Do you feel the need to squash your authentic self when dating interracially?

Posted by Ria, 12 Nov

Do you feel the need to code-switch when dating interracially? What is this code-switching anyway?

This is a term that refers to adapting the way you “look, speak or act in different social settings”. When dating interracially some black people say that this practice of adapting comes second to nature…

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When Remy Barnwell (Black) started dating Ben Podnar (White) she was uncomfortable about wearing her natural black hair and concealed her afro for 6 months. Her reasons were that she was concerned and had no idea how he was going to react to or feel about her tightly coiled hair.

Barnwell who has been straightening her hair since childhood and admits that it “reinforced the idea that my natural hair was not enough,” was surprised that at how Podnar embraced and was obsessed with her afro.

She was relieved because, over the years, lots of people have criticized her tight coiled strands of hair. Lucky for her, Podnar loves however way she styles her hair.

In the past, besides hiding her afro, she has had to tone down lots of stuff about who she is every time she started dating a non-Black man. She stops playing soul music, wears clothes that hide her curves, and even stops using African American Vernacular English. She alters all this just to gain social acceptance from the new person she is getting to know.

When it comes to interracial dating, Barnwell says that code-switching is very common because first impressions mean a second date or the lack of it. People make such alterations to their lifestyles to avoid becoming victims of bias.

Barnwell is not alone. This guy Joseph Lamour was dating a White man. One day, they got lost and asked for direction from a fellow Black man. Afterward, his White boyfriend asked him why his voice suddenly changed when he spoke to this man. He hadn’t noticed he switched vernacular until his white boyfriend did an impression of how he sounded.

He later realized he changes how he speaks and dresses the way he believes a white person would, whenever he meets someone who isn’t Black for the first time.

Code-switching happens a lot with minority groups. For Black people and other minority groups, code-switching is a way of existing within multiple worlds at once by quashing their true selves and adapting to behavior they think is acceptable by the majority groups. Much as everyone adapts their true self to make a good impression on a first date, this behavioral switching is more common in interracial encounters.

Breuna Westry (Black) says that she uses slang that is deeply engrained in her and authentic to her Black Community when in her hometown and consciously changes her vocabulary when going on a date with a non-Black man. She doesn’t use particular phrases with the white men she dates.

Do you know what? Whenever she wants to introduce a prospective non-Black partner to her family, she gets anxious because of the heavy use of Southern slang by her mother. She feels that people might judge her intellect level based on how she speaks and she doesn’t want that because her mum is a smart nurse.

According to W.E.B. Dubois in his book, “The Souls of Black Folk”, this behavior as "…this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”

Los Angeles-based sex and relationship educator, Shan Boodram, who is mixed race (Black, Indian, and White) feels that code-switching is more an obligation than a choice. She feels minorities feel they have to assimilate to succeed in all aspects of life, including dating a romantic potential who is white.

Much as we would love to, we cannot run away from the many negative stereotypes that are associated with being black. From the hair to the lingo, to the dress code people see 'Blackness' as unprofessional. Because of being stereotyped as angry and discontent, Black women, in particular, are forced to turn to code-switching.

Camille Lester, a relationship therapist based in New York, who is Black, tries to make the rest of us see what probably goes through the minds of Black women dating interracially -

"Do I feel comfortable with showing myself to this person that maybe has their own preconceived notions about Black women? Is there some eroticism or thoughts around what it means to date me as a person?"

Everyone puts on a mask when dating someone new then you start shedding pieces of the mask as you get closer to this person. According to Barnwell, it's more difficult for a Black woman to take off these pieces when dating interracially because as is they are least appreciated by other communities and even feel so within their own Black community.

Yes, code-switching might get you a second date. But is it a sustainable strategy? Those who agree to have used it say it isn't long-term. Lamour these days is interested ONLY in dating people who are comfortable with his true self because he is getting more comfortable with himself and expects the same from the person he is dating.

Ms. Barnwell also agrees saying:" I finally got to a place where I didn’t really want to spend the time or money to get my hair braided again” after realizing that Podnar was OK with her natural hair. "I really had to tell myself this was dumb, and if he sees me in my Afro and he hates it, then we simply should just break up.”

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