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The holidays are here, and so are uncomfortably racist conversations with family!

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Submitted by coffeeforkatya on Mon, 2009-12-07 17:20

The holidays are here and you know what that means! Well, if you're a person of color in an interracial relationship, it may mean having to sit through yet another uncomfortable, racially-charged conversation with your significant other's fam. I know I have, and December's barely here. When your significant other's (SO) parents tell you that they wished they had an African American relative in their ancestry, just to spice things up a bit, and then correct themselves to say that, really, any person of color would do--you've got a problem on your hands. Or when they joke about how they "thought you were Mexican" when you're Japanese (both are comments that I've encountered in the course of my dating history), playing on the 'they all look alike' myth, haha--Not. So while one of the best parts of being in a new relationship has been being made a part of my SO's family, the hardest part about being in a new (interracial) relationship is the culture shock of getting to know the people who your partner calls family.

Where does the problem arise? Often, it's as simple as being the only non-white and/or culturally 'other' person within a family of white people. I'm already the outsider, being slowly and somewhat clumsily drawn into their cohesive family--on top of that, I'm the racial outsider as well. Because of our different upbringings, we have different cultural experiences to draw from. When they do things together, like go to a tree farm to cut down a Christmas tree, or go to an All-American high school basketball game where the men are the ones playing ball and the women are the ones cheering them on (two things I never did when I was growing up), I feel like I've walked into a J. Crew catalog or a TV sitcom or something. In those moments, I feel apart from everyone there who know the ins-n-outs of cutting and trussing a tree or what cheer to say when. I have to shake myself and remember that my narrative is just as valid and valued as theirs.

Other times, it happens when I'm the only non-white person and we start talking about something related to POC. I think that I've rarely felt so much like a POC until a white person brings up race. Then I spend the rest of the conversation on my toes, at the tip of my chair, worried that someone will say something messed up, and that I'll be faced with the choice of speaking up and offending someone (and not just anyone, but my SO's second cousin Polly, or whoever) or keeping silent and letting the racist comment go unacknowledged. In other settings, where the people I would be challenging are my age and my peers--not the relatives of my SO--I would be less hesitant to speak up. But somehow, speaking up for myself against his family seems like I'm not only challenging one of them, but the whole collective unit, which is much more daunting.

I'm still working on speaking my convictions, even though it's intimidating, because that's what's most important to me and hopefully to you too. Remember, you have no duty to stand by and be offended because of some obligation to your SO. A good partner would want you to be comfortable and be able to be yourself. It helps to talk to them and communicate how you're feeling, otherwise they may have no clue that you're angry or uncomfortable. If it's their family that's being offensive, then it's their responsibility to do something about it too, whether that be talking to an individual family member, speaking up in a group, supporting you, or all of the above.

Ultimately, YOU are not the one who needs to change. The people who are spouting racist comments are the ones who should be changing their ways and accommodating to you. Good luck!

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