The Problem With BuzzFeed’s Interracial Relationship Bot

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Early in January, BuzzFeed News released something they felt would help people learn more about how to have successful interracial relationships. Was it an article with psychology experts about how to talk to your partner? No. Was it an article comprised of interviews with couples who talked about what they do to make their relationships work? No.

What Buzzfeed released was an interracial bot that collects people’s stories about the problems with their relationships, and that’s it. No advice, no tips, nothing. Just mindless collection of people’s problems for viewing eyes (and clicks for money).

But where’s what BuzzFeed had to say about why they created their bot.

“People of color who are dating white partners and who came into their racial identity in the past few years have said they’ve started questioning their relationships and desires. There are interracial couples who’ve shielded each other from the judgement of family members…but who’ve never addressed the issue head-on with one another until recently. People who, prompted by these discussions around race online, have begun to wonder whether they are fetishizing people of a particular race. Some have wondered whether they are betraying their own race by dating outside of it.”

Strangely, Buzzfeed has positioned “interracial relationships” as only existing between white and non-white partners, when the stories they’ve gathered from real life people show that interracial relationships involve any combination of races. The idea of showing “white/non-white” as the default interracial relationship is a personal gripe of mine, because the mainstream makes this mistake too many times to count.

In any event, the goal of the bot, which seemingly hasn’t been updated since the first week of January, is to provide a “safe space” to discuss the thornier issues in interracial relationships, but what it seems like is just another way for BuzzFeed to create content mined from random sources on the cheap. It’s not as if BuzzFeed is paying the participants to air out their dirty laundry to millions of viewers.

But, as important as getting paid for providing content is, especially content that could seriously alter how you view yourself and others around you, the bot also doesn’t achieve what it’s goal is, which is to provide said “safe space” for healing and growth. How can an anonymous message bot provide you with anything meaningful if all you’re doing is typing your heart out to a void? Also, I hope it would dawn on folks participating in this experiment that typing out your concerns to the masses doesn’t fix the root problem, which is the apparent lack of conversation you’re having with your partner about concerns that are deeply, intrinsically important to you.

My question is why haven’t these people talked to their partners about these concerns? I’m no relationship counselor, but it would appear there’s a lack of trust in each of the relationship stories culled by BuzzFeed. Whether it’s about a white woman frustrated with her possible lack of empathy with her black husband’s experiences, or a Latina woman not coming to grips with racism until she dated her black girlfriend, the stories all have the same issue—one partner not trusting the other to hold their fears, worries, and feelings of vulnerability.

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In every relationship, there’s going to be some vulnerability at play. And from my perspective, I’d wager that being in an interracial relationship is probably one of the most vulnerable romantic relationships you can be in. You are dating someone who has literally lived their whole lives with a different worldview. For the most part, experiencing each other’s worlds is rewarding. But there are surely times when the biases, conscious or unconscious, show up. When that happens, you have to have enough trust in the other person to be able to discuss these biases like adults looking to reach a common goal. You can’t resort to going to your corners and waiting it out.

Several people wrote about how ridiculous the bot (and the lack of communication between partners) is, including writer Clarkisha Kent, who wrote about this on her Twitter page, bringing up how surface level discussions about interracial relationships usually are in the mainstream. For instance, she discussed how, because not many people want to get past the “post-racial” veneer of interracial relationships, discussions usually stay at an ineffective, “colorblind” level. Or, at worst, discussions become full-blown fetish fests.

She wrote more in depth about these topics in her article for Wear Your Voice.

“At the center of interracial relationships is the very important fact that this other person that you are choosing to love, date, and [possibly] fuck does not share a key and vital lived experience with you—which is race. And depending on who they are (particularly if they are white since apparently, no other interracial pairings exist), you both literally move through the world differently and are registered by the world differently. Even with the best-case scenario, you are going to be inviting some pretty… dicey politics into your home and bedroom. And there’s nothing inherently bad, per se, about this. But you are deluding yourself if you think it’s not going to be hard.

So of course, we circle back to honesty, in that we admit that honesty (hand-in-hand with communication) is the way to overcome such stark differences and power differentials in a relationship. Except that’s not what pieces like BuzzFeed’s do. Instead of starting a dialogue about what one must be transparent about if such a relationship is to succeed, it becomes an out. A dumping ground for lamenting the not-so-shiny of your star-crossed love affair—without any plan to change things or course correct.”

Michele Kumi Baer also wrote about the BuzzFeed bot on Medium, writing how Buzzfeed fails to recognize serious societal issues that affect interracial relationships, issues a bot can’t fix.

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“In a tweet promoting the tool, BuzzFeed suggests that contemporary woke culture is what makes interracial love so difficult and not complicated—not, say, centuries of sexual violence against, exploitation, and objectification of Black, Indigenous, Asian, Latinx, and other People of Color,” she wrote. “Instead of doing an honest accounting of why we have strong emotional responses to talking about race and sex and love, of why interracial relationships have been fraught since Europeans invented race and exported it around the globe, BuzzFeed, does what many White-dominant institutions of our time do: Practice historical amnesia and selectively locate the problem somewhere far from where accountability and shame live.”

Baer wrote about what a proper response could have been to help interracial couples better their relationships.

“The confession bot isn’t tailored to my experience as an Asian person, or to my partner’s experience as a Black person. It’s not tailored to your experience of your racial identity, or your partner’s. What a tailored approach could do is help us process emotions, thought patterns, and behaviors specific to how we’ve been racialized and have internalized racism vis-à-vis our love lives,” she wrote. “For example, an interracial love tool for White people could help them figure out how to work with the guilt and shame of living in a racist system that benefits them; how they’ve internalized racist messages about what is and is not desirable and valuable about Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color; and what that then means for how they behave and show up differently in interracial relationships.”

At the end of the day, all relationships take serious work—no relationship ends up being a happily-ever-after situation that is just magically free from worry. The same with interracial relationships, but probably to a different level. There will be issues and biases that both sides will come up against at some point. But isn’t a relationship supposed to be about learning how to be a better person? That means that you’ve got to talk to the person in order to grow.

But in order to talk to that person, you’re going to have to actually trust that person to hold all of your heart, including the parts that you might feel aren’t suitable for the light of day. Each of you will have to do this dance of trust, so if you’re in a relationship, interracial or otherwise, make sure it’s with someone you actually have a deep connection with in the first place. In most relationships, having a deep connection, such as a deep friendship, is half the battle already. This makes other challenges, including challenges a partner may bring up, easier to handle and overcome.

So I think the lesson we can learn from this is that interracial relationships aren’t the rainbows and lollipops people have hyped them up to be. Interracial relationships, like any relationship, aren’t perfect. And clearly, interracial relationships don’t solve racism, as the messages in the BuzzFeed article showcase quite perfectly. In fact, interracial relationships were never meant to solve racism. What an interracial relationship is is simply a relationship with its own sets of positives and challenges, like any other relationship. And, with any relationship, a person has to be willing to meet those challenges. If you aren’t, then why are you in a relationship in the first place?

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