How do I tell them it's OK to be white?
February 2, 2015 11:51 PM   Subscribe

One of my nieces, currently studying in Europe, recently came home (somewhere in Subsaharan Africa) with her white European boyfriend to introduce him to the family and her parents are dead set against the idea of her marrying the guy.

Said niece came to me, her supposedly cool uncle, for support.

While my natural self is tempted to brutally tell her folks to get a grip and let their little girl be, I believe some diplomacy is in order. Now, how do I frame this nicely?
posted by Kwadeng to Human Relations (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"You raised your daughter to be smart, to set her own course, to not be buffeted by the mere winds of yesterday. This is what that looks like. If you do not honor her wishes, you do not honor the work that you did in raising her."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:54 PM on February 2, 2015 [40 favorites]

I believe some diplomacy is in order. Now, how do I frame this nicely?

It may help to keep Wikipedia's summary of Getting Past No in mind as you talk to them.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:14 AM on February 3, 2015

Please MeMail me when you figure this out successfully.

People always want to know why I have not visited my husband's country. We're not entirely safe there as a mixed couple.

My advice is the same regardless of latitude and longitude - take a stand that we are all human beings deserving of basic rights and respect. The rest is just noise.

Set a good example. That's it.
posted by jbenben at 12:32 AM on February 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Do they know any mixed couples personally?

If not, I'm pretty sure that they are aware of how many young'uns up and leave for Europe if/when they see life as being better there than at home. The vast majority of my friends here in France are either from elsewhere than France, or adult children of immigrants (second generation). We talk about all our/their parents' reasons for leaving home countries and, honestly, it always boils down to "I couldn't live the way I wanted there; I've been able to make my own life here." Even for those who love their families; that's one big reason this line of discussion could be effective. The urge to live one's own life is very strong indeed.

You don't have to make it about the boyfriend or her family, is also what I'm saying.

Cool Papa Bell sums up the underlying philosophy very nicely.

And if examples would help... I know plenty of happily-married mixed couples here. There are complications, yes, but every love story has its complexities. The biggest difference we all see with mixed couples is that others tend to hop, skip and jump over the individuals themselves straight into the "omg what about [stereotypical differences and dangerous home country we've only ever heard about in the news]??" Her family will get a lot further supporting her happiness than they will in trying to hold her back. Ask them to get to know the guy first. Every stable culture on earth has compassion as a value.
posted by fraula at 12:55 AM on February 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

Do they believe in love? Maybe that's a good place to start. Personally, if I were dead-set against two people getting married, and someone else was trying to convince me otherwise, all he would have to do is keep shrugging and saying 'But they're in love!" over and over again to completely change my mind.
posted by sam_harms at 2:18 AM on February 3, 2015

Family movie night? There's a great old Sidney Poitier/Spencer Tracy film they should see.
posted by nicwolff at 3:28 AM on February 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Young people have been partnering with the "wrong kind" of person for...forever. Like, hello, Romeo and Juliet! I would emphasize the practical reality--that they could very easily lose their relationship with their daughter over this.

Maybe a black/white couple is a new situation in your family, but I bet it's just a variation on an old theme. Do you have any examples in your family history of people who married someone over parental objections, and it either worked out well because the parents were able to overcome their initial rejection and eventually welcome them into the family, or where it worked out poorly because the parents remained firm in their rejection and alienated their child, who then kept their distance, physically and emotionally?
posted by drlith at 3:57 AM on February 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ask them to describe his character to you ("what's he like? What's his education? What are his interests?") so they can think past the skin color and see a person.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:07 AM on February 3, 2015 [7 favorites]

Be sure to point out to your niece's parents that if they alienate their daughter over this issue, it will greatly affect their access to any future grandchildren.
posted by orange swan at 6:17 AM on February 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is different from a lot of biracial couple situations because Sub-Saharan Africans have a hell of a lot of good reasons not to trust Europeans in general, as I'm sure you are aware. So what are those reasons? Asking them about their fears and their visions of the future that make them apprehensive is probably a lot more effective than delivering an afterschool special lecture. Have a coffee with them both and listen to them. The chances are all their reasons have nothing to do with this actual individual boy. Just pointing that out, that this kid seems nice and he treats their daughter well, might be enough for them to at least tolerate him, which is possibly the best your niece can hope for in the near future.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:45 AM on February 3, 2015 [9 favorites]

Do you know that their concerns are only about his race? I would tend to assume they might be at least partly upset at the idea of their daughter doing something that permanently ties her to another (faraway) country, rather than to her hometown. It might be helpful to start with that assumption, at least.
posted by jaguar at 6:56 AM on February 3, 2015 [6 favorites]

Seconding Jaguar. The skin color may be a red herring, while the absolute pragmatic fear of having a daughter living permanently on a different continent is what they're truly dead set against.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 6:58 AM on February 3, 2015 [7 favorites]

It also may have to do with potential grandchildren. I knew a really progressive, totally lefty educated woman who LOST HER SHIT when she thought her son was dating an Asian-american woman. She actually said "I don't want yellow grandbabies!" It was a total "whoa -- what?" moment.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 12:03 PM on February 3, 2015

One thing I've seen work for white SOs trying to be accepted by their nonwhite partner's families is to really commit to reassuring them that they aren't going to just steal their partner away into Western culture. A lot of the prejudice I see against marrying into a different race presents as bigotry, but is rooted in deep, deep fears of abandonment, loss, and destruction of the home family and culture, of losing your child (and potential grandchildren) to assimilation. There are of course racist reactions like the "yellow grandbabies" fuckery potsmokinghippieoverlord talks about, but many of these fears are very practical and very *real*, like not being able to bond with or really get to know your grandkids because you don't speak the same language. So I think aside from the baseline white-boyfriend requirements of demonstrating to your neice's family that he isn't a racist or a fetishist and that he respects both his partner and her parents, your neice and her bf should really try to reassure them that marrying outside her culture doesn't mean she's going to cut ties.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 3:34 PM on February 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Is it also a different faith issue?

South African author Mark Mathabane is married to a white American woman.
posted by brujita at 7:48 PM on February 3, 2015

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