This piece was originally written for ForHarriet and can be found there as well.
From the margin to the center, from the streets to our homes, the personal is always political. But how deep does that connection go? 2014 was a traumatic year for many of us—as we lost Yvette Smith, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tanisha Anderson, and several others due to state and police violence. 2014 was also a year of resistance and resilience, as we saw the rise of black activists of all narratives and identities rallying for their communities. Alicia Garza, Patrisse Marie Cullors-Brignac and Opal Tometi of Black Lives Matter have laid down a powerful foundation for sustained activism.
However, unless you are able to connect with Black Lives Matter, or other organizations calling for restorative justice—such as Black Women’s Blueprint, Millions March NYC, Audre Lorde Project, Trans Women of Color Collective, or the Sylvia Rivera Law Project—it can be hard to find community. But what happens if a piece of your community—your partner—happens to be of a different identity and just doesn’t understand?
These misunderstandings have many roots and dozens of connections to other problems stemming from systemic oppression, but chief among them are stereotypes and myths. There are several of these stereotypes perpetuated about Black women, which are only exacerbated by mainstream media and popular culture. If you let them tell it, we’re always angry, fighting, or downtrodden. Even when you have powerhouse Shonda Rhimes dominating Thursday night television, new questions of representation appear and old questions of representation re-emerge when you see several Black women being paired with White men.
Writer Mikki Kendall recently sparked a conversation on this very issue through the hashtag “#WhiteBooMyths,” allowing for people to share their stories on how stereotypes about Black women and interracial relationships are reinforced both by the Black community as well as those outside of it. Backhanded compliments such as, “Your kids will have such great hair!” or “White men will treat you better than men of color!” are not welcomed statements at anytime, but when you add the current political context that sparked the necessity of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, how do those of us in interracial relationships respond? Due to our partner’s identity, do we respond differently than we would if they were black? Or do we not respond at all, for the same reason? How do we stop watching fictional lives and fantasizing about hypothetical ones as we attempt to hold on to our truths while still respecting our partners?
I am of converging origin stories, but am all Afro. My partner is Irish; his parents immigrated in the early 1980’s. We’ve already gone through all variations of “What will your parents think of them?” And this only seems to become a more persistent conversation topic as race relations in the United States become more contentious. We must actively try and correct people we know and love when they say things that are not only out of line, but that are also hurtful to us. We have to actively engage with people to try and provide new perspectives while simultaneously disengaging from folks who truly aim to harm our relationship and us as individuals. Love—at all times, but especially in a time of Ferguson—means that you have to be willing and open to engaging in dialogue with your loved ones on what’s happening to (y)our people. This is not easy, nor will I claim to have all the answers. But I will share what has worked thus far for my partner and I as we go through this journey.
Active listening. It’s always important to listen to one another, but especially in tense moments. As a non-person of color, it’s imperative that you take a step back to truly listen to how your partner is feeling. Whether it’s about the cops, the criminal justice system, or a misguided statement from a co-worker: knowing that there’s someone there who will truly be there for you in good and bad times is very reassuring.
Respecting boundaries. If your POC partner wants some space, do not hesitate to give it to them. They may need some time to heal, grieve and/or process everything that’s happening. The same can be said for your non-POC partner, as they may need that time as well. Relationships are about supporting each other, which means that support must be mutually give and received always.
Checking your family and friends. Just as you should be questioning those who make unwanted comments about your hypothetical children being cute because they’d be mixed, you should also encourage your respective families and friends to challenge their ways of thinking around racism and racial justice. Unwarranted comments of any kind are particularly ill-timed if you’re about to go to a protest and you hear a family member say something along the lines of “Ugh, why are you going?” or “But wasn’t _______ a criminal?” or “But why do these communities respond by looting?” There’s a time to be silent and there’s a time to speak out. For many of us, the disregard for Black lives has urged us to realize that speaking out is the only option for any change to happen.
Practicing self-care. As important as it is to check in with others, you must also check and touch base with your self. Before you can support one another as you both fight for justice—whether that be attending protests or the myriad other ways people are organizing within this movement—you have to be able to find healing mechanisms and methods of self-care that will allow you both to engage with others who are also trying to promote change in your community.
Honoring what is. At a certain point in every day, we have to accept the things that we have changed and the things that still require more work. And coming back to our partners can be a crucial step in doing this. It’s important to reflect and honor what the positives that you have in your relationship, so you can feel refreshed and ready to face the world again in a way that works for you and your partner.
What would you add to this list? Have you been in through similar situations with your partner? Share your thoughts and feedback with me on Twitter at @veraicon_.