How to Talk to Your (White) Partner About Race by Josephine Jay
Artwork credits: Josephine Jay
BAME in 2020
Police killings of unarmed Black people in America this May sparked unprecedented conversations about race and racial identity, as people began to dissect and explain what it means to be BAME in 2020. People turned to their nearest and dearest BAME friends and family to check in and check that they at least weren’t part of the problem – were they?
In the wake of the BLM movement, this is a conversation I have found myself having time and time again. However, no conversations have been more emotionally draining than those I have had with my boyfriend.
As a Chinese woman, I have found the dating scene a bit of a minefield when it came to dodging fetishes, ignorance and those just looking for someone palatably ethnic to piss off their conservative parents back home. One of the new hobbies I have picked up, alongside baking, during lockdown is trying and failing in many different ways to talk to my boyfriend about race. Dissecting what racism means to me and how prevalent it still is in Scotland with my (white) Scottish boyfriend has been a headache and a half.
Interracial couples have existed throughout history – however, only in the last century have they become part of mainstream narratives. Meghan and Harry are testament to prejudice still faced socially by interracial couples operating in the public eye – there is no guidebook on how best to approach the subject.
What I have learnt is: there is no perfect way to talk to your partner about race.
Tried, tested and failed methods I would definitely not recommend include but are not limited to; arguing in circles about positive discrimination and equality at 8:15am in a cafeteria in Lisbon Airport waiting for easyJet to announce our flight as our cheeseburgers grow cold, as well as passively aggressively ordering and reading Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race in the hope he would read it as well.
Overt and Covert Racism
His worldview is predominantly white, Scottish and male. He has lived, loved and travelled across Asia, which has given him perspective on different cultures and what it feels like to be an unwelcome individual. Yet, he still struggles to see how colour can be a barrier to success. For him, overt ‘Racism’ and apparent covert ‘racism’ are two different things: the former was tackled in 1963 by Martin Luther King, Jr.; hypersensitivity towards the latter creates victimhood and monsters out of shadows.
We have dealt with minor incidents here and there that have brought up the issue of race, but it took Covid-19, when I began to experience overt and aggressive harassment, for him to really appreciate that ‘Racism’ is still alive and well in today’s Britain. I think witnessing and hearing about these incidents was an eye-opener for him.
For some, I have noticed it takes a close relationship to begin to really understand the challenges BAME people face digested through relayed experiences of friends or partners.
I don’t want to dump him; I want to talk to him.
The advice from some of my friends has been, “Just dump him!” which hurts to hear. I don’t want to dump him; I want to talk to him. More importantly, I want to talk to him about race. I love my boyfriend – amidst all the horrible uncertainty and anxiety this year has brought; lockdown has been a wonderful time to spend time together, to pause, to cook, to binge-watch, go on long walks and do everything in-between.
I am bad at debating. While I can see his points on some matters, on others I feel we are coming from opposite ends of the spectrum with little hope of meeting in the middle. Removing people whose views do not align with your own from your life, although occasionally tempting is limiting and reductive. I do not and should not expect his views to align perfectly with mine.
I have learnt from my own experience it is better to have these conversations early on – spot those red flags flying as soon as possible, and dip. Try to approach the subject from an angle that invites constructive debate. Personal accounts tend to work better than quoting statistics. He can relate to a story about getting spat at in the street emotionally, in ways which a page of percentages about inequality fails to convey.
Most important, have these conversations little and often, no matter how uncomfortable or difficult they may be. These are important conversations to have; they are not about guilt or blame – they are about sharing and explaining.
Little and Often
Most important, have these conversations little and often, no matter how uncomfortable or difficult they may be. These are important conversations to have; they are not about guilt or blame – they are about sharing and explaining. Talking to your partner about race is not a subject that can be done in a single evening. Conveying a lifetime of experiences takes many months to draw together over shared moments and conversations. All we can do in the meantime is be patient, be kind, and most of all – be persistent.
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Josephine Jay writes both fact and fiction. She has written for the Sunday Times Magazine and MIR Online. Josephine was adopted from Fuyang, China and is current based in Edinburgh, Scotland. She is working in a restaurant and trying to work out what to do with herself – a work in progress.