Interracial couples are cool, but some interracial couples on YouTube and social media are just plain weird. (Canva illustration)
Is anyone else weirded out by seeing interracial couples acting cringy on social media and YouTube, or is it just me?
It’s a rhetorical question, because I already know the answer: No, it’s not just me. There are many people out there, including people in interracial relationships, who are sick and tired of seeing couples engage in some of kind of odd racial play as a YouTube career.
Cringy YouTube and social media couples are often called out by users on Twitter and Reddit for how they repeat certain tropes, such as having their couple name be something surface level and racially reductionist. For example, something like “Oxtails and Kimchi” would be a possible name a couples channel could have–this is not anyone’s real channel name as far as I know, but if you’ve been around the social media streets, you know the types of channels I’m referring to.
Other tropes include couples making videos with “INTERRACIAL COUPLE, “AMBW COUPLE, “WMBW COUPLE,” “BLINDIAN COUPLE” any other type of description in all-caps, and usually followed by something extremely mundane. For instance, a video could be called, “My ASIAN HUSBAND cooks dinner for his BLACK wife.” Or “(WMAW COUPLE) We tried this food!” Or my personal favorite to hate, the title that states that the non-Black husband or boyfriend is doing the Black wife/girlfriend’s “AFRO” hair. Another favorite to hate: “My ASIAN (or white) boyfriend tries CORNROWS for the first time!”
“The interracial couple blogger/influencer family industrial complex has truly bizarre, cringe, creepy, fetish, white-worshipping, vomit-inducing levels,” wrote one Twitter user. “Most [of] the videos is the Black partner stating the ways they can probably show up as their full and natural selves and excpeting us to applaud because the white or Asian partner ‘accepts’ that. Gurl what?!?!”
The interracial couple blogger/influencer family industrial complex has truly reached bizarre, cringe, creepy, fetish, white-worshipping, vomit-inducing levels.— Dash (@InADash) September 20, 2021
Most the videos is the Black partner stating the ways they can probably show up as their full and natural selves and expecting us to applaud because the white or Asian partner “accepts” that. Gurl what?!?!— Dash (@InADash) September 20, 2021
One Reddit user in the r/korea subreddit wrote about their annoyance with the trend, writing about her frustration with videos featuring interracial Korean couples.
“[N]ot my cup of tea content wise as they come [off] as corny but I just decided to give one a second chance,” they wrote. “Holy shit! Does this feel fetishy to the extreme. I’m just talking about the fantasy of a Korean man but also that of a foreigner partner too.”
“A lot of these channels title their videos as ‘My Korean Boyfriend Does/Reacts/etc to such and Such!” they continued. “One of the worst offenders of this is a channel called Jin and Hattie. Literally their videos have redundant titles like ‘My Korean Boyfriend Reacts To Me In Sexy Outfits’ or ‘My Korean Boyfriend Gets Period Blood On Him!’ or my favorite ‘My Korean Boyfriend Things I’m Pregnant!’ I shit you not this is most of the content of their videos after a quick scroll and recommendations.”
As many people in the comments wrote, these videos are all about monetization. But what does it say about our global society that these videos are so lucrative? What does it say about American society in particular, since we believe we’ve moved beyond fetishization decades after Virginia vs. Loving? I think these videos say a lot, and a lot of it isn’t good.
Virginia vs. Loving was a landmark case in 1960s America, finally ending miscegenation laws in the country. The couple fighting for their right to love, Richard and Mildred Loving, sued the state of Virginia who refused to legalize their marriage, according to History. Richard, who was white, and Mildred, who was Black, took their case to the Supreme Court with the help of the ACLU in 1967 and, as we now know, they won, and their victory gave Jim Crow laws one of their biggest blows.
The case, as stated above, was brought before the court in 1967. As of 2022, miscegenation laws have only been deemed illegal for 55 years. That’s literally the lifespan of a lot of people’s parents or grandparents. For context, my mom is 60 years old, meaning she’s only five years older than the Virginia vs. Loving verdict.
When you put things in that context, it becomes immediately clear why too many interracial couples who make their money online, including young interracial couples, are still in the grip of creepy racial curiosity, fetishism, and stereotyping.
Racial fantasy and perceived racial prestige
Seemingly, one of the draws viewers–Black female viewers in particular–have to interracial YouTube content of all types is because it refutes the Western ideals of beauty and desirability. As I and others have written about in the past, Eurocentric ideals are harmful to the self-esteem of non-white people around the globe, and that goes the same for those in America. Black women and girls across the country (including myself) have felt the sting of those ideals in some way, shape or form, whether that came from a boy calling them “ghetto,” or a family holding racist ideas about their child’s Black female friend, or feeling outcasted at a mostly-white school.
Television and film doesn’t help, since it’s only been in recent years that rom-coms have begun centering around non-white characters. Regardless of the genre, non-white characters would get token roles in projects, placing them as the “best friend,” the “frenemy” or even the “enemy,” whereas the white leads were shown as destined to find true love and happiness.
Because of the self-esteem issues these micro and macroaggressions can create, some women have begun to see interracial relationships as a type of prestige, a way to prove that they are, indeed, desirable.
Aminata Cisse wrote on her Medium account how she became confused by the types of content discussed in these “swirl” videos. Part of what drives the popularity, she wrote, is rejecting Eurocentric norms. But the way these videos attempt to change desirability narratives instead reinforces a fetishistic lens.
“Since YouTube functions as a form of entertainment, these channels also tap into the subversive narrative of, ‘what if the fairy tale princess isn’t white’?” she wrote. “If we, Black women, are truthful, then we must admit that for many Black and brown girls, their first love objects were white men. From Jesus to Prince Eric in The Little Mermaid, the idea of a ‘Prince Charming’ type disrupting the story, and foregoing a blonde princess for a kinky curly haried side character, bucks at normality.”
“Maybe this is one of the explanations for the almost childlike giddiness over a Black woman-white male pairing, as social media platform users hasthag interracial couple goals,” she continued. “It must be noted that the viewers of these channels are 88% female, predominately black, with a near 50/50 split between the US and the Uk.’ In turn, one could conlude that these channels peddle in fantasy; presenting their wares to one of the most vulnerable demographics: unmarried Black women.”
Vlogger Oghosa Ovienrioba spoke to I-D about the phenomenon of seeing so many successful Black woman vloggers married to white men. In her words, such a couple presents itself as the icing on the cake for the women’s success.
“Everyone knows this,” she said regarding the fact that having a white boyfriend would ensure your channel’s popularity would skyrocket. “Even YouTuber’s know this. That’s why they do it. YouTubers in general know the trends that will make you blow up. One trend is just having a boyfriend or a couple’s channel. If that boyfriend is white and is good looking? That’s it.”
But there’s also extreme popularity around couples comprised of Black women and Asian men. From K-pop popularity and the explosion of K-dramas in the U.S., to long-standing interest in anime, C-dramas, martial arts, and the constant contact Asian and Black communities have with each other, Black female viewers flock to videos about Black women in relationships with Asian men. Many probably say they do so for socio-political reasons–Black women and Asian men are often the last chosen on dating apps, and the overlapping similarities Black women and Asian men have with challenging desirability stereotypes present the notion that the two groups must stick together and, indeed, date each other.
But, like with Black women who flock to videos about Black/white couples, the audiences behind the cringy Black/Asian YouTube channels, specifically Black/Korean channels, are entranced by a racial fantasy. Some people might want to live out a K-drama life. Others might want to get an indirect feeling of what it could be like to date a K-pop star. And again, the couples in these videos are doing mundane stuff, but it’s put through a racialized lens–someone getting cornrows, someone eating kimchi or soul food, someone wearing red to their wedding, someone going to a Black barbershop or hair braiding salon, or someone celebrating Lunar New Year with cutesy joss paper. None of the content is about the people, but more about the couple self-objectifying their Blackness and Asianness.
Having a non-Black spouse as a sign of prestige isn’t anything new. If we listen to the ongoing rhetoric about how Black football and basketball players often choose white or non-Black spouses over Black ones, we can see that an element of racial privilege and fetishism is on display. If you are able to bag a person outside of your race, then apparently, you’ve giving a big middle finger to a society that wants you to believe you are less than human. Some couples view this as having transcended race altogether, that they’ve figured out the code to beat systemic oppression.
But this ideology presents non-whiteness as a problem, as something that must be conquered in order to be seen as desirable. There are times in my YouTube watching when, in a moment of masochism, I will watch one of these videos. I suppose I’m trying to give the people behind them another chance at making amends and breaking out of the fetishistic cycle. But I’m always let down. The videos, often showing the non-Black husband struggling with Black hair, or Black food, or Black dancing, are meant to be taken in jest, to make light of and have fun with cultural differences. But more often than not, the videos just portray Blackness in crude terms. The humor is uncomfortable.
There’s something circus-like in seeing a non-Black man sit between his Black wife’s legs to get cornrows he knows he shouldn’t be wearing, all for the sake of money. The Black woman’s culture is exoticized and lampooned–usually by the Black woman herself–while the non-Black husband’s culture gets treated with a little bit more reverence and respect. As I-D cited from a Twitter user, “It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that some element of Blackness is presented as an obstacle that needs to be overcome in the titles of all these videos.”
It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that some element of Blackness is presented as an obstacle that needs to be overcome in the titles of all these videos.— Anya “Living in Chaos” Chatterjee (@anyabelisle) December 3, 2018
Racial voyeurism for clicks
While the videos that present Blackness as a challenge are disturbing, the voyeurism portrayed in these videos is just as troubling.
Of course, the purpose of a vlog is for the viewer to be let into a stranger’s life. Watching a couple go about their day isn’t inherently problematic–we watch reality shows all the time. But it gets weird when we’re watching a couple put on what is essentially public race-based foreplay.
The subject matter already discussed–the cornrows, the food videos–and other videos featuring Q&As, meeting the family, and others, often revolve less around the couple’s personalities or emotional depth and more about objectifying skintone, hair texture, and other elements that are essential to a racial fetish, which Petiri Ira defines as:
“Only acknowledging and fixating on someone’s race, making it the only part of their identity you consider. Furthermore, you do not take their personality or opinions into account and your perception of them is based on harmful stereotypes.”
To be fair, the couples who engage in detrimental “swirl” probably do have a lot more in common with each other than a passing fancy about the other’s race. But what’s shown on the internet is nothing substantial. Instead, we’re shown content that does fixate on race, and does make race the entirety of the couple’s identity. Personality is rarely taken into account in these videos; the gushiness exhibited in the comments section stems solely from seeing a Black woman interact with, hug, and kiss a non-white man.
Interracial couple vloggers Jack & Anne made a video last year lambasting other YouTubers who utilize race in the creepiest way to exhibit their relationship to the world. In the video, Jack and Anne discuss a video made by another couple who called their morning routine an “interracial couple’s morning routine.”
The videos are cringy. Now what?
With all of this said, what should be done about cringy interracial couple videos? Well, the first thing–and probably the only thing–is to just not watch them. On the whole, I don’t watch these videos because they don’t appeal to me–as has been made clear throughout this entire article. I am happy when people find love, regardless of if it’s inside their race or not. To be honest, there’s a 50/50 chance I might be one of those who ends up in an interracial relationship. But one thing I’ve always thought about is how I would conduct myself in an interracial relationship, and as far as my personality goes, I would conduct myself how I do with most things–privately.
I wouldn’t ever be one to create a channel just because I’m in an interracial relationship. And to go further, I doubt I would refer to it as “interracial.” Using the extra label just makes it seem like it’s weird, like it’s a relationship I shouldn’t be having. It evokes a level of taboo-ness to the whole thing, and feeling taboo is not why I want a relationship. Regardless of whoever I end up with, I want the relationship to be one that is based on friendship, understanding, and unconditional love. I want a husband that I can share common interests with, learn from, and grow. I don’t want a non-Black husband just say that he’s learned how to do by Black hair, or that I’ve taught him how to dance the Electric Slide. I don’t get a weird kick out of it, and neither should my husband.
Perhaps if you are entranced by these videos, then maybe it’s time to reflect on why. Or maybe it’s time to question why our society hasn’t evolved past being sexually fixated on trappings of Blackness, since that’s the throughline with most of these cringe videos. Overall, I think it’s time for us to realize that it’s okay and normal to find people of another race attractive. While interracial couples challenge America’s sensibilities, there’s actually nothing life-shaking about two people from different races creating a family. Two people might have different racial and cultural backgrounds, but they are still human beings. They will have their ups and downs in the relationship, just like any other married couple. That’s what we should treat them as, not like circus oddities.
At the very least, it’d be nice if these cringy couples didn’t treat themselves like oddities for a dollar.