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Southern Blend: A Dating Experiment

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While dating interracially for the first time in high school, he was referred to as "a stupid nigger" by his girl's father. Another instance, which happened just a month ago with a white woman (whom Press said was just a friend), involved her being kicked out of her house when her "Confederate guy" uncle found out Press had been over for a visit.

Then there's the pressure from the other side. When Press speaks to his first cousin about someone new he's dating, she quips: "She better be able to use our comb!" Interestingly, his father, who previously married interracially himself, now tells Press, "Oh you gotta be careful with them!" when it comes to his son dating anyone outside his race.

From Press' perspective, there are some white people who want to retain the "integrity" of their heritage and who feel that interracial relationships may cause their race to "lessen" — or that their family legacy will not continue as they would like it to. Despite all of this, there didn't seem to be too much apprehension on his part when we hooked him up with his date, Mary Shelby.

Shelby is a 25-year-old white Charlotte native who never considered dating interracially until she went to college. There, she casually dated the one and only black guy she'd ever been out with. She has friends, however, who say they would never date a black person, and her extended family wouldn't be thrilled about it either.

"I have mixed emotions about it, growing up in the South," she said. "There definitely is still racism, and you see it a lot growing up here. But I feel like, as I've gotten older, it's better hidden, and people aren't up front with it — which I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing."

Shelby, who attended a predominately white private K-12 school, says there were always a few black students, but it was "very rare" that the races mixed; the segregation was more a result of people flocking to groups they were more comfortable with than actual racism. Her attraction to people is based on getting to know them versus judging their exterior. While interracial dating in Charlotte has become more acceptable in her view, and a person is not made to feel as much of an "outcast" as in years prior, the issue is still taboo on both sides and tension still exists.

"I think it goes back to those underlying race issues that nobody really wants to talk about," she said. "I think people are touchy about it because they don't want to come off one way or the other. They don't want to come off as a racist or they don't want to come off as somebody that only dates a certain ethnicity ... I think for most people, it's not a comfortable conversation. At least in the South, you talk with your close friends, but you're not going to talk about that kind of stuff in a room with strangers."

So ... we put her in a room with a stranger.

With clasped hands, folded arms and a conversation running in and out of typical first-date fare (Where are you from? What do you like to do? Do you have any pets? Blah, blah, blah.), one would think that this meeting — a dinner at Bask on Seaboard, located at the N.C. Music Factory — would lumber down an awkward and mundane path. Press and Shelby, however, quickly loosened up, laughing genuinely and conversing with ease. The topics were relatively safe initially, save this entertaining exchange early on:

Shelby: "Every time I go there [the nightclub Butter], people always tell me who someone is, although I never know."

Press: "I was there Tuesday night, and Denny Hamlin was there."

Shelby: "Who's that?"

Press: "You don't follow racing?"

Shelby: "No."

Press: "How could you not follow racing?!"

Shelby: "Do you follow racing?!"

Press: "Yeah, but don't tell anybody."

Shelby: "I'm from Charlotte, and I'm a firm believer in not following racing!"

Press: "Wow. That's a first."

Shelby: "It's just not my thing."

Draw your own conclusions.

Shelby was full of conversation, making direct eye contact and fluctuating between resting her chin in her hand and talking with her hands, while Press leaned forward with his elbows on the table, not moving much when he spoke, but seeming engaged and sincere. But, about 45 minutes into the date, the conversation got decidedly meatier when the topic turned to relationships, and Press asked Shelby about dating interracially.

It was around this time that Shelby's bubbly personality deflated a smidge and Press' cool demeanor became somewhat more animated. Shelby went back to crossing her wrists, her eyes darting back and forth. Press leaned back in his chair, straightening his posture and speaking in a more elevated tone. A body language expert might say this shift wouldn't bode well for the remainder of the date, but the two seemed willing to have the talk.


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