Help me find books on coping with a family that doesn't understand my husband's ethnicity
March 23, 2007 8:11 PM   Subscribe

Help me find books on coping with a family that doesn't understand my husband's ethnicity.

My husband is Native American and I am white. My family has made extremely insensitive comments about Native people. Talking to them about how they treat him has been extremely unproductive. They can't acknowledge that they have said offensive things and they can't understand the impact of those things. They think he is being oversensitive. I do not think that he is being oversensitive. I'm looking for some books that could help my husband and me sort out how to work through this.
posted by sara558 to Human Relations (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Wow. Time to find a new family. In all seriousness, IMHO, you need to talk directly and earnestly to the family members that are engaged in this behavior and tell them in no uncertain terms that what they are doing is unkind, uncalled for and outrageous. (I have had similar uncomfortably discussions with my own parents, and while it was uncomfortable at the time, it definitely made a difference.) Bottom line, I think, is that if they are so clueless that they are being vaguely or unintentionally insulting, I'm not sure that a gesture of suggesting a book to read is going to make much difference. It's not a question of being "pc" or what have you, it's a matter of simple respect. You need to insist upon it.
posted by psmealey at 8:49 PM on March 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

I agree that a book is not going to solve this, and I don't think it's a problem you need to 'work through' yourselves.. but as a family.

People tend to be racist or insulting when they don't really know someone or their culture that well. This is especially true when you only meet someone rarely or at prescribed events. Perhaps you just need to all hang out with your family more so they get to know and respect him as who he is, even if they're not so keen on the cultural respect.

There are plenty of racist people out there who have that 'one black friend' or whatever, who they actually genuinely like.. but then they act all racist about blacks in general. That's something everyone has to kinda put up with at some point or another, but perhaps just getting your family to like and respect HIM, rather than his culture, is the first step?
posted by wackybrit at 8:57 PM on March 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Funny, it's obvious that you are incredibly eloquent on this subject. I think all it would take is for you to engage your family on a similar level to which you replied in that AskMe post.
posted by psmealey at 9:05 PM on March 23, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for your responses. I think I was unclear in asking the question. I am looking for books to help my husband and I deal with all of this. We have talked quite a bit with my family to little avail. The question is really about helping us rather than helping them. Clearly other couples have gone through this type of thing. I am looking for some resources about those experiences.
posted by sara558 at 9:13 PM on March 23, 2007

In that case, sara558, I might suggest James McBride's The Color of Water, A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother.

It doesn't exactly correlate to your experience, but it's a terrifically well-written personal account of love, strength and perserverance in the face of overwhelming prejudice and small-mindedness. It's truly inspirational.
posted by psmealey at 9:21 PM on March 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

IAIAIM (in an interracial marriage). You are right: you will never reeducate people who are set in their ways, and you need to find ways of being strong and supportive within your relationship, because there are a lot of people (of all sorts of colors) who will feel free to criticize. Family can be really hard, because more than with with strangers what they say can really hurt, and they are the hardest to change.

There are a lot of really good books, movies, and plays that deal with this; there is no perfect "how-to" manual, but seeing how smart people have thought about it can give you some starting points for piecing it together yourself.

A couple of examples, but there are lots more out there:

-- The group Culture Clash does comedic performances that touch on these issues (mostly from a latino, rather than native, perspective, although there is some overlap in some of their pieces); they have several movies and books available, in addition to their live shows. (There is currently a real flood of this sort of politically conscious and deeply irreverent latino and chicano humor -- see, Naco Clothing, Gusavo Arellano, etc -- that are working through the same issues of family, identity, and so on that you are describing.)

-- Sherman Alexie's books (and two movies) deal with living in a white world as a politically conscious native; you are probably already aware of him, but his short stories in particular are worth rereading.

-- There was a really good book that came out in probably 2002 or 2003 on the history of interracial marriage in the US; I can't remember the title, but while searching for it I found that Amazon has a huge range of titles on this issue (the search term "interracial" turned up a lot), including lots of how-to guides, but most are about white/black interracial couples. The UC Berkeley Library has a nice little guide to search terms and bibliographies on this issue, which could also be a good starting point.
posted by Forktine at 5:41 AM on March 24, 2007

My parents would make offensive comments about my boyfriend's ethnicity (not in front of him, just me) early on in our relationship. Basically, I let them know when they said things like that it hurt me terribly. They haven't said anything of that nature since.

Don't give up on them just yet. They may be acting like racist jerks right now but they may come around and learn something from it. My parents gradually warmed up to my boyfriend after realizing he was the most considerate and all-around decent guy I ever dated.

And obviously, try and protect your husband. If your parents continue to be insensitive to his face, try to limit the amount of time he's required to spend around them. Maybe seeing less of you as well would also get the message across.
posted by Jess the Mess at 1:58 PM on March 24, 2007

"You will either treat my husband with respect, or I will not associate with you!"

If they are Christians, you can point out relevant quotes from Corinthians about husbands and wives about why this would be your proper reaction.
posted by ilsa at 8:23 PM on March 24, 2007

Hi sara558,
I am a white woman who is in a (wonderful) relationship with a Native American woman. We have the added bonus of being gay, as well! My family is in Texas and are conservative Christian. I have not found any books that are remotely explanative of our experience. There are so many complications that I can't even go in to here. Please e-mail me if you need a friendly ear (e-mail in profile). I mean it.
posted by kamikazegopher at 7:51 PM on March 26, 2007

Maybe it would help to simply understand: All white Americans are racist. Some/many/most are ignorant of that fact. Ignorance is not an excuse, but it may explain some of it. These issues get very complicated when people don't think they are racist. Racism is an attitude and varies hugely between people. Some racist people none-the-less mean well in their intentions.

I wouldn't begin to claim to understand everything there is to know about being a race minority. In most regards, I know only what it is to be white, except I'm gay and have suffered a lot of crap for it.
posted by Goofyy at 3:44 AM on March 28, 2007

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