I recently reflected on a story about how many hidden biases interfered with a relationship I had briefly in high school. Racist thoughts and beliefs had been taught by the people around me and the media I consumed. I unintentionally hurt a boy I genuinely loved, and I have reached out to the man he has become so we can both be free. I want him to have the best possible life and marriage, and I’m listening with my third ear for the hurts I can heal–especially the ones I caused or exacerbated. Those are my responsibility.
I want you to be free, too, which is why I share my stories and tools.
Maybe you’ve never been in an interracial dating relationship. That’s okay. It’s not required of your life, nor is it required to explore some of the implicit biases that played out in mine. Because the stereotypes are so pervasive, there’s a good chance you’ve seen them play out with your friends, at work, and in movies or on TV. I am inviting you to look for them and see where they have robbed you of opportunities. Why? So we all stop missing opportunities because of stereotypes.
STEREOTYPE: Black boys become teenage parents.
Black boys are stereotyped as irresponsible teenage fathers, often with children by different mothers. That was true in the 1980s, too.
I can understand my mother’s concern about me getting pregnant between ages 15 and 19 in Kentucky back then. I was scared, too, which is why I didn’t have sex!
Teen pregnancies among all races were at an all-time high in the 1980s. But not for kids who weren’t having sex.
I could find no evidence that confirms I was more likely to have sex and get pregnant with my boyfriend because he was black. So, where do we get the idea that Black boys are a pregnancy risk?
STEREOTYPE: Black boys are sexual aggressors.
Long before 14-year-old Emmett Till was brutally murdered because of a white woman’s lie, several black men had been lynched because of allegations that they raped white women. Yet there is evidence that the allegations leading to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and 1923 Rosewood Massacre were lies to cover up consensual relationships between white women and black men.
My high school boyfriend might have been as interested in sex as any other hormonal teenager, but he always treated me with respect where physical touch was concerned. We never got beyond a few kisses, possibly because of fears for his life I never knew he might have had. Even driving me home to my mostly-white neighborhood was probably a risk for him that I never recognized. I was viewing myself in the more vulnerable position.
Why else do parents disapprove of their white daughters dating Black boys?
STEREOTYPE: Black men are poor providers.
Yes, the unemployment rate for Black men is typically twice as high as for white men, but that is still a pretty low number. Besides, the higher unemployment rate can be largely due to blatant or systemic racism. In high school, my boyfriend was being measured against adult standards for success. He was already limited by systems he did not create and had less power to change than the adults did.
As for him being lazy or a poor provider, my mom was wrong about that, too. (I forgive her for being blind to the biases she was taught. He and I had other incompatibilities that probably would have ended the relationship.)
When I was traveling to Louisville regularly, I often saw my ex-boyfriend because he worked at the airport. He had advanced steadily with a relatively stable employer. He has a decent income, good benefits, and seems to be doing better than some of the boys she preferred. (They were often the ones pressuring me for sex.)
In short, keep challenging what you think you know. Your brain plays tricks on you.
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Nance L. Schick, Esq., is a workplace attorney, ethno-religious mediator, and conflict resolution coach based in New York City. Her goal is to keep you out of court and build your conflict resolution skills so everyone has a better work experience. She helps managers and business owners have empowering conversations about emotionally-charged issues such as gender, race, religion, and disability. She is creator of the Third Ear Conflict Resolution process, author of DIY Conflict Resolution, and an award-winning entrepreneur acknowledged by Super Lawyers (ADR, 2018 & 2019), the New York Economic Development Corporation/B-Labs (Finalist, Best for NYC 2015 & 2016), U.S. Chamber of Commerce (2015 Blue Ribbon Small Business), Enterprising Women Magazine (Honorable Mention, 2014 Woman of the Year awards).