What Happens When Your White Boyfriend Is A Racist?

January 9, 2013  |  

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From Slate:

“Dear Prudence,

My boyfriend and I have been dating for six months but have known each other for more than two years. I am black and he is white. This has never been a problem and our parents, families, and friends are fully supportive of our relationship. Amazingly, we have had precious few arguments or problems. Until now. In a moment of extreme frustration, my boyfriend used the “N-word” in reference to one of my friends. We were alone so no one else heard the comment. I was stunned, shocked, and appalled. I immediately left the room because I was so disturbed. It is a word that neither I nor my family or friends use in any sort of context because I have been raised to view it as incredibly offensive. He came to me and apologized profusely and had tears in his eyes while doing so. I accepted his apology because it was completely out of character for him, but I am now questioning our relationship. What do you think?- Unspeakable

In her advice to Unspeakable, Prudence suggest that despite her acceptance of his apology, she is not quite over his use of the N-word. However, since she cares for the man, which is evident by her not breaking up with him instantly, Prudence says that she must re-raise the issue with the boyfriend, giving him a chance to better explain his reasoning for using such derogatory language and give herself time to not only gauge his sincerity, but determine if she can fully accept his apology and move on.

Full disclaimer: Date whomever you want to date – not that you were looking for my permission, but I mean this sincerely. I am past that point in my life where I give two craps about what anyone does sexually. However, this situation, right here, is probably my biggest personal hang-up on interracial dating: what to do when your significant other says, or God-forbid does, something racist. And it wouldn’t have to be something awful like the N-word. It could be something casually racist like calling things “ghetto” or assuming that I would want a slice of watermelon. I can see this creating a whirlwind of confusion and hostility inside of me. With that said, I can imagine the pain the letter writer in this situation must be feeling right now. Not only would I be filled with self-doubt, particularly trying to work through what made him feel comfortable enough to drop the N-word around me, but also trying to figure out why hadn’t I noticed it sooner. Two years is a long time to devote to someone, only to find out that your man is a bit of a racist.

And in case she had any doubt, let me clear it up: your boyfriend is a racist – or at the very least, has anger management issues. No way should he be THAT “frustrated” at your friend that he is dropping N-bombs, especially behind your friends back (and I do assume this “friend” is male?). And as Chauncey Devegas, of We Are Respectable Negros writes of this Dear Prudence letter:

On these matters, my decision-rule is a simple one. People are what they do. People who say racist things are racists. People who say homophobic things are anti-gay. People who say sexist things are sexist. Of course, there are ranges of behavior here. A person who calls someone a N-Word, and is then apologetic about it, is a different type of racist than someone who holds a K.K.K.K.Klan card. However, both party’s attitudes and beliefs flow from the same fetid waters. In many ways, the latter is simply more honest and direct than the former about what is a basic disrespect towards the humanity and dignity of black and brown people.”

A few days after September 11th, one of my best girlfriends called me and told me about how she had been pulled over in her car by police for no reason. Nothing unusual about that. However, this story takes a weird turn when she shares that one of the cops started asking her about her “head scarf” in her driver’s license picture. All of a sudden, they wanted to know about her Islamic background and her land of “origin.” I was beyond shocked. This was not some hillbilly town in East Jablip of America. This is Philadelphia, a city where a very significant portion of the black and brown population in the city practice within the Islamic faith. We don’t get down like that. And that’s what I told the guy I was dating at the time.

He smirked, rolled his eyes and said, “Good I’m glad they searched her. They need to send all them bean pie eating terrorists back to the middle east.” If I was shocked before, I was totally rendered speechless then. Here is someone, who I had been with for a good year and who had spent significant time around my good girlfriend before. As far as I was concerned, there was nothing about him, which gave me any indication that he had problems with Muslims. Worse, even after I told him how disrespectful, offensive and ignorant his comments were, he had the nerve to double down on his xenophobia.

I officially broke up with him after that conversation. And while his anti-Muslim hatred wasn’t the full reason, that incident definitely helped me to see this guy in a new light. The events of Sept. 11, 2001 were horrible. And the blatant ignorance and hatred, which spawned from such tragic events is also shameful. And I didn’t want any parts of that. Besides, my best girlfriend is like family to me, and her faith is a pretty big part of her. Therefore, if I had to choose between my boyfriend and my best friend, well, bye hater.

There is also something that needs to be said about boundaries and why it is important to not only define them, but follow through with them. I’m not going to say whether or not the letter-writer should leave her boyfriend of two years, but I will say that if she believes his apology to be sincere and decides to continue on with the relationship, she better make it clear that there will be no more N-bombs dropping out of his mouth. I don’t care if we are at a concert together, and Trinidad James hands my white boyfriend the microphone, and personally invites him to sing all the lyrics to “All Gold Everything.” He better stick to the radio edit.

But she should also consider the very real possibility that whatever bigotry he harbors will likely always be simmering beneath the surface. And generally, people don’t always monitor their mouths too closely, especially if there is alcohol involved. The last thing you want is for your racist significant other to go blurt out the “N-Word” at a public event such as a family barbecue. Now, you’re in the uncomfortable position of trying to not only ask for some understanding, but calm the nerves of those family members, who don’t give a hot damn about understanding. And now everybody starts treating you like Sandra Bullock…

So what do you think: Could you be an Edith to some man’s Archie Bunker?

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