Going into any relationship as a biracial woman, I know one thing: Any serious relationship will involve discussion of the issues of racism.
That became even more crucial when I became serious with a white man. There were days I had lived as a Black woman that he would never live through or could imagine living through.
Since the beginning of our relationship, there have been times when the undertones of racism have escaped him. Like that one restaurant where other couples without reservations got seated before us. Or when our former real estate agent told us to stay away from the neighborhoods we were interested in because they weren’t filled with the “safest people.”
Neither of those situations sounded any alarms for him. But as a person of color who grew up in neighborhoods such as the ones that agent deemed unsafe or who gets “Pretty Woman” syndrome in half of the restaurants she steps into, the alarms were deafening for me.
Still, the door of understanding was never hard to crack open when a learning opportunity presented itself. No, it wasn’t my responsibility to educate him on the Black experience. But he was a man who loved every person he met, who believed “everyone should be equal,” and yet couldn’t understand how some people in this world didn’t need a logical reason to be cruel. So I chose to enlighten him with stories, articles, speeches and podcasts.
I guess I didn’t completely understand the extent of this disconnect, or maybe I was unconsciously avoiding it. Maybe I didn’t fully see how much he had to learn because he was so loving. Maybe – deep down – I was waiting to see how this relationship went and if he was a white person I wanted to educate.
“What my partner said was covered in a blanket of blissful denial.”
But with the emergence of protests after George Floyd was killed, I could feel the door I had worked so hard to keep open closing. The last few weeks, I’ve been falling Alice-style into rabbit hole after rabbit hole of bad news. The pain that consumed me this week left me feeling helpless and so overwhelmed.
Meanwhile, he’s been carrying on as if he’s oblivious to the chaos and social unrest within the country. I know he checks his news app every morning. So why wasn’t he falling with me?
Anxiety crept in. I plan to marry this man. What would happen when we started building our family? I feared for the children we didn’t have yet and the world they’d be living in. I considered the uncomfortable conversation about racism, bias and privilege every child of colour sits through at some point and wondered if he would be supportive of it.
Halfway through the longest week of my life, I started the conversation with my partner when we were in the car, just to see how he really felt about the civil rights movement happening 30 minutes from our home.
He told me that he understood the importance of protesting the death of this ONE man but that he didn’t “believe race played as much of a role” in today’s society as I thought and that it didn’t determine someone’s fate.
Despite the monologue going on in my head and the weight I felt in my chest, I couldn’t get my mouth to say anything other than “okay”.
Seeing the hurt in my face, he prodded me for answers, genuinely confused about what he had said wrong. Regardless of how strong I believed our relationship was, his unwillingness to acknowledge how the issue of race could affect our future was damning.
Being apathetic and complacent is still a choice. The choice to remain silent is the choice to prevent growth from happening. Anti-racist activist Jane Elliot asked the white members of an audience to stand if they “would be happy to be treated, as this society in general, treats our Black citizens,” and wouldn’t you know it: Not one person stood up. Like them, what my partner said was covered in a blanket of blissful denial.
“The truth of it is, whether he acknowledged it or not, our future was affected by the Black Lives Matter movement.”
He failed to acknowledge how the issue of police brutality against the Black community started a social movement, and that this movement had the potential to change the way society looks at and treats Black lives, and how this movement included me ... and now him. He was looking at things with tunnel vision.
The truth of it is, whether he acknowledged it or not, our future was affected by the Black Lives Matter movement. To suggest otherwise meant one thing: His white privilege was showing.
I needed him to be blazing this trail with me. When he didn’t, I no longer felt comfortable with him, not from that moment. From the very first time he told me race didn’t play as big of a role in our society as I thought, I began to shut down.
But even though I felt attacked and hurt, I never for a second believed him. I knew how big a role race plays in our society. It looks like walking into an Ulta Beauty shop after work and being followed by employees. Or like when I was working in a bakery and an older white man felt comfortable enough to tell me that the way I wore my hair scarf made me look like Aunt Jemima. Racism in America looks like people you don’t know asking if your hair is real, and if it is, can they touch it, and if you say no, why can’t they? And it looks much worse, as the events of the last few weeks have shown.
So I confronted him about his white privilege and explained it like this. The reason you feel so comfortable looking at racist actions through an objective, neutral lens is because you’ve never had to factor in the colour of your skin when you’ve faced an obstacle. As a white man, there are nuances you’ve never had to think about, and it isn’t because you don’t care about others. It’s because they have never affected you.
With sadness in his voice, he wrapped me in his arms and reassured me that he never meant to undermine my lived experience with racism. He admitted that he “doesn’t know what it feels like to be Black,” and he didn’t even consider having white privilege. This time, he was willing to acknowledge and validate my pain.
That talk was a tipping point for us. Before recent events, a small piece of me wasn’t ready to confront him about his privilege or even acknowledge it, which is a privilege in itself, because we were able to mostly avoid the issue before now. Now that the real conversation has started, I feel lighter.
This is a very small beginning. We plan to continue having these uncomfortable conversations because we love each other and want to build a future together. Race is only part of who we are as individuals, regardless of how much it might influence our current circumstances. We’re all human beings who deserve to be acknowledged, valued and respected.
The decision is always yours, and bridging the gap is not the responsibility of any person of colour. I know not everyone in the Black community feels this way, and many will disagree with my choice to stay in a relationship with a white person who is still learning to understand racism. But for me, there are people worth that effort: those close to my heart, those willing to listen and open to changing. I find those people and listen to my gut.
This article first appeared on HuffPost Personal
Have a compelling personal story you want to tell? Find out what we’re looking for here, and pitch us on firstname.lastname@example.org