Keeping It Real About Interracial Relationships as a Person of Color
I will admit, I’m super annoyed that it took the election of Donald Trump as our next president to make white people admit to racism. And while I’m sad and worried about the coming days, I’m not surprised by this outcome. This was not a shock for me, or any Black people I know. It was just the confirmation of everything we’d been saying, our parents said, our great grandparents said, etc. Racism has always been a part of America.
White people just can’t hide it as well anymore.
And they are still trying. The rhetoric around Trump’s rise and his supporters is being downplayed. Revisionist history is taking place before our eyes. The main stream media is pretending that he’s not racist and everyone from President Obama to Oprah is begging us to forgive his racist as fuck supporters and work with that dusty Cheeto.
I think I’m going to pass on that hypocritical bullshit.
Despite that, there are a lot of us people of color (POCs) who have white people in our lives. Some of us have friends who are white. In my case, my spouse is white and we had to do a shit ton of work to get us to a decent place. But that work wasn’t soft shoeing around the issues. It was both of us coming to some hard truths and admitting some shit that was painful as hell. And once we understood who we were, we could work on being better for each other. I learned a lot from that experience and thought I’d share some things I applied to all my interracial relationships.
Reality #1 — If your white friend/lover was raised in America, that person is racist.
There are no exceptions to this. The very best version is the white person who knows and understands they were raised this way. They understand that they still live in a white supremacist environment and benefits from systemic racism. They also understand that they will need to challenge this in themselves for the rest of their lives.
The issue I’ve had is that white people refuse to admit they are racist. They will flat out deny it without the hint of reflection. To them, racist is a slur, not a set of actions, attitudes, beliefs, and assumptions that can be challenged and changed. Instead they get defensive and upset. Then, in many cases, they lash out at you. Many times, they will call you a racist, and at that point you know that this person does not understand what racism is or how it works. They haven’t done the work and that makes them untrustworthy. Hell, it makes them dangerous.
Reality #2 — Call out culture will be a part of your relationship.
This is the part that kind of sucks because it requires that you constantly confront the white people in your life about their racism. You will be the one to challenge their assertions. You will be the one to point out that they are fucking up. It’s uncomfortable and a buzzkill for them but then again, their racist comment was a buzzkill for you. Then again, why should you be the only one on the shitty experience train?
When I do this, it’s not fun for me. But it’s necessary. I don’t want to be in a room with a bunch of people saying derogatory things about POCs. I don’t want to entertain it in my life and I definitely don’t want them to feel comfortable doing it around me. I know for a fact that it has made me persona non-grata in many white spaces but it’s also made my social events more relaxed and fun. The thing to remember is that racism is abuse. It can be psychological or physical, but it’s abuse and your relationship is toxic. You will need to decide how to address that toxicity but you don’t have to live with it. It’s not healthy for you.
Reality #3 — Anti-Blackness transcends race and you need to learn about yours.
To have a real conversation with white people about race, you are going to have to examine your anti-Blackness. Otherwise, you won’t have honest conversations. While Black people cannot be racist, they can believe and do racist things, also known as practicing anti-Blackness. This is a very nuanced view because it means looking at a system verses individual actions. As an individual, I can discriminate against other Black people, but this is within a system that was designed to exploit and exclude Black people. As such, it can benefit Black people to harm other Black people.
If you’ve spent a lot of time in white spaces, you see the subtle approval you receive when you don’t confront someone’s racism. You see how popular media is that portrays Black people as drug addicts, prostitutes, violent criminals, and such. You’ve probably also seen how trying to advance or protect Black people can result in negative criticism from your employer. Over time you learn to choose when you will challenge people’s assumptions and depending on how hostile your work environment, you may learn to never challenge it. You learn to join in on the jokes about Black people’s names and how Black people speak. You learn that you’ll receive subtle approval for making disparaging remarks about certain neighborhoods or certain behaviors associated with Black people. You learn to hate the things associated with being Black.
This is a tough one because it is a behavior rooted in self-preservation but it’s dangerous and damaging. It’s self-hate, which Black people learn in childhood that must be unlearned constantly. I still find myself questioning some of the things I say and having to self-correct. But I learn and I improve and I fight when it creeps back up on me.
And the thing with anti-Blackness is that anyone can practice it. When Peter Liang murdered Akai Gurley in New York, Chinese people protested his arrest because white people got away with murdering Black people, so he should too. And while he was convicted, he got no jail time. I’ve seen Asian blackface, seen racist commercials, and they use racist depictions of Black people in anime. Anti-Blackness is real and it is practiced by all.
These are three considerations when it comes to being a Black person engaging in relationships with white people. Hell, any non-white passing person of color engaging in these relationships, be they platonic or romantic. We can’t keep pretending these issues don’t exist. It’s destroying bridges before they can be built and quite literally killing us from the inside. I want to see things change, but we have to do the work and the work is hard.
But it gets better the more we practice…
Originally published at talynnkel.com on November 15, 2016.