White privilege? Something less benign?
May 14, 2020 7:24 AM   Subscribe

Today I expressed some concerns to my partner regarding the uptick of racist attacks against asians in our city. He responded with a surprising degree of indifference. He is white, and I am asian. I'm not sure how to process this or if I overreacted.

For the past while, I've been saddened to see reports of asian people suffering violent attacks at the hands of racist thugs. I'm sure it's no coincidence that the victims are always women or the elderly. Last week, my mom shared with me that on two separate occasions, she and my dad were the target of racist slurs and accusations that "you people" caused the pandemic. My parents are both seniors, and the thought of someone going after them or trying to instigate a fight with my dad (who refuses to reckon with his advanced age) makes my blood run cold.

I saw another such news story today, and told my partner about my fears. He kind of looked sideways at me, and said in somewhat of a dismissive tone, "Don't worry, nothing's gonna happen." I told him that my parents have already been on the receiving end of hateful verbal abuse and I was scared it could escalate. He then launched into a weird semi-tirade, saying things like, "It's all being overblown by the media / It's just the same things that have been happening all along and the media is putting a spin on it / There are always two sides to the story."

The cases I was referring to were not he said, she said types of situations. These attacks occurred in public, with witnesses, and security footage to corroborate the victim's and witnesses' statements. They were clearly racially motivated, accompanied by racial slurs and/or accusations about Chinese people causing coronavirus. I asked my partner if he meant to suggest that the victims I'm talking about were asking for it, or somehow responsible for instigating the assaults. He said no, but repeated that I didn't need to worry and nothing would happen to me or my parents, in the same dismissive, almost condescending tone. He topped that off with, "What do you want me to do about it?"

I told him I was surprised at his lack of concern or sympathy. I said that as a white man, he doesn't know what it's like to fear racist abuse and attacks, and all I wanted was his support and an ear to vent my fears to. He tried to apologize (not especially well, in my opinion) then became irate when I was still visibly upset. He has now gone to bed without a kiss or an "I love you," which is a first in our years-long relationship.

I'm wondering now how to address this tomorrow when hopefully both of us will have simmered down. Part of me is deeply afraid that he is unable to recognize his privilege and we can never have these conversations from the same page. Part of me hears my mom's voice in my head, telling me, "White people will never truly understand us or our culture." Part of me wonders if I might be overreacting or oversensitive because coronavirus has amplified seemingly everything in a bad way. I've told my partner several times that he's my only human contact given that I'm out of a job and isolated at home alone while he (an essential worker) still goes to work every day...so part of me worries that I'm also leaning on him for too much, and maybe it's too much to expect him to support me perfectly for every little thing I'm going through?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (40 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think you're overreacting or being oversensitive. On the contrary, your partner seems to be reacting oddly intensely to your perfectly reasonable desire to share concern and express sadness about a real difficulty that is already affecting you and your family. I'm sorry your parents were the target of abuse - and it makes me upset to think your partner would say nothing would happen to your parents, when it's clear something already has.

I guess any advice on how to address this would depend on what kind of support you want. Would you like your perfectly legitimate fears acknowledged? I wonder if his defensive "What do you want me to do about it?" was also an opening. If the answer is "just listen," is that a bridge too far for him?

PS: I don't know if your partner is the sort to listen to podcasts, but as a white dude the series Seeing White helped me begin to do the long overdue work of thinking about how race had affected my life.
posted by tarshish bound at 7:43 AM on May 14, 2020 [33 favorites]

Wow. Everything else aside, and other people are far better qualified to comment than me on some of these issues, I just want to reassure you that you totally have a right to expect major concern and support from your partner when telling him about racial slurs directed openly at your parents. In fact, he should be deeply upset about this as an attack on his own family members!
posted by praemunire at 7:43 AM on May 14, 2020 [112 favorites]

I'm so very sorry. You deserve to have your fears listened to and taken seriously. Violence (verbal and physical) against Asian Americans IS on the rise. From this random internet person: you are not overreacting or being oversensitive.

How to have the talk? Would it help to have him read this meta? You describe the issues clearly and insightfully.

Do you need more support? Probably--and not just because he cannot (yet) listen well to you, but because you deserve to have someone to talk to who understands these fears viscerally, not just intellectually. I know that it is always helpful for me, when I am angry or sad or fearful of something that might happen to me because of my background and race, to talk to friends with similar backgrounds, who I don't have to explain everything to. They just get it. And that is a profoundly comforting way of being heard.
posted by correcaminos at 7:44 AM on May 14, 2020 [7 favorites]

You are not overreacting. Your parents were victims of hate speech. That's a profoundly traumatic thing, and they, and you, deserve support.

There are always two sides to the story
To me, this sort of both-sides-ism is a massively loud dog whistle. I admit that I have my own unresolved 3rd-hand trauma from the Nazi invasion of Charlottesville, three years ago this summer, but "two sides to the story" is the framing that neo-Confederates and Nazi apologists, including the president, used at the time -- and continue to use -- to justify murder and terrorism. Anyone who uses this kind of language around me is straight up booted from my life.

You might choose the draw the line elsewhere, if this is a years-long partnership, but unless your partner is willing to acknowledge your pain, I'd have serious misgivings about continuing to have this person in your emotional circle.
posted by basalganglia at 8:10 AM on May 14, 2020 [58 favorites]

Holy shit, you are not overreacting.

The only bone I'm going to throw this dude - who, if it wasn't for quarantine, I would suggest needs to stay elsewhere for a while - is that sometimes white men presume they're being asked to solve a problem when actually they're not any sort of expert and should just express solidarity. This is white men's problem to solve, NOT yours to apologize away or mitigate.

I think you can offer him an opportunity to circle back and be a supportive partner, acknowledging that his defensiveness made him defend racism thanks to toxic masculinity and white privilege, or to get the fuck into the sea. Honestly. I am so sorry he feels it's appropriate to treat you like this.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:21 AM on May 14, 2020 [41 favorites]

I'm also here to say that you are not being overly sensitive, nor overreacting.

Your partner, however, severely overreacted in a let's say less than flattering way.
I'll preface this by saying that I am neither defending nor excusing his behavior, but I have seen males act like this before. It usually involves them not liking what they see/heard, feeling overwhelmed with an emotion they are not trained to handle (such as fear), and as a reaction thereto, become overly aggressive towards someone who is clearly not at fault nor deserves it.

Come to think of it, even women do this in a way. I'm thinking of woman who blame rape and abuse victims because it's easier than acknowledging it could happen to them or their loved ones.

None of the above is acceptable. Ever. And I don't know what else to say other than i am sorry. And that your man is going to have to put on his big boy boots and learn to handle his emotions like an adult. Hate towards Asians is very real and very scary right now. Getting mad at you won't change that. He chose to be in a LTR with an Asian person, he needs to put in his homework to understand certain things. Especially something as heinous as this!
posted by Neekee at 8:27 AM on May 14, 2020 [19 favorites]

It sounds like you're planning to have a conversation about what happened once things have calmed a bit, and I think that's a good strategy.

I'm a white male, and my wife is Latina, so I'd qualify our relationship as interracial and intercultural. When I read the news, anything that involves racist attacks, abuse against people of color, or anti-immigrant sentiment hits especially close to home. She hasn't been the victim of such attacks, fortunately, but since Trump was elected, it's been in the back of my mind, and it sucks. If she were Asian, I know I would be even more concerned right now—and not just for her, but for her family.

It's not uncommon for people to be dismissive or flippant regarding things that they are fearful of. "It's all being overblown by the media" and "there are two sides to every story" could be his way of downplaying his own fears, trying to convince himself that it couldn't happen to you. Since it's already happening to your parents, he could be doubling-down on that strategy, to avoid facing the unpleasant reality of the situation.

I can't be sure that this is what he's doing, and I certainly don't think it's a good strategy if it is—but what I'm trying to say is to not assume anything malign just yet. Like you said, coronavirus has amplified everything right now, especially fears and negative feelings.

You'll get a better sense for where he stands from your next conversation. Your post seemed very thoughtful, so I would just tell him what you told us, and see what happens.

I hope it goes well.
posted by vitout at 8:38 AM on May 14, 2020 [10 favorites]

There are a few things going on here I think, most of which you have pointed out.

One, is that the situation is already high stress, so some people who would typically be more empathetic and attentive, are not, and many people have been stuck in flight-fight mode.

Two, a white guy is going to be less likely to react with empathy because of the lack of lived experience. It doesn't mean that he can't, or that an Asian American would always be empathetic. I have Asian American friends who grew up in white towns who had miserable experiences with racism, and Asian American friends who by luck or personality, were barely touched by such incidents and say "get over it, what's the big deal." I had a ridiculous fight with a fellow Asian American back in my younger days about whether it was better to be exoticized as an Asian Am woman or desexualized as an Asian Am man. It was a truly ridiculous fight, because they lived and understood the harms of being perceived as non-sexual or undesirable, but they had seemingly no understanding of the harms of being perceived as a sexual object and treated as such and vice versa.

Three, for both people, pre-existing wounds and "sore spots" make certain interactions unexpectedly fraught. Sue Johnson's Hold Me Tight was hugely helpful for me in realizing that a lot of my conflicts with my partner were rooted in our mutual kneejerk reactions, but that I didn't realize what I was saying or doing was so painful to them (because I wouldn't have felt the same if it was said to me) and vice versa. This holds true for non-partner interactions and this holds true for non-relationship issues that crop up within relationships. The argument over asking Asian Americans "where are you from" that happened here on MeFi a few years back was a lot of patient and irritable explanations that what may be intended as a simple question that they would ask of anyone, has a much different impact on someone who has grown up being told that they don't belong and is seen as the perpetual alien.
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:40 AM on May 14, 2020 [17 favorites]

You are not over reacting. You are not being overly sensitive. His behavior is dismissive, it’s gaslighting and unacceptable.

I am black with a white partner who has some blind spots (as frankly we all do.) She is a great ally but can dismiss my personal concerns because she has an idea of what discrimination and racism look like and what I experience often does not fit that model. When this happens in the heat of the moment,I tell her that it is not her job to prove to me why I’m wrong. It’s her job to support and believe me. (And I’ve never needed to add this, but if she can’t do the job, someone else sure as hell can.)

Now these have been minor incidents where my live was not threatened and there were not outward remarks about my race, but I’m able to discern, “yes I am being singled out.” In your case I would honestly tell him that he has not experienced racism and can’t be the arbiter of what it is. More importantly, he doesn’t trust you to say when something is hurtful or dangerous. And that it’s a problem he needs to fix, pronto. He needs to be a supportive partner for you and your family or someone else sure as hell can be.

Finally, I’d have him do some reading. He can start by reading up on Vincent Chin and Erika Lee’s “America for Americans.” Being a POC in this country is not easy and supporting one isn’t either. There is anti POC rhetoric and Dog whistles baked into mo much of American life, you have to work to counteract those effects. Good luck. I hope he doesn’t let you down.
posted by Pretty Good Talker at 8:41 AM on May 14, 2020 [18 favorites]

Just to back you up, I am a white lady and if I believed my partner could say something like that, we would not be together. I would dump your BF for saying what he said to you, and that's if he said it to *me*, and I'm not personally affected by the situation.

I mean, MAYBE he's freaking out from the pandemic and feeling helpless and whatever. But that is not okay at all, and the fact that he held it against you enough to go to bed without smoothing it over--big ol' nope.
posted by gideonfrog at 8:45 AM on May 14, 2020 [14 favorites]

You may be reading too much into this.

Your partner was clearly way out of line in the way he was behaving, but he is still the person you have been involved with for long enough that you are apparently living together. A severe and persistent indifference to racial issues would have been apparent before now.

You obviously need to discuss this incident, but I would start from the assumption that he was in a shitty mood and said some shitty things.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:55 AM on May 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm a Chinese-American married to a white spouse. You are not overreacting. The attacks are going up and are more visible because of social media and a recognition that it's happening (but I've been noticing an uptick in my personal experience since the weeks after 2016's election). Race issues aside, at minimum it is not unreasonable to expect your partner to be empathetic to things making you anxious or when you have family members being harmed.

He then launched into a weird semi-tirade, saying things like, "It's all being overblown by the media / It's just the same things that have been happening all along and the media is putting a spin on it / There are always two sides to the story."

Once I've recovered from losing my shit to a response like this, I'd spend time seriously questioning my partner in a neutral manner on the specifics of these statements, which can reveal whether the person is open to learning, or actual deep seated views that will make me start thinking of an exit plan.

"What do you think could be the other side of a story with these specific facts?"
"It's important to me that you read the article and tell me what you think is being overblown here."
"What do you think is the spin here?"
"When I say my parents were harassed, what do you think happened? What would you want my reaction to be if you told me you parents were harassed?"

This isn't easy to do, as it requires that you approach it methodically and "not get into it" even if some of the answers can be triggering. But their reactions here can tell you a lot. Sometimes there's self realization that they said some stupid shit and we can get over it. Sometimes there's hemming and hawing to the response. Sometimes it leads them to say uglier and crazier things that reveal more about their character and views.

FWIW, I shared similar sentiments with her and my white sister-in-law as I similarly despaired over the news and concerns about my elderly parents. Both of their reactions were one of empathy, specifically "fuck that sucks, white people can be fucking awful and i'm really sorry you have to worry about that. Tell me more about what happened." My sister in law added in some cheerful "that shit better not happen when I'm around."

So as a data point, I chose to be with her because I didn't find that I had to put in significant emotional labor to get her to empathize and understand racial challenges - because we had lots of conversations around that even before we got married. That doesn't mean we haven't had not-easy discussions about race, and certainly by being with me she is now sharing more on a personal level negative experiences relating to race, but she recognized white privilege and that people of different races can have different experiences before I even met her.

I'd be curious as to whether race issues and your experiences as a Chinese American have been a point of discussion and awareness in your years' long relationship - because that curiosity and acceptance of my identity was critical for the success of my relationship.
posted by Karaage at 8:57 AM on May 14, 2020 [42 favorites]

I told him I was surprised at his lack of concern or sympathy. I said that as a white man, he doesn't know what it's like to fear racist abuse and attacks, and all I wanted was his support and an ear to vent my fears to. He tried to apologize (not especially well, in my opinion) then became irate when I was still visibly upset. He has now gone to bed without a kiss or an "I love you," which is a first in our years-long relationship.

My partner also gets angry when I am visibly upset for more than a few minutes. I have tried to point out that if I broke my leg and were in pain and crying about it, he wouldn't get angry at me about it, so why does he get so impatient with my emotional pain?

I'm an overthinker who tries to imagine everyone's point of view to understand the world, so I pick this type or behavior apart like so: Your partner can't actually control the danger against Asian people and can't even fathom how anyone could control it, so he absorbs it as an abstract thing, not a personal threat to you. (Analogous to something like...people get randomly mugged but you can't walk around being upset and scared about it 24-7?) However, he understands that you are upset and that he can fix that by comforting you, so he reassures you that you're personally safe. You don't feel comforted because his gesture is...uh, superficial at best. This makes him feel even more helpless, which makes him uncomfortable, which gets him frustrated, which he turns into anger at the thing that made him feel bad, which is you.

So, short story long, I think he's making your fear all about himself. I don't have a solution for how to get him to take a step back and see this, but I am full of sympathy and don't think that you are overreacting.

I'm a white woman and have absolutely no problem understanding why you're upset and frustrated and angry and scared. I'm angry about it too, even though I'm not concerned about my personal safety. I saw the sidelong suspicious looks that Asian people were getting on the street and on the bus (earlier on, before we went to full stay-at-home.) I worry about the safety of my Asian neighbors and neighborhood businesses.
posted by desuetude at 9:00 AM on May 14, 2020 [16 favorites]

I'm also an asian woman dating a white man in a years-long relationship. I've talked to my boyfriend about the increase in racist attacks as well. I don't even think the bar is understanding the asian american experience. I think it's literally being able to express basic empathy and to support you when you're scared. You told him your parents were verbally assaulted, and his response was to tell you it doesn't matter.

One way to talk about it is to sit him down and say: "Hey, I need to talk to you about what happened yesterday. I was talking about something that is really scary to me, and the way you reacted made me feel like you didn't care or you didn't believe me. What I needed in that moment was support from you. Did you have a bad day? Could you tell me more about why you reacted that way?" And see what he says. I would personally want an apology, his agreement that he could have reacted better, and talking tactically about how he can better support you in the future (maybe down to the phrases that he can say). Maybe he had a bad day and was also upset so he responded poorly. That happens to all of us. If he acts like having to deal with your feelings is a burden, rather than being concerned and worried for you, please please think about whether you feel respected in the relationship overall.

I talk to my white boyfriend about racism and sexism often, and he is almost always supportive. Even when he doesn't agree or it's outside of his own experience, he tries his best to see it from my point of view, to understand, and to listen. And he's a good boyfriend but he has a lot of flaws, you know? And he can still do that for me.

I'm upset for you that your boyfriend can't literally just make comforting noises like "oh no" or "I'm so sorry to hear that" or "that sucks" or "how are you feeling about that?" For me, that's really all I ever need when I'm talking about something like that. It's the minimum of what any friend or even an acquaintance would say to me, that bar is so low. For your boyfriend to actively behave as if your feelings don't matter – that's 100% never OK. It's one potential sign of a bad partner. Maybe he doesn't know what you need in these types of moments, and once you talk with him about it, he'll be OK. But if he can't treat you the way a good friend would, he doesn't deserve to be in a long-term partnership with you. Is he dismissive in other situations too, where you don't feel respected or heard?

If you genuinely have concerns that he may have racist tendencies, to be honest, I'm not sure I personally could deal with that at all. I'm not sure I want to be forced to teach a significant other what I see as basic empathy and lack of prejudice. Karaage has a great set of questions to ask in her post.
posted by hotchocolate at 9:04 AM on May 14, 2020 [50 favorites]

You're not overreacting. I'm deeply sorry you have to deal with this. That's deeply disappointing.

The other posters are on point, so as another Asian person, I will share another angles:

Do you have a helpful support structure / network of other Asian diaspora? Who are you reading/watching/talking with? It might be helpful to expand your network so that you feel solidarity in dealing with issues like this. Groups like Asian American Feminist Collective are connected to many different groups online; happy to share more if necessary. Plan A, Yellow Jackets Collective, 18 Million Rising, etc - the network is vast and full of solidarity online.

Just to be clear -- this isn't criticism, because you haven't done anything wrong. I offer this rather as something specific you can do that doesn't involve your partner.

Racism is something that exists whether some white people acknowledge it or not. In an ideal world, there are ways in which we can and should leave work for white accomplices who are willing to anti-racism work with other white people. And no matter what, it's helpful to form networks of solidarity that are really supportive and understanding.
posted by suedehead at 9:05 AM on May 14, 2020 [8 favorites]

maybe it's too much to expect him to support me perfectly for every little thing I'm going through?

no! he is a horrendous fucking asshole! tell him to meet me in the pit!
posted by poffin boffin at 9:24 AM on May 14, 2020 [62 favorites]

Are you a woman, Anon? Because to me this reads as misogyny as it is typically and frequently expressed within heterosexual relationships. There's a racism component for sure, but the gendered aspects really stand out to me.

I used to have very similar interactions with my ex-husband when we were married (het). Even when I I spelled it out for him that I needed him to empathize with my feelings and direct some compassion towards me, he usually remained quite egotistically - misogynistically - stuck in his position that (a) I was wrong, (b) I was being silly by feeling bad, and (c) he should not be asked to care about my wrong, silly feelings.

From what I've seen of the world, there is a similar pattern of profound disrespect from male partners towards female partners. Male partners are frequently dismissive towards their female partners' emotions. There is rarely ever empathy, support, or understanding extending from male partners towards female partners regarding feelings. Emotional caregiving tends to flow one way only: from the female partner towards the male partner.

This is not due to male cluelessness or male biology or whatever. Towards the end of my marriage, after we had spent many months in counseling with him declaring that my emotional labor did not even exist and in any case he did not need any emotional care ever, I withdrew my emotional labor from the relationship. Stopped noticing and noting how he was feeling when I walked into a room, stopped expressing empathy or understanding when he said he was angry or sad, stopped mirroring his happiness, etc. I took him at his word that none of this was important to him, and none of this was even happening in our relationship. I continued to feel and express my own feelings, but I ignored his.

Anon, I kid you not, he lasted TWO DAYS. By the second evening he was apoplectic, tearful, outraged, and positively unhinged. "I've been so depressed all day and you never even noticed! It's like you don't care about me at all! Why have you gone so cold?!?" etc. The way he treated me was unbearable to him when I treated him the same way.

And he isn't the only one. MeFi has that famous thread about emotional labor with many similar examples and stories. You'll find more in the many offshoots and meta discussions of that thread.
posted by MiraK at 9:49 AM on May 14, 2020 [61 favorites]

I don’t think you’re overreacting, I’ve had the same reflections on conversations with my SO.

Today I overheard somebody at work saying, “well you know that Mexican place ...i ..

- I steeled myself to not visibly react -

“I t’s going to be full because no place else is here open serving lunch for everyone. “

I’m just so used to assuming foul comments from white people that I assumed he was going to slam the place or its staff for SOMETHING.
posted by tilde at 9:54 AM on May 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

I will preface by saying I have a lot less patience than I used to in situations like this, and there’s excellent suggestions above. I basically say now: I need you to be better. In our relationship, I have expectations. One, that you believe what I say about my own lived experiences. Two, that you will do your own work to understand the systemic issues that impact me as a woman of color. (Etc, insert your own.) And I also hold these expectations of myself for you.

Or something like that. Because I can’t get sucked into explaining to my partner why something like racism matters. He needs to understand it for himself and he needs to be supportive of me. That’s a basic expectation I have in my relationship.
posted by inevitability at 9:57 AM on May 14, 2020 [20 favorites]

I have tried to point out that if I broke my leg and were in pain and crying about it, he wouldn't get angry at me about it, so why does he get so impatient with my emotional pain?

also not to "well actually" you here but unfortunately a non-insignificant percentage of cishet men will, in fact, get angry at their female partners for crying about physical pain from an injury or ailment, and the venn diagram of those men and the men who get angry at their female partners for expressing emotional pain is pretty close to a circle.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:04 AM on May 14, 2020 [10 favorites]

The “Don’t worry it won’t happen to you” I would be willing to dismiss as a sloppy attempt to try to quell his own fears and yours with minimal effort but the added “There are two sides to every story” definitely has roots in some deeper shit that I can’t find an explanation for other than a defense of racist acts.

So he either needs to explain that without any attempts to gaslight you or gtfo.
posted by Young Kullervo at 10:13 AM on May 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

Also don’t let the “years long relationship” influence your perspective. People change, sometimes without warning, and length of relationship should never influence how you feel about the person or their current behavior.
posted by Young Kullervo at 10:15 AM on May 14, 2020 [8 favorites]

I'm just adding to the general roar of the crowd that no, you're not overreacting to expect empathy and support.

The titular question: beyond privilege, the term of art that almost certainly applies here is white fragility. Fragile because lashing out reactions involve brittleness and breaking to what should be mild stressors. It's a thing, and it definitely has intersections with (more terms of art!) toxic masculinity (which factors right into stereotypically-guys experiencing the expectation and need for showing empathy and support as being a stressor they are fragile to).

Next steps are much more difficult to answer, and just about everyone above this already answered them far better than I could. The only additional bit I'd add: in addition to the "overblown/biased/fake news media" red flag, I also sympathetically winced at the "I've told my partner several times that he's my only human contact..." part. One thing you want to think on is, was that the case before the course of your relationship? Or has it been the case that it's seemed like available sources of human connection have dwindled and narrowed, and that the current lockdowns and quarantines have just thrown that narrowing into sharp relief? Because when relationships do go dysfunctional, 'trapping' people into them is part of it, and things worsen when bad actors gain assurance that contact-limitings are secure. Acting worse towards a loved one after being told they feel that way is...not a great sign.

Good luck with everything.
posted by Drastic at 10:28 AM on May 14, 2020 [5 favorites]

All, anybody here who has actually been in an interracial / intercultural relationship knows that they are learning experiences for both parties. I have made my share of mistakes, and learned a lot about my own white privilege

This guy was clearly in the wrong. Obviously, OP, don't let him gaslight you, and if he can't figure out why he was wrong and learn from it, then that's a sign that it's time to move on. But if you decide that he deserves the benefit of the doubt, then give him an opportunity to learn from this. If this experience helps him gain a better understanding of his partner, of the perspectives of people of color, and of his own white privilege, that's a valuable experience for him, and something that ultimately strengthens a relationship.
posted by vitout at 10:34 AM on May 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

Two sides?  The "two sides" are Asian-Americans minding their own business and other people making baseless racist attacks on them.  What on earth other "side" is there besides a mentality where the attacker feels entitled to focus their anger on a random stranger? His comments are appalling, and especially because someone went after your parents.

What's your normal method of having dialogue about racial issues and the white privilege and associated assumptions he necessarily brings into your relationship as a white person?  

What kinds of things does he do to educate himself about your experiences, the experiences of Chinese-Americans, Asian-Americans, or people of color generally?

If the answer is that you don't have regular dialogue about this and he doesn't educate himself, he needs to step up, or you need to decide if his decision against doing so is a dealbreaker for your relationship.
posted by bile and syntax at 10:35 AM on May 14, 2020 [14 favorites]

I am a Caucasian female married to a Chinese male (both of us have lived our lives in Canada, although I was born elsewhere). We are both angry and distraught about the prejudice against east Asians at this time. Maybe your bf is thinking that you individually are safe but the fact he is not facing is that this type of racism makes us all unsafe. I really liked an article in the Toronto Star by Shree Paradkar that addresses anti Asian prejudice (over a different COVID incident).
posted by biggreenplant at 11:19 AM on May 14, 2020

This reaction is really beyond the pale. I am a gay man and have shared experiences with straight people about being called abusive names in public. I sometimes get reactions similar to this, like "really?" or "come on" or "I find that hard to believe."

Every single time, the relationship has been irrevocably altered by their reactions.

You've just learned some extremely disturbing behavior about your partner. It's up to you to decide what to do about it, but at a minimum, this is a "come to Jesus" moment.
posted by Automocar at 11:22 AM on May 14, 2020 [12 favorites]

You are NOT overreacting. He is being a jerk.

That said, he's under the same pandemic stress that you are, and for a lot of people that means shutting down their ability to recognize and process new problems / situations. His dismissive attitude may be a defense mechanism and not what his genuine opinion would be in normal times.

But it's his job to recognize this and apologize to you, not yours to make peace.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:25 AM on May 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

My mother is Chinese and lives in a city that has had a rise in anti-Asian hate crime. Like you, I’ve been expressing my fears for my mom to my white partner. If, in any of our conversations, he had downplayed the racism, or implied there were two sides to the incidents, or that the media was blowing things out of proportion...I would have been enraged. You are not overreacting.

When you do talk about this with him, watch how he reacts. If he tries to turn this all around and blame you for overreacting, it’s a very bad sign for your relationship. It means being “white and right” is more important to him than acknowledging that racism exists, and acknowledging that you were correct to call him on it. It also means he is not capable or interested in providing you with the bare minimum of empathy and care you deserve in a relationship.

I’m really sorry you are going through this.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:33 AM on May 14, 2020 [8 favorites]

I (a white person in the U.S.) agree with everyone here. What you expect and want from your partner is totally reasonable. He is being a jerk and is wallowing in white fragility.

And I feel like it's not an accident that this is happening now.

It used to be possible for white people in the U.S., especially ones who didn’t consider themselves to be very political, to think of themselves as kind of ‘neutral’ about race. Which really meant oblivious, not thinking about it much, and moving kind of painlessly among groups of people that included white racists.

But as racism has gotten more explicitly expressed in this country, that's become a harder position to maintain. And so those people are feeling uncomfortable.

Your partner got mad at you because you were in effect asking him to pick a side, and he doesn’t want to, because his position of 'neutrality' has worked great for him. He didn’t need to enter imaginatively into other people’s worlds, to have any uncomfortable conversations, to consider his own privilege, to confront anything challenging in his social circles, etc. (That's why he said "What do you want me to do about it?" Because he doesn't want to do anything.)

Plus I'm guessing he felt like you were implicitly calling him a racist, which panicked him and made him mad. Because he's fragile.

And so now he is feeling uncomfortable and sorry for himself.

So, I feel like there are two things that could happen next. Either your partner is capable of growth and meeting this moment, or he’s not. Either way the current situation isn't sustainable: given what's going on in the world, your need for him to be not a dummy about race is going to continue to increase, and his attempts to maintain the old status quo are going to increasingly fail and be awful for you both. Good luck, and I'm really sorry he is letting you down.
posted by Susan PG at 12:23 PM on May 14, 2020 [35 favorites]

Honestly, I would DTMFA instantly and never look back. I wouldn’t waste another minute on him - you deserve so much better, and it’s not your job to fix him.

That may sound harsh, but a year from now, when he’s still doing this shit, you’ll realize that this is the correct course of action. Life is too short to waste your time on self-centered people.
posted by MexicanYenta at 2:37 PM on May 14, 2020 [5 favorites]

Although it's clear by now given the volume of answers, I'd like to also add that you're not overreacting or being overly sensitive. I think you're under-reacting. Your partner, the person you should be able to trust the most, came at you with white supremacist talking points to minimize clearly racist attacks that you're legitimately worried about because there's been a huge uptick in hate crimes against people of Asian descent. As a white person in a culture that's defined by white supremacist ideology, his obligation is to be anti-racist. That obligation is doubly so because he's partnered with a person of color. His failure is spectacular and his way of addressing your real fears is unacceptable. He will likely expect you to be the peacemaker and probably expects you to "meet him in the middle" when it's clearly his clear betrayal of you. He's minimized your person hood and the person hood of other members of your family. That's an awful place to be and I'm so sorry.

For me, this would be a dealbreaker. I can't be with someone who doesn't choose to recognize my person hood and with whom I don't share a very similar set of ethics and values.
posted by quince at 2:42 PM on May 14, 2020 [12 favorites]

Adding to the chorus of you are not being oversensitive. My heart hurts for you Anon. It sucks when someone we thought would have our backs shows us that they might not. You weren't asking him to solve racism, just listen and recognize your worries. You were looking for support, not to be invalidated and dismissed.

I recognize that we might not be at our best right now*, but do you bring up another things to him and does he dismiss it or try to make you think it's not worth talking about? That is something to definitely think about. Is this behavior new or is it a pattern? And even if it isn't a pattern now, if he doesn't recognize what he did was dismissive or hurtful, you may have to consider that he may continue to say similar things and it will hurt every time he does.

As an aside, I've found some Asian women communities on instagram to help during this time. I guess seeing a group of people who are going through the same thing and understand it helps a lot. It definitely helps me feel like I'm not alone in this. Feel free to memail for the names.

*I'm trying to be nice, but it was your parents and I'm still sort of livid that he would say there's two sides, but that's just me and I have a lot of rage these days.
posted by later, paladudes at 6:19 PM on May 14, 2020

This is a reason to end a relationship immediately.
posted by sideofwry at 12:04 AM on May 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

When this happens in the heat of the moment,I tell her that it is not her job to prove to me why I’m wrong. It’s her job to support and believe me.

Quoted for fucking truth. I am a white woman with a former white male partner who, when I tried to talk to him about race on occasion and, specifically, white privilege and white fragility, would say, "It's not my fault I was born white." The fuck? He apparently felt attacked and defensive even though I was not accusing him of anything but noticing he had an ugly habit of subtly othering folks who were not white.

I think your partner was maybe feeling defensive and he gets to have all his feels but he doesn't get to dismiss or belittle your feelings. If he is angry because you are still upset than he can be angry but also fucking find an acceptable way to manage his feels. (I have a couple of male friends who get mad or butthurt when I don't laugh at their jokes because I don't recognize them as jokes. Jesus Christ on a cracker, these people...)

I visited a therapist once with my husband and she listened to my story and then she listened to his story and then she turned to my husband and said, "If your wife says there is a problem, that means there is a problem." He was unable to accept that advice and that is one of the many reasons we are no longer a couple. If your partner was afraid that you were asking him to fix something he cannot fix and was avoiding his fear, so be it; that is still not your problem. As others have noted, he may have reasons for his reaction but that does not make his reaction acceptable and he needs to cut that shit out like, pronto.

As others have also noted, you need to grow your support network. No matter how great your partner is otherwise, no partner can give you everything you need in terms of emotional support, common interests, etc. This is a hard time to find new buddies but do reach out and connect with folks you already know and if you can meet new people as well, even if it is remotely, please do. That will be good for you and, ultimately, good for your relationship.

Best of luck, anon! So sorry that you are forced to deal with this.
posted by Bella Donna at 2:54 AM on May 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm Asian although not East Asian.

Yes he was a jerk.

IF there is room to grow together, it might be that he is in a state of denial because he is actually deeply scared for you and unwilling to admit it to himself yet. He hasn't had to face this fear before loving you yet, so it is particularly acute ESPECIALLY if at some level he knows it's true. My partner gets unreasonable and annoying when he is scared for me and hasn't processed it.

If he can learn through this, then keep him. Asians know better than our "supporters" that sometimes we have to love and teach someone into being better. If you can't work yourselves into a good place then def reconsider. Is it unfair that you have this labor to go through? Yes. But you already know life is unfair.
posted by cacao at 7:58 AM on May 15, 2020

Two, a white guy is going to be less likely to react with empathy because of the lack of lived experience.

As of right now, he has the lived experience of his long-term partner’s elderly parents being accosted by racist strangers. His reaction to that being “What do you want me to do about it?” is a huge failure of character, and frankly, because everyone is bringing up the way white men behave, a complete failure of traditional masculinity. This is a time when everyone I know is full of anxiety about protecting their older family members and his refusal of that is bizarre. You are not underreacting, the way he’s brushing off the wellbeing of your (and by extension his) family is outrageous, just a complete abdication of his responsibility as a person, a partner, and if we wanted to get into it, as a man who, if he wants to pull some macho bullshit has the cultural job of protecting his and your family. The “two sides” narrative sounds like some weird racist aggression to me, too. I’m so sorry, please take care of yourself as best you can, you aren’t overreacting.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 10:40 AM on May 15, 2020 [12 favorites]

So many great comments above. Hi, I'm Chinese Canadian, early 40s, cis woman. I hate that you had to experience this racism from your partner. Yes, he was being racist and no, you are not overreacting/oversensitive. When someone says that (usually women), it's an indicator that we don't trust our own lived experience and we feel it doesn't have enough value as that of the person having an unsupportive reaction to you. I'm here to say that your lived experience, thoughts, and feelings on this and everything else in your world is valid and don't let anyone else let you think otherwise, even if it is your partner of several years.

nothing would happen to me or my parents
And yet something did happen to your parents, does he not realize that?

became irate when I was still visibly upset.
This is bad. I mean a lot about his reactions was bad (especially the "two sides" thing, as others have noted), but this stands out to me.

"What do you want me to do about it?"
I can imagine that he said this because men typically are "fixers" and react to problems with trying to fix them. Anti-Asian racism, your parents experiencing racism - there are no easy fixes to that. He may be feeling helpless about what to do and then your concerns become additional problems that he has to deal with. But it's not your fault. You said he's an essential worker and that can't be easy. Don't get me wrong - that he doesn't have the skill/empathy to listen, that he doesn't seem to have interrogated his own whiteness and maleness is still a big problem.

Part of me is deeply afraid that he is unable to recognize his privilege and we can never have these conversations from the same page.
All I can say is to face that fear. Putting breaking up on the table (even if only in your mind) is not unreasonable at all. I also wonder, what kinds of conversations have you had about identity, race, racism, whiteness, white privilege previously?

"White people will never truly understand us or our culture."
I agree with this. There will be tons of things that we won't truly understand about a lot of people. But we can listen and be respectful. He failed spectacularly at that.

I've told my partner several times that he's my only human contact
I'm concerned about this well. I get not being in physical contact with others, but what about keeping in touch with friends and family through text, chat, video calls?

maybe it's too much to expect him to support me perfectly for every little thing I'm going through?
I don't want you to feel that you can't talk to your partner about important issues, and make yourself into a human bonsai for him. And this is not a little thing you're doing through. Generally speaking, I think it's too much to expect to have your partner be your everything, which happens often. Is that your relationship right now? It's not unreasonable to expect that your partner be one of your main sources of emotional support, especially for something like this. It's important to also have other sources of emotional support.

Also, this post is really, really good. The last comment in particular stands out in my mind.
posted by foxjacket at 12:34 PM on May 15, 2020 [6 favorites]

Also, this is not the same as racism, but I'm a white nb woman, and I've been in queer circles in cities where my friends and my partner's non-passing friends have been physically assaulted by nazis and random hateful people , multiple times, with regularity, leading in some cases to hospital visits. In all of my friend circles, the level of white privilege/racial insensitivity/general privilege that's considered acceptable in a ltr is something like, not noticing or obliviously perpetuating microaggressions, or being willing to really work through any kind of existing prejudice and commit to major change. Getting angry when a partner brings up actual street harassment/assault incidents is way, way off the bell curve. A partner of mine has been on the receiving end of street violence and the idea of anyone I know dismissing those incidents with some crypto-racist conspiracy rant about "the media" makes me sick to contemplate. the people who did respond like that were not real friends. I truly don't know how to communicate the gravity of "he ignored my parents being attacked" other than to promise you aren't overreacting here, I'm so sorry.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 2:18 PM on May 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

I asked my partner if he meant to suggest that the victims I'm talking about were asking for it, or somehow responsible for instigating the assaults.

Asking clarifying questions about your partner's bizarre racist statements is not an over-reaction.

I told him I was surprised at his lack of concern or sympathy.

Expressing your entirely reasonable feelings about your partner's bizarre racist statements is not an over-reaction.

I said that as a white man, he doesn't know what it's like to fear racist abuse and attacks, and all I wanted was his support and an ear to vent my fears to.

Asking your partner for emotional support instead of bizarre racist statements is not an over-reaction.

I'm wondering now how to address this tomorrow when hopefully both of us will have simmered down.

Finding a calmer time to discuss your partner's bizarre racist statements is not an over-reaction.

Further examples of non-over-reactions:

- Delaying children until you have more confidence they won't be raised by a racist who will remain deliberately ignorant of the challenges that await them.

- Having a plan for exiting this partnership should you someday decide to do that.

I'm so sorry you have to deal with this on top of the coronavirus. Good luck. I am also Asian with a white spouse. MeMail me if you want to talk, or if you want an introduction to the people who run the MetaPOC slack.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 5:29 AM on May 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

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