Absolutely loving the podcast and all things House 21 at the moment. You have been keeping me positive throughout lockdown so thank you.
I’m writing to you as I feel at a loss as to what I should do about my boyfriend’s parents. Yesterday he and I were on our weekly Sunday visit to his parents’ place for lunch, although this is obviously the first time we’ve been able to visit them for about twelve weeks. He was really looking forward to seeing them, as was I because we do in general get on well and I enjoy their company even when my boyfriend isn’t there.
Over lunch, the Black Lives Matter protests came up in conversation. I’m a black British woman with Ghanaian parents, so my feelings about the whole thing are pretty obvious. My boyfriend’s parents weren’t, however, quite as pro the protests as I was, and that became inherently clear over the course of the conversation.
I kept quiet, not pointing out all the reasons their views were a bit racist, because I didn’t want the lunch to descend into an argument. However, when my boyfriend’s Dad asked me directly what I thought, I wasn’t going to lie to make them feel better about themselves, because that would have been self-degradation. I explained that it was unfortunate that this had to happen in the middle of a pandemic, but that black people had to embrace the moment to push for change, because the media won’t remember George Floyd and all of the other elements of Western racism which have come to light, unless we make them remember. I also pointed out that the protests were peaceful for the most part, at which point everyone (not including my boyfriend) burst into laughter saying how naïve I was. I left it because I didn’t want to argue, but I felt so disrespected and hurt, not least because my boyfriend said absolutely nothing to back me up.
On the way home, I tried to explain to him that I was disappointed he didn’t stick up for me, and he said that he didn’t want to argue with his mum and dad. I love him so much and I would never want him to feel that I want to stir up any trouble between him and his family, but I do feel that reasonably there should be a sense of wanting to protect me and I’m not sure that is there. My mum said over and over again to me that I shouldn’t date white men because they won’t be able to understand my culture and its importance and I ignored her advice, clearly, but now I’m panicking that this man who I love to the moon and back will never understand what it feels like to be in the kind of position his parents put me in. More than that, he’ll never be able to understand how hurtful racism can be, even if it’s indirect.
I was hoping Donna that you might be able to help me as another black woman who, I’m assuming, has a white partner (I only assume this because Melanie is lightskin, apologies if my assumption is wrong). Were you ever in a position with his parents like this? If so, did you choose to stay silent for the sake of peace or did you speak up?
Lots of love and blessings,
I feel for you because it is such an uncomfortable situation to be in.
From what you have told me, my assumption is that your boyfriend’s parents, whether rightly or wrongly did not consider your colour when giving their views on the protest. By asking you what you
thought, they clearly were not considering that your background or race would cause you to hold a different view to their own. This makes me think that they do not see you as a black person but more as Araba. Don’t misunderstand me, I do not agree with the overlooking of somebody’s cultural heritage as this is an important part of their identity, however I do not believe their intentions were discriminatory. It sounds as though they were distracted from the reason behind the march and were unfortunately concentrating on the violent minority who intercepted the otherwise peaceful protest. I commend you for not forcing your views on your boyfriend’s parents as it shows a great deal of respect not only for them but for your boyfriend too.
Your boyfriend must have felt uncomfortable and between a rock and a hard place. Naturally, if he loves you as much as you clearly adore him, then he would have felt torn. Perhaps he did not react in the best way, but maybe he did not know what to do for the best. I have no doubt that he was immensely grateful to you for not pursuing an argument. Do not for a second think that I am advocating the silencing of black women, however I do believe that the choice you took in that instance was the correct one. I am sure that if this had occurred in any other setting outside of his family home, that he would not think twice before protecting you.
In terms of your mother’s advice, I do not think that it is about failing to understand different cultures when in a bi-racial relationship – it is about learning about one another’s cultures. I was always fortunate with my partner’s parents that even when we first got together and they hadn’t been around that many black people, my skin colour was just never a topic discussed. I have taught them about my background through my cooking, by introducing them to my Caribbean family and they have ultimately been open minded throughout. That is not to say that we have not disagreed in certain discussions and debates in a variety of topics, however we have always been respectful to one another and I believe that you exhibited this same respect.
Do not let it be a big elephant in the room between yourself and your boyfriend. Speak about this with him openly and similarly I would suggest giving your boyfriend’s mum a friendly phone call before your next visit to explain that you found the situation a little bit hurtful. If you have got on with the parents until now, there is no reason to believe that your boyfriend’s mother will react to this in any way other than understanding. Be prepared that at first she may be taken aback; the likelihood is that she and her husband have completely forgotten about this conversation as to them it would have just been dinner chat, whereas to you it held a lot more significance. If you have this chat beforehand, you will be able to go along to their home next Sunday feeling far more confident and comfortable than you are feeling right now.
I hope this helps.