9 Books About Interracial Relationships
Kasim Ali, author of "Good Intentions," recommends stories about love, race, and identity
What makes stories about interracial relationships so intriguing? Well, maybe it might be the fact that, not that long ago, marriage between people of two different races was illegal in America. Even today, they’re still not that common: 10% of all marriages in the US are interracial, and 7% for the UK, where I live. What is it that keeps us from pursuing them? A myriad of reasons, I imagine: societal, cultural, familial.
It’s why I wrote Good Intentions, to explore an interracial relationship between a Pakistani Muslim man and a Black Muslim woman in the U.K. My novel begins when Nur meets Yasmina at university. They fall in love, with the speed of youth, and begin to commit to one another. But when Yasmina invites Nur into the entirety of her world, introducing him to her family, Nur holds back. He refuses to tell his family about her, because he believes his parents won’t accept her because she is Black.
Unlike all the other relationships I had seen, presented on page or in film and TV, I wanted to remove whiteness from the equation. What does an interracial relationship look like when neither person is white? How does that play out? What specificities does that relationship have that we haven’t been privy to? I wanted, too, to write about Muslims that moved through the world like I did, to write about South Asians in a way that I’d never really seen before.
What follows is a list of books I have read and enjoyed that have interracial romances. Some of them include white people, some do not.
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith’s debut novel is also the first Zadie Smith I read, albeit many years after it was first published. In it, we meet Archie as he attempts to process his wife leaving him. By chance, he encounters Clara, a meeting of difference. Archie is old, Clare is not. Clara is Black, Archie is not. So begins their story, which takes place over decades, charting generational gaps, exploring societal expectations, and interrogating the very idea of family itself. Reading White Teeth was the beginning of my journey into reading books that were about people who looked like me, lived like me. It is this book that gave me the permission I sorely needed to write the stories I desperately wanted to read.
Real Life by Brandon Taylor
Brandon Taylor’s sentences can feel like fire on skin. His dialogue is piercing, his character work insightful. His debut novel follows Wallace, a gay Black PhD student learning how to be in his homogenous Midwestern campus. Taylor paints an intimate portrait of his relationship with Miller, a white classmate, of their push-and-pull, never quite knowing what they are to each other.
Memorial by Bryan Washington
I first came across Bryan Washington through his short story collection, Lot. Memorial reads like that collection: intimate, piercingly so.
The novel follows Benson, a Black man in a relationship with Mike, who is Japanese American. Mike returns to Japan to see his dying father just as Mike’s mother has arrived at their apartment in Houston. This could have become a cringe-worthy comedy, but Washington turns it into a beautiful and evocative exploration of modern-day relationships.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Celeste Ng never fails to make me sob. I spent a Sunday afternoon lying in bed, sunbeams pushing their way through the blinds on the windows, crying at the end.
Ng is an expert in relationships, concisely exploring them in impossible depths given that neither of her books break over 400 pages. The catalyst for the novel is the disappearance of Lydia, a beloved teenager living in a small-town in 1970s Ohio. A big theme of the book is race: the father, James, is Chinese, and the mother, Marilyn, is white. This not only affects their children, how they see themselves and how the world sees them, but also the parents themselves, and Ng writes about the complexities beautifully.
Love Marriage by Monica Ali
Monica Ali starts by introducing the main conceit: there is a South Asian woman, Yasmin, and her lover, a white man by the name of Joe—they are to be married, their families meeting for the first time. Love Marriage looks on the surface to be a comedic meet-the-in-laws story about the clashing of cultures, but hidden within is a mediation on identity, race, and desire in post-Brexit London.
Luster by Raven Leilani
Leilani’s writing is sharp, as is her wit. Her characters piercing and real. More than that, she is funny, a much harder feat to pull off than all those other things. Edie is a 23-year old Black woman, in a situationship with an older white man. She soon finds herself living with him, his wife, and their adopted Black daughter.
Girl Woman Other by Bernardine Evaristo
Booker-prize winner Girl Woman Other is a tour de force. The novel is a brilliant exploration of today’s Britain through a cast of Black women that force you to accept their depth. These Black women are in all kinds of relationships, with men, with women, with themselves. These tight vignettes are intimate and intense, coming together in a vivid ending. A worthy winner.
Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez
Paul Mendez’s Rainbow Milk is a book written in two halves. The first of a young boy leaving the repressiveness of his industrial hometown to find himself in London. In the second, that same young boy turned a man has found something, even if it’s not entirely what he thought he might be. Now in a relationship with a white man, he is trying to understand what it means, to him and to the wider world, to exist in a Black body.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Kiley Reid does the hard thing: she writes about race with humor without ever losing herself in caricature or stereotype. The dynamics between the characters are luscious, filled in with such detail in tight prose. The dialogue sings on the page.
Emira is Black, the couple she babysits for is white. When she takes the child to the supermarket and is accused of kidnapping the baby, so begins the plot. The mother, a feminist blogger called Alix, tries to make things right. She fails. Emira begins to date a white man, who has a history of his own. Things come together only to fall apart to be brought back together again.