Should it matter that Ryan Russell is dating a white man? Absolutely not! Does it matter? Unfortunately, yes. Though, not for the reason you think.
Yesterday, we shared with you the fact that football player Ryan Russell, who’s currently acting as a free agent defensive end, came out as bisexual through an interview with ESPN. In the interview, Russell explained his plan as twofold: to return to the NFL and to live life as an openly bisexual man.
“Today, I have two goals: returning to the NFL, and living my life openly,” Russell said in the interview. “I want to live my dream of playing the game I’ve worked my whole life to play, and being open about the person I’ve always been.”
In addition to sharing the fact that he’s bi, Russell also revealed that he’s dating a man. Unfortunately, many people, and especially Black men, were upset to see that Russell’s 27-year-old boyfriend is a white man.
“Wanted to be excited that Ryan Russell came out as bisexual. As a proud Black, East Asian, and Caribbean bi dude I was happy that another person of color had broken down that wall but alas, you guessed it, his partner is white. This shit is sick and an epidemic at this point,” wrote one disgruntled Twitter user.
“If another Black man comes out as gay or bisexual and dating a white man, I’m going to be so… not surprised,” wrote another.
And these commenters weren’t alone.
These NFL players are really something. I went to look up Ryan Russell and guess what? His boyfriend is white
— « (@shOoObz) August 30, 2019
It’s so wild to me
— « (@shOoObz) August 30, 2019
I’m starting to feel like the whole black men dating white women in favor of black women also applies to gay men cause………………………………yeah.
— PK⚡️ (@castawayjewels) August 29, 2019
A (Not So) Secret Race & Dating Issue?
But what’s with all the anger? Why can’t Ryan Russell just be happy and in love? Well, it’s not so much about the individual as it is about the ongoing trend of Black men dating white men and women. To first tackle this issue, we need to look at our straight peers.
Back in 2014, OkCupid released a much-talked-about study stating that Black women were at the bottom of the dating pool (next to Asian men). This mirrored constant conversation of how Black men were choosing to date outside of their race. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing at a first glance, an increasing number of Black men choosing to not date Black women means that Black women are being left in the cold.
This problem has then been spotlighted by many celebrity couples. Taye Diggs and Idina Menzel (before they broke up), Omari Hardwick and Jennifer Pfautch, Sidney Poitier and Joanna Shimkus, Lamar Odom and Khloe Kardashian, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian (basically all the black men dating the Kardashians/Jenners), James Earl Jones, Charles Barkley and Maureen Blumhardt, Alfonso Ribeiro and Angela Unkrich, and many more.
Tv host and comedian Nick Cannon then spoke to BET about the phenomenon. He shared the perspective that dating and marrying a white woman is a success symbol for Black men.
“White women are looked at as success,” he said. “In America, we see a white woman — ‘I couldn’t have you. My daddy couldn’t have you. My granddaddy couldn’t have you. I would get killed even looking at you.’ So, now, if I play for the NBA, I want ’em all.”
Researchers See It Too
But this isn’t just some hallucination of bitter and single Black people. This is an occurrence documented by researchers as well.
A 2017 study by the Pew Research Center found that the amount of Black people engaging in interracial marriages is on the rise. In fact, the share of recently married Black newlyweds with a spouse of a different race or ethnicity has more than tripled since 1980.
Then within that, Black men are twice as likely to be in an interracial relationship, as explained below:
“One of the most dramatic patterns occurs among black newlyweds: Black men are twice as likely as black women to have a spouse of a different race or ethnicity (24% vs. 12%). This gender gap has been a long-standing one – in 1980, 8% of recently married black men and 3% of their female counterparts were married to someone of a different race or ethnicity.”
Even further, the data finds that the more educated a person is, the more likely they are to be in an interracial marriage. And Black men are always more likely to do so than women and become increasingly more likely as they become more educated.
“Among newly married black men, higher education is clearly associated with higher intermarriage rates. While 17% of those with a high school diploma or less had a spouse of a different race or ethnicity in 2015, this share rose to 24% for those with some college and to 30% for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher.”
While you could make the argument that a higher education means that you’re more impervious to ignorant racial bias, there’s also an opposite problem to it for Black men. For instance, women’s interest in interracial marriage/relationships varied only slightly by education (10% for High school, 10% for some college, and 13% for Bachelors+). So why is it that Black men, when they get an advanced education, feel so much more interested in dating outside of their race?
Again, all of this isn’t to say that interracial dating is bad. Its to say there’s a growing case of men valuing dating people who aren’t Black after rising in financial, educational, and social status.
Gay & Bi Men Too?
And it seems this phenomenon has spread into gay dating. As Twitter users pointed out above, Ryan Russell’s case of dating a white man isn’t unusual. For instance, wrestler Anthony Bowens is dating a white man, first openly gay NBA player Jason Collins is dating a white man, YouTuber, Broadway actor, and pop singer Todrick Hall is known for dating white men, rapper Tyler The Creator is quoted for the lyrics “kissing white boys since 2004,” and there are many more cases.
But Is Ryan Russell Bad?
With all this in mind, the backlash to Ryan Russell dating a white man is no surprise to anyone. But is it ok to be mad at him? Is it ok to make a man feel bad for falling in love with a man of a different race? No. Of course not. Let Ryan Russell live and love however he wants. At the end of the day, it’s none of our business whom other people date. When the ultimate point of life is to just pursue one’s personal happiness, there’s no point in fighting someone for whomever they date.
That said, there is still an important issue here worth discussing. The problem is not the individuals, it’s the underlying community trend and issue. That’s the real reason for the above tweets. It’s not a vindictive attack, as some choose to believe without listening to the argument. It’s the acknowledgment of a growing issue.
The real problem and real point of discussion is the fact that Black men are favoring white men and women as they rise in status. Dating a white person is considered dating up compared to dating a black person. And while the conversation doesn’t stop at celebrities, its being focused on them because they have given a spotlight to the issue.
But everyone, there’s no real saving grace or safe way to tackle this problem. It’s a conversation that needs to happen and unfortunately often happens because of black male celebrities sharing their love lives with us. It’s time we sit down and have a true conversation about the intersection of race and dating. But let’s transition away from Ryan Russell and other celebrities (besides as examples).
While they helped us to get here and start discussing it, let’s not look poorly on the men who have kickstarted the talks. Instead, let’s get down to being real about race and relationships, so we can figure out where this underlying issue is coming from and how to fix it.
Update (09/01/2019): This article has been updated to include statistical data from the Pew Research Center to back its stance. Also, more words are added to further express the goal of not questioning interracial relationships but the growing case of black men valuing interracial relationships over dating black men/women.