptant of other cultures. I remember reading one column where the author claimed that dating an Asian woman with a language barrier made him feel “more a part of Vancouver than ever before.”

However, interracial relationships do not automatically lead to the eradication of racism. As one academic put it, a mixed race kid is not a “ ‘rainbow child,’ glimmering with hope for a colour-blind future.”

There exists a misconception that mixed race children will grow up acceptant of all races. Just because a person is of more than one race does not mean that person is born with an innate understanding of all others.

As well, tension between races can be exacerbated, not dissolved, if interracial relationships are perceived as one race taking “our” women or men, or if the act of dating out of the group is seen as a betrayal.

On the other hand, there are also men and women who claim to have specific racial preferences based on preconceived stereotypes. For instance, the so-called “rice king,” a white male who claims to actively pursue only Asian females, seeking out the supposedly passive, exotic women.
As a half Japanese, half Caucasian Canadian, I’ve heard my share of misguided mixed race comments, from being called “exotic” to being told my mixed babies will be hot.

However, most interracial relationships, like the one I am in now, are based on romance and connection, just like any other relationship. We should stop trying to decode why interracial dating occurs and what the trend means for society.

But while an increase of interracial relationships does not directly result in a less racist community, they do force you to think about what race means to you.

As a mixed race Californian blogger so bluntly stated: “[Y]our society will be less racist if you accept interracial relationships not because interracial relationships perform that all-important deracifying function on society. Your society will be less racist if you accept interracial relationships because you are being less racist.”

An abundance of mixed race children will not create a community where race doesn’t matter, and that isn’t a bad thing. We shouldn’t dismiss someone’s ethnic background as irrelevant. But, we should also look at what shapes a person’s identity in addition to ethnicity.

And that’ll help lead to an inclusive, diverse, vibrant community.

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