All couples know the importance of addressing power dynamics and fostering open communication within a relationship. But discussions about privilege and discrimination — and the need for love, respect, and empathy — are all the more crucial for interracial couples.
All relationships require care, patience and plenty of respect. But what are the specific challenges of relationships between people of different races or ethnicities?
People who choose to have a romantic relationship with partners of other races need to reconcile daily demands, common to all couples, with specific issues that may arise in this mix.
Conversations about race should occur in any relationship, even among white people. But discussions of power and nurturing relationships become even more important in interracial relationships.
Camila Bertolino, 21, a literature student, is a Black woman; Matheus Suzuki, 22, known as Curu, an artist, is an Asian man. They met and started dating in late 2021.
Camila had decided not to get involved with non-Black people anymore. “Most of my relationships have been with white men, mainly because I grew up in white environments. Only after I understood myself as a Black woman could I better understand how all of this affected me.”
Before his relationship with Camila, Curu saw himself as a white man and had only dated white people: "I think when it comes to a relationship with white people, it's hard for those discussions to happen." It was Camila who brought the racial issue into the relationship. They started researching Afro-Asian couples on the internet, and the discussion became more and more present.
Curu took a course on race, and formed his own racial awareness and began to identify as an Asian man. “At home, I am the one who raises the issues of the Japanese community," he says. For the couple, communication and “racial literacy” are the most important things in an interracial relationship.
"For sure you will come across things that you have never experienced and that perhaps don’t affect you directly. However, if you are in a relationship with one racialized person, it is very important that you strive to be racially literate. The same applies if you are a racialized person; understand these questions to protect or identify violence,” says Camila.
Lives and different countries
Ana Luiza Barbosa, 27, and Wansub Kim, 31, are also in an Afro-Asian relationship. Ethnic disparities are accentuated by being born in different countries: Brazil and South Korea. They met on a chat app, and when they started dating in 2018, they could not imagine the ethnic-racial issues that would permeate the relationship.
It is important that the partner understands, to some extent, what it is like to live in our skin.
When she was about to meet her boyfriend's family, Ana thought that being a Black woman could be seen as something negative. “I didn't expect the reaction that my in-laws had, as I know many Korean families don't accept interracial relationships, but they were very interested in seeing me on the video call, and when we met in person, I felt very welcome," she said.
After moving to Brazil, in 2020, to live with Ana, who is now his wife, Wan began to feel the prejudice she had experienced since childhood. “It is important that the partner understands, to some extent, what it is like to live in our skin. Each of us faces different problems. We try to discuss these problems so that we can be allies," explains Wan, who is an English teacher.
For Ana, it is important that both teach each other about their ethnicities. “His experience as an Asian man, who grew up in Asia, is nothing like mine here in Brazil. I believe that I have the role of introducing my husband to the racial problems that permeate the Brazilian population.”
Interracial couple dancing.
Quinet via Openverse
It's not just about race
In a bar in São Paulo in 2022, Araci Santos, 39, a dance teacher who is Black and non-binary, met Flô Yara, 29, a software programmer, who is a white trans woman.
Currently, they live in a non-monogamous relationship and are also involved with other people. Despite sharing aspects common to relationships, such as affection and responsibility, they do not consider themselves a traditional couple. “We are people who relate with a lot of love, even though it is a love that does not exist only between two people," explains Yara.
Araci felt that, when relating to white men, racial conflicts were more significant. She now identifies as non-heterosexual and says that, in relationships with women and transgender people, she feels more able to talk about gender and race.
The environment in which they live has become a support network for the couple, and the people around them are already familiar with the discussions. “I tend to be seen as a cis woman, and Yara is a trans woman, so people see us and have an expectation that we should be dating cis men,” Araci said.
The couple faces two challenges: racism and transphobia. For Yara, relationships where there is this asymmetry — where one person experiences racism and the other does not — require a lot of willingness on both sides. “Although I seek to be an ally in the anti-racist struggle, I have to recognize that it is structural and I benefit from a system that privileges my body as a white person, even if it does not privilege my body as a trans person."