Zach Finley, 43, who is white, has always socialized in predominantly Black spaces through his work as a D.J. in Greenville, S.C., a city with a large Black population. “Very early on, I became comfortable being the minority and realized that those folks weren’t out to get me, like I was taught,” said Mr. Finley, who grew up in Greenville in a strongly Republican household with a heavy involvement in the church. “They weren’t people that didn’t look like me who were ready to rob me and steal from me and whatever else they could, if they had the advantage. It was actually the opposite.”
While individually, Mr. Finley never had to actively think about race, it wasn’t until he and his wife, Andrea Finley, 32, who is Black, had children that racism became a more overt issue that indirectly affected him as a father. “I think the turning point for us to really start having conversations was when our first son was born because when you have kids, your whole world changes,” said Ms. Finley. “So we realized that he won’t be able to move through the world as a white man.”
The couple had “the talk” with their son when he was five years old, where they explained to him that he can’t always do everything he sees his white friends do — a conversation that Mr. Finley did not have to hold with his older white son from a previous relationship.
Additionally, since marrying Ms. Finley and being more vocal about issues surrounding race, Mr. Finley has noticed a lack of support from some of his family and friends, especially in recent weeks. “I think that’s the hardest part about our relationship. It’s not us. We can talk, we can show frustration. We have a safe place, but I think what’s been most difficult for us in the past few weeks has been, in the age of Facebook and social media, you get to see whatever people are thinking. And some of those people are family members that we’ve had family gatherings for, and they’re either quiet as a mouse or they’re liking and commenting on racist posts,” Ms. Finley said.
Unfortunately, issues with extended family and friends aren’t rare in relationships between Black and white partners, often causing the Black partner to hold the white partner accountable and the white partner to figuratively pick a side. “The most common issues I see for interracial couples, specifically Black and white couples, is as the relationship progresses and becomes more significant, helping the people around the couple, meaning their family, accept — and I hate the word accept because it implies there’s something to accept — and get on board with the couple not just dating and being in a preliminary phase, but wanting to move in together or get married or have children,” says Dr. Racine Henry, a licensed marriage and family therapist in New York. “It brings up different cultural aspects and different racially themed conversations that then impact how the couple relates to one another.”
Dr. Henry’s clientele ranges between couples of different backgrounds, both intraracial and interracial, but it’s her Black-white couples that often experience strain from navigating how to properly support each other.