Last September, when Remy Barnwell, 26, started dating Ben Podnar, who is white, she was hesitant to wear her hair in its natural state. As a Black woman, she was uncertain of how he would respond to her tightly coiled strands.
On her first date with Mr. Podnar, Ms. Barnwell, a tax attorney in Washington, D.C., arrived wearing box braids that concealed her natural Afro. Six months would pass before she let Mr. Podnar see her kinky coils.
“I definitely noticed the first time she took her braids out and I remember her being very concerned about how I would feel,” said Mr. Podnar, 29, an audience development director for the Center for American Progress in Washington.
Ms. Barnwell, who said straightening her hair since childhood “reinforced the idea that my natural hair was not enough,” was pleasantly surprised at Mr. Podnar’s response to her Afro. “At first I was really nervous, but he was immediately obsessed with it, which was a relieving and satisfying moment,” she said.
“I know a lot of people in her life have criticized her tight coils, so it’s especially been nice getting to see her feel that attraction from me no matter how she wears her hair,” added Mr. Podnar, who said he likes all of the different ways Ms. Barnwell styles her hair.
Hair isn’t the only thing Ms. Barnwell said she has toned down when getting to know someone who is not Black. She won’t play soul music, wears clothes that don’t expose her curves and avoids using African American Vernacular English, commonly known as Ebonics, in conversations.
“I also wore my Birkenstocks to my first date with Ben, which I’d never wear on a first date with a nonwhite man,” Ms. Barnwell said.
The alteration of hairstyles, clothes, and interests in order to gain social acceptance and limit the risk of falling victim to bias is a form of code-switching, a term that refers to the common practice of adapting or altering speech, dialect, look or behavior depending on the social setting.
Ms. Barnwell and other Black people say code-switching is common when they date interracially because first impressions determine if a second date is in the cards.
Joseph Lamour, 38, a journalist …….