Lately, I’ve been hearing from couples in interracial relationships who are struggling to navigate difficult and necessary conversations that they’ve avoided in the past.
When having conversations about race with your partner, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Listen to their experiences without chiming in with your own. We have a tendency to share our own stories of discrimination and stigma, but when it comes to race, it’s better to listen and offer support — not solutions.
As you listen and learn from your partner, recognize that they may not want to be your teacher. If you want to support them, do the work. Read. Google. Unlearn. Subscribe to websites that centre the voices of people of colour (POC). Read books like Me And White Supremacy, take workshops and engage in the lifelong process of dismantling systems of oppression.
Bedford Park couple Susan* and Ben* say they’re on the same page when it comes to racial justice, but it took time.
“Of course I know racism exists, but I don’t think I realized how bad it was until we moved in together and I’d hear the stories, the microaggressions, the incessant exhaustion he faced,” says Susan. “In his all-white workplace, they’d expect him to be the Black voice. The neighbours still turn to him for validation expecting cookies for being good white people. People make jokes about him being the token Black friend.”
“I’m not here to validate anyone,” says Ben. “I used to get tokenized, but now I have no energy for it. Susan speaks up when I ask her to, and I’m glad we’re having these discussions in the open now. If you have Black friends who have never talked to you about race, it’s because they never felt safe doing so with you.”
Toronto’s Natalie Preddie, a travel writer and on-air host, agrees. “Having a Black wife doesn’t give my husband an automatic pass. If anything, it should push him to learn more, speak louder, truly understand ally-ship, and educate others on what that means.”
When it comes to interracial relationships, friendships and more, proximity to Blackness or Brownness or Asianness isn’t a shield against the subtle racism and colourism that is ingrained in our upbringings. Just as being a POC doesn’t mean that you understand the experiences of your Black partner, as anti-Black racism exists among other non-Black POC.
When your partner is with your family, ensure you’re cultivating a safe space. POC can’t be expected to laugh off subtly racist remarks from extended family (regardless of age) or friends. Speak up to let them know that subtle (or blatant) racism isn’t welcome in your home — or in your life.
If you continue to spend time with people who are blatantly or subtly racist, ask yourself why. And ask yourself if you’re really working on being an ally.
When you speak up or fight for racial justice, don’t turn to your partner at every turn for information or validation.
Most importantly, ask your partner how they want you to show support. No one wants to speak for their entire race and no two people are alike, so ask your partner what support ideally looks like for them.
*Names have been changed and relationship details have been shared with permission from all parties.