So, You Married a White Man and People Suck When You Talk About It
Relationship problems are common. Expected even. No one in a long-term relationship will say that shit is easy all of the time. There are conflicts on finances, housework, food, paper towels, you name it and at some point, you will fight about it. My S.O. and I have almost come to blows over soap dispensers. Soap. Dispensers. We legit had to take a break for 20 minutes to realize how damn ridiculous it was.
I was prepared for conflict, even super petty shit like that. What I wasn’t prepared for was how isolated I’d find myself when talking about racism in my relationship. And by isolated, I mean people wouldn’t really talk about it, regardless of how the conversation was initiated.
I’m never surprised by white people ducking out on racism conversations. White people will do the most obnoxiously racist shit while simultaneously screaming, “I’m not racist” at the top of their lungs. They’ll say color doesn’t matter then talk about how inconvenient it is to find “Black” xmas decorations or how cute the skin on our interracial babies would be. They will find any and every reason to justify their monsters, like the murderous police, the constant liars, the mass murderers, and the multitude of sexual abusers and rapists. White people ain’t shit when it comes to honest reflection, empathy, and human decency, unless it’s in a way to excuse their own fuckshit, so I knew they could not be a resource for talking about race issues in my relationship.
Black people are different, though. Unless we opt-out of direct contact with whiteness at all times, we find ourselves mired in the nuances of dealing with overt, subtle, unchallenged racism and white fragility so delicate that even referring to white people as their chosen self-descriptor will send them into a space of offense so deep that it shuts down all conversation between you…sometimes forever.
Black people know what it is to have to manage whiteness.
It’s a survival tactic that many of us are indoctrinated into from birth. Yet, when I would try to initiate conversations about racism in my relationship with other Black people, I was met with a gleeful shaming for “marrying that white boy in the first place.” Pro-Black people blamed me for my decision to be with my S.O. Pro-Black men took great pleasure in calling me a “negro bedwench” and “the white man’s whore.” Moderate Black people assured me that he wouldn’t have married me if he was racist and advised me that I shouldn’t burden him with my Blackness and all the issues that come with that. I was told again and again that I deserved my problems and that it was my responsibility to figure out how to navigate it without driving him off with my racism talk or to leave him because he’d never understand what it was to be Black. I was also accused of aligning myself with whiteness and this was my punishment for it. I was even advised, unsolicited, to never have children with this man because it would turn out horribly.
I received so much shitty, hateful, and ridiculous information that I stopped trying to talk to people about my relationship and started searching online. All I found there were mountains of shittiness glorifying whiteness without talking about maintaining my space and identity in my relationship. It was essay after essay of “love is the only color” and “love is colorblind” and “love trumps race” bullshit exalting the suppression of my identity to placate his whiteness.
So, I said, “fuck it” and decided to figure this shit out myself. That’s when I started writing about it.
Prior to writing, he and I had many conversations about oppression. Grade-school level shit as far as I was concerned, but that was where he was in his understanding. In order for me to actually talk with him, I needed to see where his garbage rhetoric was originating. It was mildly fascinating because so much of it was group speak that would disintegrate as soon as any autonomy, individuality, or discussion about resources and policing was introduced. He literally hated the police until he wanted to make someone else do something…or stop doing something. Shit didn’t make any sense to me. I was still figuring shit out myself — I’d never truly interrogated my perspective of whiteness until it was part of my private life, and then I had to take a real look at myself as well as the bullshit views of him, his friends, and his family.
I had to stop treating whiteness as this abstract threat and realize it was a direct threat in my home that needed to be neutralized.
We both had work to do, but his work was in learning and understanding the individual actions and systemic structures that exploit and condemn people to a limitless toxic environment that was always evolving in its oppression. I needed to learn just how much white people not just didn’t give a fuck but enjoyed the power they denied having. It was something I got to see first-hand and it irrevocably changed my perspective on white people’s complicity with the status quo.
He wasn’t wrong when he realized that I didn’t like white people because of their acceptance, expectation, and adoration of exploitation, harm, and murder…an adoration they constantly lie to themselves about but we witness throughout history and anytime a gun debate arises. I realized that regardless of my parents being the epitome of the “american dream,” two people who were born into poverty, managed to attain higher education, professional careers, homeownership, and college-educated, professional children, his parents saw us as beneath them. He had to understand that not only did he harbor these beliefs, but he also benefited from them constantly and he took them for granted. He had to learn to acknowledge that not only was he privileged, but he was racist and that would never change as long as he lied to himself about it.
There was no coddling his whiteness. I didn’t have space for that. And when the time came to publish the first essay about our relationship, he knew that it was an experience that needed to be shared, regardless of how it made him look. And he knew it wasn’t a good look, but it was something he decided to change about himself because if he couldn’t we were over. Because if he couldn’t live in the reality of who he was and where he came from while I lived with the constant violence of that legacy, we couldn’t work. So, he lives with the knowledge and reminders that whiteness is a globally enforced, psychological terror system that is utterly destructive and he has to constantly work at not being an agent for that system. Thar it meant interrogating his assumptions and judgments and perspectives every day, multiple times a day. It meant understanding that his foundational beliefs are wrong, and he had a responsibility to accept and fight against them. And he does, which is why we are still together.
For a few years, in the spirit of compromise, I tolerated the racism of his friends and family but the murders of Alton Sterling and Philandro Castille and their subsequent silence until they found some anti-Black, trash panda parroting white supremacist justifications for the murders of Black people that I lost my shit and told them to fuck off. I told my S.O. in no uncertain terms that they are not welcome in my life or my home, ever. And, because they are cowards, they tried some passive-aggressive workarounds, like sending me gifts that would force me to acknowledge them by either accepting them or sending them back. Instead, I just let them rot. I have no idea what happened to them and I don’t give a fuck. I refuse to navigate those relationships. Even when his mom was hospitalized for unknown reasons, I told my S.O. that I would support him from home, but I refused to travel with him to see them. I seriously wondered if our marriage would survive that incident; he was hurt by my actions, but I can’t trust him to protect me from his family and I refuse to make myself vulnerable to them. They are comfortable in their racism and that makes them dangerous to me.
When he backslides or stops confronting shit, I remind him of his promise to me and our relationship. There are no passes. I live with the knowledge that he will never fully understand and relate to my Blackness and that if Black people decide to inflict the same violence they’ve received from whiteness, that he may sacrifice me to save himself. I’ve seen too many men do it to the women they say they love and too many people of all walks of life willingly sacrifice Black people for their own gain to ever doubt that. I don’t lie to myself about the willingness of others to sacrifice people they believe are beneath them. It’s literally the amerikkkan way.
I’ve learned, repeatedly, that my humanity, my Blackness, and my womanhood, demand these conversations. They demand that I wrestle with the realities of being a Black woman in a world that loves to hate us. I need to do the work to ensure that my full humanity is acknowledged and respected at all times and that it is prioritized in our relationship. I don’t expect him to always remember but I do expect him to listen, learn, adapt, and fight threats to my humanity accordingly. I need him to continue building that muscle memory that has him pick up arms and stand beside me in this goddamn war I’m constantly fighting and fight with me. And he does. He fucks up, owns it, redresses his mistake, and strives to do better. We work to ensure that it continues to be a war against the world and not a war against each other.
I don’t have all the answers. Every relationship is different and the people in them need to set their own limits and deal breakers. My deal-breaker was the dismissal of my life experience and the refusal to educate himself on the multiple ways that white supremacy and anti-Blackness work to destroy the lives of people like me. I knew that if he couldn’t accept the realities of whiteness, I couldn’t be with him. That if he didn’t understand and accept that racism is real, and injustice is the air we breathe and the water we bathe in that I would leave. I knew that if he would not fight the lies we’ve been taught, question the narrative all the time, we wouldn’t still be together. I knew that if he tried to undermine or stifle my work in any capacity, we were done. He had to understand and embrace all of my truth, even the parts that made him bleed, because that’s what it means to love me in this fucked up world.
And he did. And he does. And we stay and grow together.
I know there are many Black women and non-men navigating this same shit. I know they are trying to figure out how to fully realize themselves in this sea of toxic whiteness, maleness, and every other oppression we experience. And I know how it feels to be adrift in a sea of blame and apathy for the partners we chose. I write so that those women can see that this space exists — this space where they can be pro-Black, love themselves, and allow themselves to be loved in a way that’s been demonized. It won’t look right to many people and it may not be right for you. I do not encourage interracial Black women/white men relationships because there are so many layers of fuckery to sift through and virtually zero public support, that it can become a monster of its own making. But you can build your relationship into what you need it to be. You can have these hard, ugly conversations with yourself so that you can stand in your truth that looks like no other and tell the world to fucking work it out cuz their opinion ain’t your fucking problem.
It’s not an easy space to find and it’s always shifting, and it may not be forever, but what in life is? I just want you to know it is possible and knowing that can give you the patience and space you need to figure out what your space needs to be. It may not be what you imagined, but you know when it feels right.
You’ll find what feels right and I hope this helps you in some way on that journey.
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Originally published at talynnkel.com.