Sometimes it was a prolonged glance. Other times, it was a sideways stare ... or a tilted head. Whatever the reaction was, we noticed it. "I mean, this is 2006, right?" we would ask ourselves.Then we would joke that maybe all the attention was because we were so good-looking. Sarcasm aside, my ex-husband and I both knew the real reason behind the curiosity. He was white. I was black. And we were together.
Even in 2011, the concept of interracial dating is still taboo in some circles and just plain alien in others — but why? Have the age-old (and vomit-inducing) stereotypes never gone away? Like, black men who date white women want a "trophy" on their arm; that white guys who date black women are just "curious" (you know, that whole slave-master thing); that Asian women are good mates because they are submissive; that Hispanics are ultra-passionate lovers; that white women date African-American guys because of ... well, you know.
Spike Lee's classic film Jungle Fever explored the controversy of interracial dating in New York City and got everybody all worked up 20 years ago. But, today, the topic still makes many people cringe. For his film project Southern Blend: A Dating Experiment, Charlotte-based producer Rod Garvin wanted to re-explore this phenomenon, except base it in the South (where there are some other issues around race that were not covered in Spike Lee's famed joint).
Having lived in the Queen City since 1993, Garvin has participated in a number of local diversity and race-relations initiatives with various local organizations — but he was starting to feel like people were having the same conversations over and over. As far as he was concerned, they never touched on the subject of interracial relationships and what that looks like in this city, given the history of our particular region. So, he concluded that he could be the person to make it happen. And happening it is.
At its core, Southern Blend — a reality-style documentary that Garvin is currently working to complete (more on that later) — follows individuals who have never dated outside their race as they do it for the first time. It also looks at people who may have dated interracially before but pairs them with people of races they've never dated.
"So, that's the reality component," Garvin explained. "What will happen when you put these people in these situations? Will it be a positive experience? Negative experience? Will there be some sparks? Could there be some possible love connections, or will people confirm that they prefer to remain within their own race?"
Among the stories told in the film is that of a black male from a racially charged small town in South Carolina where he faced blatant racism growing up; however, his experiences did not prevent him from dating white women. Another story focuses on an American Indian woman who primarily dates African-American men because they are the ones who approach her. She says she would date whites, Hispanics or Asians but, for whatever reason, they don't ask her out.
A Pew Research Center survey published last summer found that there are more interracial marriages than ever and that people have generally become more open to their family members dating interracially. In fact, African-American men and Asian women were reported to be most likely to marry outside of their races. Still, a large percentage of people are not as accepting.
"What's really interesting to me is even the people who say that they're open to it or they're not opposed to it, when you raise the question of would you personally do it, that's when it gets interesting. And that's what this film really wants to get at," said Garvin.
Sound interesting to you? We thought so, too. So, in conjunction with Garvin's upcoming film, we decided to conduct our own little experiment — pairing up men and women from different races, sending them on dates and then watching what happens.
Mike Press, a 25-year-old black male from Mount Vernon, N.Y., contends that where he's from, people don't bat an eye at interracial couples. Moving down here in 2004, however, it was a different story.
"The first time I saw [an interracial couple in Charlotte] it didn't surprise me at all," said Press, "but you could see it in other people's faces that it wasn't acceptable yet."
While the idea of interracial relationships is not foreign to him, Press admits to having had some preconceived notions when he was younger. For instance, he used to think that white women were going to be "scared" of him. He also admits to previously thinking that Indian women would be hairy and that Asian women would put off a certain odor.
Though Press has dated interracially before, it was not often with white women. He says he'll approach a white woman if she appears to have an "open" personality but admits to being "cautious." His past experiences may explain why.