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Black women and interracial dating

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Karyn Folan
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Thursday, February 25, 2010; 10:00 AM

Karyn Folan, author of "Don't Bring Home a White Boy" discusses her efforts to encourage black women to date outside their race.

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Read more: Single black women being urged to date outside race

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Karyn Folan: Thanks to all of you who have taken the time post questions and comments. I do hope that you will pick up a copy of "Don't Bring Home A White Boy (And Other Notions That Keep Black Women from Dating Out). I spent almost a year working on it, and it goes into far more depth about things like the "double standards" between how black men and black women view interracial dating, the issues facing bi-racial children, and why it is that some women who should know better choose "bad boys" instead of the "nice men" they say they want!

In the time allotted, however, I'll do my best to give you at least a summary of what I uncovered in my research and how I hope this information can generate some much needed fresh discussion on race and relationships.

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Arlington, VA: What effect, if any, does an inter-racial marriage have upon the children that result?

Karyn Folan: Hello,

I talked to several experts-- social psychologists and others who have studied or worked with the children of interracial unions. As you might expect, the experiences of these children are as different as the individual kids themselves. However, parental support and living in diverse areas seems to provide the best environments for multi-racial children to do well. One of the experts framed it perfectly, however, when she pointed out that we ought to ask ALL prospective parents "what about the children?" and not just interracial prospective parents. As we all know, same-race parents don't necessarily insure that a child will have a happy or secure childhood. As someone else I interviewed said "Screwed up parents, screwed up child." This is absolutely correct, I think. We need to make sure we have stable loving relationships with our spouses. That's the best thing for ALL kids.

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Richmond, VA: Dear Mrs. Folan,

As a black woman who recently graduated from Harvard Law School, we have a lot in common! I appreciate your perspective and wonder if I could ask what your thoughts are on the statistic quoted in the article regarding the percentage of black men with white women (I believe 73% of black/white relationships?). As a person who is currently in a serious relationship with a white man, I embrace your motto! However I often find myself criticizing successful black men who seem to only date white women. I know it seems quite a hypocritical position to take (pot calling the kettle black!) - but I wonder if those relationships - on the meta-level - do not perpetuate some of the racialized myths your book seems to discredit. With black educated women outpacing black men 3 to 1, what leads black men to choose a white woman over a black woman? Racialized standards of beauty? The "angry black woman" myth? The white wife as the ultimate marker of achieving success?

I often struggle to articulate this critique, when I think on a micro-level it is hard to criticize anyone's relationship - just as those who stand jeering on the sidelines of interracial relationships miss what is special there. But I also think there is something to be said about the way in which gender, stereotypes and our nation's history (where black boys were lynched for looking at white women) has impacted the makeup of black/white relationships.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic and thank you for sharing your work!

Karyn Folan: Hi there,

We should get together! LOL!

There were actually quite a few women I interviewed for Don't Bring Home A White Boy who expressed your exact sentiments: they resented black men with white wives. However, for most of them, once they were in a serious relationship of their own, they found themselves to be far less concerned with what black men were doing.

I think a lot of those resentments stem from insecurities about our value-- and as I well know, we ALL have to work on that. It's a never-ending journey, self-discovery!

Acknowledge your feelings, and then try to understand where they come from. Not to sound too "granola" here but the work is always within. If you're upset about someone else's relationship, it really just means you have something to work on inside!

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Woodbridge: How is it that black women feel wrong for considering white men, but black men don't feel the same way if they have a white woman? Or do they?

Karyn Folan: Hi Woodbridge,

I certainly can't speak for black men, but several of the women I interviewed spoke to a double standard in their families. It was okay for their brothers to date white girls, but they were told as girls "don't bring home a white boy". Some of this reaction is no doubt historical. The legacy of mistreatment of black women by white men holds a strong imprint. But this message, much as it as meant to protect, does suggest that black women don't have the same choice as black men.

I also think, however, that the black community RELIES on black women. And there's a perception that there will be real problems if too many black women date or marry outside of it.

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Fairfax, VA: Do you think that boys have a harder time dealing with being biracial or is it just as hard for girls?

Karyn Folan: I don't know. I think it really just depends on the child and the prevailing attitudes of the environment they live in. Some kids have a hard time, some sail through-- just like any other adolescents. Race does complicate things for some young people, but I think it's getting better. I also think it's helpful to live in a diverse area like Washington, DC where there are so many different kinds of people.

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Laurel, Md.: Isn't it funny that almost all of biracial children are beautiful? It's almost like God is trying to tell us something.

Karyn Folan: I agree 100%!

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Washington, DC: Can you speak a little about how to ignore the criticism you get for dating outside your race? I'm white, and I used to be married to an Indian guy. We'd occasionally get negative comments from strangers who apparently mistook him for black. It hurt every time it happened. I'm glad you are writing about interracial marriage.

Karyn Folan: I have found that the longer my husband and I are together, the less I notice things like this. In fact, now when we're out with our family and someone stares, I start looking to see if a button has popped off my blouse, or if one the girls' noses needs wiping! LOL! It takes me a minute to remember why they might be staring. To me, they're just "my family" not my "interracial family."

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Washington, DC: I am a white man in a relationship with a black woman and we recently were out with four other couples celebrating a friends birthday. Three of the couples were white/black, one was black/mixed race and one was black/black. Even more surprising to us, was that three of the five were comprised of white men and black women. The world is definitely changing.

Karyn Folan: Love, love, love it!

I can't wait for the results of 2010 Census. I suspect that there is a huge shift taking place, and I personally believe this a huge step toward greater racial healing in our country.

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Raleigh, NC: I am a black woman who already has a son by a black man. I worry that dating a white guy may adversely affect my son. I also worry about the ability of a white male to relate to the personal struggles - as a black male - that my son will have to endure and deal with. Can a white male relate to my son enough to teach him how to be a great man without alienating him?

Karyn Folan: It all depends on the character of the man-- not his race. Any man can resent a child from a previous union, regardless of race.

I've been in your situation, and all I can tell you is because there's a child involved, you have to SERIOUSLY "vet" any man you date in order to protect your son. There's a story in my book about one of the first times I really saw Kevin as a potential mate-- from the way he treated my daughter.

Also, a young black man wrote me once, to tell a story about the white man his mother dated who served as his "father figure" and role model his entire life.

So it's the MAN, not the race of the man.

Good luck!

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Silver Spring, Md.: Am I right in thinking that there are significant generational differences in attitudes towards interracial dating and marriage?

Karyn Folan: Yes, I think you are quite correct. I spent a chapter on that in Don't Bring Home a White Boy. Generation, geography and gender all play a role in the reactions of BW- WM dating in particular.

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Washington, D.C.: Have many of your girlfriends also began to date outside of their race?

Karyn Folan: Most of my friends were open to interracial dating all along... although I have had a few friends who were serious about finding "black love." The results are mixed: some are married to black men, some are married to white men, some are still dating, some are still waiting...

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Fairfax, VA: I'm a black woman married to a white man, but what gives? This type of article has been written a million times over in other news publications, discussed extensively on blogs, and on television and movies. But what is the next step from here? I think it is fair to say that some of the problem with black women finding a mate also lies with them, but these articles hardly ever assess that. The issues range from self-esteem, depression, lack of clear guidance in how to actually navigate relationships, and the list goes on. How can we, as black women, discuss some of the other problems we face and look at the other side of the issue in finding a mate and get real that part of it really is us?

Karyn Folan: I agree. Some of what ails black women is not about "dating and mating" and those issues also have to be addressed. However, single black women often reach the work of what else needs to be addressed in their lives through the discussion of men. I think that's why we continue to see these stories and books-- as though it's new. It's not new, but it's still an issue of concern. To me, it's a "way in" to reframing a woman's thought process about herself and her place in the wider world.

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Baltimore, MD: I am a 30 year old black male with a master's degree, a stable job and a good income and I agree with you completely. I would however like to allow you to look at the flip side. With the very strong (perhaps irrational) preference black women have for black men, it allows "lesser" black men to successfully court black women who should be out of their league and allows men in my position to be excessively selective in their choices. These power dynamics are not good for black men, black women, and especially not black families.

Karyn Folan: Hi,

I agree with you completely. I spent a whole chapter of my book talking about these crazy notions of "what makes a man" that actually work against women. It's thinking we have to dismantle across the board-- or pay for. And the cost is very, very high.

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Baltimore: My problem is, just because you cannot handle a strong black man, why are you trying to sell your choice so hard to other people? Just be happy with your choice.

Karyn Folan: Interesting choice of "de-blacking" tactic. Haven't seen that one before!

This is the sort of reaction that keeps many black women from becoming involved in interracial relationship: criticism from angry black men. I think it's important to call it out for what it is: bullying.

Most bullies are insecure and feel that unless they lash out, they will lose power-- why else would they care about what other people do?

"He who angers me, conquers me."

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Alexandria, VA: I really enjoyed your article. I am a white man, and when I was in College I wanted to date a black woman who was in my lab because she was brilliant and beautiful. I wouldn't say she was hostile to me, but she really gave me the impression that the only reason she would ever date a white guy was, essentially, out of desperation.

My point is, there are plenty of white men who would eagerly date black women, but only if they are not given the impression that, deep down, the woman would rather be with someone of her own race. Nobody wants to be considered a booby prize.

Karyn Folan: I agree that black women and white men are emerging from what feels like a "Cold War": each eyes the other with a certain degree of suspicion. That's one of the reasons I decided to write this book. I've heard so many of these "notions" about white men in general, when it seemed clear to me that we should make character, not color the most important factor.

On the other hand, I don't think anyone can make you feel like a "booby prize"-- unless you let them. Instead, shrug it off. It's her loss, right?

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Los Angeles: Do you think it takes a certain kind of black woman to open her mind to dating white men? In other words, does she need to be in a special place -- loving herself for who she is -- before embarking on such a relationship.

Karyn Folan: Yes, and no.

I think it comes down to "like attracts like". You attract what you ARE inside. If a black woman is "beat down" inside, she might a attract a white man who is abusive, just as easily as she might attract a black or Latin or Asian one who is abusive. Energy attracts its like.

A secure, happy, confident woman will also attract her like-- white, brown, black, tan-- whatever color the man.

The work is always within.

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Fairfax, VA: Hello, I am not aware of any taboos regarding black women dating out of their race. What are these taboos?

Karyn Folan: There were ten notions that I identified in my book--things that I'd heard black women say as reasons why they couldn't consider dating interracially. Some are: the legacy of slavery; fear of being perceived as a sellout; fear of negative family reactions.

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Columbia, MD: I am 50, but grew up in integrated Columbia. Do you find that white men are as likely to approach black women or do black women have to initiate contact and indicate interest?

Karyn Folan: You and have some of the other posters have framed the problem perfectly: white men when interested hesitate. Black women, when approached, are suspicious!

I don't think there's any special need to go out of one's way to approach, but it seems black women are sometimes putting out the "suspicious" signal without being aware of it. A few women I spoke with also said they "clueless"--they didn't know the guy was trying to signal interest at all until someone told them.

So the first hurdle then is to become more attuned to who might be expressing interest and to respond accordingly. I'm personally not a "pursuer" but that also really depends on the woman!

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Maryland: I'm a white man who has a black sister-in-law, and while I disapprove when parents discourage their children from race-blind dating, I think I understand the motivation for black parents. They know that prejudice against blacks still exists, so they may want young blacks to have at least one area of their lives where race is treated as an advantage and not as a liability. And they know the history of lynchings and murders of black men who courted white women in previous decades. Are my suppositions correct?

Karyn Folan: Yes, I think that's absolutely correct.

However, 14% of married black men are married outside the race now-- compared with only 4% of black women. So it does seem that black men have "gotten over" history's taint!

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Manassas: I liked your article. I've always held the belief that you can date anybody else -- no matter the race, socioeconomic factors, religion -- as long as that person loves, trusts, and respects you.

Isn't it racist not to date someone from another race simply because of skin color? I think so.

The irony of all this is there really is no "pure race." Nobody is entirely "black" or "white." We've been interracially mixed throughout human history.

Karyn Folan: That's absolutely correct. One day, I hope, this whole discussion will be irrelevant!

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Upper Marlboro, MD: Hello,

Where can one go to find interracial dating groups in the DC/MD/VA area? I've done online interracial match searches, but am really interested in meeting a man of "other" race locally.

Thanks,

an Open-minded Black woman

Karyn Folan: I don't know-- that's a good question. I'll see what I can find out and post it on my website!

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Lexington, Kentucky: I have a comment. I am currently engaged to a white man and I am what I guess is the stereotypical ultra educated (PhD) black woman who is responsible for this trend. I want to comment that maybe at some point in our lives we just stop looking at color and start looking at people. When we grow beyond that we open up a world to ourselves that transcends race. That is where we want the WHOLE world to go...racial segregation is silly in life, in employment, in schools, and most definitely in relationships. We have fought to end it in those other sectors and we should fight just as hard to end it in general...I love my fiance dearly and he loves me and that is all that matters to me!

Karyn Folan: I wish you and your fiance the happiest of lives. Welcome to the greatest cultural exchange program ever!

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Cinnaminson, New Jersey: Do you think some people will ever have the courage to discuss their fears, and their projections onto others, instead of juvenile "these people are like this" and "those people are like that" so let's not date and cross stereotypes. Isn't the problem racism, not race? Sexism, not gender?

Karyn Folan: God, I hope so. But it will require all of us to first empty out our own heads and re-examine the contents! Humankind has been sipping some pretty powerful "kool-aid" on notions of racism, patriarchy and superiority-- and not everyone wants to see things change. That's why it's so critical for those of us who are willing to take on the work of re-framing these issues and not making snap judgments based on "notions".

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Chicago, Illinois: Have you seen Jimi Izrael's "The Denzel Principle"? What your take on his thesis? Do Black Women set their standards too high and relegate themselves to single status?

Karyn Folan: I haven't seen it, but I will. Thanks!

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Karyn Folan: Thanks, Everyone!

This has been very enlightening for me. I hope you'll pick up the book-- and I'd be interested in your feedback. You can reach me through my website karynlanghorne.com

k.

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