What was I doing in a Greek "disco" listening to a Swedish band cover the hits of the 80's, 90's and today? As I was singing along to Bon Jovi's It's My Life (performed with a slight Swedish accent), I realized that I was having one of those vacation moments. I knew that I would replay this part of my experience in my mind for years to come. I looked over at my boyfriend and thought about how exciting and unexpected the last six months had been. I was finally in a relationship with a guy who adored me, who shared my interests and passions, and who wasn't afraid to make a commitment. Looking back at me was not a man who physically resembled my father, uncle or any of the other African American men who have been role models in my life. So how is it that a relationship between a black girl from the suburbs of Detroit and a Greek guy from an island in the Aegean is not riddled with cross-cultural confusion? I don't know, but some how in our case, it just works.
Six months ago a cute Greek guy, from my graduate program at NYU, asked me to have a drink after class. It was a freezing cold January night; I'd had a long day at work followed by a three-hour lecture. I said no. What was I thinking? I said no because I didn't perceive that Marios was interested in me romantically. I am embarrassed to admit this now, but the primary reason why I didn't understand that he was asking me on a date was that he is white and I am black. In hindsight, I have wondered about my admittedly close-minded behavior. I have friends of other ethnic groups, male and female. But, in my personal fairytale I have always imagined a black prince charming at the end of the aisle, and that has influenced my choices in terms of dating. Luckily for me opportunity knocked twice, Marios and I ended up going out the following weekend and things have been wonderful ever since.
A few weeks ago, as Marios and I lounged on the sandy beaches of his native Rhodes, a sobering study was released about the marriage patterns of black women with graduate degrees. According to an MSNBC.com article on the study, nearly 40% of black women who have achieved a postgraduate degree have never been married. The study indicated that many women in this category would prefer to be married, but the statistics are stacked against them. Americans tend to marry someone with an educational background that is similar to their own. Census data indicate that seven out of ten African American graduate students are women. So, if these black women only date their highly educated black male counterparts the dating pool is frighteningly shallow.
The study along with subsequent articles and blogs have created a lot of conversation. Some have suggested that black women should prioritize companionship over long held social paradigms and open themselves up to interracial dating. It is no great surprise that this suggestion has been met with controversy. Globalization has eased some longstanding prejudices that made interracial relationships socially unacceptable or even illegal in the past, but there is still enough discomfort around the issue for it to remain a sensitive topic. For a multitude of historical reasons it is easy to understand why interracial relationships continue to be controversial. But if we take a moment to think about things on a micro level, at the root of the situation are two people looking for respect, appreciation and love. Besides, isn't the purpose of higher education to expand our options and opportunities in life in general, not just in our careers?
This may sound optimistically post-racial, but I no longer see Marios as white or even Greek. I see him and treasure him for who he is, a person who treats me with mutual respect, I feel great about that. If this relationship does end I will use what I have learned to my advantage. No more justifying bad behavior or ignoring signs that should be deal breakers. I don't know the secret to effective interracial dating, but the past few months have taught me a lot about opening myself up to being cared for and appreciated by someone who did not fit my image of prince charming.
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