A warm summer's evening discussion of interracial dating brought together a spectrum of views, from those simply interested in the topic, to people raised in multi-ethnic families, as well as a number of mixed-race couples Wednesday evening.
The discussion, part of the "Nights at the Round Table" series at at 1103 Fulton St. in Bed-Stuy, was a promotion for the book "Swirling: How to Date, Mate and Relate, Mixing Race, Color and Creed."
Christelyn Karazin, co-author of "Swirling" and owner of the blog "Beyond Black & White" was joined on the panel by Ron Worthy, CEO BlackPeopleMeet.com, relationship expert Abiola Abrams, and comedian Alex Barnett.
Karazin explained that in the context of dating, "swirling" (symbolized by a swirled chocolate and vanilla ice cream cone on her book's cover) refers to a merging of races and cultures.
"It's a way to personify this image, and I think a delicious, positive image. The fusion and intermingling of races, forming relationships, marriages, friendships, children."
Karazin explained that part of why she chose to work on the book was her own marriage to a white man, and how the two of them came together.
"I didn't want to sugar-coat anything. There've been some challenges, but we love each other, and it boiled down to he was a man who had an exceptional character. And then after a while I just realized I don't care what color he is," she said.
"I'm all for interracial dating," said Worthy, "I come from an interracial background, but not in the traditional sense of like white and black."
Since his background includes multiple ethnicities, his knows what it's like to feel different.
"Growing up, dating me for most black women would have been like interracial dating."
"So as a result it was very difficult, they didn't know what I was. I grew up in D.C. and it's pretty much black or white, and they didn't know what I was. And I'm black, but that doesn't matter because most people only see what they see. And for me I've always been judged by the complexion of my skin and my hair. So that immediately made me an 'other.' So I completely understand how it feels as a black woman for me to go to someone's house and her daddy looks at me and says, 'Who the Hell is he?' What is he?'"
Abrams was glad the the topic was being discussed, though she wished it wasn't still an issue.
"I think it's kind of great that we're having this conversation, like many conversations that we wish were obsolete, but are still going on in 2012. It is unfortunately, unfortunately a necessary conversation," she said.
"My mother and my father are from Guyana, so we have a diversity of people there. And I have a diversity of people in my family. So I guess I don't even see things in terms of black and white. There's a whole rainbow of people on the planet, and race is kind of socially constructed in our culture."
Barnett, a Jewish comedian married to a black woman, said he bases a lot of his material on their relationship.
"Christelyn Karazin, the author of the book 'Swirling,' came across my material on the Web and I think on Facebook and we started a dialog and interviewed my wife and me," he said.
"It's a different landscape now (than in the past)," he said, "That said there are issues that arise all the time. My wife is darker and has a big afro, our son is light-skinned. Sometimes when she's with the baby by herself people think that she's a nanny, rather than the mother. Sometimes people see us and, given the difference in skin color, they ask questions that I think are not with malice but a lack of sensitivity, let's say. You know, 'What race is he?' I think it's well-intentioned from the questioner's standpoint, but it's certainly something that causes some amount of consternation. Also, I'm Jewish and my wife converted, so that raises other challenges."
Unfortunately, said Karazin, challenges don't always come from outside the family.
"My husband's grandmother is from Germany, she's 100 percent German, and in her twilight years she wouldn't even speak to anyone other than other Germans. And not only was I not German I was not Catholic. But she came from a different time, and those people come from a different frame of reference. And I wouldn't say to give up on those people. But I would encourage people in interracial relationships to form supports around supportive family and friends and community, and forge your own communities."
"And if those people will eventually come around, then great. But if not, you've built your family, built your community of support. And that's what me and my husband did. And it's been great for us."