I sat on my bed in my apartment on 16th and Cecil B. Moore, exasperated as I listened to my then-boyfriend lecture me while YG played in the background. The boyfriend, a white boy from New England, had decided to instruct me, a black and Arab American woman from Baltimore, on not so much why, but how he was permitted to say the N-word. It was because, apparently, YG would have never released his art if it were not for all listeners to consume in its entirety. Even when that meant white boys in fraternities saying the N-word.
I was not sure how to respond, even though everything coming out of his mouth was wholly incongruous with everything I believed was racially and politically acceptable. I was a college sophomore and did not quite have it in me yet to explain how wrong the entire situation was. We later broke up.
More conversations about race continued after the breakup, each validating my anger and frustration. Ultimately they validated my decision to end our relationship.
This month, BuzzFeed unveiled a bot for people to discuss thoughts and anxieties they may have about their interracial relationships. My immediate response was to find this incredulous and absurd. If you can’t talk about your anxieties around race with the person you’re dating, and have to bring those concerns to a bot, why are you with that person?
I knew this from experiences like the one I mentioned earlier. Having dated a number of white men, I’ve learned over the years that if I could not be fully candid about how I experience the world, we are incompatible if for no other reason than that.
The BuzzFeed tool, however, discourages people from taking any tensions that might uniquely arise when dating outside your race to your partner. Instead, it posits that you share those concerns with a robot (who can post your feelings publicly if you choose, or else keep them anonymous).
This encouragement to avoid tough in-person conversations reminds me of a troubling misconception I experienced in Philly, especially at Temple. I saw it taken for granted — particularly among liberals — that we live in a city that celebrates racial differences, and people aren’t afraid to date outside of our race.
However, the truth is a lot more complicated. Many white and other Philadelphians — including ones who identify as “progressive” — are uncomfortable with the daily realities of race. The inability to acknowledge these realities are detrimental as we continue an era that is far from post-racial. Even though interracial marriages have steadily increased since the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court ruling legalized them in 1967, a 2018 YouGov poll found that nearly 20 percent of Americans found something “morally wrong” with interracial marriage.
It’s not going to help America’s racial divides or tensions to avoid important conversations in our most intimate relationships. If our partners do not make room for us to be honest, then how can they expect us to ever make the vulnerable decision to engage in a committed relationship?
BuzzFeed made a questionable decision when they created this bot: singling out race as some kind of taboo. What this project says is: “Let’s give people interracial relationships a completely passive outlet to vent,” instead of: “Let’s propose that people in interracial relationships talk to each other, and/or even a therapist, if there is something awry.”
It is completely natural to have anxieties in a relationship. I have them, and I’m sure folks who are married for years do, too. We don’t always want to hurt our partners’ feelings. We don’t know how to say many difficult things out loud. These conversations can be really hard. And the internet can be a magnificent place for pushing us to confront the toughest topics.
But BuzzFeed decided to make this bot specifically racial. And it’s important to be able to unpack the burdens of racism with the person you might want to, say, share a bank account and raise children with, or at least pick up from the airport. They’re a better person to bring uncomfortable realities to than strangers on the internet. Especially if you love them.