Book Writing Adventures

When’s a Good Time to Address the Elephant? Talking Race, Religion and Culture on your Rainbow Date

It's an obvious question, but when is the right time to bring it up?It’s like trying to ignore whip cream on someone’s nose, or spinach stuck in the teeth. It just stares right at you, you try to ignore it, but eventually, it must be addressed. Here’s some tips on how to talk about the race, culture, and creed issue with your rainbow date. Janice, take the floor!


There are some people who relish the anticipation of that first date with all its hope and allure of something new, exciting and potentially worthwhile – kind of like the first day of senior year in high school (you know all you lived for was prom night and graduation day) or Christmas Eve night when you still believed in Santa Claus and had your fingers crossed that he was bringing you that fabulous toy on the top of your wish list because you had been SO good that year.

I, on the other hand, dread it as much as I did 10th grade picture day when I had braces and a Jheri curl. And as much as I’ve now started to enjoy dating again, I know I just over think the hell out of that first time out with a guy. What should I wear? How should I do my hair? Do I go with open-toed shoes or high heels? Cleavage? (Or more to the point, how do I get some?) If we go out to eat and something gets caught in my teeth, will he tell me or just stare stupidly at me? What will I do if the conversation goes south? Do I need an emergency out? (And what will it be?) Will I talk too much? (Well, duh, Janice of course you will.)

The hand-wringing is certainly exacerbated when the man in question is non-black or non-Christian. Then it’s: Will we have anything in common? What will I say if he brings up race or cultural issues? How will he react if people start to stare? What if I like him and turns out he’s an atheist? Or, oh my God, what if this is nothing more than jungle fever? (Cue the Stevie Wonder soundtrack…)

Thankfully this has never been an issue for me in the past, but there’s always a first – and as a journalist, I like being prepared for anything. So as I prep for my first dates with Decio,* Ramon* and Chandler*, I’ve decided to chill out for a sec and revisit my interview with Detroit psychologist Gail Parker, PhD. She’s an absolute fount of knowledge on the subject of interracial and intercultural relationships and has three rules of thumb on addressing the conversation of race, culture or creed that might just help calm those first date jitters.

Is the timing right? “You wait until it spontaneously bubbles up,” says Dr. Parker. “If you are so anxious to have the conversation, I guess you can. But when you feel compelled to have that conversation up front, it’s almost like having the conversation of What are your intentions, up front. That’s like asking about marriage on a first date. He doesn’t know you yet, so why have that conversation now?”

Is it relevant? “Let’s say you’re a Christian and you’re dating someone who is Islamic,” says Dr. Parker. “I’m sure there are a lot of curiosities about each other’s religious practices, so if it seems natural and normal to bring that up why wouldn’t you? But to impose it on the conversation because I’m anxious and in a hurry to find out if we are compatible seems to me to be putting an awful lot of pressure on a relationship that doesn’t exist yet. So if this is the first time I’m meeting you and you mention to me, I’m a Muslim or I’m a Christian or whatever, then the response is: Really? I’ve always been curious about that. Can we have that conversation? Otherwise it’s too soon. It’s not relevant.

Is it relationship enhancing or affirming? “Race and culture are relevant aspects of each persons identity,” says Dr. Parker, “and hopefully as we’re trying to get to know one another — and that’s what intimacy is based on, getting to know you – and that’s why it’s on-going. It’s not like, Okay, now I know this about you, end of conversation. No. It’s an on-going process and how relationships can deepen and continue to grow.”

Whew! Thanks Dr. Parker! My only dilemma now is what to wear. Paging Tim Gunn…

*Names have been changed.

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