The way you carry it: emotional labour and self-care in interracial dating
15 Jul 2017
All of my interracial dating experiences have come packed together with many kinds of racial emotional labour for me to deal with. Whether it be microaggressions or racial ignorance, I know there are a lot of black women who share my experiences and more still that will be coming into those experiences as they get older, and what I have found is that the most important thing is how you look after your own mental health and self-esteem. So let’s talk about it, as well as some ways in which you can preserve your sanity through these examples.
Carrying the weight of your partner’s guilt
Dating a non-black person that’s sympathetic to the struggle of existing as a black woman is a great place to start. The issue arises when expressing this sympathy becomes a weird display of self-flagellation, of which you become a part. You can’t tell if you’re their lover/partner, or a chance for them to atone themselves. They are constantly apologising for their privilege in the hopes that somehow you, their Nubian goddess of mercy, will absolve them of their sins. Their heart weighs heavy with inaction and a lack of knowledge, and they load this all onto your back rather than actually doing something about it.
Aren’t you tired just reading all of that? Establish boundaries with your partner that encourages them to put their privilege to use in a positive way, and to stop using you as a dumping ground for negative emotions. Once you’ve done that, make yourself weightless. Schedule some time alone for yourself to meditate, journal, or whichever way you alleviate the stresses and thoughts that sit heavy on your soul.
One of the most surreal conversations I’ve ever had was with a white guy I had been intimate with who asked how I “made my hair do that”. “Do what?” I asked.
“How do make it stand up like that? Is it a special gel or something?”
I spent the next few incredulous minutes explaining to this grown man that afro hair doesn’t fall the way straight hair does. This is probably one of the wildest examples, but I have a never-ending pile of stories involving weird, ignorant, and often plain rude comments about my hair, other girls’ hair, and black hair in general. Know your limit on the amount of leeway you’re able to give when it comes to ignorance and to never let a partner cross it without consequences. Afro hair is culturally significant to black women, period, and a partner who does not understand this should learn before they speak to you any kind of way.
Luxuriate in your wash day routine. Love your hair and yourself with a fierceness you did not know you could muster. Try making that DIY shampoo recipe you saw on YouTube and have had bookmarked for weeks. If you’re willing to share, invite your partner to wash your hair for you. This gives them a practical indication of how difficult it actually is to maintain our hair, without you having to turn into a professor of hair politics on your day off.
You’re not like other black girls
Keep an eye out for comments that are meant to compliment you but simultaneously insult your sisters.
“I’ve never met a black girl that speaks so eloquently.”
“I never thought I could find a black woman attractive until I met you.”
This is a clear sign of the internalised racist stereotypes through which they perceive you. If you’re not committed, I would honestly suggest running while you still can, because unpicking those learned racist narratives will be a long, arduous, draining job with handfuls of defensiveness and deflection to go with it. If you’re in a relationship when something like this crops up and you’re willing to work it out, your partner has to be down to do their own learning. Hearing those comments is irritating enough, but having them rely on you to be the voice for all black women and their thoughts and feelings is enough to break you and the relationship down completely.
Bask in the glow of other black women. Read works by black women you respect, support their businesses, go to events, start a book club for black girls, start a punk band, start a group chat, or just go and give your mum a big hug. When you love yourself by loving women who look like you an impenetrable shield of self-worth will grow around your heart and hold all of that love in.
Having to deal with racism and microaggressions in our most intimate spaces has such huge potential to knock us down because we already have to deal with it at work, school, bars, and anywhere we dare to be brown-skinned. It’s a weight we will have to carry no matter what. But emotional labour does not have to break your back; it does not have to drag you to your knees.
“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” – Lena Horne