OGDEN -- We live in a society that is pretty much OK with the ideas of interracial dating and marriage.
Except when it happens in our own families. That changes our vague cultural tolerance to something far more personal.
That was the consensus Tuesday at Weber State University's Taboo Talks. The monthly panel brings together experts on a touchy subject and invites the audience to join in the lively discussion.
Many on the panel labeled as racist the cultural preferences for romantic pairings within the same race.
"I think it is more than racist," said panelist Adrienne Gillespie, WSU Center for Diversity & Unity Center coordinator, a black woman whose boyfriend is white. "It's a bigger fear of what is different or unknown."
"People ask me why I'm not dating a successful, professional, African-American man," she said. "Well, that's not who eHarmony matched me up with."
Gillespie, a Layton native, said her whole family has long been comfortable with the idea of interracial dating and choosing mates based on inner qualities, not just skin color. Utah's small black population has not afforded her many opportunities to date within her race, she said.
But her beau's friends and families were far less comfortable.
"He lives in Cody, Wyo., where there are three black people," Gillespie said with a laugh. "And he did have friends ask him why he would choose a black woman."
Panelist Laura Natalia Munoz, a WSU sophomore, said she was the first in her family to date out of her Latin race. Her family was OK with her white boyfriend, WSU senior and panelist David Jacoby, until he announced he was going to enlist in the Marines.
"They told me he was going to beat me," Munoz said. "They think every man who goes into the military is going to beat his wife, because they've seen a few reports on the news."
And Jacoby's friends have given him flack for his choice of a Latina girlfriend.
"There are people who think I picked her for a sexy housekeeper," he said. "That's how they think of Latin women, as housekeepers. I picked her because we have a connection."
Moderator Lonald Dean Wishom noted that a recent article in Marie Claire magazine suggested that Asian women are the new trophy wives, because of their exotic looks and the stereotype that they are submissive. A woman in the audience talked about how insulting it was to be stereotyped because of one element of her complex existence, her ancestry.
Other questions that sparked debate, if not answers, were whether a black leader could be effective in his or her community if married to a white person; whether biracial children feel forced to choose one racial identity; why parents might approve of their child's interracial relationship with a member of one race, but not a member of another race; and whether an interracial marriage helps or hurts in a career climb.
Amy Pittman, a member of the WSU Diversity Center team, has a Chinese parent and a white parent. Her message to the audience was that nonacceptance of interracial couples is still a problem, "... and we need to deal with it."
Gillespie said when she was younger and living at home, the white parents of one of her friends arrived on her doorstep with a young black man in tow, announcing they had found her a boyfriend. She was studious and entered college at 16; he was a high school dropout with a criminal past.
"They thought they were doing me a big favor," Gillespie said.
But perhaps even more divisive in Utah, Gillespie said, is how couples from different religions are viewed.
What Gillespie would like people to understand, she said, is that love is a messy business, difficult to find and nurture, and a lot of work.
"If you find someone to love, you need to celebrate," Gillespie said. "And if you love me, you will celebrate with me and you will love the people I am with."