Premarital resources for interracial couples
February 11, 2017 11:18 AM   Subscribe

What resources, books, or counseling services in DC/NoVA area, can be helpful in navigating nuances in interracial relationships?

My boyfriend and I (female) are planning to get engaged in the next few months; we have been together for a year. Things are going very well, we have complementary needs and things that we bring to the table, and communicate very well. We agreed to do premarital counseling to make sure we have a solid understanding of things going in. I'm really excited about it!

My boyfriend is of Caucasian descent and I am 2nd generation South Asian. We have generally been able to communicate pretty openly about race and related issues in America, which have obviously become more salient in the past year, but recently we had a more in-depth conversation about what race means with regards to our own relationship. I was surprised that we had a different take (to him it "doesn't matter," which I assume is his way of saying he is romantically color blind, but to me our cultural backgrounds matter and I appreciate the value of our diversity and our respective lived experiences).

This came up because I am about to begin graduate school, and am considering diversity of grad student cohorts in my acceptance decision making. He seems to find it curious that this is important to me (for perspective - I am going into psychology). He says there are ways that he, even as a white person, can relate to the experience of being a minority since he spent two years in the middle east, so he thinks that white people may also be able to relate to me in different ways and I don't necessarily need a super racially diverse student body (i.e. 40% as opposed to 10-15%). This led to him wondering why I am with him, a white person, if it is important for me to have other PoC in my field. I think it is an unfair comparison; intimate relationships are different from a professional field that is based on approaches to worldview and mental health. And also...I might think that the experience of being a racial minority in America vs. being a white man in the Middle East would have some thematic differences; but I am willing to be open-minded about this.

Wow, that was snowflakey. But anyway, I don't know how important this is in the grand scheme of our relationship. I don't think this is an issue that threatens our relationship; we communicate candidly and compromise well... I see this as a growth opportunity for both of us, which is exciting. So, I wonder if there are resources (like books) out there to navigate these topics. I also thought premarital counseling might also be an interesting venue to bring it up. but I am not sure where to start for premarital counseling, period, in NoVA/DC, let alone if there are any who approach these issues particularly well.

posted by bengalibelle to Human Relations (4 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
*sorry, I meant important for me to have PoC in my graduate program, not in my field
posted by bengalibelle at 11:22 AM on February 11, 2017

I suggest couples counselling with a therapist who is a woman of colour.

You are most definitely NOT over-thinking this! If anything I think you are kind of minimizing it. Race is a real thing and has real effects on people. Pretending it doesn't matter actually gaslights a big portion of your lived experience. I have friends of all races but I do not bother with people who pretend race isn't a part of my life. My race is just as big a part of my life as my gender is. Race is important and it has hard, and beautiful, consequences for different parts of life, and race is 100% worth thinking deeply and carefully about.

All your concerns are 100% normal and correct, and his counter-thoughts are pretty common... but also they have been well-analyzed and basically debunked as valid analogies by lots and lots of PoC written and lived experience.

For instance, being white in another country is not the same as being a PoC in America, because, all over the world, whiteness and American-ness are prized, so there is still a certain amount of reverence present, even in another culture's xenophobia. It is really not the same as what it's like to be the only PoC in an American context.

Your partner needs to realize that between the two of you, YOU are the expert on race- you know more about being a PoC because you are one, and you also recognize more problematic behaviour from white culture because you, not he, are the frequent recipient of it.

It would be like discussing straight/gay culture with a gay person- the gay person would just know more about it than the straight person. No judgement, just fact. The gay person has a lifetime exposure to being gay AND trying to navigate and fit into the nuances of straight culture. Straight people just fit in to straigtness, gay people have to analyze and work to fit in. No judgement, just fact.

Interracial relationships are like this. In most aspects of your relationship your two opinions are exactly equal- "which sofa is better? which restaurant will we visit? how clean should our house be? what kind of car will we buy?" - but when it comes to race, your lived experience has forcibly made you an expert in both being a PoC and in how to navigate around whiteness, and your opinions and intuitions about racial power structures are more correct and more valuable than his. No judgement, just fact. It feels weird for white people to realize this, but it's true. So having a therapist who also sees the world this way will help you put words to your intuitions and give your opinions needed credence to him.

It would also help to start reading and following prominent PoC writers and thinkers. Your intuitions on race are correct, I can't say that loudly enough, and reading the same feelings expressed by others who have invested deep thought and eloquence into sharing them is so so healing and empowering.

Also you could try to befriend more PoC people who think and talk about race a lot (you can often find such people in activist spaces- maybe investigate left-leaning political groups and queer social spheres to encounter people who have deeply-developed race politics. Not that you should join groups you have no interest in just to hear PoC voices, nor should you take up queer space if you totally ID as straight- but if you do have any personal interest in those kinds of spaces, go check them out!)

I am very confident in my suggestions here because I am a mixed-race woman of colour who has had several longterm romantic partners who were white, and I have spent decades living and working in very white milieux. And I read exhaustively about race. I have had several white romantic partners who have done the work to be pretty great on their race politics, and I actually like being in an interracial romantic relationship. And I've had several white partners who refused to see these issues in a progressive or humble way, so I know very well how wearing that kind of partner can be.

Understanding structural racism is a process, and it won't happen overnight, but I do think it would be good to get a good handle on this stuff with any given partner before having kids with them (if having kids is of interest to you at all). You're an adult and can handle yourself when the two of you disagree, but your kids will probably look mixed and experience racial micro-aggressions in school, and your partner will need to be on board not to stand up for them and not to gaslight or minimize their experiences.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:45 AM on February 11, 2017 [21 favorites]

Couple of questions for you to think about/ask:

Why does he want to marry you? (not the usual answers but does he even mention your race/culture here?)
Have you lived together?
Does he like the food from your country?
What does he think of the customs of your race/country?
What does he think of the women and men of your race?
Do you speak a different language? what does he think of that?
What are your politics? If different you are in trouble but ask why they are different.
What does he think of affirmative action?
What does he think of the history of white oppression?(denial is not good).
What does he think of Black Lives Matter.
What does he think of the current political situation and why.
When and if you criticize the racist attitude of people what position does he take? This will tell a lot about whether you should or should not marry this guy.
Ok these questions may seem simple but listen very very carefully to his answers/discussion. It will save you a lot of grief later on in life and help you to make the right decision now.
posted by metajim at 1:57 PM on February 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's good to start thinking about this now, because a lot of it won't come up right away... But if you have kids it will all come up eventually, perhaps at inopportune times. You don't really find out what your culture means to you until you think about what you're going to teach your children. At least that's been my experience, and I thought of myself as someone who thought pretty hard about a lot of this stuff.
posted by potrzebie at 4:08 PM on February 11, 2017

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