How do I deal with external hate influencing my relationship?
January 28, 2016 2:58 AM   Subscribe

I'm a turban wearing sikh. I'm in a relationship with an American. The hate directed our way is making me question the sustainable happiness of this relationship. How do I proceed?

I'm a 38 year old turban wearing Sikh, ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom. About a year ago I got into a relationship with an American born and resident woman, someone I've known for 3 years through work. As with most things, it went from work colleagues who would meet on occasion (I travel to the US a lot for my work) to emails, to phone calls, to the crazy present situation where we're bouncing across the Atlantic every 3 weeks and looking for every opportunity to be with each other.

The relationship between us is not in question. It is wonderful. The situation I seek advice about is others perception of us. In effect, we get a lot of *hate* thrown our way and it's almost exclusively structured around "why would you (her) be with him (me)?".

From sniggering comments from her friends about "sleeping with the enemy" to "random" TSA patdowns of her because she's travelling with me to shouts from kids to "stop sleeping with the taxi driver" to old Indian busy bodies taking her aside to say "stick with your own" to random middle aged white men calling her a "traitor" (all of this has happened) we get a lot of crap thrown our way (In the one year I've known her I can recall 9 incidents offhead).

I'm a fairly thick-skinned person and I can say I've experienced a bit of this in my life (surprisingly, never before in the US) but when I'm with her it's like every bigot under the sun needs to have their say (again, surprisingly, most of them seem to be in the US though we seem to experience more of it in the UK too). What is new to me and what is extremely hard to handle is the effect I see it having on her.

Every single time an incident happens I see her heart break a little. There have been tears, pain and anguish, most of it revolving around why would people be like that and why would they say that. She has on occasion even tried arguing back etc and this never ends well. I'm quite capable of defending her but she doesn't like me doing this. Usually she will ignore, ask me to ignore, turn the corner and get very very upset.

We've talked a lot about this and while I absolutely believe her view that she's fine with it, what I see on a day-to-day basis is a very upset and unhappy person, with the unhappiness being directed at her because of who she's involved with. This in turn makes me question whether I'm worthy of this relationship and this wonderful and unique person and makes me aware of and sorry for the pain I'm causing her by just being in her life. I'm not at all religious or culturally inclined so I've offered changing my appearance but she's against this as my look is a point of attraction for her and it's her view that I shouldn't have to change how I am to be with her.

I know this is not a new story, I'm looking for anecdotes, advice and experience on how to proceed so that we're not beat down by this. If this works out I'll probably move to the US but I'm questioning this because of the pain it seems to bring her. I don't want to lose this so we need to find a way to be above this. I am not prepared to let people of this calibre dictate my, or her, actions.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I'm so so sorry that you and your partner are having to go through this.

I can't bring anything particularly helpful to the table, as I've never been in a position where I've experienced this kind of bigotry (though I have friends who have, for similar reasons to yours, and I'll ask them about this).

I will say this, though:
This in turn makes me question whether I'm worthy of this relationship and this wonderful and unique person and makes me aware of and sorry for the pain I'm causing her by just being in her life.
Please don't make the mistake of taking the responsibility for the unhappiness caused by other people's numb-fuckery on yourself, nor use it as a measure of your worth. You come across as a kind, compassionate and understanding person, and that's why she's with you.

I hope that you can both find a way through this, and that you get the happiness you deserve.
posted by gmb at 3:39 AM on January 28, 2016 [47 favorites]

My heart is out to you. I am Latino but look white. My wife is Latina and appears black. My son is 8 years old and looks classically Latino. On occasion I have looked at job opportunities in rural areas and my wife has rejected the option because of fear of racism. I fear the day when I will have to explain to my son that there will be people who hate him just because of who he is.

But standing up to ignorance and fighting against intolerance is necessary. Prejudice shapes our lives but it doesn't control our choices. For each of us to be proud and true to who we are is the cure for the sickness of the world.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 3:40 AM on January 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

This in turn makes me question whether I'm worthy of this relationship and this wonderful and unique person and makes me aware of and sorry for the pain I'm causing her by just being in her life.

Not to minimize your own suffering here but by viewing her suffering as your fault/responsibility, you're not paying attention to what she's saying to you. She's being hurt not by you but by her fellow countrymen, peers, clan. People she saw as like her, who have shown themselves to be hateful and small. She's experiencing racism and religious bigotry for the first time, plus the casual sexism that allows strangers to comment on her personal life.

She is grieving the loss of the society she thought she lived in. Although your presence served as catalyst, your presence isn't the problem and your absence won't solve it.

If your only concern really is her coping with the hate, then I recommend upping the communication about it - its causes, it's effects on you both, your responses to it, maybe seeking out other people in similar situations, etc. Maybe even small-scale activism. It is and will always be part of your lives together. As will the sexism. So avoiding it won't work; determine together what role you want it to play in your lives.
posted by headnsouth at 3:46 AM on January 28, 2016 [88 favorites]

I've been there, man.

I used to live in Korea, and my Korean girlfriend would sometimes get garbage from drunk and/or middle-aged Korean guys on the street bc she was with me that it would really upset her. Not speaking Korean very well, I generally couldn't understand or adequately reply to this abuse (save for the occasional choice digit), which left me feeling a lot like the way you do -- hurting for my significant other, and frustrated that I unable to do very much about the problem (albeit for reasons different than yours).

In my experience, there's not much you can do about these inevitable retrograde street assholes other than to be prepared for it -- both emotionally and rhetorically. That is, accept that this sort of thing will happen from time to time, mentally/emotionally steel yourself against it before you're actually in the situation, and have a stock sharp retort in your back pocket for when it occasionally arises. I also prepared some standard comforting things I would say to my girlfriend to try to make this easier on her (mostly classicist things abt the perpetrators that impugned education and/or worldliness [probably not 100% ok by the lefty PC book, but whatever]), which I think helped her get through it and reminded her of who we really dealing with.

Sorry you have to deal with this, it really sucks.
posted by charlemangy at 3:51 AM on January 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I cringed so much reading all those things that people have said to you - they are absolutely disgusting. I'm so sorry that you have experienced it and it makes me sad for society in general, as well as for you both.

Is there anywhere locally (in the US or UK or both) where you could meet with other people in a similar position? I have found that when I feel particularly beaten down by experiences of oppression/harassment (although in my case they've related to being a woman) it really helps to find a safe space and a community of people who feel similarly - sometimes to discuss it in a meaningful way but more often just to have a damn good rant.
posted by greenish at 4:27 AM on January 28, 2016 [9 favorites]

I fear this will happen to some degree everywhere, but there are places where it's more likely and less likely to happen. If you choose to move to the US and she wants to consider relocating,you could start exploring where you get more or less flack.

As others have said, while I know it's breaking your heart to see her going through this, it's her choice to make. Don't double victimize her by ending it "for her sake."
posted by metasarah at 4:35 AM on January 28, 2016 [11 favorites]

We get this, albeit less intensely than what you describe. One thing is that there are places where it is better and places where it is worse (not just US versus UK in your case, but one city to another, and different neighborhoods within a city). That is absolutely a factor in where we choose to live, and while nowhere is perfect, it takes a lot of stress off when you can lower that pressure even slightly. If your work and finances allow, moving to the most accepting option is going to make things easier.

There's also a big element of learning to let things go rather than have them eat at you. She's presumably learned to do this for other things (sexist street harassers, perhaps) but this is new and thereby having a much bigger impact. It is easier said than done, but it is not healthy to have things eating at you.

And it's straight up shitty when you find out that people you thought were normal and nice, including relatives and friends, turn out to be not-so-secret racists. Lots of people who are not racist otherwise feel completely entitled to comment on mixed relationships, sometimes directly but often in coded language which is much harder to know how to respond to. (And there is a related issue, that even people who aren't racist treat mixed relationships as open for discussion, including kids or the lack thereof, religion, sex, and other things that are otherwise considered totally private.)

The bottom line is that either you guys learn how to face this stuff as a partnership and support each other more tightly every time, or it will just tear you apart inside. The shitty behavior is external and will always be there, so it is your response (individually and together) that is the part you can control.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:47 AM on January 28, 2016 [10 favorites]

I'm a brown skinned male who has frequently dated outside of my race, so my partner(s) and I have gotten our fair share of comments over time. A lot of other folks so far have offered good points and observations, and I'd particularly support the point about how your partner's grief isn't about your presence but possibly about how she's dealing with racism directed at her for the first time. It's a different arsenal of microaggressions that requires different tactics of adaptation and avoidance.

I know that what has helped me and my past partners is having a social circle where mixed race dating is much more normalized. You can have any number of hateful or bigoted people to deal with amongst family, colleagues, or random strangers but it becomes easier to deal with when you have a good core of folks who just accept you and can also be supportive of your choices. Fortunately, both the US and UK have opportunities for finding those groups. Focus on that rather than on the random hate that you'll encounter.

As another point, as well, the reason why this draws attention from time to time is because mixed-race dating (esp. visible minority w/ white majority) is so uncommon. If it helps to put a positive direction on this sort of experience, know that your simple existence as a couple helps make your choice appear more normal and therefore helps reduce the potential for stress and racism for future couples who make the same choices as you. The more of us that there are, the less that we'll stand out, and that's what we should all hope for at the end of this.
posted by bl1nk at 5:02 AM on January 28, 2016 [14 favorites]

I had an African American boyfriend. I was from Massachusetts and there were very few African Americans in my area. I didn't really know racism when I growing up.

Then I started dating him in college and even in wealthy, liberal Massachusetts towns there was terrible racism from both sides. Interestingly, now that I think of it, it was all directed at me. I was a "nigger lover" or women verbally assaulted me for taking one of their men. All strangers - on the street, while in restaurants, at concerts. People refused to serve of food, accused me of being a certain ind of girl.

Because my partner was used to racism he was absolutely cool and calm at all times. He always took the high road. I was so impressed. I was new to it so I was more upset than him most times.

When I look back at those 5 years it's not tainted by thoughts of those incidents. I think of what an amazing guy he was to be so self-controlled and mature in the face of such ignorance.
Adversity like that really gave me a chance to admire him more for who he was.
posted by ReluctantViking at 5:04 AM on January 28, 2016 [40 favorites]

btw, one non-trivial addendum to my advice above is that this may also mean adding a degree of separation between yourself and your own religious and cultural community. It sounds like your ties to that community are flexible anyway, so you've probably already arrived to these conclusions on your own -- but our minority communities can be just as ridden with prejudice and complicated baggage of mixed race dating as mainstream society, and they can frequently get a pass or let their own biases go unchallenged because "only white people can be racist"

In general, the best and most welcoming circles that I've found have been Third Culture sort of cosmopolitan spaces where it's 2nd or 3rd generation semi-assimilated immigrant folks who've drifted from their original culture and have embraced some hybrid form of assimilation and tradition, and they just mix company with a diverse array of other individuals from other backgrounds, and no one tradition holds sway. Of course, every community is different. Seek out the community that most reflects who you are; not the one that you're "supposed" to belong to.
posted by bl1nk at 5:18 AM on January 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

Echoing all the sympathy and empathy of the above, but wanted to also point out that you've left out a critical variable of this: your locations. If you're both commuting to the same place in the US and the same place in the UK every three weeks and staying where she is or where you are, and y'all both live in places that suck and are small-minded and racist, this is not going to improve, and she is also experiencing the pressure while you are gone, in between the times you and she are together. That pressure does place strain on relationships, and you're not wrong to be concerned.

Is there a world in which you could be meeting in a third, neutral place? A different city, one that more closely shares your values as a couple? And, if this is a relationship where you see a future together, have you talked about where that might be located? There are cities in the US and abroad that will not treat the two of you like this.
posted by juniperesque at 5:45 AM on January 28, 2016

I don't think it's the comments per se, I suspect that she's having a hard realization that the issue even exists.

Before going out with you, she probably hung out with folks from her own race and her own religious background. Let's face it, she probably had white privilege and had NO IDEA that the stuff she'd hear people of other races complain about was really 'that bad.' Now she knows differently.

People never assumed anything about her or said anything to her about her mere existence. But now that she's with you, her world-view has changed. She is now understanding what other races and religious backgrounds and just plain differences deal with on a daily basis. THAT'S why her heart is breaking. It has nothing to do with you, you're fabulous. Her heart is breaking because the level playing field she had played on in the past has been revealed to be a bumpy, unfair, hateful place.

You seem like an awesome dude. You've also probably been a target of shit more times than you care to think about. This is new to her.

That said, I'm sorry it's happening. People can be assholes. Don't let assholes decide about your relationship. If you two are really loving being together, the best thing you both can do is to model the kindness and understanding you'd like to have extended to you.

My reaction to any racial ugliness would be, "Bless your heart. I'll pray for you." But I'm from the south and I know what it really means.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:48 AM on January 28, 2016 [11 favorites]

I'm a young turbaned Sikh man, born and raised (and currently living) in the US. I've dated a couple white women (and am currently doing so), but have never experienced the kind or degree of explicit negative social stigma you've described (except, of course "random" TSA screenings) (and staring) (and occasional comments, but from cars driving by, and then sidewalk passerby apologizing for the insensitivity of our fellow humans). I think, like other people have mentioned, it's a matter of the communities or spaces in which one dwells - I've always lived in relatively liberal cities and interacted in educated, accepting, multicultural friend circles. And I also agree with what others have said about the novelty and difficulty that comes with confronting prejudice explicitly for the first time. It's probably hard for your partner to start to experience something like that (I know that going to places with more palpable prejudice towards South Asians ** COUGH COUGH ** SINGAPORE ** COUGH COUGH** has been hard for me for that same reason).

There strike me as being two ways of moving forwards. One is to deal with it, develop thick skin, continue loving each other and come up with ways to respond to the hate, both psychologically and in your relationship, whether it be to laugh at it, ignore it, analyze it, whatever. The other is to avoid it, which would either manifest as ending the relationship or moving to a different city. I don't recommend ending the relationship - it sounds like y'all love each other, and that you're kickass and that she's kickass, and that both of you enjoy the conglomerated kickassness that comes from your being together.

So, I personally suggest moving to better areas where it would happen less. Learning how to deal with it on a daily basis is a useful and edifying experience, but (karma be damned) you only live once, and you'll confront hate anyway in small doses on vacations and from those grumpy cars, so why not make it easier for yourself and your partner and find good people and a good city? I realize that that's more easily said than done - we're often tied to our places because of obligations and work and stuff - but MAN life can be so much easier, people can be great, the world is a garden of lotuses, pick the right one and dance for eternity.
posted by mrmanvir at 6:32 AM on January 28, 2016 [18 favorites]

I'm half Romani, passing for white. My father (full-blood Rom, also passes unless you know what to look for) was the first person in his family to marry outside the folk. I grew up with cousins and aunts and uncles making diddakoi and "half-breed" jokes with me. I never connected the dots on the facts that A) they never said those things when my father was within earshot, and B) my mother never went to gatherings of that side of the family (she always had work commitments or somesuch).

And then I made the mistake of taking my daughter to a small get-together at a great-aunt's house for the holidays (my ex-spouse was, of course, not Rom). I had people of three generations say that my daughter -- a bright, bubbly, friendly, helpful three-year-old -- was not and never could be a part of the family, because she was only a quarter of a person. Something broke in me, and all I could do...

Was laugh. Oh, gods, did I laugh at their stupid parochial racist bullshit, their inbred shitheeldom, their blind moronic hatred of anyone who wasn't exactly like them. I was absolutely hysterical that these people would refuse a hug from this beautiful little girl who had begged me to teach her how to say "Merry Christmas" in Kalderash and had asked me incessantly for chores to do so she could buy people presents because she wanted to fit in to her family so desperately.

I laughed, and they started to laugh because they'd been saying that shit to me for decades in other words, and I'd always laughed just like they did, and then they got pissed, but you can't punch your cousin just because he's laughing and not pushing back on your stupid racist bullshit, and I taught my daughter how to say something in Kalderash that was very different from "Merry Christmas", and I kept laughing as she said it, over and over again, to everyone in the house, and I kept laughing as we drove back to the airport to see if I could change our tickets on Christmas Eve, and years later, I still laugh, because they'd done me the huge favor of showing me who I never needed to care about ever again in my life.

That might not work for you. But every now and then, one of the people who was in that house that day will leave a comment on one of my non-racist cousins' Facebook page, and instead of remembering what he said about my daughter and what he'd been saying about me for all those years, I'll remember a three-year-old telling him to go fuck his least favorite pig with a big innocent smile on her face, and I'll laugh again.
posted by Etrigan at 6:37 AM on January 28, 2016 [117 favorites]

I think this will be difficult for you to get through as a couple unless you and your girlfriend have open discussions about race and racism in America. Also: your question doesn't seem to acknowledge that you and your partner have different positions in U.S. society: she's white in a white dominated country. Although you're also getting negative pushback from Indians, you are not both experiencing the same thing. If she stopped dating you and partnered with a white guy instead, she would no longer experience the blowback of racism that comes with dating a non-white person. If you stopped dating her, you would still be vulnerable to racism in the United States - even without a white woman in tow. I'm concerned that you're kinda blaming yourself for her decision to date you. At no time should you call into question your worthiness.. if she isn't up to the task of facing the racist society she lives in, then she isn't worthy of you. That needs to be really clear in your mind.

Also: Although I am not sure what your views are on having children, but if you have multiracial kids or kids that look "non-white" in the U.S., they are going to have to deal with racism, too. If you can't handle your white girlfriend dealing with racism-by-association (which she can happily avoid 99% of the time when she's not with you), how will you be able to deal with the effect it will have on your children?

It's a good thing that your partner is upset by racism. If she was "okay with it", I would question her state of mind. I think you both, as a couple, should learn more about race in America and about the differing roles you both have in confronting it.
posted by Gray Skies at 6:59 AM on January 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

It's a little worrying that her own friends are making she close to them? What does it say about her that she's friends with people who think that way, and if you moved here, would you really want to spend time with them?

One of my ex-boyfriends (and now a close friend, who I still often see one-on-one) is Sikh, though not religious and doesn't have a turban, long hair, or a beard. We've never gotten any comments or even a stare. I'm in a very liberal city, but I think the turban (especially right now) will get a lot of attention. A Muslim friend of mine recently stopped wearing her hijab because of all of the harassment she was getting. If you truly feel comfortable without the turban, it might make a huge difference. Let your girlfriend know how much this is all bothering you--it's not just about fixing it so she feels better, it's also about you. I would think she'd still be attracted to you if you did decide to try going without the turban, and that your happiness should be more important to her than if she finds you sexier with it on.
posted by three_red_balloons at 7:28 AM on January 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

You are not the problem.

You are not the problem.

You are not the problem.

I know the instances of bigotry are terribly upsetting and wrong and unfair, but you must not feel guilty. If I were her, I think I would be proud to stand up for who I love and what I believe.
posted by Cygnet at 7:42 AM on January 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

This makes me so sad. All I can say is there is no shortage of stupid people in the world and what they think doesn't matter because they are stupid. But I'm sure you know that.

I know when I get upset about something it tends to freak my husband out and he kind of desperately flails around trying to figure out any way he can to stop it and it often ends up making things worse, god love 'em. Try not to do that and just stay calm and soothing and lighthearted. Whatever you do, don't get into the mindset that you are the one causing this. You're really not.

Also, I'm not sure where in the U.S. your girlfriend is now but maybe looking into more cosmopolitan areas to live would help? Somewhere where mixed-culture relationships are pretty common? All Americans are not like this, I swear.
posted by Jess the Mess at 7:46 AM on January 28, 2016

I don't really believe you can move away from racism. In the US there's so much public racism now and it's getting louder and the ugliness of it turns my stomach. (Am white; have lived in cheerful ignorance too long.)

In some ways the pervasiveness of racial cat calling is like hot weather or rainy weather. There's a gradient and you can move toward 'better weather', but there will be sudden hot days or storms. I hope that when the harassment isn't dangerous, you can frame it in a way that lets you laugh it off. (Imagine the perpetrator as a squawking bird that tried to drop poop on your shoulder.) I believe that nothing stymies individual racism more than rolling your eyes at it. (I could be wrong. Also laughter doesn't stop systemic [structural] racism at all).
posted by puddledork at 7:47 AM on January 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

My anecdote:

My partner and I have lived together for 8 years. Both men, with a significant age gap (he's 19 years older than me). We also have three kids. I'm from the rural south, he's from San Diego (which is politically quite conservative). I'm sure you can imagine the kind of unsolicited commentary we get.

I have to say, the shock of it wore off pretty quickly. After the first year, we'd heard it all. It almost became a good thing to hear some awful but new snide comment. When we hear a new one--which is rare--we both kind of glance at each other and smirk.

We've also gotten some value out of it, because things like that become touch points for conversations with our kids about the nature of things, the futility of expecting others to behave how you would want them to behave, politeness, appropriate responses to insults, and so on.

We've also come to recognize over time just how much of this negative commentary is purely said in the moment, with no malice or intention to do harm behind it. That's been important to recognize, and it folds nicely into the broader idea that taking offense is a personal issue, not an absolute one. Sometimes we correct it (the best/worst is when people say I look like his son / he looks like my dad--that always gets a correction from us), sometimes we don't (a lifetime of being called a faggot by strangers driving by in cars = it recedes into background noise).

Does it affect our relationship? No, not now. In the beginning I was much more volatile about exploding at people who would go to far. Repetition and habituation are funny things, though, and I'm glad it's mostly background noise at this point. We did end up living in cities that have a progressive bent--not to avoid this, but because we love those cities--but you can certainly guide your long-term relationship plans to include living in or visiting places where you're less of a minority.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 7:49 AM on January 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm a white woman, and when I started dating my Filipino-American husband, I never really expected it to be a big deal. We've never had strangers approach us, but I received a lot of really uncomfortable comments from my "friends" and coworkers. It was really shocking for me to be confronted with this kind of casual racism. Like, I had no idea that grown adults really thought this way about other humans. And worse, I didn't want to tell him about it, because I didn't want to bring him down. It really helped to sit down and have an honest discussion about it and brought us closer as a couple.

Like people have said above, moving to a new area has also made a difference.

Loving Day is June 12 and is based around the Supreme court case that made interracial marriage legal in the US. They hold celebrations in many cities throughout the country. We started attending these events and it really helped to meet more couples facing similar circumstances. If you will be in the States during June, I highly recommend checking for events in your area.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 7:54 AM on January 28, 2016 [7 favorites]

I'm a gay white man who has dated Hispanic, Filipino, and Indian-descended gentlemen (I feel like interracial dating is more common in Gayland?) I honestly can't say I've ever heard any racist comments, and my Filipino-appearing ex and I traveled all over the American Southwest together. However, I have heard my share of homophobic comments over the years, although not as many as might be expected, since I tend to be oblivious.

I think there's a nice noxious stew of racism and sexism going on here. Racism, of course, because you are Sikh dating a white woman, and sexism, because the person with status (white skin) in the relationship is a woman.

As for what you can do? Well, whenever I've heard a homophobic comment when out with a boyfriend or someone I'm dating, I usually take the "shit-eating grin" approach. I ignore it, hold his hand, whatever. Then we might have a laugh about it in private later. I think it would be beneficial for your and your partner to have an open discussion about this and figure out how you can laugh about it in private later. It's a cliche, but the racists only have power over you if you or your partner let them. They're cowards using your sense of social propriety against you. Don't let them.
posted by Automocar at 8:11 AM on January 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

Agreeing that it's not helpful to go down the road of "I'm doing this to her" when she's a grown-ass woman capable of choosing to be with you or not. One of the things that catcalls (of any flavor) at women are meant to do is make them feel powerless; don't buy into that yourself.

Something that may help with the general trauma of being threatened is to have some conversations at calm moments to put together plans of action. Part of the damage done is the fear that it won't just stop at a comment, and the powerlessness of knowing that if you respond it's unlikely to help. There's power in knowing there's a plan, even if that plan is to keep walking and pretend you didn't hear, rather than her having to worry about talking you out of responding in the moment. There's confidence in knowing that if the situation escalates, you both already know how you're going to handle it.

And it makes you feel more like a team.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:47 AM on January 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

Seconding three_red_balloons -- talk to her about not wearing your turban and cutting your hair and how this might help you both. If she finds your beard sexy (I'm assuming you have one) keep it. She will still find you very attractive -- I have no doubt.
posted by Lescha at 9:53 AM on January 28, 2016

Both of you need to flip it. It needs to be fun--you two against an idiot world.

Is it news that there are bigots? There are bigots. They're going to bust off and bigot sometimes. Feeling bad about each other and other people every time this happens will only make you and her unhappy, and eventually it will break the relationship. You need to buck up and stop taking this on: it is not yours. When this happens, respond to their "You can do better" bullshit with "Methinks the hayseed protests too much." The two of you do not have to say but should definitely think this at them: "Ha haaaa! Sour graaaapes! You know you wish it could be yoooooo!"

That should be the attitude. Step up the PDA if it happens in public. (Same thing again: If you don't do PDA, just think it at them.)

If it happens quietly between coworkers, lift your chin, gaze down your nose at the offender, smile like you're eating a custard tart, walk gently away from their cramped little world on a vast pillow of happiness. If it's your mom, smile and say, "Oh, mom." And feel sorry for your mom.

Here is their sad, sad deal:
You have what they want and can't admit to themselves they want. It's like homophobia--they think they hate it, but actually? They're at a huge disadvantage, limiting themselves this arbitrary way. They're cut off from huge numbers of potential lovers and life partners, it sucks for them, they don't want to look at that, their hijinks are a big circus they put on for themselves to distract from the sad truth. Read "Going to Meet the Man." James Baldwin had this figured out.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:11 AM on January 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

How do I deal with external hate influencing my relationship?

I'll preface this by saying I'm pretty high strung. Serenity and calmness and peace are kind of not my thing. That said, I've found taking a step back from immediately reacting to something and asking myself a couple of questions has helped me A LOT in terms of gauging whether or not I should respond to that something, at all. So what do I ask myself?

"Is this thing worthy of being in my life? Does it merit my engaging with it? Am either I or the world at large better off by my doing so?"

And what was surprising to me (but probably shouldn't have been) is how for very many, many things, the answer when held up to that standard is not just "no" - but "hell no" or even "fuck no."

You've already allowed these folks to impinge upon you more than they merit. Leave them to the world they'd like to see, in favor of the one you and your significant other are forging together. There are plenty of people out there who'd love to help you. Find and invest in them. Drop the rest, or hold them at appropriate length. It's not your job to enlighten the haters, nor is it your responsibility to drag them to the better place you're building for yourself.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 1:09 PM on January 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

When I was younger, I was extremely pretty. I was also constantly harassed by men. I thought that there was nothing I could do about it. I thought it was due to my looks and, barring being disfigured, it was inevitable.

Then I had a health crisis. For a time, I looked like hell and men stopped harassing me. During my health crisis, I was put on steroids and gained a lot of weight. When my health improved, I lost most of the weight, only to discover that I was now a lot bustier than I had ever been. Men again stared. In fact, they stared with mouths hanging open.

But, weirdly, none approached me. I was now a lot "hotter" looking than ever and the harassment did not resume. I eventually realized that my body language had changed. I no longer engaged everyone visually and no longer kowtowed to their agenda via body language.

Based on that and a few other things, I will suggest the following:

Watch your girlfriend. Does she consistently make eye contact with these people? If so, suggest she stop. Her eye contact may be inviting engagement. It may be signalling receptivity. She needs to learn to not engage people with her eyes. She needs to learn to disengage.

I will also suggest that if you and she are very demonstrative of your affection in public, this may get you targeted. In racist areas, be less openly kissy and huggy.

I have found that not engaging such people is usually a better way to shut them down. Engaging them validates their right to butt in. They have no such right. Unless you feel you are in actual danger, be non plussed. Look at them like an adult might look at a tantruming toddler. Or don't look at them at all. Ignore them entirely.

I have found that when I remain polite and respectful in the face of asshole racist/classist/x-ist behavior, that is a powerful way to shame people. Behaving badly in reaction just makes them feel their hatred is justified. Being beyond reproach forces some people to reevaluate their personal crap and sometimes wins support from onlookers that you will not get if you sink to their level.

If you downplay the sexual nature of the relationship when in public and learn to effectively disengage via body language, you may see a drop off in such shit. A lot of people are very unhappy. What they may actually be reacting to is your happiness together. They may be pissed off and jealous over that and saying racist crap to vent about their own unhappiness because you can't go cussing at people for being happy.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 1:14 PM on January 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm in a mixed marriage. I'm sorta wondering what's going on here. Racism? Yep. Bigotry? Yep. Sexism? YES. Sadly, yes.

I'm kinda worried there is something else, though. Either you both make life easier on yourselves by altering your appearance while you must traverse unfriendly roads, or you switch to roads and places where folks are more normal. Your GF's stance that you don't change your appearance is not making sense for me since you state that you don't really care. Your appearance is not a cultural or religious issue for you, but it seems to be one for her. That confuses me.

I'm a big believer in taking a stand, but like, it's not worth getting harassed about or put in danger over it. Sometimes it is. This time it is not. Political and social winds will change soon enough.

I vote you lose the cultural identifiers for the time being whenever you travel or visit contentious areas, and see how it rolls. If the relationship progresses, you guys can move in together in a more mixed neighborhood where you can both celebrate your differences and be rockstars.

I'm worried your GF is taking all of this, including your appearance, so much to heart. I should hope she declined for you to alter your appearance for travel and such out of respect, and not some weird need to prove a point. Don't be in a relationship to prove a point, don't be in a relationship with someone else using you to prove a point. Life is long, marriage is longer (haha) and you best better like and love the person you are with on the inside, despite their outsides.

Anyway. I'm so very sorry we're all in this position. I will say this situation is a pretty intense crucible for your relationship to this woman. I think if you both focus on each other, you can't lose.

That said, we're not traveling to my husband's country of origin any time soon because as an American tourist I would be welcomed, but as the wife of my husband? Not so much. It might even be dangerous for us. Certainly we'll wait for things to get better before we attempt the trip. It sucks, but oh, well. This is our life. We're happy to be together, we don't really care where we are as long as we're safe and more or less as accepted as anyone else in our community. I'm not sure if that gives you anything to consider, this was our solution, FWIW.
posted by jbenben at 1:47 PM on January 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

A lot of people are very unhappy. What they may actually be reacting to is your happiness together. They may be pissed off and jealous over that and saying racist crap to vent about their own unhappiness because you can't go cussing at people for being happy.

Man, I can't nth that statement enough.
posted by jbenben at 1:52 PM on January 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Watch your girlfriend. Does she consistently make eye contact with these people? If so, suggest she stop. Her eye contact may be inviting engagement. It may be signalling receptivity. She needs to learn to not engage people with her eyes. She needs to learn to disengage.

I disagree that you should tell your girlfriend that she is inviting this kind of harassment .
posted by JenMarie at 5:44 PM on January 28, 2016 [17 favorites]

As an ethnic man who’s dated white women, I completely sympathize.

There are micro-aggressions you may not see as well. Women I’ve dated have told me of going into the same restaurant, same maitre’d, with ethnic men versus white men, and getting completely different treatments. A table by the window versus a table by the kitchen. A bright smile versus a slight glower. This was in downtown Manhattan, so I don’t think changing locations will ever allow you to escape this.

You might be able to lessen the impact of such discrimination by moving, but sometimes it’s more pleasant to face overt racism and laugh at it, than to face subtler actions and wonder if you were just imagining things.

I agree with many of the folks who say don’t take this burden upon yourself. It’s not your fault. And as someone else said, take this chance to pave the way for other such couples. It’s just the way things are. You’re questioning the sustainable happiness of your relationship in the fact of strangers’ hate. I think the only way to proceed is to let it go and try to be the best you can.
posted by Borborygmus at 6:26 PM on January 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

i am amazed people are suggesting you drop the turban. i had to go back and check that you hadn't mentioned this yourself. talk about blaming the victim!

i do think you can't blame yourself here, and it's something she will have to get used to (unfortunately) - as others are saying it's damn weird when you grow up white, experiencing none of this, and then the curtain drops.... i haven't faced this particular situation, but in kinda-similar situations finding some way to share the burden and express solidarity helps a little - as a dumb example, you might frame the two of you as "team turban" and, when something happens, instead of you addressing the latest racist asshole, or getting upset and angry, you high-five each other and say "go team turban". hopefully that gives the general idea - use this as a way to build solidarity (but avoid being obviously cheesy....).
posted by andrewcooke at 9:00 AM on January 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

I say this in good faith- your partner's reaction seems strong, even if all one had to go by are the current events in the US in recent years and the info that she is Caucasian American and you are not. It also seems that, interestingly, she never picked up on where her friends stood on racism... maybe you are the first minority in her life? Perhaps something to be aware of as well on top of the racism?

Unless you live in a rural area in the middle of nowhere, I disagree that relocation is a solution. In my two cents experience (and those I've known, single and mixed-race partnerships), relocation is tempting but never eliminates the challenges that come with being in mixed-race partnership. There is the blatant comment yelled at on the streets and the subtle slights, the I-know-this-isn't just-in-my-head racism that you go to bed at night alone with. The most progressive, open-minded people can be found in the Bible Belt or the Middle East and the ignorant in the most ethnically/educationally diverse "big" cities. Seek your kind and bloom where ever you are planted.

Changing yourself is just as tempting. One more vote against. Why? Because, its 2016.

The stories shared here were... heartbreaking. Took me back in time and wonder what has and still has yet to change. Since you are anon, here's a little something just for you:

Circa 1993. A 14 year old is traveling with her father on a ship en route to/from Malta on a beautiful Mediterranean day. They board the ship and the gentleman checks in with their passports and documents. Out of nowhere, with a look of sheer interest and curiosity of recognizing something he had apparently only read about and learned from books, appears a 20-something Libyan crew member who looks at the gentleman and says, with utmost politeness and respect, "You are a Siiiikh!!!" and proceeds to have a pleasant chat with the gentleman.

The experience of the 14 year old more than twenty years since?

posted by xm at 10:06 PM on January 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

i am amazed people are suggesting you drop the turban. i had to go back and check that you hadn't mentioned this yourself. talk about blaming the victim!

I was not one of those who suggested that they drop the turban, but I can understand and sympathize with the sentiment. I didn't read it as blaming the victim. If anything, all of us who immigrate to another country always have to make choices about what we keep from our old culture and what we adopt in the new. Some of us keep the names that we were born with because it makes us proud and is who we are. But some aspects of traditional culture demand some effort and labor in defending these choices against others who view that as different. We all have to choose what is important to defend and what isn't worthwhile. If someone doesn't want to wear a symbol of faith because they have themselves said that it isn't important to them, then they should be allowed to discard it without feeling any guilt.

We choose the hills that we want to die on, and we choose the battles that we're willing to fight on any given day. And, yes, in a perfect world, those shouldn't be battles in the first place; but it isn't perfect and if someone wants to leave their hijab or turban at home because they're just going around to the store to buy a bag of bread and they just don't want to fucking deal with the attention right now AND it allows them to have the energy to fight for a relationship in other arenas where that relationship is still going to get flack simply for being an exceptional color combination, then it's not my place to tell them that they're doing immigration wrong.
posted by bl1nk at 7:44 AM on January 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

OP specifically said: I'm not at all religious or culturally inclined so I've offered changing my appearance but she's against this as my look is a point of attraction for her and it's her view that I shouldn't have to change how I am to be with her.

That's what some people are responding to.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:22 AM on January 30, 2016

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