How Interracial Couples Can Have Productive Conversations About Race
I was raised by my white step-father and black mother in a very impoverished, gang-infested community. Our parents raised us with a “just because we’re from the hood, doesn’t mean we act like it,” mentality. My step-father didn’t treat us black or white but he always allowed us to express who we were as black kids—and all that it entailed without trying to change us. I was considered “smart” and treated noticeably different than other kids who came from my neighborhood by teachers and my white friends because–I was “different.”
However, my acceptance by white people throughout my life made me feel like I “owed” them for treating me better than others who looked like me. So I spent a great deal of my adolescence and young adulthood side-stepping and avoiding my “blackness” as a courtesy to those who “accepted me.” And while it never really bothered me socially, it became a recipe for a lot of hurt when I married a white man.
I thought that, since he loved my skin and called it “unique” and “chocolate,” he accepted ME wholly. So when I began to slowly reveal WHO I was completely to him, I learned very quickly that just because someone accepts you, does not mean they APPRECIATE or VALUE you. Accepting was a softer form of tolerance in my former marriage. I spent years with a man where I could not be me. I couldn’t be OVERLY proud about Venus and Serena Williams. I couldn’t FULLY express my disgust with the BLATANT racism that I experienced. I couldn’t outwardly express my desire for my bi-racial girls to learn MORE about their black heritage…not without starting a fight, at least. There was no comfortable place in my marriage for me to be WHOLLY ME because my spouse had not made it safe for me to do so.
During the climb of what seems to be the growth of a modern Civil Rights movement, it is important for non-black spouses (or partners) of African-Americans to make a commitment to loving ALL of THEM and making them feel SAFE with what is happening.
So, how can you have PRODUCTIVE conversations about race?
- Love. It all starts here. When you tell them that you love them—it is all-inclusive of their past, their present and their blackness. It goes beyond the novelty of the skin and grows to acknowledging the pain and suffering of them and those like them.
- Safety. They have to feel safe expressing everything about who they are, what they face and even taking action towards justice without worrying about it causing problems in your relationship. They also need to feel safe that you will protect and defend them to those in your circle who look like you but may not share your heart for them.
- Don’t take offense. When They express to you their anger about the latest police shooting of an unarmed black person (because there will be more), they aren’t speaking about you or blaming you. They need to be able to express how they feel without walking on emotional eggshells, afraid of hurting your feelings. Slavery—that should offend you. Cultural appropriation—that should offend you. Social-economic injustice—that should offend you. Kanye West—That should offend you (just kidding-kind of). Your spouse lamenting over the spilled blood of African-AMERICANS like dogs in the streets should never offend you. It should make you hold them tighter.
- Acknowledge and Accept it. I challenge you to look at the data. Privilege exists and it isn’t going anywhere if it is ignored by those who consider activism extreme.
- Lastly—Never EVER utter the words “Why does everything HAVE to be about RACE?!” If you feel the need to ask this question, go back to steps one through four and repeat until you “understand.”