When Your White Significant Other Says Something Racist
I’m tired of trying to make him understand. I’m tired of the fighting. I’m tired of being tired.
I am a Black woman in an interracial relationship with a white man, and while sometimes things are great, sometimes things are terrible.
Last week, things were terrible.
It all started when we talked about the the women-only concert being planned in Sweden in response to four rapes and 23 sexual assaults that were reported at this year’s event, following several reports of assault at last year’s event as well. I’m in favor of excluding men from events. Since men cannot and will not police themselves — in fact, they often protect each other from the consequences of their actions — I support enforcing policies that hold them accountable for the harm they cause.
My Significant Other (S.O.) received his information about the concert on reddit, which, he claims, is a balanced source of information. Based on what he’d read, he felt confident stating that refugees and immigrants were responsible for the sexual assaults at the Bravalla concert. He felt so safe saying this that when I snapped, he doubled down and insisted that I look at his “evidence” for it. Evidence that he says has since disappeared, as the officer who reported the information is now under investigation.
I didn’t need his evidence to know that what he said was bullshit. Blaming people who are considered to be “other” for a community’s ills is common practice. I would have needed him to show me police reports and arrests supporting his statements before I would give it any real consideration, because my experience is that people considered “other” are often blamed for problems in predominantly white spaces. Considering that Sweden is a predominantly white space and anti-Blackness and xenophobia are worldwide, I didn’t expect the white people there to be any different from the white people in America.
But to hear my S.O. say it was the immigrants who did it, and with such conviction…We started arguing immediately.
We were at dinner, so we fought in public until I told him to leave because I couldn’t stand to look at him any longer. We paid for our meal and he left as I sat there, trying to sort out what the fuck just happened. After 20 minutes, I finally got up and took a walk. Eventually, I found him and we went home, but needless to say, we didn’t speak or have anything to do with one another for the remainder of the day.
If anyone other than the person I married had made such an offensive statement, I would have cursed them out and stopped fucking with them permanently. But I signed on to work with my husband and to build a future together. And the thing is, I love him. I love him so much that I constantly choose to stay despite these betrayals.
But when these arguments happen, I have to wonder: Am I doing more harm to myself by staying?
The following day, we talked via text. He offered apologies, recanted, and admitted he’d fucked up. When I asked him why he seemed so happy to say it was because of the immigrants, he claimed that it was because he felt like he could win this argument. He said that he had the chance to be right and he took it. Apparently, confronting his ignorance about racism and constantly being wrong was getting to him, and he wanted a win. But this isn’t about winning an argument. The fight for our humanity is so much bigger than an intellectual pissing contest.
Following this discussion, we continued to avoid each other. Even though he realized how badly he fucked up — even after he saw that all the posts he was using as evidence were removed and his source discredited — it was evident that his apology only went so far. He didn’t want to question the part of him that led him to parrot “it was the immigrants” with such confidence. I’d never seen him so gleefully say something racist and xenophobic to me. It was as though he’d had all his secret thoughts validated. And while I told myself I’d never seen him act like that before, I knew it wasn’t true. It had just been a very long time since the last time. Years, even.
The fight for our humanity is so much bigger than an intellectual pissing contest.
While these fights occur less often now — and even though the time between them spans more and more months — every time they do happen, I just feel tired. Tired of doing the heavy lifting on racism in our marriage. Tired of being patient. Tired of giving him space to learn. Because here’s the thing — that’s what it means to be with a white person.
If you are Black or a Non-Black Person of Color (NBPOC), you are the one who cannot opt out of racism. You are the one who will recognize the microaggressions and the looks and the snide comments. You are the one who will be doing constant threat assessments when you’re out and about. You are the one who will have to correct your S.O.’s ignorance and help them fix their shit. Because if you are talking about these things, as you should be, it’s your partner who must choose to opt in to a discussion about racism — and sometimes, more often than I’d like, that shit doesn’t take.
We all know white people don’t have to talk about racism. We all know that racism isn’t a constant in their lives. At least, not the degradation of it. Not the dehumanizing aspects of it. Not the discrimination, lack of worthiness, silencing, or violence that affects Black people all of their lives. But when a white person chooses to be with a Black partner, they are choosing to make racism a constant part of their lives. And if that white partner wants to pretend racism isn’t a part of the relationship, they are a liar and a shitty partner. They are toxic.
Eight years ago, I lived this and he changed…and while right now it doesn’t feel like enough, I know he’s different now. I also know that if I met him now, as he is, I don’t think I’d date him because it’s hard to trust white people and I’m fucking tired.
But this is my reality, part of which I chose without fully understanding what it would mean. That reality includes the fact that the racism I experience is still not quite real for the man I love. This despite the constant backdrop of anti-Black nonsense in our lives: Black women being trashed. Black people being discriminated against and murdered worldwide. Interracial couples in the U.S. getting threatened and stabbed. Mistrials when white people murder Black people…
Sometimes I wonder what it would take for all this to be real. My death? An obvious threat to my life? When will he understand that I am not exaggerating — that I’ve just carved out the safest environment I know how and it protects us from a lot of this shit?
I’m tired of him not being able to understand. I’m tired of being tired.
Several days after the fight, we still aren’t right.
Even though it’s been a long time since the argument, we are struggling to talk to each other. Just today I asked him why. Why be with me? We could break up and he could find a white woman who would never subject him to this again. It’s so fucking hard sometimes, and sometimes I hate that trashing white supremacy means hurting him. But that’s the price. For white people, rejecting white supremacy means rejecting your specialness. It means pulling away that cushion that protected you from the truth of who you are: oppressors, descendants of rapists and murderers. The offspring of generations of people willing and able to capitalize off the use and murders of thousands of Black people. Your heroes are savages and you live in the benefits of their savagery.
And the result is that our relationship hurts us.
He says it doesn’t matter. He says that it’s worth it. I’m worth it. But I still have to live with hurting someone I love and don’t want to hurt. And he lives with knowing that he says shit that hurts me, and he has to learn how to stop.
Sometimes I wonder if it will ever stop, and I still question why I’m choosing this life. But while love isn’t the answer — it is the reason. Love and the willingness to learn and grow. If he didn’t try, didn’t admit his mistakes, didn’t ask me what he could do to grow, I’d leave. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that I’d bounce, hurt, heal, and move on. But when he’s acknowledging his mistake and working to gain better understanding, it’s hard to walk away.
From this fight, we learned some things. We learned that he has been building resentment toward me because of his inability to fully understand and discuss racism. We learned that he needs to take more steps and delve deeper into understanding the intentional systems that maintain racial hierarchy. We learned that he has to do more work, and that he has to reassure me that he’s going to do the work. Right now, he has some reading I’ve given him. It’s a test and he knows it’s a test. If he fails, then I truly have wasted years of my life with him.
Love isn’t the answer — but it is the reason.
I know he’s only engaging in anti-racism for me and I don’t wonder if it matters anymore. I know it matters. I know that his care for me exceeds his need to protect himself. There will be hiccups and fuckups and “you need to shut ups.” And when the rage passes and the hurt fades, we’ll regroup and figure out what to do next. Because we aren’t working on a small issue. This is something that exceeds the boundaries of our relationships. These attitudes shaped our foundations, and when we confront them, we’re shaking our houses down.
He fucked up and he’s trying to learn from it. For now, at least, that is enough.