Being in an interracial relationship can lead to powerful learning experiences for both partners, but it can also present you with challenges that same-race couples don't have to deal with. If you're a Black, Indigenous, person of color (BIPOC), talking about racism with your white partner can conjure up difficult, conflicting emotions for you both. It's easy to assume your partner knows what racism looks like. It's so obvious, right? But even though spotting microaggressions and bias may seem like a no-brainer to some people, there are still plenty of well-intentioned allies who struggle to fully grasp the insidious and relentless hatred for Black people deeply woven into the fabric of America. Simply put, your white partner is probably much less aware of racism because it doesn't directly affect them.
The days and weeks following hate crimes against Black people are particularly difficult for BIPOC, especially those with white partners who can't relate to the trauma that comes with seeing members of their own community constantly fall victim to police brutality. So while society works on fostering change, it's important to ensure the allies you're closest to understand, to the best of their abilities, how racism affects you. Even though talking about your experiences can be nerve-wracking and hard, it's a necessary part of chipping away at a culture of white supremacy that supports injustice and police brutality. If a conversation like this feels long overdue, here are some tips to get the ball rolling.
What Talking About Racism Can Do For Your Relationship
According to Kiaundra Jackson, LMFT, every interracial couple can benefit from having open conversations about race, racism, and culture, but it's particularly important if you're a BIPOC with a white partner. Your partner probably doesn't notice the judgment or stares that come from racist bystanders. They probably don't get asked uncomfortable questions by people they don't even know. "[Talking about race] can make [your white partner] more aware of how people on the outside may view your relationship," Jackson tells Elite Daily. "That said, it's not only important to talk about racism in regards to how the world may treat you as a couple, but it's also necessary because it represents how the partner of color has been treated by society."
If you feel like being different races hasn't impacted your relationship negatively, Jackson says you should still be talking about it. "A white partner doesn’t know or understand what it’s like to move through the world as a Black person (or any other minority)," she says. "For this reason, having candid conversations and sharing stories with them about the bad, the good, and even the indifferent experiences you’ve had with other races of people (particularly white people) may make it easier for your partner to empathize with you the next time you have a racist experience."
It's important to acknowledge that for many BIPOC, talking about race-related trauma can be painful and triggering, especially if your partner can't keep their privilege in check and is quick to get defensive. So, if starting with your own experiences feels too intimidating, Dr. Loree Johnson, LMFT, recommends turning on the news. "With everything going on, these conversations may be happening organically," Johnson tells Elite Daily. "But if not, use one of the many examples featured in the news cycle as a starting point that can then connect to your personal experience."
Jackson recommends not overthinking how to start. "The most important thing is that the conversation happens," she says, but agrees that starting with your perspective on current events is a smart in. "Talk about Amy Cooper, the woman in Central Park who tried to weaponized her whiteness against an innocent Black man," she said. You can also talk about the George Floyd protests, the killing of Breonna Taylor, or any of the Black lives lost due to police brutality.
How To Ensure The Conversation Is Productive
Once you have a conversation going, try not to put too much pressure on yourself and let it take whatever shape it naturally needs to. You can talk about immigration in the United States, slavery and the 13th Amendment, unconscious bias, your own personal experiences like microaggressions or feelings of tokenization, and how all of these things have shaped your perspective. Racism is a huge topic that can't be thoroughly explored in one conversation, so don't worry if you feel like you can't say everything that needs to be said. It may also be helpful to encourage your partner to voice any questions they may have to help them better understand where you're coming from.
Although there's no denying how necessary it is for your partner to understand how racism has affected you, it's also worth noting that POC often bear the burden of having to educate white people on race. This seemingly never-ending expectation is exhausting, and Johnson emphasizes we shouldn't have to do all of the heavy lifting, especially when it comes to educating the people we're closest to. "If there’s anything [the George Floyd] protests are teaching us, it’s the importance of our white allies taking the initiative to seek information and understand," says Johnson.
There are plenty of books, movies, documentaries, interviews, and other resources that can help white partners actively put in the effort to educate themselves on racism in the United States. "POC should be careful about assuming the role of being the sole representative for explaining racism," she says. "Their white counterparts need to seek out other representations and experiences in order to deepen their sensitivity to our experience and their sense of allyship."
How To Deal With Defensiveness From Your Partner
Ultimately, talking about race is one of the most important tools in the fight for equality. Depending on your partner's exposure to race politics and diversity, opening their eyes to injustice may be a process. However, no one should ever make you feel like your trauma "isn't real," or "might not have actually been racism," or "might not have been intentional." POC should never feel like they have to prove that a racist experience was racist, so if you feel like your partner is gaslighting you, bring it to their attention immediately. They may also be quick to get defensive here, which Johnson says is expected.
"Some white people feel blamed and attacked when people of color speak up about racial issues," she says. "Then the issue becomes dealing with the defensiveness rather than the loaded issue being discussed between you. There can be a fine line between being sensitive to that and enabling white fragility around racial issues, so be mindful." If the conversation gets heated, it may be a good idea to schedule a time to finish it after you've both cooled down. However, if you feel it's necessary to use their defensiveness as a teaching moment, don't be afraid to call them out. Ask them to let you finish your thoughts before discussing their feelings about what you've said.
Ultimately, every interracial relationship can benefit from improved racial and cultural awareness. And if your partner cares about you, they should be eager to understand your experiences and perspectives. If they aren't, this could be a red flag they may have some serious personal work to do before they can be in a healthy relationship with a POC. Even though white partners may not fully understand what's happening and why from first-hand experience, and the work that needs to be done to foster much-needed change in our communities, you should always be able to be honest with them when it comes to issues that directly affect you.
Kiaundra Jackson, LMFT, award-winning speaker, best-selling author, and TV personality