Talking about BLM protests with my white partner
June 1, 2020 12:08 AM   Subscribe

My husband is white; I'm Asian-American. We live in New York City. We are trying to talk about the BLM protests happening in our country. I'm troubled by his responses. I know one of the best things we can do right now is have these difficult conversations with loved ones and confront our own bias and racism--- but I'm struggling and need help.

He stated that while he understands that racism is real, that black people are oppressed, that he has a ton of white privilege, and that cops need more mental health screening/training and accountability, he is very upset that the police are being villainized and that there is not enough media coverage of the police being endangered or mistreated in the protests. He has family who are police officers and believes that the majority of police officers are good public servants who are just trying to do their jobs and often put themselves in danger to help others. He gets emotionally worked up when discussing the neglect of sympathy for police in the media and our social media networks. He thinks mainstream media is biased by downplaying coverage of police being mistreated and police vehicles being vandalized, which taxpayers will need to pay to replace. He's horrified by the looting and thinks the protests can lead to riots where our own windows might get smashed in from the chaos.

I affirmed that it's a valid perspective to be mindful and respectful of the danger that police officers face and that there are plenty of good cops, but I was thrown off that his reaction was mostly about this issue. Like, with all this going on, he is getting worked up that the police are putting themselves in danger and there is not enough sympathy for THEM? He tried to explain that he's not excusing or downplaying the terrible things happening to the protesters, but he's upset about this blind spot in the media and keeps specifically turning the conversation to the looting and lack of sympathy for police whenever we discuss the protests.

Relatedly: Amy Cooper. He thinks both people provoked each other- Christian Cooper didn't need to call out her behavior, shouldn't have started filming her while there was no one else around, and shouldn't have lured her dog with a treat. He said it shouldn't be a crime to call the police if you are scared. He cited several instances where black men had threatened physical violence against him unprovoked in public and while he just walked away, he thinks that calling the police should be an option for him if things had escalated and he shouldn't be destroyed on the internet for doing so.

I responded that everyone should have the right to call the police if they are scared and feel just as safe as he does that they will protect him and do their jobs, but not everyone has that privilege. I responded that Christian Cooper was more in danger in that situation than that woman and that documenting is unfortunately necessary now in case something happens. She called the police knowing what just happened with George Floyd and intended to put this man's life in danger. I honestly think the treat was weird too, but in no way justifies her actions and I really have not heard anyone else even attempt to justify Amy Cooper's actions in any way- again, I was taken aback.

The thing is, my husband believes that most police just want to do their jobs and don't go around instantly killing black people. He's horrified by the numerous cases in the media, but he said he did his own research and found that more white people are killed by the police than black people. He's not sure what is the proof that black people are significantly more likely to be killed by the police to the extent that people are so outraged and these protests are happening.

I don't know what to make of his sympathizing more with the police and Amy Cooper and not understanding why people are so upset. I didn't see these issues as being complicated or needing more evidence. I'm angry and not particularly inclined to consider "both sides," but maybe I should try. This isn't just about shutting someone down- this is about me talking with my husband and growing together. I feel like I am failing as an ally because I am having trouble articulating this. He's not completely wrong- I understand he has a different perspective on the police because he's white and he has family who are police officers, and I DO want him to call the police if he's ever in genuine danger of being harmed.

What information can I share with him that may resonate with him more? Is it just a matter of information-sharing and ignorance? Is it me- should I be working to be more nuanced in my understanding of this? I'm not white; I want him to unpack his white privilege, but I don't necessarily fully understand how his whiteness can inform his views either. He's been loving, supportive, and proactive about understanding the issues I face as an Asian woman and how to support our future children with their interracial identity-- this really isn't about that, but sharing to say that we have committed to having healthy dialogue about race as part of our relationship.

I want to understand what I may be missing here and what he may be missing here. I'm having trouble thinking this through on my own because we are in quarantine together in a small apartment and my mental health is already frayed from the ongoing pandemic and news.
posted by selene_sophia to Human Relations (59 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
This might help in a tiny way: study showing that black Americans are disproportionately killed by police.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 12:44 AM on June 1, 2020 [23 favorites]

Have you watched the Trevor Noah video (link to fpp on the blue) together? It helps reframe the looting, I think.
posted by freethefeet at 12:45 AM on June 1, 2020 [15 favorites]

Mod note: Quick note: This is a question that will probably resonate with many people, and a great chance to share useful readings, resources, stories and background that can help many get a better grasp of what's happening and create a valuable reference and round-up. Please respond with care, try to bring light rather than heat to the question, and consider this an opportunity to educate. Thank you all!
posted by taz (staff) at 12:53 AM on June 1, 2020 [27 favorites]

Best answer: For context, I am half-Asian and my partner is white. It is very important to me that my partner understands race issues and his own white privilege. We have conversations about these topics frequently. He has educated himself about the issues not only by talking with me but also by doing a lot of reading on the topic, watching videos and listening to interviews where people of colour talk about their own experiences.

I didn't see these issues as being complicated or needing more evidence. I'm angry and not particularly inclined to consider "both sides," but maybe I should try

You’re right. The issues are not more complicated, at least not in the way your husband means, and you don’t need to consider “both sides” because the other side is one that is blind to white privilege and racism. Your husband doesn’t understand and/or has not come to grips with his white privilege. He doesn’t actually understand the state of race relations in your country.

I’m sorry, because these are difficult conversations to have, but they are important conversations, especially in a marriage where one partner is white and the other isn’t. However, I don’t believe that it’s actually your responsibility to do all the work of educating your husband about race issues and his own white fragility. He needs to be willing to educate himself.

Do you think he’d be receptive to reading Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility?

Take care of yourself. This is a stressful time and I have no doubt both you and your husband are both stressed out. But only one of you is dangerously uneducated on racism and white privilege, and it’s not you. I’m not saying he’s beyond hope or will never change, I’m just saying your point of view is the informed one, and he does need to recognize his white privilege—not only for the sake of your marriage and future children, but just because it’s essential to being a fully formed human being who functions well in the world. And it can’t be your responsibility to make sure it happens—it has to be his.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:00 AM on June 1, 2020 [19 favorites]

Best answer: How old is your husband? I think one thing that’s important to remember (I am a WOC whose partner is white) is kind of - that the current way of analyzing race and privilege is very much not the way it used to be /even for people who considered themselves liberal and progressive/. Like: when my own partner was young and learning moral lessons from their parents, it was a lot of “don’t talk about race, talking about race or even suggesting that you notice race is racist”. So a lot of times, the first conversations that white people of this age/class group, especially white men, have around race, is when they are dating or partnered with a POC and thus they feel safe enough to start venturing into conversations.

I think also part of it is that there’s this thing where white people, generally, find themselves saying in public the thing they’ve been told is the right thing, or the thing they know is the right thing, without really understanding it. So often, they’re all just kind of rolling around in their ignorance and not having the deep conversations until they are tied to someone that they think they can reveal their actual feelings and questions.

In part, I think that feeling is probably why he’s identifying with Amy Cooper. Because he probably knows what he’s supposed to say in public, but doesn’t necessarily understand on a gut level things like police violence, etc. When he sees Amy Cooper, and sees her getting fired, etc, for calling the police, he’s seeing himself, calling the police for something he’s always been told he could call the police for, and losing the normalcy of his own life around it. He doesn’t really understand why people are so angry, and so to him it’s probably like an inexplicable bolt of lighting that can hit anyone at any time. And that is what causes fear. He doesn’t understand the rioting and why targets are chosen, so that’s why he thinks “maybe they will break our windows”. It’s all about fear.

I think what’s best for both of you is for you to be out of the position of being your husband’s racial justice teacher. It’s just not good for him or you or your relationship. It’s exhausting, especially now, and it means anything either of you say is going to be through a relationship filter.

I would recommend outsourcing. There’s a lot of anti racist trainings in most major cities. I would suggest that he sign up for one, and ask him to do it for you because this stuff is hard and he says he cares and it is hard on you as well. Then let people get paid for the labor of slowly dragging white dudes who think they mean well towards consciousness.
posted by corb at 1:15 AM on June 1, 2020 [79 favorites]

I think what a lot of people want to see is the police - the union, local leadership, and national leadership - step up and state cleanly that an officer killing a citizen is never acceptable; that officers who do so are sullying the image and purpose of the police force and will be treated accordingly; that it is the duty of every officer to protect citizens lives, to respect the lives and rights even of suspected criminals, and to stop any officer who fails to do so. That a no-tolerance approach will be taken toward the "few bad apples" who abuse the public's trust in them. That consequences for such behavior will be clear and unavoidable.

The police have never done this. They could stop the protests today by doing this thing - which is the obvious, morally upstanding thing to do. They do not do it. They've come out in force against politicians and activists who say, even if gently, that they should do it. Consistently, for years.

Will they ever do it? How many chances have they passed up to do it?

He's right that we should all be able to call the police in situations where we feel we're in danger. Right now we can't, because we can't trust that an officer won't abuse his power. Most people don't want to abolish policing in general. They want policing that respects human life and remembers the limits of its power. Amy Cooper was wrong because she called the police in a country and a city where she knew full well that an "African American man", as she emphasized, could not expect to be treated with respect. She knew he could not expect the police to hold his life sacred. He filmed her; she felt she had the right to put his life in danger in response.

This is a fight against a system - police departments that allow officers to abuse their power with impunity, a legal system that rarely charges officers, a court system that holds officers to be immune even if they literally murder citizens, destroy evidence or plant false evidence, and harass the victims' families. Again and again.

So what will make that stop happening?

Any good officer working within that system should want it to change and should work to make that change happen.

There have been a few cities where the police didn't place themselves in opposition to the protesters. In those places their respect has been returned.

It's natural to want to protect your own. But if he sees the police as his own but the citizens of his country as something other, that's something he needs to think about carefully.
posted by trig at 1:23 AM on June 1, 2020 [65 favorites]

The Patriot Act episode on Netflix about policing talks about the unions and environments that allow and push violence and lack of consequences.ETA; YouTube link to full episode
posted by Crystalinne at 1:29 AM on June 1, 2020 [4 favorites]

I really think this might be a simple as cognitive dissonance between what he knows about his family members as people and the All Cops Are Bastards slogan. When political becomes personal like that it's confusing and stressful. He may feel that you or others will suddenly not like or trust him because of his family or that you think his relatives are, in fact, Cop Bastards. Maybe he is worried he's being asked to denounce his family to you to make you feel safe when he truly believes they are good people and it would be dishonest. None of that is necessarily true but its likely how he feels. Torn. Divided loyalties. Scared all the people he loves are going to polarize against each other and make him choose.

I will say that if you claim the moral high ground as 100% yours he will stop talking to you honestly because he can't win. Also the phrase "doing his own research" often indicates someone getting caught up in the many traps set on the internet specifically to catch young white men in alt right thinking. So while its not your job to make him a better person it kind of is your job to have open and respectful conversation if you want to have a equitable marriage, even if you think you are right and he is wrong.
posted by fshgrl at 1:32 AM on June 1, 2020 [30 favorites]

Best answer: Also: birders and rule breaking dog walkers are natural enemies and the dog treat thing is not weird in that context. Its a pretty non-confrontational way to get someone to leash their-damn-dog. I would just have straight up told her to under those circumstances and not nicely. And I guarantee she wouldn't have fake cried to the police, although she likely would have been abusive and possibly threatening becuase that happens often. That was an incredibly racist and entitled thing that woman did and I've had my fair share of run ins with entitled pet owners. It's the talk of the birding world atm, I can tell you.
posted by fshgrl at 1:36 AM on June 1, 2020 [61 favorites]

(And about the Amy Cooper case in general - imagine if she had called the police - even the police that we have today - and calmly said "Hi, I'm in the park and there's a man standing some distance away from me filming me and asking me to leash my dog." It's not only the police who have a duty to be careful toward others, to be responsible with their power. That's why it's so important for the rest of us to see that the people around us understand and acknowledge it.)
posted by trig at 1:37 AM on June 1, 2020 [20 favorites]

Best answer: Someone on MF posted ‘He’s in custody!’ Surveying the scene Friday in south Minneapolis in the check-in thread. It's an article with photos and comments from lots of different local people. One of them is a clinical social worker who is quoted saying, “I think people have really mixed feelings about the trauma response, which some people are calling ‘rioting.’ I understand the word riot we use to describe what’s going on, but this is a ‘communal trauma response.’ That’s what this is.” As white woman, I found that really helpful as a framework for understanding current events.

This morning I had an upsetting conversation about Amy Cooper with a white male friend, who is Swedish. He thought it was an overreaction for the woman to lose her dog after threatening the Black bird watcher by calling the cops and lying to them. Instead of yelling, I just left after suggesting he watch the Noah Trevor video.

The LA Times Op-Ed by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Don’t understand the protests? What you’re seeing is people pushed to the edge, may also be helpful.

Is it me- should I be working to be more nuanced in my understanding of this? I'm not white; I want him to unpack his white privilege, but I don't necessarily fully understand how his whiteness can inform his views either.

It is not you. I don't fully understand how my whiteness informs my views, but I know the system is racist and I am a product of the system and it is my responsibility to fight my own white fragility and sense of entitlement and to push for justice.

Please note: You may never get the response you want from you husband on this issue or others. It is totally worth working toward it, and I hope your husband can meet you in some kind of shared understanding. That said, I also hope you don't turn yourself inside out, as so many women do, to try to make everything okay. Marriages are often strong not because both parties agree about all the important things but because both parties can agree to disagree or have developed a mechanism to cope with major disagreements. Hang in there!
posted by Bella Donna at 1:52 AM on June 1, 2020 [17 favorites]

P.S. A buddy of mine once explained how annoying it had been at a dinner party when a friend spent much of the evening telling my buddy how afraid she was and would not stop even though my buddy kept explaining to her all night that crime in the area was actually, statistically way down and that she had no reason to be afraid. I said it must have been a frustrating experience for both of them, because he only wanted to talk about facts, but she was actually expressing her feelings, which he never acknowledged.

Feelings aren't facts but they matter. A lot. Both you and your husband have feelings about this super important issue, and feelings need to be acknowledged. They cannot simply be waived away or ignored. A million links to factual evidence about cops killing Blacks is not going to prevent your husband from feeling defensive and/or afraid and/or whatever else he is feeling when it comes to his family. So consider starting any new conversation on this topic with a sense of curiosity and acceptance about your husband's feelings, which he may or may not be aware of himself, as well as your own. If he knows you aren't playing gotcha! that may help (not to say that you are). This is really challenging stuff. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 2:02 AM on June 1, 2020 [14 favorites]

Are you familiar with the non-fiction book The New Jim Crow? It's not just killings by police—there is racial disparity in almost every outcome from law enforcement and the "justice system" in this country. It seems to me that your husband needs to reckon with the fact that police are the willing enforcers of a fundamentally racist and white supremacist system, and ask what that means in the context of these protests, Amy Cooper's actions, and the "just a few bad apples" explanation which doesn't work at all.
posted by XMLicious at 3:33 AM on June 1, 2020 [5 favorites]

This was in The Guardian yesterday: Being black while in nature: 'You’re an endangered species'. I remember seeing a movie years ago, where a couple of black men went for a picnic or something, maybe in New Jersey or upstate New York. And I suddenly realized I'd never seen that, in a movie or in real life. I don't remember how it went in the movie, but I remember having an anxious feeling about it.
I also remember how I have gone through the proces of examining my own racist attitudes. It didn't happen all at once, but over many years and sometimes more consciously than others. (I don't imagine I've finished, just that I have changed a lot). Prejudice is so built into the structure of society that no one can escape it entirely. I thought it had changed more than it has because my own family is becoming more and more mixed, so a lot of people I know have been forced to change. But for a while I taught at a private school and was very surprised at how many young people held completely inappropriate beliefs.
I'm looking for the words, but I think the best advice I know is to not try to resolve this through one big philosophical talk, but rather to point out the acts as they happen. I think that is the best way to describe what has happened over the years in my family: the more woke people have pointed out the racist speech or actions that the less woke people have said/done, and we all take turns on being on both sides of that.
It's not so much "Dad, don't do that because..." as it is just "Dad, don't do that." And then the conversation moves on. And one day its dad saying Boris Johnson is an idiot.
posted by mumimor at 3:33 AM on June 1, 2020 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I have a friend who feels that way. I have three responses:

1. Even good people have biases, and even good people make mistakes. When those biases and mistakes are backed up by the power of the state, and there are not strong and effective systems of accountability and restitution, no one can trust that they will be treated fairly or safely.

2. Even if most police are good people, if you know the bad ones will be protected from consequences and you have no way to tell them apart, you have to treat them all as hostile. This is the "if you have a bowl of 100 M&Ms and one is poisoned, you throw them all out" rule of thumb.

3. The police and the general public should be held to different standards. Police violence is backed by the state. It must be treated as more serious.

Right now, due to our culture in general and american police culture in specific, I think it is possible, but very, very hard to be a good police officer. It takes far more than just being a generally good person. I'd go so far as to say that most police are good people and bad cops, but that just makes the conversation an argument again. The way I say this to my friend is: if you support the police, you should be mad at a system that forces them into an adversarial, often violent role where they are frequently indistinguishable from intentionally bad actors.

A note on facts: While more white people are killed by the police, it is only because there are more white people overall. Black people are far more likely to be killed by the police.

A note on logic: white deaths by police are not a defense against claims that there are too many black deaths by police.
posted by Nothing at 4:35 AM on June 1, 2020 [57 favorites]

Is it just a matter of information-sharing and ignorance?

No, it is not.

Let me show you by asking: why does he think now is the moment that people - including NBPoC and protesters and Black people - should be acknowledging the struggles of law enforcement officers?

If he has legitimate grievances about citizens treating police badly, he is welcome to build his own movement, start his own activism, and do his own work getting people on board with his cause. He does not get to hijack Black people's activism and movement-building work to ask, "But what about us?" The hijacking is racist in and of itself.

But mainly, it shows he is not really concerned about police officers at all. He's the guy who demands to know why there is no International Men's Day ONLY on International Women's Day, never at any other time. He's the guy who demands to know why there is no White History Month ONLY in the context of Black History Month, never in any other. If he was concerned about the atrocities committed against police officers, he would be talking about them all the time. But he doesn't. That's because he doesn't care about police officers, really. He only cares about shutting Black people up, and his weapon of convenience happens to be professing concern for police officers.

He is not ignorant and there is no information you can share about Black people's suffering that will change his mind. He is a racist. He wants to shut Black people up. He's using "concern for police officers" as his chosen rationalization for the impulse to shut Black people up. It's that simple and it's that complicated. You may not be able to educate him out of his racist impulses.

There is room here for your feelings, too. It doesn't have to be all about convincing him and focusing on getting him from Point A to Point B intellectually. Please don't coddle him. You reinforce his white male fragility when you protect him from the truth of how you perceive his statements.
posted by MiraK at 5:57 AM on June 1, 2020 [70 favorites]

He stated that while he understands that racism is real, that black people are oppressed, that he has a ton of white privilege, and that cops need more mental health screening/training and accountability, he is very upset that the police are being villainized and that there is not enough media coverage of the police being endangered or mistreated in the protests.

The way I have been framing people pointing out that looting is wrong, is by saying that it is, but it's a much lesser wrong. I think the same thing is true here. The effect of racism being real in the exact way that it is, is that people die and because they fear dying they cannot do very ordinary things like walk through their neighbourhoods in the same way that he can. In contrast, the police don't want to look bad/worse than they are. There are two sides for sure, but they are not equal in importance. Maybe this will help your husband see things as they are?

Alternatively, you may need to start from 'it upsets me when you respond like this, it makes me feel...' and move forwards from there.

I'm sorry your husband's reaction is compounding things.
posted by plonkee at 6:03 AM on June 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think he should start with foundational texts, like Dr. DiAngelo's book and paper on White Fragility, and he should complete his own unlearning and education through the multiple resources online available for white people that teach how to be actively be anti-racist. If this man is crying over police officers and not over black people actively harmed by policing - and not taking actual real action to help BIPOC - he has a lot to learn before you have a productive conversation with him on racism.

If you want to be generous, because I know this man is your husband and you love him, I would start by asking him some questions to get him to start thinking. Why is it important to him that police are centered in this narrative? Why is it important to him that police be seen as the 'good guys' when historically the Police are a state instrument that upholds a system of institutionalized racism? Are the tears that he thinks are for his police family members actually his own guilt and shame for not putting in the work of confronting his own white privilege? Has he thought about how to hold white privilege means taking power from other people, specifically BIPOC?

Three actions for him: call his local police department and demand that body worn cameras are turned on immediately when the officer receives a call, call his local police department and demand that police receive mandatory annual de-escalation training, and donate to his local bail out fund.

The question about his own tears is from educator and anti-racism activist Monique Melton, who's instagram is @moemelton, who today posted on the inherent violence of white tears: "Those tears are your guilt, shame & embarrassment streaming down your face as u begin to see just how harmful & complicit you've been in upholding white supremacy." Monique's website is here:

Two of the actions for him are taken from "75 Things White People Can Do For Racial Justice", found here:
posted by pumpkinlatte at 6:24 AM on June 1, 2020 [6 favorites]

When an employed person, who supposedly has a normal life as well as a job, a pension, family, a social circle etc, has progressed in their career, presumably is trusted by their managers; when this person feels complete impunity while in uniform, in the company of colleagues, and in full sight of the public, and while being filmed, to murder a victim: this is a highly abnormal situation and it signals societal breakdown. I don't know how you would talk about this to a loved one if they didn't see what you were seeing.

It's been happening in your country overtly since 2015, at the same time as massive coordinated disinformation, and an unfortunate but understandable effort on the part of maybe most people to rationalise what's been happening while also hoping that solutions are coming. For this reason I believe people are struggling to realise how absolutely abnormal it is to have a society in which so called police officers function like this. I won't invoke Godwin but think about other times and places when something like this might also have happened. Argentina under the colonels? Countries undergoing coups (I grew up in one?) The oddness of the situation crept up on me yesterday, it is not normal at all. Even for a country where police brutality is a thing a murder like this is very much an outlier. I mean even the later days of apartheid tried to hide its murders a little more than this.

I don't even know if the role of the police is the major thing to be talking about in a situation of state failure. But, as a suggestion to begin the conversation, have you ever acted badly yourself? Has your husband? Most of us have. So maybe a way to communicate about this is to do a little thought experiment about what might have happened to you and to him and the ethics of both of you, if you'd been able to get away with some of the bad behaviour either of you have actually done. And then think what if you'd been in a peer group that absolutely supported you in this, that had your back, that covered for you, and that developed a wider and wider net of complicity and dependence. How might you have progressed, what would the group dynamic be?

Because I think most people think of ourselves as good people. If we were able to murder at will how many of us would resort to it sometimes, however much we loved our grandchildren, cooked for friends, did people favours etc? Or not, I dunno.

I think it is hard to face what's happening and personally I would rather think it was a local, bad apple problem than that society and government are in a long, slow, brutal collapse. If I were in your position, and I am a black woman married to a white guy, who has in the course of the marriage often been obtuse about race, I would want to know from him how he would react in the event of institutionalised violence towards people of colour affecting your own personal safety. Would he have your back? Physically and emotionally? Talk this one through. But when I was younger and fighty I would never have been able to have such a conversation with my partner because it would have felt it made me vulnerable.

I have been in a country where society seemed to be collapsing before and I will say, under those conditions people turn out to be your saviours. This is the hopeful thing. Culture is our nature and civil is what society naturally is - well, in a periodic cycle with uncivility and violence.
posted by glasseyes at 6:27 AM on June 1, 2020 [15 favorites]

Best answer: I'm the white half of a mixed marriage. The heaviest onus is on him, coming from so much unconsidered white privilege (because that is how it works, you get the benefits without having to think or talk about it much), but it still needs to be a mutual process -- a conversation, not a monologue, if that makes sense. Not with you as the teacher, but with you as a partner.

I think that the best approach here is not focusing on the ways he is wrong. Instead, assuming he is open-minded and willing to learn and grow (which is a big assumption, but your relationship sounds good and loving so I think he will step up), he needs to read (or watch videos, or listen to podcasts, or talk with people in person, whatever is his learning style) about the theories and histories and activism that underpin where we are now in terms of race. He needs the cognitive framework and knowledge that you have gained over the years; it's not as simple as just telling him some facts and then you all agree.

Also, remember that it is confusing and unsettling to have to reconsider your life and your understanding of how the world works; don't expect that to go quickly or smoothly at every point.

Good luck, I know this is hard at the best of times, never mind right now.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:27 AM on June 1, 2020 [7 favorites]

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva's Racism without Racists is a fantastic resource for the "show me the data" types.
posted by bfranklin at 6:45 AM on June 1, 2020 [7 favorites]

I don't really have any answers but some thoughts that I hope will be helpful.

I had a girlfriend in my life whom I loved very much who grew up in the South. At one point near the end of our relationship she joined the United Daughters of the Confederacy. It was like she had lost her fucking mind. At the time, I thought it was related to some grief she was going through around a significant family member. I made a lot of excuses for her. I know that I acted out of love and I know that I wasn't silent, I was very vocal with my objections.

However, years after that relationship ended, I just feel relief that it ended and some embarrassment that I stuck it out as long as I did. It was not, in hindsight, a one-off issue. She actually has, from reports, changed and quit and condemned the UDC. But it was actually an indication that we were incompatible. That she would not listen to me on this topic was significant.

Only you know where your relationship is on this spectrum.

In talking to other people in my family and sphere, I've found there's no magic bullet or single think piece, book, or conversation that changes their mind. Some of them have come around, at least around me. There are a few phases I go to when I'm exhausted though and here are my current ones for you:

1. "If police had started protesting that the bad apples were not arrested the day after the video of George Floyd's murder aired, I'd absolutely be supporting their protests."

2. I love your empathy for the police feeling targeted and threatened because they wear a uniform and a badge. Because I know that then you can imagine how it feels to be targeted for the colour of your skin, which you have not chosen as a career, will not provide you a pension, and which you cannot take off for a weekend. Like, just sit and imagine being a 16 year old Black man wearing a hoodie.

Hang in there. It's also legitimate to just tell him you can't agree and you can't discuss this with him right now.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:49 AM on June 1, 2020 [27 favorites]

Best answer: One more thought on the subject of feelings:

It often feels good, and just, to side with the underdog in a situation. When he gets upset about the lack of sympathy for the police, he might see himself as defending the underdog and fighting for fairness.

It might be worth talking with him about who he sees as the underdog in this situation, and why.

Because the police departments of this country have the weapons; the status; the legal right to force; the backup from the military; the military equipment; the support of politicians at every level from the presidency down; the knowledge that they will face few if any consequences for their behavior.

Most importantly, they have the power to end this.

They're fighting with sticks and stones, tear gas, rubber bullets, live bullets, SWAT teams, tanks. If what they're facing is unsympathetic words - how much will words, on balance, hurt them?

When one side faces hurt feelings and the other side faces hurt bodies, ended lives, destroyed families, and a constant state of threat from childhood to old age, what proportion of attention to the hurt feelings would be fair?

Anyway, it's been hard not to go off even more on explanations of all these things you already know and which don't necessarily answer the question of how to convince your husband to make an honest effort to see things through a different lens. I don't really know how to do that, other than explaining to him how important it is to you. I'm sorry that you're going through this, and I hope that even if this is his reaction right now, he won't dig in and will think about it seriously over time.
posted by trig at 6:54 AM on June 1, 2020 [16 favorites]

The 'collective trauma response' is very helpful.

The idea of 'languages of protest' is also useful.

Obviously, not all protesters are equal in terms of their resources and background. This intersectionality also effects the languages of protest that people have recourse to.

Some people smash and loot because that is the only language of protest that they have been able to acquire.

This helped me understand the violence in the UK protests of 2011.
posted by einekleine at 7:12 AM on June 1, 2020 [5 favorites]

"I've done the research" can signify a jerk watching YouTube videos to be reinforced in his feelings. Suggested reading won't help this type. However, if you feel that instead your husband is an underdeveloped intellectual type who lacks the critical thinking skills to actually recognize that he's engaging with only one viewpoint, but prides himself on undertaking analysis, in addition to the Michelle Alexander book recommended above, I would suggest you have him read Rothstein's The Color of Law, which I think is an eye-opener for a lot of white people who have bought a certain narrative about discrimination in this country being driven by "market preference" and so on, rather than de jure forms of segregation backed by informal and formal state violence.
posted by praemunire at 8:14 AM on June 1, 2020 [7 favorites]

The thing is, my husband believes that most police just want to do their jobs and don't go around instantly killing black people. He's horrified by the numerous cases in the media, but he said he did his own research and found that more white people are killed by the police than black people. He's not sure what is the proof that black people are significantly more likely to be killed by the police to the extent that people are so outraged and these protests are happening.

I don't see anything particular in your post about how aware he is or what his feelings are on the concept of police protecting their own, even during wrongdoing. But I think if you haven't already, probing that topic (and how his experiences interacting with his family members have shaped his views) might give you a better idea of what you're working with. Here's a Twitter thread from someone else with a "good guy" police officer in their family, and what that looked like (idolized fictional portrayals of cops fighting corruption, but would never file a complaint against a fellow officer). You ask: "is it me?" so I'll end by saying it: doesn't seem like it, and I couldn't stay in a relationship with someone who can't evaluate their own privilege & racial biases. I hope your spouse can, and wish you all the best.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:25 AM on June 1, 2020 [7 favorites]

Here is NYC specific data showcasing bias among NYPD, using NYPD's own data.
posted by mrgoldenbrown at 8:54 AM on June 1, 2020 [4 favorites]

Do you have children with your partner or are planning to? You might want to ask him how he would feel if their half-asian child was routinely racially profiled and harrassed by a cop. Many hapa are commonly mistaken for latinx (or middle-eastern) and this is something that a dear friend of mine has to endure almost once a month when he is driving in Los Angeles.
posted by cazoo at 9:18 AM on June 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

Mod note: Few comments removed: Please respond with care, try to bring light rather than heat to the question, and consider this an opportunity to educate.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:25 AM on June 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

I'm going to assume that many of his concerns sound vlaid and reasonable and echo middle-class, not-brown thinking/feeling. Listen to his side, and then provide the alternative, which is facts, and also, how racism affects Black people. Read Ta_Nehisi Coates articles together. Share tweets and posts that are informative. This is a conversation to have over time.
posted by theora55 at 9:59 AM on June 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One thing you can mention when he says he "believes that the majority of police officers are good public servants" and "most police just want to do their jobs" is that the protests are about stopping the killing of black and brown people.

It doesn't matter if only 20% of officers are killing, the killing needs to stop.

If 1% of the officers are killing, that is hundreds of murderers who are free to murder.

The goal is to bring to an end the horrifying, ongoing, spree of slaughter.

Because the "majority of police officers" who are "good public servants" have not ended it (or made any meaningful progress towards ending it).
posted by middlethird at 10:02 AM on June 1, 2020 [13 favorites]

I brought up this older piece by ProPublica last night with my white partner last night, which highlights the system and culture that is in place that actually fires the cop that doesn't shoot. It seemed to help make some headway in the conversation, but it's a long journey.
It's been hard to set aside expectations that this will turn overnight with some articles that he isn't interested in reading on his own. It's been so hard to come to terms that I need to do a lot of this labor for a better relationship, to view this as a learning experience for both of us, and put aside my anger for a while. I hope you'll hang in there and best of luck.
posted by sincerely yours at 10:08 AM on June 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

From @elliotwb a wsj reporter, via his twitter:

Here are some stats from the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a venue that can recommend discipline of NYPD officers

Complaints received 2016-18: 13,515

Terminations resulting from CCRB recommendations: 0

Suspension or loss of vacation > 31 days: 3

The stats would have you believe the cops never do anything wrong ever, which is clearly not reflective of the obvious reality we can see from our phones and computers.

I am a white partner to an asian spouse, and frankly i just dont think all white people are capable of getting it. im not 100% sure what "it" is here, except that whatever it is involves acknowledging that the feeling of potential security he experiences when he thinks of calling the police is truly not a universal experience. They do not protect or serve a large proportion of our citizens and asserting that they do is offensive and unsupported.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 10:13 AM on June 1, 2020 [5 favorites]

Some ideas for exercises, if he's truly open to having his view of things challenged:

- Ask him to make a list of all the movies and TV-shows he can think of with cops in them, and then have him to sort those stories into four categories: cops as heroes; cops as villains; cops as both, but the good cops win; cops as both, but the bad cops win. See which lists are longest.

- Read through articles about the protests and have him underline use of active and passive voice in different colours. Can he determine a pattern? Could it be that journalists tend to use active voice for the violent actions of protestors and passive voices for the violent actions of police?

I think those exercises should quickly clear up his view on media bias (if undertaken in good faith, of course).

I have however no idea how realistic it would be for you to acutally get him to do those exercises. Maybe you could try to sell them as open-ended experiments and do them together. But maybe he would find that approach overly didactical and patronizing and then it would be counter-productive.
posted by sohalt at 10:23 AM on June 1, 2020 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Maybe suggest to him Dr King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail”:
First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
You might point out to him that “Blue Lives Matter” is inherently a racist position to take, because “blue people” do not exist. In an era where “Black Lives Matter” means
Everybody’s life matters, it’s just that black folk are getting gunned down and casually choked to death in the streets, so we phrased it that way, plus it’s shorter
“All Lives Matter” means
Quiet, N-word
and “Blue Lives Matter” means
Quiet, N-word. Criticising white cops is not your privilege. If you’re not cop, you’re little people. And we’re here to keep the dark-skins in line and in their place.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:28 AM on June 1, 2020 [13 favorites]

I wonder if it would be effective to talk about how the bad actions of the most violent police endanger their colleagues, too, since your husband seems to identify with his family members who are cops. If his family members are, in his mind, “good cops”, then they are being exposed to more violence due to their violent colleagues, being asked to de-escalate situations alone and against the actions of their violent colleagues, and etc. If his family members are “good cops” then they should be the first asking for reform here, both because they see that the people they’ve been sworn to protect are instead being killed, and second because who on earth wants to work with a violent racist colleague with a gun? (“Think of the cops” is a problem, of course, but since your husband already is, maybe you can use that mindset as a way in).
posted by nat at 10:28 AM on June 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

I (a white dude) came from a privileged, sheltered, middle-class background. In my 20s I was with a with a woman with a completely different background. I am blessed that she would patiently return to discussions of feminism, race, sexuality, and (what became known as) intersectionality. I won't say I wasn't uncomfortable, and didn't push back. Without that consistent encouragement, I would not have known to look harder at the world and see what was already there that reinforced a broader perspective. Lots.

Also, I quit saying inadvertently racist and sexist shit.

Anyway, I'm a case study in how far one can go with encouragement and knowledge. Net win for everyone. I think you are right to keep bringing it up.

I think the most important reframing for me was being told:

a) this is not about my experience; it's about acknowledging a multitude of experiences.
b) if I want to understand, stop trying to defend my position.
c) Listen. Carefully. To everyone else.
d) there's a lot of gray area in culture and society. Letting go of 'black and white' is very uncomfortable. Unbalancing, and scary for someone with a solidifying world view. Just accepting 'uncomfortable/uncertain as a way-of-being' can be the biggest hurdle.

Caveat: shame is not always effective.

Fwiw, one dude's experience.
posted by j_curiouser at 10:40 AM on June 1, 2020 [20 favorites]

Perhaps one way to start this conversation is from the basis of trust and personal responsibility. In order for the police to do their job and for the community to feel respected and safe there needs to be trust. The actions of some police have gravely damaged trust. And the police, police leadership is responsible for foster trust.

And the contracts that police unions have with cities don't help. As this recent report by Reuters shows many police contracts protect officers who are violating the law and abusing their authority. Police forces need to change their culture to change the relationship.

Additionally police misconduct is costing cities millions of dollars. Imagine if that money was spent on education, community centers, anti-poverty measures?
posted by brookeb at 10:48 AM on June 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

I have a totally different perspective.

My wife and I are in close agreement on most issues, but there are a handful of subjects where we have significant differences. One of those subjects happens to be fairly important to me and is central to my worldview. By an unspoken agreement, we simply don't discuss them much. And when a contentious area does comes up in conversation, we basically just tip-toe around it and don't dwell on it. This strategy has served us well. (I should add that these areas of disagreement are abstract subjects that don't have direct, concrete relevance to our daily lives or decision-making, so it's not especially difficult to just keep sweeping them under the rug).
posted by JD Sockinger at 10:48 AM on June 1, 2020

When I was first in college, so - maybe 18 years old? I was talking with a friend about something or other, and said something misogynist (I am a cis female, but internalized bias runs deep!) and she said "stop. What you just said is hurtful. Would you be willing to read a book or something that can help you expand your thinking on feminism?"

I was pretty shocked, and said yes, and then she brought me a book and I read it and started trying to do better. And then I keep trying to do better as I realize the ways in which I need work. But before that no one had ever really told me I needed to do better in a way that was so blunt. Stop. What you said is hurting me and other people. Fix it.

So I guess my advice is, if you can trust him to be a good person and he's just spinning in a pile of his own blindness, maybe you should just straight up tell him he's hurting you and give him a tool to work on it himself. I really appreciated that my friend had the confidence in my actual goodness to not just excuse my behavior and let me live in my privilege and the blindness it affords me, and instead trusted me that I could do better.

Also I really would recommend a book or something because sometimes discussions can be hard because people will feel defensive and they will start to close up and not listen to prevent themselves from feeling bad. It's hard to feel bad about the way you have been thinking and acting, everyone wants to believe they are a good person and defend themselves from what is being perceived as an attack. Learning through resources where you can be honest and sit with your feelings alone is easier for some people. It was for me. Now I'm more willing to see that I'm wrong during a discussion or situation, but I also now know that I have been wrong or blind PLENTY of times. The first time, when I was still sure I was a good person and everything I think must be right? It was harder.
posted by euphoria066 at 11:08 AM on June 1, 2020 [5 favorites]

Another line of discussion that might help is what he would do if one of his colleagues assaulted or killed someone on the job. He'd be horrified, right? He'd disavow those actions. He'd want the person to be brought to justice, both because of the crime against the victim but also for the good of his own company and his own colleagues. Then ask why it is that cops so tenaciously defend their own, to the point of lying and planting evidence to hide what happened, and respond to protests over straight-up murders by cops with violent reprisals. I think a lot of white male blindness in these kinds of situations is propped up by the underlying assumption that the person in question is reasonable and wouldn't do horrible things, so of course this other group of people which seems connected to him or officially endorsed wouldn't do them. Helping him to see how his own conscience would make him act differently than the cops do may help.
posted by praemunire at 11:31 AM on June 1, 2020 [4 favorites]

He said it shouldn't be a crime to call the police if you are scared.

Was she scared, though? Did she call out for help? Did she try to get away and he followed her? I see her walking towards him while asking him to stop recording her. If we're talking about Amy Cooper specifically, calling the police and emphasizing his race was a racist power move to try to gain the upper hand in the argument. Otherwise, why not call the police while running away? Why not leash the dog while fervently apologizing, if she was terrified?
posted by xo at 11:46 AM on June 1, 2020 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Is your husband open to/understanding of the idea of "white privilege" and the difference between structural racism and individual racism? Would he genuinely and sincerely agree that, although he doesn't personally use the N-word or refuse to hire black people, there is a societal structure that benefits him to the detriment of non-whites (of all races)?

If he is on board with that concept, there is an easy analogue when thinking about the police. It is true that not all police wantonly attack and kill black people. If you took a head count of every LEO in the country, the number who carry out those horrible acts would be a small percentage. But the "system" that supports/covers up/minimizes the actions of the wrongdoers absolutely exists, and does end up reflecting poorly on police as a whole. Pointing out the problems with that system isn't a personal attack on his relatives who are police, any more than attacking systemic racism in the US schools or housing market (or any other societal institution) is a personal attack on white-person me.
posted by mccxxiii at 12:30 PM on June 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I think you've gotten a lot of good advice, resources, opinions, and thoughts in this thread so far. If your husband is really prepared to be open-minded about this, I would ask him to read this thread, and many of the linked resources. Depending on your emotional resources to engage, perhaps this is something the two of you could do together.

If nothing else, I strongly agree that Trevor Noah's video is a must-watch for your husband to think about how the current events sit within a much larger, decades-long context of violence, by the police but also by numerous other societal structures, towards Black people, and why the anger and even sometimes violent responses are an inevitable consequence of the repeated failure of our society to address this problem when it keeps happening again and again.

It may also help your husband to see the perspectives of police who are actually on our side on this issue, who understand that there are serious problems with American policing and that major reform is badly needed.
  • A story about the sheriff in Flint, Michigan who took off his riot gear and had his officers lay down their batons to walk with the protesters, who welcomed him and chanted "walk with us" was linked above. This helps illustrate how violence leads to violence, and peace promotes peace: where police officers respond to protests with violence, violent riots result, and where they don't, peaceful protest can proceed and communal healing can begin.
  • An article on CNN includes two different stories about the chief of police of Minneapolis, Medaria Arradondo. The video is an interview of him describing his reaction to seeing the video of George Floyd's death. The article below the video explains how in 2007, before he was chief, he and several other officers sued the city over discriminatory practices within the police department, specifically citing how White officers engaged in "constitutional violations" against citizens of color, and how White were treated leniently for professional infractions while Black officers had the book thrown at them. As Arradondo is now chief of the department that is responsible for Floyd's death and which is handling the protests in Minneapolis pretty poorly, it's pretty clear that the structural issues with policing are so deeply entrenched that even as chief of police he has limited ability to reform the system by himself. In the video interview he alludes indirectly to the powerful police unions that may undo his rapid decision to fire the officers who murdered Floyd, and I think it is really important for your husband to pay attention to this point specifically: political forces within the police have been and will continue to use sympathy for the police as a political tool to resist reform and protect the so-called "bad apple" cops from consequences. Good cops like Arradondo don't want your husband's sympathy, they want his support for reform.
  • The Twitter account RookieCityCop has a lot of commentary that your husband may find illuminating. Again, good cops don't want sympathy, they want support for reform. I don't really follow Twitter but I found this account via the chief of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) police, Thomas Nestle III, who retweeted Every police officer knows a police officer that probably shouldn't be a police officer. If you're a police officer and don't know who that person is, it's probably you. #CopsSupportingBlackLivesMatter #CopsAgainstPoliceBrutality
This is only a start but I hope it can help your husband to recognize that from the perspective of many police who want to serve their communities, his concern that the police are being villainized and that there is not enough media coverage of the police being endangered or mistreated in the protests is misplaced, and in their own minds the real problem that needs to be addressed is police brutality and racialized violence by police.
posted by biogeo at 12:31 PM on June 1, 2020 [18 favorites]

My Hispanic grandmother has this habit of emphasizing her whiteness whenever racial tensions get more visible in America. Last week, out of nowhere, she told me that the Smithsonian had made some remark that the Basque were considered the first Caucasians. Like she emigrated here from Spain, rather than growing up in a Texas border town.

It throws me every time. While I think she should intrinsically identify with more visible minorities, she is terrified and seeks safety in trying to pass as white. White supremacy is so pervasive because it provides benefits.

I say this because I think it's he's identifying with the police because it's safer. That's why people identify with the aggressor. It's a fawning technique that attempts to deescalate a situation with no hope for genuine safety. To be receptive to anti-racist messaging we have to acknowledge some very painful truths that the human brain is hardwired to minimize. We are not safe. We are not the good guys. America is experiencing catastrophic turmoil because the foundation is rotten.

I think it might be useful to leverage your own relative privilege of being a non-black POC. If he has been empathetic about the heightened xenophobia during the pandemic, you could credibly remind him that Asian Americans are often held up the model minority to justify racist policing and refusing anti-poverty programs towards Black Americans. That what he sees is a fraction of the cruelty white racism is capable of.

But ultimately, he has to come to the realization that the illusion of safety is dangerous, and the only chance we have at real safety is in the creation of a just society.
posted by politikitty at 12:45 PM on June 1, 2020 [7 favorites]

Amy Cooper wasn't scared. She was aggressive and using the threat of the police as a weapon. She might be racist, she might just be an asshole who thinks dog leash rules don't apply to her good boy, who knows, but as a woman who enjoys the woods if some unknown man surprises me coming out of the bushes, instinct tells you to gtfo, not stay and go closer to them.
posted by WeekendJen at 1:01 PM on June 1, 2020 [8 favorites]

He has family who are police officers and believes that the majority of police officers are good public servants who are just trying to do their jobs

I, too, have cops & cop sympathizers in my extended family. I have never seen them do anything violent with my own two eyes, which doesn't mean I don't have a working imagination. People who say My Uncle, Therefore, or My Dad, Therefore, are not using reason and frankly scare me.

(Most everyone who doesn't have a cop in the family has still got a nice parent or a cousin who is just some guy. Which means everyone might as well have a cop in the family, because a cop is just some guy who has a gun plus the authority and sanction of the government to do whatever he wants to people who are not cops. Power corrupts, and the power of the American cop to harm or kill their chosen victim is near absolute. Does he acknowledge any part of this? because if he won't, no argument will ever get anywhere. "Good cops" shouldn't have the power that they have any more than actual cops should.)

If this were my husband, he would not be my husband. But I recognize from your detailed and agonized question that you continue to choose him as a husband and are attempting to fairly describe his position while also imbuing it with a level of sincerity and rationality that I don't believe it has. This kind of thinking doesn't arise just from media misinformation about the facts, so while you can fill him with facts, that's not where his feelings come from. 'Cops are good because I love my dad' (or mom, or brother, whoever his favorite cop is) is not only an incoherent argument, it is a sick argument. I think that meeting sick arguments with meticulous detail is a bad idea. To paraphrase the old proverb, it exhausts you and the husband likes it.

To be a good police officer, one must renounce & denounce brutality and racism both in public where the public can see you and in private where your cop brethren and sistren can retaliate against you. One must fight against it when and as it happens, and that means fighting other cops. There is no other way to be a good cop. That is why good cops typically don't last. Either they quit or they get forced out or they get killed. I am guessing his idea of 'good public servants' is very different. but I guess you could try to get him to articulate and defend his own idea of the bare minimum required for goodness in such a corrupt profession.

you could also dig up any of several videos of what are clearly plainclothes cops breaking windows, not protesters or 'outside agitators.' but I don't know that any of this is really important to him as a factual thing.
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:27 PM on June 1, 2020 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: I just wanted to chime in to thank everyone who has responded so far, literally overnight, with a wealth of resources, empathy, candor, and wisdom. I know it takes a real toll to engage on this, and I appreciate the sensitivity and understanding that this question is about a person's loved one and their marriage. I don't have an update on a follow-up conversation yet because I'm overwhelmed and processing all these external perspectives, but I'm taking everything here to heart, especially the call to consider what my personal responsibility is here and how to take care of myself too. A few responders mentioned that white people are often trained to say the right things in public from a place of fear but not deep understanding, and then they raise their questions with their first POC partner. This was a light bulb insight for me- something I was missing. Someone asked about our ages- We are in our early 30s.
posted by selene_sophia at 1:58 PM on June 1, 2020 [15 favorites]

Would it help to talk about the trend of infiltration of police departments by white supremacists? That might help explain some of what is going on without him feeling like his family is being attacked.

This stuff is hard. I remember I lost my composure when my dad's response to Me Too was to worry about the wrongly-accused men. He recovered quickly, but people, even well meaning ones, have some blind spots. The background wallpaper of society (media, popular culture, history, PR around "serve and protect) is that police are good. If you haven't been exposed to any of the cracks in that theory of what police represent, it can be hard to get your mind around. It takes time.
posted by *s at 2:15 PM on June 1, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You have gotten some really good advice here I think. Here’s my perspective, as a white woman who’s known lots of people who talk the way your husband is talking.

First, you are 10000% in the right. The truth is not somewhere in the middle between you, at all. You are right and he is wrong. He has had a set of very narrow atypical life experiences—as a white man, with family members who are police—and he has not done the work to decentre those experiences and fill in the gaps in his knowledge. And so his worldview is neither accurate nor defensible.

Second, it isn’t your job to educate him. You’re not a professional and you are probably not an expert in black people’s experiences in the United States. I think that's part of why you’re feeling uncomfortable. It’s just too much to ask you to take on the burden of being right about everything and having perfect arguments and unassailable data. Everybody who is telling you here that he has to do the work himself (and want to do it): they are right.

That said, I think it’s appropriate for you to tell him you need him to do the work, and I think it would make sense for you to try to help him get started. I don't think he's ready for books. So I think I’d start by asking him to watch the 2016 documentary 13th with you. It is 100 minutes of black American experts talking accessibly and authoritatively about the mass incarceration of black people in the United States. It’s directly relevant to this moment.

If I were you, I would watch it with him, and then spend some time talking together about how it makes you both feel. The documentary by itself isn't going to be transformative for him, but I think it should give you a sense of how open he is to growth and learning.

Good luck.
posted by Susan PG at 2:29 PM on June 1, 2020 [9 favorites]

I (white cis hetero male, FWIW) am just coming off of a somewhat rancorous family email thread that an uncle of mine started by complaining about the "rioters" (his word, not mine) in his city and mainly expressing sympathy for the business owners whose property was being damaged. In reply I sent the following quote from MLK, which is unfortunately still pretty topical:
[...] But at the same time, it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots.

I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard.

And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met.

And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity.
[Sources: text, YouTube]

The last paragraph especially resonates, and to my mind it addresses what's problematic about what your husband is saying. Violence is wrong, yes, including against police. But to focus on that over the actual underlying problem of racism in this country is to totally miss the point of what's happening here. You can bet your bottom dollar that anybody suspected of assaulting an officer or damaging police property will be prosecuted extremely harshly, whereas it's a crapshoot at best whether a white man who knelt on a black man's neck for 8 minutes until he died, and on video, will face any jail time at all.
posted by number9dream at 5:23 PM on June 1, 2020 [16 favorites]

If he really wants "data" you could show him the tons of jobs that are statistically far more dangerous than being a cop (eg, crab fisherman, oil rig driller, etc). If he responds to humorists in addition to the Trevor Noah piece Chris Rock has a really good bit about how there are just some professions where you can't have a few bad apples and goes on to joke about how we would never accept that rationale about, like, commercial pilots. Like the CEO of American Airlines is never gonna be, sorry, but some of our pilots are definitely going to crash the plane but it's just a few bad apples so enjoy your flight.
posted by TwoStride at 9:41 PM on June 1, 2020 [9 favorites]

More of an observation about a communication pattern you described than about how to discuss issues of racism with your partner:

In your examples, you were able to repeat back specific points he had made (indicating you were actively listening to his points) and were able to acknowledge when you thought he had made valid points you agreed with, and gave him that validation. In your examples, your partner agrees with you on some general ideas, but (unless you omitted them from your retelling here) he doesn't validate specific points you make but instead looks for side issues that are not the point you made and argues against those.

Just something to think about in terms of how communication is happening.

No matter how much solid data you can show to prove your points, they might well fall on deaf ears. A more appropriate first step might be to understand if examining his privilege and understanding the topic of systemic racism further is something he is open to? And if not, why not, and have a conversation from there, to the extent you're both on board with having that conversation together as a couple.

And, if he's not willing to have that conversation with you, ask yourself how you feel and what you need, and make sure those needs get addressed, too.
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 9:41 PM on June 1, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: This is a small thing I've noticed about discussing complex topics, that is worth a try.

Sometimes people (especially white men and people with no skin in the game) will respond to a discussion with whatever part of the issue they aren't hearing from you. Like if you said "man, the Packers were on fire! They're going to go all the way!" they'd say "Well, don't forget about the Seahawks! Their new quarterback..." It's almost like they're trying to make sure nothing gets forgotten and your collective conclusion is the best most complete possible conclusion.

This is infuriating and scary when you are trying to figure out if your partner is a safe person. Because they don't realize THEY are under test - they think the two of you are trying to figure out together what is going and what to do.

It helps to ask directly: "Do you think the police treat black people and white people the exact same way?" "Do you think the feelings of the police officers are really the biggest issue here?"

If he really thinks about it, he knows he'd rather be a white man talking to the police than a black man talking to the police. Or if not, that's a window for facts.
posted by Lady Li at 8:37 AM on June 2, 2020 [6 favorites]

The other thing is to repeat back to him what you hear him saying. Like, "it sounds like you think the feelings of the police are the main issue at stake here. Am I hearing that right?"
posted by Lady Li at 8:47 AM on June 2, 2020

Maybe point him towards this article on “The Cult of Compliance”.
LWhat happens if you don’t comply when the police give you an order? What rights do you really have? How free are you, really, when the authorities have weapons pointed at you or when they have the right to draw a weapon and use it with relative impunity?

Over the past few years, I have been tracking the rhetoric that police and other authority figures use to justify all kinds of violence. In cases that seem very different, separated by factors such as age, race, gender, sexuality, geography, class and ability, police explain away their actions by citing noncompliance. They do it because it works.
They do it because according to their beliefs, any sign of noncompliance is an invitation to strike. [emph mine]

To fight back, ordinary citizens need not only to push specific reforms but also to transform the culture of law enforcement.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:46 AM on June 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

Lots of good comments above, so this is just a small footnote. Would he be at least open to acknowledging the validity of this call for national use-of-force standards and training for police? One of the authors is a former police chief.
posted by gudrun at 10:23 AM on June 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Apologies for that previous mod note; it was copypasted and too offhanded and glib. It’s nobody’s job to take on an educational role here, sorry to suggest that it was. Would just like to keep answers in here focused on helping the OP with the question they asked.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:48 AM on June 8, 2020

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