Question of the Week

(Bonus) QOTW: “How Can I Talk About My Culture with My White Boyfriend?”

Hello Christelyn,
I’ve been seeing my boyfriend for about 8 months now.  We are very much in love.  I’ve met most of his family, his 21 year old daughter, his parents and all of his siblings.  He has met my ENTIRE family because I took him to my cousins wedding.  No problems or awkwardness at all, even though I know his family previously has had very little or NO interaction with black people.  Basically, no drama.  Good thing, right?  Ok, maybe it’s my tendency to overthink but I feel like he needs to acknowledge me a little.  I’ll explain…he is unconcerned with things regarding race, pretty aloof and unconcerned, which is a good thing to some degree.  I mean, it never even came up until well into our relationship, and then I could tell he was a bit uncomfortable with it.  He could care less, but it is a part of me, I mean, it’s a HUGE part, it’s my identity, so I need help in how to broach the subject with him.  He just never spent ANY of his time around black people and simply knows NOTHING about us.  He really seems to have no biases, just ignorance, which isn’t his fault.  I think he thinks because I was raised by my white family (another subject for another day) that it doesn’t matter, but it DOES and I don’t know how to tell him this.  Sometimes I think some white people, for fear of sounding racist, are just afraid to even address the issue of race.  I think he falls into this category to a degree.  I don’t expect him to get all “afrocentric” but I need to feel he respects and understands this part of who I am.  Can you help, I do love him, but things cannot progress until he know ALL of me.  Plus, I would just like to know that he WANTS to know all about me, after all, I know all about him.  I’m so sorry for being so long winded, I just wanted to get the point across accurately.
Thanks for all you do and any advice that you could offer would be greatly appreciated.
   I feel like I can answer this question with one hand tied behind my back, because aside from the whole, you being raised by white people thing, this was my story with my husband, circa 1999. My very white-bred husband did not start dating me because of  a preference–he’d never dating a black girl before me. He just thought I was cute and laughed at his jokes, so that was enough for him. I understand that you have a desire for your partner to know, understand and empathize with what it means to you to be a black woman in America, but you have to have some foreknowledge that that empathy goes both ways. He has been able to navigate through life without the albatross of race on his back, so you’ll have to exert some patience in that regard.
   Second, you might have to be honest and ask yourself how important is race and black culture to you. Like, is it your whole existence? When you wake up in the morning and you look in the mirror, are you looking at a black woman or…a woman? Does race permeate every aspect of your life–from education, work, your neighborhood, down to the food you eat? Is Hotep your hero? If you’ve answered “Yes!” to any of these questions, then I have to be honest and tell you that things will probably not work between you and Mr. Clueless About Black People. You’ll either have to find that ONE white guy who takes the African Studies class at every university that has one, or date someone black who shares the culture you most identify with.
   Another option is one I prefer, because you’re not making black culture confrontational and super serious. Expose him to aspects of black culture that you are fascinated with and enjoy. Take him to a soul food restaurant and talk to him about the history of eating pig feet. Take him to a jazz club and talk about how juke joints were a major thing with black folks in the 1920’s. Go on a road trip and follow the path of the slaves who dared to take the Underground Railroad. Then after that, sit down with some popcorn and watch Love and Hip Hop. (Just kidding about that last one, okay?)
   What I sense from your letter is that you’re feeling some sort of anxiety that the man you love won’t really understand you, or at least an aspect of you that’s really important to you. And I propose that you have a little more faith in him. He might not understand it all, but if he loves you, how much does that really matter? I know women dating men that are ‘living the struggle’ right along next to their men and their relationships make train wrecks look like fender-benders. What is more, don’t forget to cherish and nurture the aspects of culture that you both SHARE, as Americans. I find that while Hubby and I are different ethnicities, our culture–and more importantly our values–mesh, which is why it’s worked since 1999.
   Stop overthinking. Have fun with it. Not everything about black culture is about pain and struggling. Start with the good stuff, and go from there.
   Finally, a word of caution: When you inevitably discuss the serious stuff, refrain from taking a “Your people did this to my people!” stance. You boyfriend has most likely done NOTHING to “your people,” and should not be blamed for such. He happens to be a white guy, born into a privilege he didn’t earn, and really love you.
If you’d like from to answer one of your burning questions, hit me up at [email protected]. Also, don’t forget that a lot of this information can be found in my book, “Swirling: How to Date, Mate and Relate, Mixing Race, Culture and Creed.” Don’t forget to check out our BB&W-approved sponsor,
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