Interracial relationship: what do I do?
September 15, 2011 11:09 PM   Subscribe

Struggling with an interracial relationship that conflicts with my parents' wishes, what do I do? I have no clue.

First of all, I just want to put it out there that my primary concern is the conflict with my parents. Not society, or anyone else that wants to judge my relationship; I really don't care.

Now that that's out of the way...

I'm Asian and my boyfriend is black. We've been seeing each other for several months now and it got very serious, very quickly due to circumstances that will in this post become evident. See, I'm a freshman in college and our relationship started in high school. I really was going to tell my parents about our relationship, but they found out from someone else before I could let them know. They weren't mad that I'd had a boyfriend (although that was why I was waiting to tell them; in the past, telling them about a significant other would just make it harder to see him), they were mad --or rather, not mad necessarily, but disappointed, betrayed, and appalled, that he was black.

I'm not putting words into their mouths, that's what they said, their reasons for which being based off stereotypes on the black community (e.g. my mom reading stories about bank robberies and mugggings in the newspaper, the perps always identified as black males, and my parents having grown up in a different time). They said it was below me. To spare myself the lectures, I told them we broke up. We didn't, continued to see him, they found out again by looking through my phone that I left laying around.

At one point they subtly held my college education over my head ("Why should we pay for college if you're just going to screw up your future by being with this guy, i.e. getting knocked up and becoming a single mother?").

Since moving out to college, my boyfriend and I are still seeing each other; I don't really need to go into detail about how great he is. I know he is and that's what matters. He knows everything about the conflict with my parents. Many times I've gone to him crying and just upset and he's handled it so well. He even tries to see it from their point of view. But I can tell he's hurt by it, yet he vehemently promises to stay with me as long as I'll have him. I'm not going to break up with him because he's black. I understand that my parents want certain things of me, I get it. If they had met him and deemed him a genuinely bad person, then yes, I would consider ending the relationship. But they haven't and refuse to.

Regardless of how wrong I think they are, though, I feel torn. I don't want to hurt them. I'm seeing a counselor but that's more of a coping method for the situation. I need concrete advice, or at least a little guidance because as of right now I have no idea what to do.
posted by dearaudge to Human Relations (35 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
This really sucks and I'm sorry you're going through it. Other people will probably have more specific advice, but I wanted to put this out there very clearly: YOU are not hurting your parents. They are hurting you, and hurting themselves. They are being unreasonable and prejudiced. If it comes down to it and there's nothing you can do to help them get over their issues, that is THEIR fault. Yes yes it's true that you can point to reasons for their ignorance and prejudice, and I'm sympathetic to how difficult it can be for people to overcome those things; my own mother is quite racist and it drives me crazy, and I have minority friends with racist parents who are otherwise nice people. People who aren't monsters can hold awful, horrible opinions. But what it comes down to, in the end, isn't whether it's somehow understandable why they're ignorant. What it comes down to is whether you're going to let those things run your life, regardless of where they got started and why.

Do not choose partners based on what your parents find acceptable just because you're afraid of them being upset about it. If you break up with your boyfriend now, all they will learn is that you will break up with people you care about if they are shitty enough to you, and unreasonable enough. All they will learn is that they can run your life if they try hard enough and make you feel guilty enough. Do not let them have that kind of power over you, especially not for such ridiculous reasons. And for that matter, when you lie about breaking up with your boyfriend, you're still teaching them that those tactics work on you; either they don't believe you and try harder, in which case you haven't actually stood up to them and they have no good reason to think you truly will, or else they do believe you and think great, that's all they have to do.

If they are really vindictive enough to hold your college education above your head, ask yourself why you should be considerate of their hurt feelings when they're willing to screw up your future and they refuse to trust your judgment? They don't seem to have any regard for your hurt feelings, and they don't care how they are also hurting someone you care about (your boyfriend) by making this an issue to begin with. Call their bluff and make them actually revoke whatever financial support they're giving you; that would be spiteful and a self-fulfilling prophecy on their part if they're truly worried about your having a good future. If they actually go through with it, you have options: scholarships, working to pay for college, transferring to a cheaper college, etc. I know it sounds daunting, but tons and tons of people go to college without financial support from their parents, and you can too. Don't get overwhelmed by the details of what it would take when it's a mere threat: you WILL be able to pull it together and manage should it come down to it, and in the meantime you're worrying about things that may not happen and using that fear to make the decision of whether to stay with your boyfriend seem hazier than it actually is.

In fact, to the best of your ability I would start cultivating some financial independence ASAP, because if they hold financial support over your head now to get their way, they will ALWAYS have that to threaten you with. Once you have some semblance of self-sufficiency, you'll feel considerably less conflicted. I'm not saying you won't still feel some residual icky feelings from feeling vaguely responsible for the conflict (even though you're not), but you will have fewer negative factors mixed in there.

What your parents are doing is NOT healthy and NOT considerate and NOT something you want to encourage or cave in to unless you never want to have your own life. Regardless of their background, parents should care enough about their child's emotional well-being to give them a lot more benefit of the doubt than you're getting; like you said, they refuse to even meet him or listen to anything you say. That's ridiculous. I know racist parents who at least met their kids' SOs and gave them a chance, and some that got over it. It may hurt to hear this, but right now your parents don't care about you more than they care about their prejudice. If it helps mitigate the hurt somewhat, that's a common thing, especially in familial relationships: people care about other people, but they just have really huge personal problems that make it difficult for them to give those people the kind of love they deserve. Your parents are being selfish and prejudiced and dressing it up as something nicer than it is by saying it's out of concern for you; if they had their priorities straight, they would still be concerned due to their ignorance (I don't think they're lying about being concerned), but they would hear you out anyway and take your happiness and freedom into account.

It sucks to realize your parents are seriously flawed, and it sucks to have it effect you to the extent that it is. But you play the cards you're dealt and you can only make the situation worse by allowing their behavior to continue. There are a lot of MeFites that have ultimately been in similar situations where they've had to put their foot down to controlling parents, so you're in good company.

You deserve better than this. Good luck!
posted by Nattie at 11:37 PM on September 15, 2011 [31 favorites]

I understand wanting everyone to get along and be open-minded and non-racist, but sometimes that just doesn't happen. You can still love your parents, warts and all, but don't let them dictate who you are. It sucks, but there are other ways to get through college other than on your parent's largesse, if it comes to that (don't let them blackmail you, in other words). Live your life as you want it lived.
posted by maxwelton at 11:40 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

It just takes time. Often a very long time. Be prepared to go totally your own way. Let them know that you will always be waiting for them to participate meaningfully in the life you have chosen.

And congratulations on having found someone magnificent to try and spend it with.
posted by hermitosis at 11:46 PM on September 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

Those are a few of the general things I learned from my experience of dealing with my loving but conservative, hard-headed, Asian parents.

First, you are not alone. Your parents sound like my parents - they're wonderful, generous people who raised me well, but once in a while they express views that are jarringly divergent from my knowledge of their warmth and love. I've been in a similar situation to you, in a relationship my parents totally disapproved of, just ten years ago, and it is really, really hard to live with that disapproval, the sneaking and the crying.

The ways I coped:
* I found ways to try to maintain financial independence from my parents. I told them that I really loved them, but that it wasn't fair to make money an issue, and that if I had to, I would take it off the table as much as I could. I researched loans, developed a budget, etc. I found a way to get my housing paid for my senior year by being an RA. My parents ultimately paid for most of my education, but it made me feel better to know that they couldn't hold my financial dependence over me as a bargaining tool - and they stopped using it to manipulate me.
* Stop sneaking. That doesn't mean tell your parents everything, but you are doing nothing wrong. The sneaking made me feel bad, and made me feel like maybe there was something in my parents disapproval. I hated living like that.
* I stuck to my guns. I never tried to make a fight out of it, but I tried to be as adult, and as firm as I could be about my relationship and about my choices. It feels bad. I know it does. But over the years, my parents have come to terms with the person I am. It takes time.
* I was open with my boyfriend at the time about what it would mean to be with me in a longer term sense. I think it's important to be honest on this point; your parents may take a very long time to come around and may never fully come around, and you need to know that the two of you can deal with it.

Remember, this is your life. Following the dictums of your parents might work when you're younger, but this is eventually a recipe for much unhappiness. Just ask the legions of medical school dropouts who spent all of college doing just what their parents expected of them.
posted by noonday at 11:53 PM on September 15, 2011 [18 favorites]

Tell them you're dating a white guy whose family won't accept you because you're Asian. It will be quite something to see their reaction when on the receiving end. It might open up an interesting discussion.
posted by Jubey at 12:06 AM on September 16, 2011 [8 favorites]

I admire your dedication to your boyfriend through all of this (and his to you). Can you give us some background on your parents, so maybe we can try to figure how to best attempt to change their point of view on this? Are they immigrants? Have they lived in fairly diverse cities since being in America? As a kid, did you have friends who were black or other minorities?

It would be one thing if they were accepting of blacks otherwise, but just wanted their kid to be in a relationship of the same race (which I'm sure is how plenty of parents still feel), but if they still have these old-fashioned stereotypical views, that's harder to address.

Is it more your mom who feels that way, or are they similar in that regard? And do you have close aunts, uncles, grandparents who might be able to be in your corner on this?
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 12:16 AM on September 16, 2011

In your second decade, you're supposed to learn that your parents aren't wrong about everything.

In your third decade, you're supposed to learn that your parents aren't right about much.

What you are learning here is that your parents' racial and romantic perspectives are not very bright, and that they do not deserve your deference or even your concern. Figure out how you would survive without their money, and thereby immunize yourself against that particular empty threat. Neither purse strings nor apron strings ought to influence your choices anymore.

Memorize the phrase "I'm not interested in your perspective on my love life", and deploy it liberally.
posted by foursentences at 12:19 AM on September 16, 2011 [6 favorites]

Can't say anything better, but I think it's worth saying again. You aren't doing anything wrong. Become independent as soon as you can. Then, if they threaten to cut you off, let them. Trying to control you with money is one thing, but actually disowning you? That should be harder for them. They get to choose whether they want to love and and have you (and whoever you love) in their life or not. It's an easy decision.
posted by Garm at 12:20 AM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you come from a large family, and other aunts/uncles aren't overtly racist, try to gradually introduce him to your extended family at small events. If your parents start hearing from their peers that your BF is a nice, normal guy and not some racist pimp caricature, it may make them start to gradually question their assumptions. While you will always be a "silly kid who doesn't know better" to your parents, the opinion of someone their own age and status may carry more weight.

As others have said, though, this may take years. In some cases, it takes grandkids before the parents finally thaw.
posted by benzenedream at 1:20 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

You won't change their minds by making a mess of things. They expect you and him to make a mess of things. They expect him to be a loser and to drag you down with him.

Do the opposite. Do your best to succeed (in school, at work, and at home) and be happy and, as long as it doesn't hold you back, to help your boyfriend succeed and be happy. His job is to be successful and happy for himself first and for you second.

If you both do well and are happy, no one will be able to say anything bad about you as individuals or as evidence of some sort of larger imagined folly (interracial couples or whatever). Focus on yourselves and let your parents learn by experience.
posted by pracowity at 1:36 AM on September 16, 2011 [15 favorites]

If they haven't already, would it help for your parents to meet your boyfriend? Perhaps in a restaurant or other public setting, where it would be harder for them to be other than polite.
posted by easily confused at 2:26 AM on September 16, 2011

I wrote this in response to a slightly different situation, but a lot of the advice in that thread still applies.
posted by notsnot at 2:54 AM on September 16, 2011

I'm very sorry that you have to deal with this stuff.

I think you should first get to a place where you know how you would live if they cut you off. You don't have to be independent, but find out what it is going to take. Many people finish school without parental help. Your parents strong-arming you is a shitty thing to do. Don't let them do it.

Sometimes it takes years for parents to come around, and sometimes they never do- but if your boyfriend is a secret again, how are they supposed to get used to it at all?

I have a buddy who has been living with her super awesome boyfriend for the last five years. He wants to get married and settle down, but their life is on hold because she hasn't told her parents he exists yet. She won't tell them because her parents are super religious and her boyfriend is not Jewish- which apparently would make the world stop spinning and all the babies in africa to die at once. And I can think is "thank goodness he's got more patience than i do- cause wow I'd feel disrespected.

Basically what im saying here is "how unfair do you want it to be to your boyfriend?" If you don't think you're parents are ever going to come around, when are you going to accept their ire and just tell them? If the answer is never- than you might want to think about if you are the kind of person who can deal with this kind of adversity, and if you should let the dude find someone who he doesn't have to sneak around to be with.
posted by Blisterlips at 3:53 AM on September 16, 2011

I just wanted to chime in with some sympathy and well wishes, as I am currently going through a very similar situation and can well imagine how you feel right now. My dad told me several times as I was growing up that if I ever got it into my head to take up with a white boy, I would be disowned. Seven months ago his worst nightmare came true as I told him about my boyfriend of the past 5 years.

My dad is the sort of hardass who prides himself on sticking to his word, and on his ability to cut people out of his life when he thinks they're no good. But I haven't been disowned yet. We have spoken on the phone once, and I have been keeping in touch with my mum and siblings pretty regularly.

I have no illusions that it will be easy to get to a place where my parents will be willing to meet my boyfriend. But I thought for sure my dad would never speak to me again, and I was proven wrong. That reminds me that I just don't know how life will go, and that words like 'never', 'forever' and 'always' are useless constructs when it comes to the ever-changing flow of relationships.

Another thing that has helped me is to move my focus forward to my future family, rather than leaving it in the past. I have often felt guilty because I feel like I have a responsibility to obey my parents and be a 'good' daughter. But then I remind myself that I want to have kids myself someday, and I have a responsibility to those future kids to live in a way which I would want them to emulate. That includes standing up for what I believe in and my very reasonable desires. That includes helping to fight back against prejudice where I see it. And I have a responsiblity to myself, too - this is the only life I get to live, do I really want to spend it trying to make other people happy at my own expense?

Just remember, you are not hurting your parents - they are hurting themselves with their irrational thoughts, and only they can pull themselves out of this. Don't let yourself become miserable over something you cannot control, and don't think of this situation as 'forever', because nothing is forever. Life has ways of surprising you.

Good luck and take care, will be thinking of you.
posted by guessthis at 4:13 AM on September 16, 2011 [6 favorites]

Welcome to being an adult Asian woman living in America with I am assuming first generation or immigrant parents.

Finding a person to love who loves you back is really the most amazing feeling in the world. Unfortunately this world we live in doesn't always share your happiness.

Your parents would have told you they were disappointed if your boyfriend was hispanic, white, and if he was Asian, they would find something else to complain about. They tell you it is because he is black, they just don't want you to date. If they were simply upset that he is black, they would meet him so that they can confront him and scare him off. They refuse to meet him because it doesn't matter if he is wonderful, gorgeous, smart, respectful, witty and most important, adores you. They are using the excuse he is black. Just tell them exactly how you feel no matter how much heat you get. Tell them you are not doing anything wrong. Tell them you will continue school and trudge on toward your goals. Tell them you respect them and love them. Tell them you know they want everything that is best for you. Tell them you are not going to lie to them anymore and you are not going to stop seeing your boyfriend. They will get over it. You MUST tell them. You will get all sorts of arguments, but when they hear all of those things every time they bring up the boyfriend, they will stop. You will have to remain calm and tell them all of those things, though and it will be a tough road.

In the future, you will see that they are really not prejudiced, they are just using this as an excuse. Maybe you will stay with this boyfriend and marry him, maybe not. You have to keep your studies up if you want to make the decision of who you date or marry for the rest of your life. Show them that they are wrong about everything they say. Show them you can make a relationship decision by yourself. Work hard, don't lie and be smart with your relationship with your boyfriend.

I wish you luck and remember to keep a clear head. This will not be the last disagreement with your parents that will send you into emotional turmoil. Parents will do that. For the rest of their days they will do that.
posted by Yellow at 5:06 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

I need concrete advice, or at least a little guidance because as of right now I have no idea what to do.

You're in a position that lots of gay people have found themselves in as well. Here's how we were often encouraged to deal with it: lie to your parents! They have given up the right to have access to this part of your life.

Stop punishing yourself. Stop your sobbing, too. There's no need to be dramatic about this. There's certainly no need to process this out with your boyfriend, either—he's informed about the situation, and it's just hurtful to his feelings, and you should talk about this, if you need to, with other parties.

But you've learned that your parents can't be trusted with this stuff, so don't trust them with it. Talk this through with your boyfriend; tell him that you're cutting your parents out of this part of your life because they're not mature enough to handle it.

Maybe that'll change later, but take it off the table. Congratulations, you've had a hard lesson in growing up.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:23 AM on September 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

They will never take away your college. If your parents are anything like mine (ie, old-fashioned and think any person without a college degree is a complete failure), they will realize that it's more embarrassing for their kid to NOT go to college and have it be THEIR fault. Your parents probably believe your relatives will look at them as parental failures if they ever prevent you from going to college, so they would never do it. However, they still threaten you because they know college means a lot to you. In the end, you need to call their bluff.

Your parents are going to find every possible way to guilt trip you and make you feel bad about your boyfriend. So, you must stand by your decisions like a rock and not their negativity affect you no matter what.

Good luck.
posted by nikkorizz at 6:25 AM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

I need concrete advice, or at least a little guidance because as of right now I have no idea what to do.

You have to live your life for you, not for them. Because eventually (hopefully a long, long time from now) they will be gone, and if you've lived your life for them, what will you be left with?

I'm white, my parents are the children of immigrants from eastern and southern Europe. My husband is black. My parents had a conniption when we got together. Cue endless hand-wringing and teeth gnashing and some truly appalling comments. The difference with your situation is that a) I was a lot older than you are now and b) I was financially independent and c) I would have walked away from them and they knew it.

Breaking up with him is rewarding their bad behavior. If they continue to refuse to meet him, that's their choice (and their loss) to make.
posted by crankylex at 6:28 AM on September 16, 2011

You could try throwing it back at them. Tell them you are "disappointed, betrayed, and appalled" at their stereotyping and bigotry. Tell them that considering the negative stereotyping that goes on about Asians, you are surprised that they would contribute to that sort of hatred by perpetuating stereotypes about other races.

If nikkorizz is correct, and they won't take away your college, then this is the time to become an adult and explain that you're very sorry that they can't see past skin color, but it is your life and you will be with whomever makes you happy, and they can either accept it or not. Lay the burden of decision on them, don't let them put it on you. Give them the ultimatum - "Either you drop this narrow minded racism, or our relationship will be forever changed - I will always love you, because you are my parents, but I cannot respect racists."

This will not be the last disagreement with your parents that will send you into emotional turmoil. Parents will do that. For the rest of their days they will do that.

This is so very, very true. I'm 50, my mother is 71, and last year she did something so horrible that I had to stop speaking to her for 6 months. I only speak to her now because my kid was very upset that I cut off her grandmother. Take a stand now, or they will be trying to run your life for the rest of their lives.
posted by MexicanYenta at 6:44 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Once you have grand children, they will probably get over it.
posted by delmoi at 6:57 AM on September 16, 2011

(I should say, once you have children, their grandchildren, they will probably get over it)
posted by delmoi at 6:58 AM on September 16, 2011

Make it clear that you are a serious person; they have raised you well and you are now a college student firmly fixed on academic success and a good financial future. Make it clear that you will have friends of all kinds because it is necessary to get along well with all kinds of people. Make it clear that you will choose your friends--and your boyfriend/s--very carefully because you want good people in your life. Then be prepared to keep to that manifesto and give your parents time to get used to the grown-up you. You can live your life on your terms only if you are prepared to pay for it and be responsible for your choices.

You don't actually know yet if this boyfriend is going to be The One, so don't assume, or let your parents assume, that you have made some lifetime commitment here already. Downplay it but don't lie. Take it slow. See if it grows or falls apart. Get to know him. His family, by the way, might not be quite ready for you, either. Bring home good grades, recognition for your good work, honors, success stories--let them see you are making good choices and don't participate in any drama about boyfriends. They are just people and you pick good people to be your friends.

Good luck.
posted by Anitanola at 7:01 AM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

I need concrete advice...

Give them a copy of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and ask them to watch it.
posted by alms at 8:19 AM on September 16, 2011

This is clearly largely based on blinkered ideas about race, but it might be worth trying to figure out if there's any aspect of this you might be able to address.

It's possible that your parents are, in part, worried about you eventually marrying this guy (who is clearly awesome and who you clearly adore), and they may have exaggerated ideas about how 'different' your family life would be, or how many family traditions you would give up - perhaps they are relying on stereotyped images of Black American life, and think that marrying this guy would mean (for example) raising your kids in a different faith, rejecting family traditions around food or holidays, or feeling less of a connection/duty to them? If so, it might be possible to address some of their anxieties and make them feel a bit better without pandering to their blinkered ideas about race (about which I agree wholeheartedly with the posters above - they are in the wrong here!)
posted by Wylla at 9:01 AM on September 16, 2011

You are in a tough place. I am a bi-racial person myself, who found myself in an a great relationship with someone whose parents didn't accept me (despite the fact that they never met me or anything). While my girlfriend was in college I told her it was paramount to keep her parent's financial assistance and to do whatever it took to keep them happy (that is omitting my existance). After she became financially self-sufficient however there was no reason for her to keep up the charade. If I were in your shoes, I would first convince myself that being with your boyfriend is NOT wrong and how to handle your parents. You and him can be able to device a plan. Also please note that even if he is not saying it he is hurt by their attitude (I certainly was) so also privately make a plan for you to show him that you love him/like him regardless of what your parents say.
posted by The1andonly at 9:24 AM on September 16, 2011

Wow first thank you so much for the helpful answers. I never expected that many. But in terms of my parents' background, they claim to have no issue with black people other than with my relationship (my mom's boss and coworker are black for crying out loud). One point my mom made was just that she couldn't ever imagine being in a relationship with a black person. Friends, yes. Love, no...
posted by dearaudge at 9:51 AM on September 16, 2011

As another child (raised in the U.S.) of more traditional immigrants, I'm going to have to Nth the patience.

The trouble with our situation is that on top of generational gap, there's a significant cultural gap. You may have spent almost your entire life as a member of a more open-minded, progressive community. But your parents have spent all that time plus 20-30 years believing what they believe. And to make it even more complicated, for the entirety of your life they've been applying everything they believe to their plans/concerns/hopes for your future.

I've gone through the intense arguments of I know you have these beliefs, mom and dad, but I was raised here, where my peers and their families have absolutely no problem with this. Please try to understand. But more than likely you will never be able to change their opinion on the most important thing they do, and that no one else can do-- being a good parent to you.

It is hard to hide important things from the people that mean the most to us. But if you are happy and healthy (mentally, physically, emotionally), and your parents' lack of understanding is going to keep you from that, you have to try to deal :\ It will eventually get easier when you're not as dependent on them, but in the meantime, a supportive boyfriend and a counselor are very good things to have.

Something I recently told my mom regarding a kind of similar issue is this

I know you love me more than anything, that you'll never want anything but the best for me, and that you just want me to be happy. I've never doubted that. But at a certain point, I'm going to know what's best for me and what makes me happy better than you do. You wouldn't let grandma make all your decisions for you, because even though she only wants what's best for you, she doesn't know what that is more than you do. Because you're an adult, and now so am I."

This came after years of arguments, gaining financial independence, and both of us learning how to better communicate with each other. But hopefully with time and opportunities to prove that you make good decisions for yourself, your parents will be able to let go of control a little bit. Good luck!
posted by desertface at 9:54 AM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

I like RJReynolds' answer ("lie to your parents!") Sounds like your parents are kind of sneaky, though, going through your stuff.

My parents stopped speaking to me at one point, and when they started again I just stopped saying anything at all about my personal life. If they asked me about it, I said, "I don't want to discuss it." And repeated ad infinitum. After a while they gave up.

My parents weren't quite as vehement in their opposition, but they were unhappy. After a while they got to know my now-husband and his family and now everybody loves each other. Although my father recently approvingly told me a story about a father who cut his daughter off because she married someone of a different race, and told me he felt he did the right thing by cutting me off and would do it again, and only started talking to me again because my mother made him. So I guess it's not quite a Lifetime movie of the week.

Good luck. It's hard. And I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for them to change. If you're lucky they might eventually accept your boyfriend (or whoever you end up with, if not him), but it doesn't always work out that way.
posted by chickenmagazine at 11:14 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I need concrete advice, or at least a little guidance because as of right now I have no idea what to do.

I was exactly in the same situation, first generation immigrant parent, boyfriend of different race, etc. You need to be the parent here and let them know that their behavior is unacceptable and that you won't tolerate it. You will need to execute what I call "parent-rearing" and train them to stop harassing you. It's the reverse of child-rearing because in it you take the stance of the parent, and your parents take the stance of the child.

Similar to child-rearing, parent-rearing is usually very effective and swift, if performed correctly. Keep in mind that you will never be able to control what you parents do or say in their own time or behind your back, but you can control what they say or do in front of you.

So, let's say your parents walk up to you and start saying upsetting things about your boyfriend. Here are the parent-rearing steps you need to follow:
Step 1) Tell your parents that this habit of theirs upsets you.
Step 2) Tell your parents why what they are doing is wrong, and describe why exactly it is wrong. Also, make sure they know what kind of behavior is ok.
Step 3) Tell them that you will not tolerate this poor behavior and that you will punish them if they continue. Describe the punishment, so they know what's coming.
Step 4) If they persist, continue with the punishment. Stand by your punishment until their behavior changes.

You must be calm when executing this. No yelling, no arguing. Keep a steady, slow voice and look at them in the eye.

So you could say, "Look, mom, dad, I understand that you care about me, and are looking out for me, but I disagree with your statements. It upsets me when you bad-mouth my boyfriend and say mean things about him in my presence. I wouldn't be so upset if you were genuinely worried about some real problem with him, like if he had an anger-management issue or if he steals stuff, but you guys are accusing him of so many negative things without even knowing the guy that, frankly, it's very rude and insulting. I don't like this kind of negativity, so I'm asking you right now to stop this. If you keep up with this rude behavior, I'm going to walk out of this room/stop answering your phone calls."

Follow through with the punishment if they continue. Only speak politely and coolly. You have nothing to gain by raising your voice. Don't respond to additional threats or guilt trips.

It's like dealing with a child that keeps throwing a toy ball at you just to tease you and see what you would do. After a couple of throws, the child usually expects you to get up and chase them, or verbally fight with them, but if you just calmly ignore the child, the situation is completely defused, and the child immediately gives up and does something else.

So as soon as your mom starts saying "I don't like your boyfriend because of X, Y and Z!" just picture the little kid throwing a toy ball at you. Your parents want you to fight back. Just as the little kid knows that he has the possibility of getting away if you chase after him, your parents know there is a possibility that they can convince you that you are wrong if they repeatedly bring up the subject. So it's your job to make sure it doesn't get to this point. Defuse the conversation as soon as you can, and dish out punishments swiftly and maturely. Don't slam any doors or walk off yelling. Ignore anything else they have to say, no matter how threatening or hurtful it is to you. Let them have the last word if they want. You will have already won at this point because you were the more mature person.

When you are away from your parents in college, you actually have a better advantage over them because parents usually see it as a delightful treat to call you up or visit you. If their bad behavior continues, you can punish them by taking away these privileges and refuse to answer their calls or accept their visitations. So, a phone conversation might go like this:

"Look mom, I've already made it very clear that I don't like it when you say such horrible things about my boyfriend when you don't even know if they are true. Stop this now, or else I going stop taking your phone calls/coming to Thanksgiving dinner."

At some point you need to introduce the idea to them that they will need to accept your boyfriend into their lives. Hopefully, at this point they will have stopped bad-mouthing him in your presence. You need to make it clear to your parents that this man is going to be a part of your life whether they want him to or not. If your parents choose to remain negative, follow through with the steps above.

Good luck.
posted by nikkorizz at 11:58 AM on September 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

I've actually been on the opposite end of this - I am a Black woman who once dated a Taiwanese man.

He tried to hide me, too - but someone saw us together (despite being careful to even hold hands in public) and told his parents, who flipped. They, too, said that dating a Black person was below them - that Black people are criminals, sexually loose, immoral, etc. I know that wore down on him, because many of our arguments stemmed from his parents pressuring him to end the relationship. He eventually did. But what I jumped in to say is:

Chances are, if your bf's parents or family know about your relationship, they might be giving him a small bit of hell, too.

When my parents found out that my boyfriend's parents didn't approve of me, they strongly suggested (as in held a family conference) that I end the relationship: they had not raised a daughter to become a "kept woman" or someone else's secret shame. On the other hand, they strongly discouraged interracial dating for that reason so...erm...Do you know how his family feels about this? It's phenomenal that your boyfriend is holding up strong in this matter, so I want to emphasize the importance of leaning on each other for support as this gets hashed out over time. It will take years.

You need to ask yourself the following questions:

1. Are you prepared to lose your family members for this man? If they were to cut you off tomorrow and never speak to you again, are you prepared for that? Will you be able to live without them?

2. If not number 1, are you prepared for this relationship to be a point of contention not just for your immediate family, but other relatives and those who may be inquiring about you? Are you prepared to eschew community/social circle events where you might bring your partner, because your parents will not people to see that you are with him?

3. If this relationship goes far enough to either marriage or a long-term partnership, are you prepared to forgo celebrating holidays or family milestones with them? If you have children, are you prepared for any negative reaction - or none at all - from them? What if they do not want to partake in your children's lives? Etc.

If you can handle it, then I recommend the following:

1. Start sharing his successes with them. Not just your successes, but his - smile with pride when you tell them about his latest Econ research project, or his interests. Talk about how he helped you ace that test, or how you study together in the afternoons.

2. Mention him when talking with your parents about cultural or domestic things. Say you're in the kitchen preparing (cultural dish) with mum or dad - feel free to bring up the time you introduced (a cultural dish) to your boyfriend, and he liked it/plans on learning how to make it/etc. "He even knows how to pronounce it correctly!" and so forth. It has helped me in past interracial relationships to learn/speak the language of my partner's family, which greatly improved my standing with them (note for your bf).

3. Appeal to other family members. Are there slightly more progressive members of your family who might be open to this boyfriend? As others have suggested, talk to them about him and slowly introduce them to him. Chances are, your parents are worried about how family will perceive them for having a daughter who dates interracially. If Auntie has already met him and doesn't mind putting in a good word, then your parents may see that he's not so bad after all.

Phew! This was long. But I wish you the best of luck, and feel free to contact me!
posted by Ashen at 12:58 PM on September 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

Might I recommend that you read this Cary Tennis letter? I kind of agree on his "don't bother to argue with the wind" thing, because depending on how blockheaded and/or traditional your parents are, they may just NEVER get over their objections to the relationship. (I did not have the race issue going on, but my parents Had Objections and were kind of scaring me about college payments at one point during my college years.) And if they never do, and if your relationship lasts through college, you may very well be forced to choose between them and him. That's...just the breaks sometimes. They may never accept him. They might with time. But it's hard to get unreasonable to act reasonably and to accept people sometimes. That may just be the price you pay for being with this guy.

You can't get them to accept him. Things may just have to be shitty for awhile, depending on your parents' level of racism/crazy. I am not sure how badly off they are on this level to advise you further, but you can only control yourself and not them.

What you can do on your own is (a) be very good about the use of birth control, and (b) try to be as independent as you can possibly get during college. Get a job if you don't have one. Talk to financial aid or banks about getting aid or loans if your parents cut you off financially during college.* I'm not saying to keep him a secret necessarily, but downplay the relationship as long as you depend on them. They may or may not give it more credence after 4-5 years of togetherness, but right now they're freaking and threatening and I don't think it's a great idea to throw fuel on the fire by forcing the issue in conversation.

* I'd like to put a disclaimer based on the folks I knew in college who got cut off financially by their parents: this is an extremely hard road for some people to have to take. The folks I knew basically couldn't handle working full time and doing school full time, had shitty GPA's, took 6+ years to graduate, etc. FAFSA shit will still have to be dealt with even if your parents won't give you money (unless you get married during college). If your parents make it a "it's him or us and we cut you off for college if you keep him," then maybe it might be worth it to really hide the relationship, rather than throw yourself into a very hard financial situation that will take decades to get over. Up to you of course, and I'm not denying that this is shitty behavior that I am advising you to do. But shit, I'd rather have a down-low relationship and not have a gajillion dollars of debt to deal with for 30+ years when right now you don't know how long the relationship is going to last at your ages anyway.

I wish you all the luck in the world. I'm sorry your parents are being pains in the ass, and I'm glad your guy sounds like an awesome one. But there's no denying that as long as you stay with him, you're going to be fighting this battle. Maybe someday you'll win out, maybe you won't. Right now it's kind of in limbo as long as you're in college/not eloping.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:15 PM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Forgot to mention, I met my boyfriend's entire family --both his mom and his dad's side, and I was the first girl to ever meet his grandma. They all love me. His grandma is the only one that knows about my parents' issues, and she understands having been in the same position; her in-laws didn't like her at all. But, yeah, I feel bad that his family is so welcoming to me yet mine is so... not.
posted by dearaudge at 4:09 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

If only there were some way he and your parents could meet by accident, without them knowing he knows you. Like if he happened to be at the same restaurant and held the door for them, or helped them out in some way. Or if he happened into their place of business, or they his, and they had a chance to talk, without the world-crushing weight of "good enough for my daughter".
posted by at at 4:31 PM on September 16, 2011

I wouldn't recommend trying to get your parents to meet him by accident. It won't work if their prejudice is deeply rooted, and it might just end up putting your guy in an uncomfortable situation.

Since you're away at college, it shouldn't be too hard to hide the relationship from your parents. I would recommend hiding it for now, and see where the relationship goes. You're only a freshman in college so there's no need to rush things. Just do the college thing, hang out with your guy, friends, etc., wait and see. If, after a few years, you two are still together and are seriously thinking about getting married, then you can worry about getting your parents to accept your relationship (and even then, I wouldn't recommend worrying too much--it's your life after all, not theirs). For now, just enjoy being young and in college, avoid your parents as much as possible--get a part-time job, do research under a professor, anything that gives you an excuse not to go home during breaks.

But don't feel bad about what you're doing. Like a previous poster said--you're not hurting your parents, they're hurting you and themselves. If they're too close-minded to listen to you and respect your judgment and your individuality, then they don't deserve to have you worry about their feelings.
posted by raynax at 3:13 PM on September 17, 2011

I really appreciate the answers and well wishes. Thanks guys :)
posted by dearaudge at 10:41 AM on September 18, 2011

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