Just like in other parts of the world, there are terrible divisive political issues that divide our country, our conversations, our families, and our relationships. None of those issues is more ingrained in American culture (nor more culturally relevant) than race politics. And we aren’t in living in the 1960’s, but it is still hard to navigate interracial relationships. I am not suggesting interracial relationships are more difficult than other types, but the conversations right now are different, the lived experiences of each partner are different, and the way race politics play out in the world and in the media every day force both parties to tread lightly.
Right now, it certainly would not be easy to be a white person dating a black or brown American. Personal guilt, general sadness, projected anger, and total misunderstanding could make it difficult to be the whiter half of the pair, but that’s not my cross to bear. Mine is the burden of addressing a white partner about sensitive racial issues, which has proven more difficult than I could have imagined. For those of you more colorful ladies and gentleman with colorless partners, these are principles I keep in mind when addressing my white man.
1. Embrace Discomfort
It’s not going to be easy or fun to talk about the racial issues of today as an interracial couple. You are coming from opposite ends of a weird-ass spectrum, but ultimately you came together for a reason. Be willing to learn from each other, listen to the nuances of each other’s race experience, and be open to some uncomfortable shit. Brace your white partner to be uncomfortable- discomfort is paramount to change. Once you guys have committed to breaking the walls of your comfort zone, also gear up for awkwardness and honesty.
2. Don’t make them feel accused
What is going on in the world is at once everyone’s fault and no one’s fault. This is the result of generations of abuses of power, and white privilege and racism are hard to recognize, yet alone unlearn altogether. Your partner will do things that irritate you, annoy you, and say some deeply offensive shit in your conversation. But listen. They have a point of view too. This is your moment. Don’t accuse them for their ignorance, but help lift them out of it.
3. Share your experience
White people have an easy time dismissing the media because, let’s face it, the media is sensational. If you didn’t know Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, you wouldn’t know the pain of a racist experience. But as a person your white partner loves, it is your job to share those minor (and major) moments of racism that you feel in your daily life. Until people understand that this is a problem that impacts real people, people they love, not just the black people on TV- it will be easier for them to accept, understand, and empathize.
4. Address privilege
Many folks of the Caucasian race are not the wealthy elite. They are not the KKK. They are not the neo-nazi assholes. They are people who have white privilege. I have recently learned that it is infinitely easier to talk to your partner, or white loved one about white privilege if you put it in the contexts of all types of privilege. To say he/she has white privilege is not to say they were fed with a silver spoon, instead it is one type of privilege, like class privilege, access to education, natural citizenship privilege those one has. If you are able to acknowledge that everyone suffers from some lack of privilege, it might make white privilege a more palatable idea.
5. Put Aside the Extreme, Bust out the Heartfelt
Don’t let yourself or your partner blind your discussions with the extreme. It’s not D-day. The world is not ending. Your relationship can (and will) overcome this trying, sad time. There will continue to be conversations on race, but you two have to be each other’s voice of reason. Getting hyper emotional, extremely defensive, or aggressively accusatory isn’t making progress for our politicians, so why would it work for you two. Remember, the events that are happening in the world exist outside of you. And you as a couple remind people, your families, your friends, neighbors, whoever, that love is built outside the coloring lines.