While high school is a bit of a blur for me, one of the moments I remember most was a teacher’s moving speech about diversity at an assembly. “My dad’s black, my mom’s white,” he explained to us. “To me, it was never an issue. But whenever we’d go into grocery stores—Well, I have memories of people looking at them, talking about them, like it was unnatural.”
The reason that his speech stuck with me for so long was because it seemed so unreal—I had never been a witness to such a situation. The fact is, interracial dating has become less of a rarity and more of a reality in today’s world. In our interconnected global society, it is no longer unusual to see people of different races in relationships together and at such a diverse school like NYUSH, it is commonplace.
However, interracial relationships do have their difficulties—prejudices stemming from stereotypes often surface, such as the mistake of associating personal preferences with racial groups. One of the most common examples of this in Western media is the stereotype that “Asian” women look and act a certain way—hyper-femininity and submissiveness being two traits they are portrayed to embody. Of course, you might prefer dating a hyper-feminine woman, but assuming that all Asian women share this stereotyped trait is actually racist. Asian women are a group with a diverse and varying population—Japanese, Thai, Mongol, Tibetan, Chinese—and it IS racist to group them all together under one stereotype. It is especially discriminatory to expect that every Asian woman in a relationship will act a certain way, and then get angry when she doesn’t. Not to mention that these particular stereotypes do not just display racial prejudices, but sexism too.
Thankfully these stereotypes in interracial dating can be eliminated through education and open-mindedness, but this issue can become almost trivial in the face of the more serious issues experienced in intercultural relationships.
First, interracial and intercultural are words often used interchangeably, but there is a very real difference in definition. Although “race” is actually a term used with no scientific basis, it is often used to refer to people’s skin color. “Interracial can be within one country,” elaborates freshmen Linda Laszlo, meaning that two people in an interracial relationship may be from different racial backgrounds, but still be from the same culture. Another freshman, Laura Lehoczki, added, “Intercultural refers to the relationship of two people who grew up in different cultures or countries.” Therefore, intercultural relationships, even more than interracial, can face more challenges based on personal cultural behaviors.
The fundamental cultural differences between people can range from relatively harmless quirks (I’m comfortable kissing in public, you’re not) to deeper issues that can really divide people (I’m direct, you prefer to lie than say what you’re truly thinking). Distinctly more than interracial dating, dating someone from a different culture requires greater degrees of cooperation and communication to overcome value differences. “Intercultural dating is definitely more challenging,” Lehoczki says. “I would say intercultural is difficult. I don’t see anything as challenging in interracial relationships.”
Intercultural couples face the challenge of overcoming both cultural differences and cultural stereotypes. Referring back to the portrayal of Asian women in Western media, there is a historical precedent that designates Asian culture as “dangerous” (think of the Yellow Terror, a time in the 1800s in which Americans and Canadians were terrified of Asian immigrants) or “exotic.”
“I think stereotypes can be a way of creating misconceptions on cultures and intercultural communication,” explains sophomore Ben Zhang. One stereotype he references is the belief many Chinese students hold about Westerners, that they are all “self-disciplined and very well mannered.” However, after a few months of living with international roommates, most Chinese freshman he knew found their beliefs challenged: “A lot of Chinese nationals would get disappointed and stop interacting with internationals due to this huge shock.” Of course, this is an example of stereotyping gone wrong.
However, such differences and stereotyping do not have to be the end of an intercultural relationship. “I think the peril of stereotyping is that it will keep people from thinking out of the box,” says Zhang. “But once one is able to be exposed to new values, they’ll try to think in another way.”
This article was written by Savannah Billman. Translation written by 宾雪. Send an email to email@example.com to get in touch. Illustration Credit: Arshaun Darabnia.