Dear Kiki: I’m Asian and my white boyfriend is uncomfortable talking about racism. Help!

In this month’s advice column, a reader struggles with talking about racism with her boyfriend when his mother makes ignorant comments about Asians.

Dear Kiki,

I need your help! I don’t know if my interracial relationship will survive. Between COVID-19, racism talks and all the tough topics, it’s been a challenging year for us to navigate. I’m Asian and my partner is Caucasian. During this pandemic, his mother made some ignorant remarks about Asians. I told my partner that it bothered me. At first, he defended her by saying that wasn’t her intention, but eventually, he agreed to talk to her about it. Sometimes I feel like he doesn’t really understand his privilege. Racism is an uncomfortable topic for him. How can I express my displeasure when it happens again?

—Will We Make It?

Dear Will We Make It,

I hear you. It has been a difficult year. Since the pandemic, the life we knew was turned upside down, leaving us feeling vulnerable and exposed. One moment, it feels like we’ve got a hang of the new routine, and the next thing we know, we are hanging onto this emotional rollercoaster for dear life.

While confined to our social bubbles and the physical walls of our home, we are also discovering things about ourselves and others that we had never known or ever thought to contemplate. How much clothes and stuff do I really need to survive? Is work-life balance achievable? How many rolls of toilet paper do I need to stay sane? (Protip: there’s a calculator for that.)

The pandemic has not only illuminated how connected we are by our collective experiences, but it has also magnified our differences, even from those we consider to be closest and dearest to us.

I admire your courage to speak up and initiate the conversation about racism with your partner. As uncomfortable as it was for him, it must have been just as unpleasant for you. At the same time, you are juggling multiple roles, as a partner, an educator and a target of a racist remark. That must feel like an insurmountable weight of responsibility and emotional burden.

When it comes to someone we love, the last thing we want to do is to hurt their feelings or start a fight. However, when you are being disrespected and treated unfairly, you are in the right to voice your concerns – in whichever way that you are most comfortable with.

Let him know that you are starting these conversations because you trust him and want to be honest with him. Open and consistent communication are the basic building blocks of a healthy and fulfilling relationship. If you are in this together for the long-haul, these conversations are inevitable. Change can be uncomfortable, but it is an opportunity for growth. 

Approach these conversations by first sharing how you feel. “When your mom said this, it made me feel….” Sharing your emotions will help him to focus on you, and hopefully empathize with you, instead of being quick to defend his mom and his own views. 

Encourage him to do what he can to start. Maybe it’s explaining to his mom why her remark was hurtful. Maybe it’s intervening when an offensive comment is made. Maybe it’s showing genuine interest and being proactive in learning more about racial bias. Or perhaps, it is simply to be open and available for these tough conversations. These are concrete actions that will demonstrate his commitment and give you the confidence you need to continue investing in this partnership. You need to know that he will always have your back, even if it requires him to stand up to someone he loves and respects.

I want to emphasize that, at the end of the day, it is not your responsibility to educate him. Your well-being is your number one priority. When this all starts to feel daunting, please reach out for additional support and resources. Lean on your friends and family, talk to people who are going through similar challenges or connect with a professional. If you really just need a hug, DM me and I will send a virtual hug your way.

Once you have refuelled your emotional tank, you may choose to support him as his partner as he begins his journey to unravel the issues of racial biases and acknowledge his white privilege.

It sounds like you are acutely aware of how these issues will impact the future of your relationship. These tough talks will resurface as your relationship evolves and influence other important life decisions, such as forming a family unit and raising kids. There’s no time like the present to dive deep together, to assess your individual core values and to find common ground. This process requires courage, which you have undoubtedly shown an abundance of.

Relationships aren’t easy. There are going to be hurdles – some that seem so painstakingly high that you feel defeated before getting into the course – but the results can be rewarding. So, be kind to yourself and each other in the journey ahead. I hope that your relationship will emerge from this, and the pandemic, stronger and more resilient than it has ever been.

Always here for you,

Kiki


Dear Kiki is Cold Tea Collective’s advice column and it is published in the last week of every month. To get advice from Kiki, submit your questions and comments here. You can also follow along for the latest column in our newsletter.

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