Navigating conversations about race when dating
With everything the world is facing at the moment, and more specifically, the issue of racism being highlighted, it can sometimes be difficult to know what to say, or how to manage potentially awkward conversations. If you are currently dating or considering a relationship with someone of a different race and you want to show your support as well as understand them a bit more, here are a few tips on navigating those potentially difficult conversations.
1. Don’t shy away from the awkwardness.
Conversations surrounding race can be awkward. It is normal to be concerned about saying the wrong thing or putting your foot in it. But in order to have meaningful conversations and truly understand each other, it is important to not avoid these awkward conversations. As someone once said, we must try to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. You may not always say the right thing, or even know what to say, but avoiding the conversation will only lead to potentially bigger issues down the line. Let the person know that you are interested in what they have to say, their experiences and their views and that you’re serious about going on a journey of learning and understanding with them.
2. Admit where you have been ignorant and haven’t always understood.
We all have different views and perceptions about race, most of which are based on our past experiences, upbringing, surroundings, and the opportunities that we’ve had to have conversations about race. It’s OK to admit where you haven’t always understood a certain point of view and have been ignorant of the experiences of a particular race or group of people. The important thing is that you recognise that and are willing to learn and move forward.
3. Encourage them to talk about how they are feeling and share their personal experiences with you.
Not everyone feels comfortable talking about their feelings, especially if they have been victims of racism or discrimination and talking about it stirs up negative emotions for them. But, as with any other traumatic experience, the impact of racism and other issues of discrimination need to be brought to the surface and not suppressed, in order to heal and move forward, where possible. Try not to force the conversation, especially where the person is not willing to say anything further. But do let them know that you are there for them whenever they feel ready to talk.
4. Do the leg work- read, watch the relevant movies or documentaries and educate yourself.
It has been said that to try to understand someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. This is difficult to do when it comes to race as we can’t change the race that we are born as, but we can try to understand other races by educating ourselves on their experiences. Don’t expect the other person to do all the work of educating you and explaining- this can be exhausting. Show that you really want to learn and understand, by doing some leg work yourself. That way, when you’re having these conversations, you have a better understanding of what they’re talking about.
5. Respect their views, even if you disagree.
You won’t always agree with the other person when it comes to issues of race. But as with a lot of other issues, you can agree to disagree. Respect the other person’s views and opinions, even if you don’t agree with them. Try not to get defensive but be willing to listen. Remember that it is about the other person’s experience, and how something or someone may have made them feel. If you are in or considering a serious relationship, you may both need to decide whether your disagreement is a deal-breaker for your relationship, and if not, the steps you can take to move forward.
We are all created in the image of God, no matter what race we are. But the world as we know it is not perfect and many races continue to suffer discrimination and marginalisation today. Having honest and open conversations about race can stir up strong and powerful emotions that you may not even realise you had, but it is important if we want to see change happen, and it is especially important if you are considering a relationship with someone of a different race.