I’m a white gay man in his early 20s and I’ve been dating my boyfriend for a little over six months. My boyfriend is African-American, and he’s the first person of color I’ve gotten serious with. I never really gave that much thought until very recently. My boyfriend has been full of hurt and rage over what’s happening in our country, and it’s been impacting our interactions with each other. I don’t blame him one bit, but I’m concerned for the future of our relationship. Is it my place to console him? How can I best support him? What are my responsibilities in an interracial relationship as the more privileged party? My worst nightmare is being “that white guy” and ruining this.
I have bad news for you: You will always be “that white guy” simply by virtue of being white and male.
No matter how progressive or well-intentioned we are as white people, we’ve been groomed to look down upon communities of color since birth. You can’t snap your fingers and erase that kind of insidious socialization, no matter how many partners of color you boast. Racist ideologies don’t just permeate how we see others; they’re wrapped up in our understanding of who we are. They bolster our egos and shape our personal narratives. Even if we devote our entire life to racial justice, we have a responsibility to continually interrogate our own oppressive thought patterns, unlearn toxic scripts, and hold ourselves accountable when we fuck up. Which we will do, constantly.
I have even more bad news for you: You’re not the best partner for your boyfriend.
Which doesn’t necessarily mean that you guys won’t work out! But. The more marginalized you are, the more trauma you will endure over your lifetime at the hands of those in power. The more traumatized you are, the less likely you’ll be to desire members of the group that oppressed, disempowered, and abused you. It’s simple. People of color have every right to decline dating white folks, and they often do. No matter how much we educate ourselves or devote time to listening to communities of color, we’ll never truly understand what it means to walk through the world as a second-class citizen. That default lack of context (and therefore, true empathy) for the people of color experience makes us less than optimal partners, and it is our responsibility to gracefully accept that. Not every interracial relationship is doomed to fail – and there are challenges inherent to them that can make those bonds difficult to navigate, particularly for the partner of color.
So, how can white partners of people of color step up?
First, don’t shy away from dialogues about race if your partner engages you in them. Conversations about racial inequality are going to be uncomfortable for white people, and your impulse will be to avoid sitting in that discomfort. Resist that impulse.
Conversely, accept the fact that you’re not going to always be your partner’s first choice when they want to talk about race. That privilege is reserved for members of their community who just “get it” without your partner having to educate the listener, choose their words carefully, or edit their emotional responses for their listener’s benefit.
Second, remove yourself as the center of every narrative. Your partner’s anger and frustration and grief are less about you personally and more about the entire complex web of a systemically oppressive system. Don’t take it personally. If you find yourself doing so, don’t rely on your partner to help dissuade your concerns. Lean on other white folks with your thoughts and feelings and make sure you have a solid self-care practice going.
Third, make sure you’re combatting racist microaggressions in your everyday life. Whether it’s your well-meaning family or your supposed-to-be-socially-conscious friends, sometimes people are going to say or do things that are fucked up. And it’s your job – both as the partner and a fellow white person – to say something. Pro tip: Make sure you talk to your partner about how they’d prefer you respond to a microaggression when they’re present.
Finally, as I alluded to earlier in this column, don’t let your pride get in the way of owning up to your mistakes. Understand that sometimes you’re going to say or do racist things – and be ready to take responsibility, apologize sincerely, and have a plan for how to do better going forward.
- Andre Shakti is a queer journalist, educator, performer, activist, and professional slut living in the DMV. She is devoted to normalizing alternative desires, de-stigmatizing sex workers and their clients, andnot taking herself too seriously. Andre wrestles mediocre white men into submission and writes about the resistance for Rewire, Thrillist, MEL, Vice, Cosmopolitan, Autostraddle, and more. She frequently lectures,coaches and advises on the intersecting issues of sexual health, politics and pleasure, race, trauma, gender diversity, sex worker rights, non-monogamy, and queerness. When not working, Andre can typically be found marathoning "Law & Order: SVU" under a chaotic pile of partners and pitbulls, and yes, she knows how problematic that show is. In addition to her work with Baltimore OUTloud, Andre is the reigning polyamory pundit at her biweekly non-monogamy advice column "I Am Poly(amorous) & So Can You!", which you can visit - and submit questions to! - via IAmPoly.net. She encourages you to connect with her on Facebook via "Andre Shakti" and follow her NSFW exploits on Twitter via @andreshakti!