Why Instagram, VSCOCAM & The Ignorant Need Filters For Interracial Couple Selfies

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Relationship selfies.

When we’re with our other half, it becomes second nature to sporadically pull out our front cams to snap the perfect couple photo that we’ll soon flaunt on social media, because we’re even more comfortable with narcissism when we have a partner in crime. And because truthfully, there’s an unmatched joy in flooding Instagram feeds with well-lit, romantic, unachievable shots of power couples doing what power couples do.

But when it comes to inter-racial couples, the snap and upload combination isn’t the easiest way to capture a moment of bliss. And for a black man and white woman like my other half and I, Instagram filters are just another enemy we’ve encountered during our romantic journey.

After laughing uncontrollably through six or seven failed attempts to capture an acceptable selfie with the right camera angle, adjustment of exposure, brightness and direction (away from the sun, of course), the daunting task of choosing the right filter presents itself. Hmmmm. Amara? No, where did my features go? Sutro? Uh, why did that shadow just swallow my boyfriend? Rise? I look sick. Skin-clammy sick. And X-Pro 11? Well, let’s be real, no one ever uses X-Pro 11.

“They need a mixed couple Insta filter, because this is shit ridiculous,” my boyfriend said. He was joking. Kinda.

After all, Instagram is a non-factor in our ability to monitor our relationship’s worth and we both know that the majority of photos that define our connection are hidden in the depths of my phone and will never see the light of day. The ones where I’m not wearing any makeup, my hair is a mess and we’re lying in bed watching a documentary and eating pizza. The photos where we are authentically us and authentically happy.

But Instagram likes to demand perfection. Otherwise, there’d be no point of the filters and no point in the likes. And he was right. It seemed like we do need a filter. But not for us. For everyone else who doesn’t see perfection when they look at us. For anyone that views us as anything less than the standard of love. For anyone that has a problem that he’s he and I’m me and we’re together. The ones we filter for.
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While caught in an endless black hole of cyber scrolling one day, I came across a meme that read, “the hardest thing about being in an inter-racial relationship is taking a picture together.” I laughed, because we both know the struggle. But it’s the farthest thing from the hardest part for many of us. The meme may be true in a place like Toronto, where he and I met and began dating three years ago. After all, in the most multi-cultural city in the world, many of our friends, peers and associates are in inter-racial relationships. (A term that I absolutely hate and have only used a handful of times, because of how irrelevant it is to us.)

The “swirl capital of the world,” Toronto’s even been called.

In a city that’s so multi-cultural, racial ignorance is relatively low on the Scale of Idiocy compared to other parts of the world, as it becomes second nature to accept differences in everyone and everything, when everyone and everything is different. (Hence why we even accepted a crack-smoking mayor.)

When he and I met, nothing was easier than getting to know each other. We traded stories about our beliefs, upbringing, cultures and identities, met each other’s families, had our families meet each other’s families and became a unit. Because that’s what couples do, no matter how similar or different they may be. We talked honestly and openly about race and the importance of our values to each other. I learned how to cook his favourite traditional Ghanaian foods like peanut soup and fufu and began my struggle in learning his mother’s first language, “twi,” while he embraced my obsession with ridiculous holiday traditions and accepted my hair in the morning. We compromised and shared the best of each other because (I reiterate) that’s what couples do, no matter how similar or different they may be.

In Toronto, we never needed a filter for our relationship, for social media, for real life, for anything or anyone.

But then, he asked me to come to Europe with him and everything changed.

A week or so before my move overseas, Ernest Baker wrote a controversial piece titled, “The Reality Of Dating White Women When You’re Black,” and received an enormous amount of criticism (and a few death threats) because of his honesty about his choice of women and the stereotypes/backlash of said choice. You know, targeting fetishizing, race ideology, self-hate and everything else ignorant people assume when they see a mixed-race couple. It was a week before I was to pack up my bags and travel to be with my boyfriend in Finland (who plays professional soccer over there), when I met up with Ernest for a drink while he was in town speaking at a panel.

While sipping on my overpriced rum and coke, we got into talking about the backlash from his piece. I didn’t understand what pissed everybody off so much, because to me, the article was a refreshing reality and look into the humanness involved when two people fall in love with such a deep-rooted complicated past. But those online protesters evidentially missed the memo of what Ernest’s piece was really about, which was simply to shine a realistic light on interracial relationships and admitting that in 2014, these stereotypes and assumptions don’t apply to all of us. Because, as hard it is for some to believe, real i.r love can exist and not everyone is ignorant.

But following my move to Europe, I received a big dose of a reality I wasn’t quite ready for. I saw where the backlash came from first hand.

I got off the plane in Helsinki, Finland. The summer air was moist, Fins bustled around speaking in their Scandinavian language and people stared a little. I didn’t pay it much mind at first, because I was jet-lagged, I assumed that I looked like shit from my 10 hour flight, I was in a strange place and I hadn’t seen my him in a few months. Nothing was going to stop me from smothering my man in public. So I did. But as the days and weeks went by, it became apparent that the stares weren’t going to stop and that things were going to be a lot different for us here. And I didn’t mean in a new culture, new country, new experience type of way, I meant, difficult for us, together.

The stares, the ignorant comments and the blatant racism began almost immediately from nearly everyone we came in contact with.

“You two look really good together,” a 30-something-year old drunken Finnish woman slurred in her thick accent backstage at a music festival he and I attended during my first week in the new continent. She caught us mid-selfie. I needed to snap a couple shot as I hadn’t posted one on Instagram since landing in Finland. After months of being separated, it was time to stunt with the man that had brought me here.

“Thanks,” I smiled. She leaned into me.

“You are. You don’t see that many couples like you over here…My sister dated a guy from the Bahamas once. He was black…I would never fuck a black guy though…So don’t worry, I won’t try and sleep with him…But I heard they have huge –” she pointed to her crotch while trying to sit upright in her drunken stupor.

My reaction that followed will not be documented for the sake of my own professional reputation. What I will however mention, is at a table nearby, a group of skinheads in their mid-thirties were rocking confederate flag tees and eyeing the happenings. A reminder that I wasn’t in Toronto anymore.

On another occasion a few weeks later, away from the drunken festival life, a middle aged couple stared at my boyfriend and I eating dinner after his soccer win while in a quaint Mexican restaurant. I was uncomfortable with the glares. I wanted to go over and smush the remaining nachos on my plate in their Scandinavian faces, growing tired of this ongoing preeing that seemed to take place wherever we went. But my love grabbed my hand and smiled.

He pulled out a napkin and we both signed our autographs on it with the pen from my purse and we set it on their table as we passed on our way out of the restaurant, laughing at our mini victory while hand in hand.

“Europe is 10-20 years behind with their mentality on racial shit,” he shrugged it all off, not even seemingly bothered by the ignorance. He has come back and forth from Europe playing soccer for the past nine years living in Germany, Denmark etc. and so, has grown accustomed to ignoring the bullshit for this sake of determination to succeed in his field. He has racial blinders built from his need to adapt.

Me on the other hand, I’ve never been so open to closed-minded ideologies and blatant stupidity. I’ve never accepted it. From when my parents  found out I was dating outside my race, to dealing with my white school-yard peers who thought it was cute to use the N-word as a term of endearment, to people who think that White Privilege doesn’t exist. I’ve never been okay with ignorance. So much so that the constant need to remind myself that I could get deported for flinging idiotic Europeans into the street has become an ongoing ritual. In Toronto, ignorance exists, but it’s accepted (expected, even) to stand up and say something about these remarks. Over here, they’re the norm.

So let me clear the air for anyone who plans to stare in the future: He does not hate black women. I do not fetishize black men. He does not control me. I respect his family and his learn from his culture. He does not use me for money. I am not a sexual object to him. He is not lazy. I am not rebelling against anyone by being with him….

We’re just in love. Sound good?

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It’s nearly 2015. When we see a white couple on the front of (every single) Valentine’s Day cards, we see normal, we see a family structure. When we see a black couple in advertisements and magazine covers, we see Black Love. These relationships are celebrated. But love is love. Love is love is love is love.

He and I were spoiled before in Toronto. It’s a sad to realize that when you go to live outside of the safety of your box that you come to understand that the rest of the world is comfortable inside of their own. But we’re going to continue to snap photos. Of our journeys, our wedding portraits, our children and yes, those selfies where I’m not wearing any make-up, my hair’s a mess and we’re in bed watching documentaries and eating pizza. Because that’s us.

Would a filter make you feel more comfortable with that? Would a filter open up your mind?

Perspective: the right filter for every photo, every person, every scenario. Downloadable for free for every colour of the rainbow from Instagram to VSCOCAM to reality.

Cheese!

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