Interracial Dating: Do You Hide Your Real Self During Dating?


Last September, when Remy Barnwell, 26, started dating Ben Podnar, who is white, she was hesitant to wear her hair naturally. As a black woman, she didn’t know how he would react to her tightly coiled locks.

On her first date with Mr Podnar, Ms Barnwell, a tax attorney in Washington, DC, arrived wearing braids that hid her natural afro. Six months would pass before she let Mr. Podnar see her frizzy curls.

“I really noticed the first time she took her braids off and I remember her being very concerned about how I would feel,” said Mr. Podnar, 29, director of audience development for the Center. for American Progress in Washington.

Ms Barnwell, who said straightening her hair since childhood “reinforced the idea that my natural hair was not enough”, was pleasantly surprised at Mr Podnar’s response to his afro. “At first I was really nervous, but he immediately became obsessed with it, which was a moment of relief and satisfaction,” she said.

“I know a lot of people in her life have criticized her tight curls, so it’s especially nice to see her feel this attraction from me no matter how she wears her hair,” added Mr. Podnar, who said that he loves everything. the different ways Mrs. Barnwell combs her hair.

Hair isn’t the only thing Ms Barnwell said she toned down when she got to know someone who isn’t black. She doesn’t play soul music, wears clothes that don’t expose her curves, and avoids using African-American vernacular English, commonly known as Ebonics, in conversations.

“I also wore my Birkenstocks on my first date with Ben, which I would never wear on a first date with a non-white man,” Ms. Barnwell said.

Changing hairstyles, clothing, and interests in order to gain social acceptance and limit the risk of being the victim of prejudice is a form of code change, a term that refers to the common practice of adapting or modify speech, dialect, appearance or behavior according to the social context.

Ms Barnwell and other black people say the code change is common when they go out between them because first impressions determine if a second date is in the cards.

Joseph Lamour, 38, a journalist and illustrator who lives in Washington, said it wasn’t until a white boyfriend confronted him about his vernacular change that he realized he had changed his speech.

“We were driving all the way to Boston and got a bit lost, so I asked a black person around the corner to give us directions,” said Mr. Lamour, who is black. When he lifted his car window, Mr Lamour said his then-boyfriend, a white man, asked him why his voice changed when he spoke to the man. “I didn’t even notice I did it, but then he made an impression of it and it all came full circle,” he said, and added, “It’s kind of like a job interview where you sort of make yourself more corporate – ringing in order to seem more standard so a second date can take place.

Mr Lamour, who said he dates mostly white men, later realized he was changing the code in another way when he met someone who was not black for the first time. “When I go on a first date, I consciously put on clothes that make me feel like the Don Lemon type instead of a 50 Cent type – even though I have both types of clothes,” did he declare.

For blacks and other minority groups, code changing is a way to exist in multiple worlds at once by suppressing their authentic selves while playing on behavior seen as acceptable by a majority.

While a person of any race can tailor their authentic self to make a good impression on a date, this change in behavior is often most prominent in interracial or interethnic relationships.

“The greater the perceived distance, cultural difference, or racial difference between the two people involved, the more likely the code change is to occur,” said Kathleen Gerson, sociologist and professor at NYU.

Breuna Westry, 24, who lives in Austin, Texas, and works as an assistant director of marketing for Clinical Compensation Consultants, said she mostly dates white men. Originally from New Orleans, Ms Westry, who is black, said she uses vocabulary that is authentic for the black community in her hometown. However, she said she consciously changed her vocabulary when she had a date with someone who was not black.

“Slang is ingrained in me. I say things like ‘yes’ which is a southern country term and total black, ”Ms. Westry said. “But sometimes I feel like I wouldn’t necessarily use certain phrases around the white guys I’m dating.”

She said her mother’s use of Southern slang also made her anxious to introduce her family to that of a potential partner who is not black.

“My mom is in her 60s and old-fashioned from Mobile, Alabama,” Ms. Westry said. “She feels comfortable in the way she talks and I would never want anyone to judge her intellectual level or anything by that because my mom is a smart nurse.”

In the United States, the application of code switching outside of linguistics is historically and culturally black.

In his book “The souls of the black people”, first published in 1903, WEB Dubois described such behavior as “a special sensation, this double consciousness, this feeling of always looking at yourself through the eyes of others, of measuring your soul by the tape of a world which looks with amused contempt and pity.

But it was not until the 1970s that black academics began to use the term code shifting to describe their interactions and relationships with whites.

Shan Boodram, a Los Angeles-based sex and relationship educator who is black, Indian and white, said many black Americans view the code change as an obligation rather than a choice.

“The code change is aimed specifically at black people who need to assimilate, or feel they need to assimilate, into white culture in order to be successful,” Ms. Boodram said, including “romantic potential with someone “which is white.

“There are so many negative stereotypes associated with being dark: if you dress a certain way, look a certain way, or if your hair is a certain way, you end up in what is perceived to be. an ‘urban culture’, and that is not considered professional, ”added Ms Boodram. “And maybe for some people, that’s not considered the person you want to bring home to mom.”

Black women in particular resort to changing codes when dating due to the stigma they often face, being stereotyped as angry and unhappy, hypersexualized, and lacking in the positive. representation on television and in the cinema. This bias has led black women to be the least contacted on dating apps and face the most racial and gender discrimination in the online dating settings.

“If we’re talking about interracial dating, especially black women, they might ask, ‘Do I feel comfortable showing myself to this person who maybe has their own preconceptions about black women? Is there any erotica or any thoughts on what it means to date me as a person? ‘ Said Camille Lester, a New York-based relationship therapist, who is black.

“Everyone, when they go out together, puts on some type of mask, and then the closer you are with someone, or the closer you allow yourself to get, you take pieces of that mask off,” Ms. Barnwell said, adding : “It’s especially difficult to remove pieces of that mask when you’re a black woman because we’re already the least popular.”

While changing the code may be the thing that gives someone a second date, those who admit to doing it have said it isn’t a long-term strategy. Mr. Lamour said that, of late, he has become interested in only dating people who are comfortable with his authentic self.

“I have become more comfortable with myself and so the person I’m going to be with will have to be comfortable with me, because I am,” he said.

Mrs Barnwell had a similar realization. “I finally got to a place where I didn’t really want to spend the time or money getting my hair braided again,” she said of when she decided to leave Mr. Podnar see his natural hair. “I was like, ‘OK, am I going to let my white boyfriend see me with my Afro? And I really had to tell myself that was stupid, and if he sees me in my afro and he hates it, then we should just break up.


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