How can I get over my irrationalities about validation?
October 1, 2010 10:23 AM   Subscribe

Racial filter: How can I get over my validation issues?

I dated this popular white guy a year ago, in which didn't work out and slammed me into a wall of insecurity. I felt my roots, (Im a latina who grew up in black communities in NJ, going to an all white school which isnt unusual), were part of the problem since he used to poke fun at some "ghetto" quirks, such as the way I speak and certain cultural behaviors he found annoying. I felt so rejected after the breakup, to the point, it got desperate in wanting to attract attention from other white popular males to feel validated. In the process I completely lost myself.

I want to let go of this burden of feeling this way but I don't know where to start. I feel alone. For the record, I love all ethnicities but this one had me rattled. I know I've been trying to go after the unattainable in seeking approval with this certain group all my life and I want to stop, because this is unhealthy. Can you guys offer any advice on how to let go of this situation? Is there anyone who understands wanting to be validated by another racial group? My throwaway email is if you need more info. Theres only so much I can say on here without the situation being recognizable, I feel.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
That guy doesn't sound like a decent person if he made fun of you--you can do better. If you want to, you could find a guy who's white, but not cruel or prejudiced--there are a lot of them out there. That's if you're attracted specifically to white guys.

As far as feeling you need to seek approval, you know rationally it's not true that they're better than you or that you're worse or that you need their approval. You can talk back to your thoughts when they come up and remind yourself of that. Unfortunately, there's a lot in us that's not rational and most of us deal with things like this for long periods of time: thoughts and insecurities that are painful and persistent. Over time things always get better.
posted by Paquda at 10:43 AM on October 1, 2010

I have a lot of friends who have gotten a lot out of affinity groups (basically spending time around people of similar races/with similar backgrounds). In terms of feelings a lot more confident and secure, comfortable with themselves and the way they present, and just having a place to talk about issues like this with people who understand.

I don't know if you're in a school/college but if so there are probably student unions/groups, sometimes just for generic "multicultural" or "minority" students, sometimes more specific (Black Student Union, for example).

Also look into minority leadership programs! At my college there were programs set up for Latinas that would hook you up with a successful Latina mentor and provide special dinners, events, speakers.

I personally did not get a lot out of any of these groups, possibly because I'm mixed, which comes with its own set of issues, but I had a lot of friends who did.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:07 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can't relate to this specifically -- only generally, from being a gay male who has had dalliances (or even quasi-relationships) with guys who were mostly straight. There is something incredibly addictive about getting attention that you previously felt (if unconsciously) that you were unworthy of. And then once that attention is gone, the idea of returning to that previous state of unworthiness is downright maddening. It's a "back to the ghetto" feeling. I don't mean ghetto in the ethnic sense, I mean in the sense of being marginalized and sequestered, fenced in.

Therapy helped me a little in that it is good to have someone to talk to who doesn't have any stake in the outcome of your decisions. To be able to say things out loud without worrying about shocking or alienating anyone. Travel helps a little, anything that forces you to confront the wider world outside your own. In my case, I moved away for three months to get my head on straight, though naturally there were aftershocks for many years.

This may always remain under your skin a little bit, but the important thing to remember is that you have control over how much fuel and attention you give it. Certainly you should try and reconnect with what you love and enjoy about people of other ethnicities. It is so effed up that we work so hard to embrace and embody our own culture and love ourselves, and yet we secretly crave this validation from another, privileged culture. Allowing others to have this power over us is intolerable, and even if we can never fully escape it, we can go into each new situation and relationship with our eyes wide open.

There's a lot to be said for a little healthy resentment. The validation you might receive from being with a white guy is not unlike the validation he receives. He gets to feel like the benevolent, open-minded white guy, the one who is totally cool dating people outside his ethnicity -- except he still managed to make you feel bad about yourself by pointing out the differences. He went out of his way to remind you that you are not white. Not every white guy would do this, but in your current state of seeking re-validation from whomever, you're liable to end up reliving the same situation with someone similar or worse.
posted by hermitosis at 11:12 AM on October 1, 2010 [17 favorites]

I wonder if the race thing might not be partially a red herring here. Your ex sounds like a world-class asshole, but the fact that you moved so quickly from feeling hurt over his douchebaggery to desperately seeking validation, not just from white people but from "popular white males"-- well, that may suggest that there were already some issues with self-esteem there to begin with. His insults made you feel insecure about your race, but do you think that, given different comments, you might equally well have been made to feel insecure about your body shape or taste in clothing, for instance?

Your question suggests that you may still be in school-- if that's the case, could you maybe go and talk this through with a counselor at your high school's or university's mental health services? I think it's pretty normal to feel insecure at various points in our early life, especially after hurtful comments from someone we loved and trusted. But the rebound approval-seeking is not healthy, as you acknowledge, and talking these issues through with a professional might help you resolve some of this stuff without feeling the need to act out.
posted by Bardolph at 11:20 AM on October 1, 2010

On a completely instinctive, emotional, illogical level, what do white folks mean to you?

That is, what words/concepts/emotional associations come to mind?

Call those abstract qualities Y, as distinct from some irrelevant abstract qualities, qualities you don't want, that you can think of as X.

The abstract qualities called Y are the ones you're actually pursuing and responding to-- just as the correct category for your ex is not White Guy, but Tacky Asshole Loser.

What would it be like if, on an emotional level (because, intellectually, you already know and accept this), you were to begin feeling out the bone-level sense that Y isn't really about white people... but might be about some white people... and might be about some non-white people... so is really just about some people?

Because if it's really just about some people, and Y is the set of qualities that you want, and there's an X or two who doesn't really even see or appreciate or desire those qualities, then what matters, when you get down to the root, the earth, the Why of it all, is that You are the one seeking these qualities, and you're actually just finding new ways of recognizing that these qualities are only reflected in random, arbitrary groups of other people-- and as you pay more and more attention to the ways in which you are acquiring and improving on the traits and skills you desire, you can notice that the actual qualities you want aren't only or even primarily rooted in other people, but are waiting to found in yourself...

because Y is already inside You.
posted by darth_tedious at 11:26 AM on October 1, 2010

Maybe there is some work you need to do to validate how you see yourself and your own ethnicity. Put it like this, if you are dating a white guy, do you feel as if you are dating "up"? (because you know that isn't objectively so!)That is what you need to address in yourself. If you prefer the pale, that's fine, and there are lots of awesome sweet nonjerks out there of that persuasion, some of which will find YOU equally awesome. But YOU have to connect with your own inner awesomeness first.

There is a lot of baggage that I suppose you might be needing to unwrap about this but I think it would be much simpler to just be able to convince your heart that you just had a jerky boyfriend and the next one will be better, no matter what shade of the rainbow he comes in.

None of us really should be seeking our significance in a significant other, you dig? You are significant because you are YOU.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:12 PM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Years back, I took a couple of anti-racism workshops from The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond which helped me start recognizing internalized behaviors... like internalized inferiority, etc. Obviously, some of what you're wrestling with is racial, and probably some of it is gender based as well.

You at least see what you're doing, which puts you in a place to start changing it. It's tough because humans are social animals- it's pretty much ingrained to try to get approval from the popular people - it's just recognized that social status = power, and unfortunately, we also live in societies that give extra status to whiteness and maleness (and straightness, and...).

A useful mantra to keep in your head, is, "Why do I care what THIS person thinks?" It seems kinda mean and standoff-ish, but it's actually useful in general for helping bring your conscious choices into what, at this time, are instant reactions led by your subconscious.

You may want to put yourself outside of social situations where you find yourself doing this a lot - if you go to a certain club or friend's get togethers and see yourself bending over backwards for white approval- maybe take a hiatus for a few months. Don't necessarily try to replace it by going somewhere you're not familiar with without any white people (you may jump into a different set of issues and culture shock and double dump the negative stuff you're working through onto that experience instead of what it would be- you in an unfamilar situation).

I'd probably say it's a damn good time to read up on internalized racism and sexism, and take that time to think about your experiences as you work it through. It's a process, but you'll find at the end of it, you'll have more than just your center - you'll be able to better navigate social situations and read power dynamics overall, and when you find yourself in problematic situations, you can make conscious choices instead of being taken along the stream against your will.
posted by yeloson at 2:28 PM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

You are not alone. What you are referring to is sometimes called internalized racism. We have all (regardless of ethnic identity) been raised in racist (sexist, and heterosexist) cultures, and have in different ways internalized some aspects of this. Overcoming internalized racism (and also internalized sexism) is identified as a commonplace issue to be dealt with in counselling settings. You have taken the first important step towards personal recovery and challenging this in identifying these processes in your own life. There are a number of feminists (often who identify under the label of Anti-Racist feminists) who have been working on these issues from personal, academic and activist standpoints. bell hooks is one example.
posted by kch at 2:49 PM on October 1, 2010 [5 favorites]

I want to let go of this burden of feeling this way but I don't know where to start. I feel alone. For the record, I love all ethnicities but this one had me rattled. I know I've been trying to go after the unattainable in seeking approval with this certain group all my life and I want to stop, because this is unhealthy.

Whew. What a prick this guy sounds like. Of course, he probably doesn't have much of a clue of how he was someone else suggested, perhaps he even feels somehow like he was being open-minded and liberal for dating you in the first place (ugh).

Anyways, I think therapy could be useful to you, like hermitosis and others have suggested. Something to remember: you don't have control over how douchebag white guys (or anyone, for that matter) are going to treat you, so take the matter into your own hands and realize you don't need their validation. But also realize that it's one thing to logically understand this (which clearly you already do), and another to work through all the shit that is preventing you from emotionally realizing it. It's just gonna be tough. I've never dealt with what you've dealt with, but I know from experience that the gap between a logical understanding of a hang-up and making the change in life can be really hard.

And try to always remember that you deserve to feel comfortable with yourself and loved by a partner without any criticism of you for your cultural background and mode of expression. In fact, that cultural background and mode of expression should be accepted, embraced and celebrated by anyone you are in a serious relationship with, regardless of their cultural background or race.
posted by dubitable at 8:12 PM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

since he used to poke fun at some "ghetto" quirks, such as the way I speak and certain cultural behaviors he found annoying.

Ignoring race for a moment, some guys actively suppress their dates' self-esteem by whatever means they have at their disposal, in order to have a more submissive and pliable partner. The buttons they pick to push are unique to the person they're with (otherwise they wouldn't be effective.)

Injecting race (and socioeconomic status) back in, he obviously selected these things that bother you because...well, because they bother you. If you let this one white guy's behavior color your view of all white people, you're just making the same foolish mistake that every bigot makes.

Ultimately, you hooked up with a dick. If he were hispanic and treated you identically, presumably it would have pushed the same buttons, except for the racial one. I'm not standing up for the guy, obviously I'm not a fan. Just don't paint us all with that broad brush.
posted by davejay at 10:12 PM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, yeah, ohe more anecdotal data point: I'm a white guy who has dated across racial and religious lines all his life, and I cannot imagine why you think you deserve to be loved and supported and respected any less than anyone else because of your ethnicity. To normal, healthy people, it just doesn't matter. Don't make this a hangup for you because you think it's a hangup for other people, and if it's a hangup for you because you feel like you're less of a person because of a background...well, I don't know what to say, except you're wrong.
posted by davejay at 10:16 PM on October 1, 2010

Well, this may be practically difficult or impossible, but if you get the chance to spend some time in Europe you might find it interesting. Most people here will probably think of you as white, or be generally clueless about your likely race and culture, and they are unlikely to recognise the meaning of any US cultural signifiers that mark you out as "ghetto". They will be far more interested in the fact that you come from the US.

I don't mean to suggest that race and culture are unimportant, but I think it would be an interesting experience to go somewhere where people are mostly ignorant of your particular background, and see what it feels like.
posted by emilyw at 5:02 AM on October 2, 2010

I think the most important wall you must break-through are the ones you've set-up by stratifying social groups and latching your self-esteem to one you deem is superior to yours and all others. Slights are common in relationships with the young (I surmise from the "87" in your email) and may have had nothing to do with your ethinicity or style of speech but rather as a means to have an upper hand in the relationship.

You must realize that we all want the same thing in this life and that force of charater trumps race. I bet that you have analogues (or opposites) in every group/race, including whites males, who would bond with you in many interesting ways. What you should do is try to be your own success story and wether you succeed at that is independant of who you are with.

Coming from a member of the Last Race who has felt, and continue to feel, the sting of rejection from this so-called privilidged race; Sometimes by those of their women members and sometimes being roundly dismissed by those of the very group that's got you all worked up.
posted by Student of Man at 8:14 AM on October 2, 2010

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