Being Black in America is not an easy thing. Anyone reading here likely knows that. To this day, we continue to live out the discriminatory legacies of slavery, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, racist housing policies, the war on drugs, voter suppression, and all manner of things that no white person will ever truly understand. Every time we turn our televisions and radios on, get on the internet, or walk out our front doors, we experience racism. It permeates every aspect of our society. It is also an undeniable fact that white people benefit from it, whether they want to or not. So, what to do when the person or people you love happen to be white, and, consciously or unconsciously, flex the muscles of their white privilege in intimate partner relationships? The answer is complicated, and generally as unique as we all are as individuals.
I have dated across the rainbow. That is just for full disclosure. However, in doing so, there have often been times when I did real damage to my own emotional and psychological well-being. Whenever white partners would display casual racism, racial tone deafness, or other harmful behaviors in that direction, I would keep quiet. I would remind myself that I loved these people, that they couldn’t understand, and that I should let it go for the good of the relationship. That is, until I dated the most unflinchingly selfish woman I had ever met in my entire life.
To be fair, the entire relationship, from beginning to end, was about keeping her comfortable. She was uncomfortable with my polyamorous nature – fine, we were monogamous, despite the fact that for me, being polyamorous is just as much a relationship orientation as my being gay is a sexual orientation. It was like spending six months in conversion therapy, all for her comfort. The same was true of my physical health. I have digestive issues and food allergies and was constantly sick because she insisted on going out to eat all the time at places that were not good for me. In short, she never cared about my well-being at all. So, it should not have surprised me when she was angered by my attending a meet-up group for queer women of color. She was white and was excluded.
This led to her insisting that it was my job to talk to HER, not my fellow women of color, about racism and the experiences there. She did not care how much emotional labor I was doing, or how important it was for me to have those conversations with other people who could actually share those experiences. For instance, we were once in a Panera, using the WiFi, when the barista kept shooting me nasty looks. She stayed mad for a day because I insisted that we leave, lest the cops get called on me. A situation like that could go very badly, very quickly. It could even result in arrest or worse, death. She simply did not get how tone deaf she was. There were countless instances throughout that relationship that were in that vein.
To that end, after that relationship ended, I did a lot of soul searching. I vowed to never coddle white fragility again. White people’s opinions on race simply do not matter in the context of an intimate partner relationship, or anywhere else. It is their job to educate themselves and listen and ask respectful questions and accept the answers of the people of color in their lives. I now speak up when it comes to white partners and friends.
For instance, if I want to go to a meet-up group for lesbians of color, I calmly explain why it is important for me to commune with those who share that experience. If they get upset, I remind them that they are acting like privileged, entitled white people who believe that they somehow deserve to be interlopers in such a private, vulnerable, and sensitive space. I also draw boundaries when it comes to talking about race with white friends and partners. I tell them gently, but firmly, that it is not the job of people of color to educate them on racism. If they want the privilege of entering our world, they need to educate themselves first. Do not use a relationship with a person of color as a way to become more deeply educated on the issues. I also make sure they understand when they are asking me to do undue emotional labor on issues of race, and I simply refuse to do it. Perhaps the most important part is realizing when to walk away.
Even in the case of white people who consider themselves to be woke or even anti-racist, there will be blind spots. We are all socialized in the same white supremacist society, and those messages are often nearly impossible to get rid of. If pointing out that there are some things that a white person simply cannot understand or should not be giving an opinion on results in defensiveness and fighting, it is time to evaluate just how long this relationship or friendship will last. After all, your first responsibility is to yourself. It does not matter how long you have known someone, who they have been to you, or what they have done for you. You do not owe them your friendship or love or a space in your life. If damage is being done to you, break the friendship off.
It is their job to educate themselves and listen and ask respectful questions and accept the answers of the people of color in their lives.
I also reserve the right to outright reject a potential white partner, or to break up with one, when they display casual racism or racial tone deafness in relationships. Further, I prefer to date other Black women and I am completely upfront about that. Being a Black woman in America who loves other women is a very unique experience, and that is a shared experience that is especially conducive to building a strong relationship. In fact, from a personal standpoint, I think it is pretty safe to say that I could connect with another Black woman in ways that would simply be impossible with white women.
Now, I do not completely write off white partners, because that would narrow my dating pool considerably. I am unconventional in several ways, specifically due to the fact that I am an atheistic Satanist and I am polyamorous. Even in the Black LGBTQ community, that makes what I am a deal breaker for many women of color. However, racism is an absolute deal breaker. My fellow queer Black sisters, we are not obligated to put up with racist nonsense ever, but especially not in intimate partner relationships. Don’t do it. The partner who has a problem with your calling out their racially insensitive behavior is a partner you are better off without.