"Help! My boyfriend says things I find deeply offensive"
Hello! I recently started dating a guy I met at my university about a year ago, and I’ve come to realize I really care about him. I usually feel so at ease and close to him. I see a lot of potential in this relationship, but there is a problem that I’m having a really difficult time working through. You see, I am a woman of color (Latino and Black) and he is white. Dating someone outside my race has never been a big deal for me. However, I’ve faced different forms of ignorance and bigotry (e.g., colorism, fetishization, cultural appropriation, stereotypes, institutionalized racism, sexism, etc.) almost every day of my life and I think it is important to have an open dialogue about these sorts of issues. My boyfriend refuses to talk about it, and on the few occasions that he has, he basically states that, because he doesn’t see these problems on a daily basis, they’re “not a big deal” and “people are just too sensitive.” He also uses slang that I find inappropriate, sexist and racist. It makes me really uncomfortable! As a woman of color and a feminist, I feel like that kind of language highlights how internalized racism and sexism are still problems.
I’m not trying to turn him into a feminist, nor do expect him to join me in being an activist and attending protests. Still, I hope to pursue a career in journalism focusing on political and social issues—so discussions about politics and social injustices are a huge part of who I am. I want to be able to share that part of me with him. I understand that we come from two different races/cultures and that there will be barriers that we’ll have to work through. But how can we even start when instead of putting himself in my shoes and at least trying to see things from a different perspective, he decides to shut me out and discredit my experiences (and the experiences of many people of color)? How do I get him to understand that these types of discussions are what comes with dating a person of color? Or am I wrong for trying to initiate these conversations in the first place?
I hope to hear from you soon. I’m honestly at a loss here . . .
—Activist in Florida
I’m frustrated and upset for you, but because you are being very generous toward your BF and clearly have serious feelings for him, I’m going to take a few deep breaths. You should and must keep talking about these issues. America is neither color-blind nor gender-blind and to pretend otherwise is to uphold an unequal status quo. Women earn 78 cents to the dollar that men are paid—for Latino women it’s 54 cents! Young black men are more likely to be in prison than in jobs. In one survey, 99% of college age women said they had experienced street harassment. And. . .on and on. . .one could write a whole book of these statistics, but you know what I’m talking about.
As for his use of the offensive slang, just because something was acceptable in his hometown or with his circle of friends does not make it right. As a woman of color—you get to decide whether or not those terms offend you and he should respect that. Expanding out of the narrower world we might have been raised in to develop more broad-minded views is central to growing up and being an informed and engaged citizen.
Perhaps you could raise his consciousness organically—introduce him to movies like Selma or The Invisible War (about sexual assault in the military), introduce him to music with a clear political message—but that’s not really your job or responsibility—unless you want to take it on. More importantly, he needs to step up and meet you half way, in order to hear your truths. From personal experience you’ve learned that prejudice is a big deal, and can’t be shrugged away. Listening is a critical component in any relationship and necessary for real connection and intimacy. You may not always see eye to eye, but you do need to grapple with each other’s differences—even if sometimes you agree to disagree.
How do you launch this kind of real talk when he’s avoiding it? You may be worried about hurting your relationship. However, given your activism and your aspirations, you can’t shy away from this or it will slowly poison your relationship anyway. I encourage you to tell him straightforwardly that social and economic justice are deeply important to you, and that for your relationship to work, you need him to consider your perspective and how it fits into the big picture of life in 2015. I always think its helpful, when you are about to engage in a serious and challenging conversation, to write out the different points you want to convey first, so you are clear, calm, and persuasive. You might start by out telling him how much you care about him and how that’s the reason why this is so important. I really hope that your boyfriend can break out of his cocoon and become the butterfly that you see inside him.
Stay true to yourself,
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