3 Hard Conversations to Have When Bae is White
“Wanna vacation for two weeks in one of my rich aunt and uncle’s Winnebago?”
Okay…that was not the invitation my boyfriend gave for potential holiday plans and I don’t think his family even owns a Winnebago, but he did reveal to me that members of his family have more than a little ch-change. And there was an actual invite to an event that included paid travel and expenses. These were travel dollars that I didn’t have to spend to somewhere far and beautiful that I’ve never been.
I’ve always thought of relationships as 100% + 100%. You don’t need someone to make you whole and relationships are meant to complement who you are. They are not intended to be a crutch. However, at the beginning of our relationship, something in my mind (possibly a short lifetime’s worth of perceptions and projections) kept telling me that if my boyfriend and I were running in a race, I’d be a leg behind. Something told me that what I could offer, which darn sure wouldn’t be an all-expense paid vacation, could not outweigh a background of privilege.
My parents ensured that my family was rich in love. It wasn’t going to be money since they were called to ministry. While my family has gone through bouts of financial struggles and lacks the whole generational wealth thing, God has provided so I’ve never been without anything I needed.
As a 20-something millennial trying to wade in the waters of my own independence, I have enough trouble learning to ask for help, let alone being comfortable with handouts. I was concerned about what I could actually give or contribute to this relationship. What tangible thing can I offer this man besides my Black Girl Magic, delicious soul food, and Hulu password?!
Result of convo: We communicate frequently about finances, including co-paying for activities. Because he was/is a real one, he doesn’t need me to offer anything besides my honesty and transparency.
Life Hack: Holding onto what you DON’T have is never good for anyone. This includes but not limited to…
- An ex
- Professional success
- That stamp on your passport
- A degree
- And yes, money.
If you’re a person of color seriously dating a white person, Word of Mouth Daily Research reports that they more than likely have an understanding of black cultures that go beyond the surface. While they read #BlackTwitter and get regular invitations to “The Cookout,” they also have a passion to advocate for the black struggle as a whole. They’re an educated ally. She’ll march with you at a BLM rally or he may even have a degree in African American studies.
I recently visited the new Mississippi Civil Rights Museum (you know, the one where our trifling governor invited Agent Orange and it didn’t go as planned) and it’s remarkable beyond words. Go visit #Plug.
Going through the exhibits, I couldn’t help but remember the times when Bae has told me tidbits of his Black History notes. He gained some knowledge from his undergrad studies. He learned more insight from his intentionally diverse, Christian community that’s focused on social justice and racial reconciliation. The rest he has learned because Bae is educated AF and just likes to read up!
Every now and then, he tries to tell me something. My replies are “Cool.” “Wow.” “Nope, I didn’t know that.” “That’s amazing!” It’s usually sincerity with a dash of sarcasm.Why is it that my man without melanin keeps telling me things that I don’t know?! This has bugged me to no end that MY history is not my own and I can’t humbly hear it from the mouth of someone who shares my heart, but not my heritage.
When it comes to finding our identity, black people have a natural disconnect to our lineage because of slavery. As I read HuffPost Black Voices articles and listen to NPR, I realize it’s the closest I’ll get to conversations I never got to have with my late grandfather about his family of sharecroppers and our obscure ancestry. In contrast, Bae can directly trace his roots to Northern European Wypipo Land of Wherever.
Result of convo: While I dare not squash his genuine excitement for learning about pieces of history I identify with, this conversation allowed him to hear how sensitive these topics were for me. I acknowledged my jealousy of him knowing his own history when I inherently don’t. For now, all I know is that I’m black mixed with black and both of us are here for it.
The Welcome Mat
I enjoy other ethnicities and cultures, even hipsterdom and the like. When you’re a black woman, you almost don’t have a choice to embrace other worlds and for people to absorb a bit of yours along the way.
With an easy transition into other subcultures, I forget how it may feel to come into an environment that’s unfamiliar. False. I don’t forget, but I can occasionally forget to put out the welcome mat for my own world.
Bae and I recently went to a concert with friends. The music was dope (#Plug for Jackson music scene) and it was definitely a cookout atmosphere. I automatically went into a dance number with another friend beside me and somehow left Bae stranded in the sea of swag surfin’ homies. He was fine but it didn’t change the fact that I left him without a guide.
How do you or your partner feel in the other’s environment? Our conversation centered around the need for “permission” to jump in or how to give comfort without being awkward, extra, or giving the appearance of appropriating. In the course of writing this blog, I’ve sent Bae at least 2 SOS text messages:
Me: Bruh, if one more Northface jacket walks up in this coffee shop…
2 hours later…
Me: Update — There are actual black people here now! You don’t have to come lol. We multiply at night. Typical. I forgot.
Result of convo: Remember to pull out the Welcome Mat and commence continual onboarding. Examples: I teach dance moves that we’ll break into at the next shindig. He teaches me how to shop at a Columbia store and how to order coffee at Starbucks because homegirl has never learned. I speak ⅔ fluent languages: Proper English, Ebonics, and Dora, but not venti espresso Chemex latte.
Take the leap into un-Columbused territory and have the tough conversations with your partner. Have grace for shortcomings, potential ignorance, and get ready to own up to your true feeling. Even if your boo is of the same race or socioeconomic background, it’s still a journey to learn about how race has shaped your worldview while creating intimacy in your communication.
Bae is still putting up with me so I’m not out of the woods yet! Drop any conversation pointers in the comments or @ me. I have sent for you so you are allowed to come for me 😉
11 thoughts on “3 Hard Conversations to Have When Bae is White”
Alyssa J Miller
Almost 10 years in with my white chocolate…sweet to see a younger sister take a lovingly light spin to what can be weighty, difficult waters to tread. Blessings, and thank you for the read!
Nikki, so glad you enjoyed the piece– and I’m definitely into that equality research. #DataDontLie #GottaShowReceipts
Nikki, thank you for your comments. I am aware of some of the statistical inequalities by race regarding wealth. Nor do I deny such inequalities. But that was not what I was getting at in my earlier comment in this thread. Indeed, I find that statistics, though helpful, risk removing the human component from race discussions. Essentially, we should not ignore someone’s personal experience of poverty then hold statistics in their face to tell them that their race and, therefore, they themselves are better off than they should be. That is merely cruel. Rather, we should show compassion to the poor, whatever their racial background.
My earlier comment on poor whites was merely to point out that the stereotype Ms. Hall uses in her article is not an accurate stereotype of whites as a whole. Ms. Hall is a brilliant and humorous writer, and her stereotype is, no doubt, an accurate portrayal of many whites and people from other ethnicities. Oddly enough, though, it describes a culture that Ms. Hall, because of her geographic location and the background of the man she is dating, is probably more familiar with than many whites would be. Indeed, in rural parts of the country, many whites don’t regularly shop at Columbia stores or Starbucks. The importance of keeping that discrepancy in mind is that if discussions on privilege, etc., are based on the idea that all whites are the same and have equal access to wealth, the discussions will only alienate large swathes of the American population. And, moreover, those discussions will misdiagnose the needs and struggles of individual Americans.
Chellese, thank you for this practical, personal, and hilarious piece!!
Frank and DCStudent, I would commend to you Raj Chetty’s (among many others’) research on the equality of opportunity for a fuller exploration of Chellese’s insight on generational wealth.
Regardless of personal experience, the data is undeniable that inequalities by race in homeownership, income, household wealth, etc. are significance and pervasive.
Just wanted to add that a lot of Causcasion people are poor. I work in a rural hospital, and one of my male coworkers in the Laundry Department is struggling to not go to jail for child support, and he’s working full-time to try to pay it.
The idea that whites – like people of any other color – are one monolithic group is absurd.
Why is it assumed by blacks that, because I am (or anybody else is) white, we have loads of “generational wealth” at our whim? That’s absurd.
My wife & I are in our mid-50s. We both grew up poor. Neither of us have ever received anything, financially, from our parents. Nothing. No down-payment for a house. No free car. No free education. Nothing. And we don’t resent our parents for that, nor do we resent people of other races or financial standings.
Both of us have always, since our teens, been “at least” full-time employed. At one time, when our kids were teenagers, we were both working 3 jobs. We have held and advanced in the same jobs, because of hard work and diligence. We are both college educated, and I have a graduate degree – all of which we paid for.
Any American, of any color, can do what we’ve done.
Very humorous approach to a many times all too serious topic! Great read Chelle!
We are white. We know a lot of Dutch background people, and they love to talk about how Dutch people clawed their way up from nothing in Canada and the USA in the 30s and 40s and how nobody is as stingy/tight as a Dutchman. Well, excuse me, but I grew up in a typical white Detroit family that had what we needed but not much extra (we did have a couple of car trips here and there). Dad went bankrupt because of a partner who fleeced him, and I know what it’s like to stretch grocery dollars. Then I married a seminary student and we lived on very little money in a neighborhood nobody at my suburban church wanted to drive into. We ate a lot of biscuits and cornbread and bought almost all our clothing and furniture at thrift stores (or found the latter on trash day on the curb). We were happy. We raised 6 kids and God blessed us and we did okay.
Our daughter married a black man and we proceeded to read a lot of books and articles recommended by him and intended to drive out any remaining racism we didn’t know that we had. All I can say is: be honest but kind to your boyfriend’s family – especially if they are going to be your family. They won’t all know that watermelon jokes aren’t funny (as I tried to explain to my dad). They may not have ever had even one long conversation with someone who wasn’t white (I didn’t until I was 18 and had a job). Be patient and educate them as you can (or overlook the elderly ones who may never learn?) Our family ended up ripped apart by a misunderstanding that I tried and tried to clear up (between him and another family member).
It’s kind of like learning about Canadians – I now have Canadian daughters-in-law (from Dutch background). We never learned much about Canadian history and most Americans know NOTHING about Canada, nor do they care. They get on fine with their lives without this knowledge. I think, unfortunately, its the same for whites – we learn almost nothing about black culture, traditions, ways of thinking or doing things, and since life goes along fine, we don’t see a reason to care.
Well, I’ve studied Canadian history now (a whole new perspective on the War of 1812, believe me!) and I’ve studied about black culture/history. I want to understand. I want to learn. I want to love and be loved.
While I appreciate the author’s deep insight into cross-cultural relationships, and the light-hearted way she discusses difficult challenges, I would politely caution against the stereotype of whites that she makes in this article. The article, when coupled with the title, portray being “white” as being like her boyfriend. But the simple truth is that not all whites have regular access to all-expenses paid trips, Winnebagos, or even urban coffeshops. Many whites are impoverished and have long family histories of being impoverished. To portray them all as being rich can come across as being insensitive.
That said, I commend the author for her honesty, including her openness about struggling with prejudice against non-blacks in coffee shops.
She sounds like a truly remarkable and intelligent person, and I sincerely wish her and her boyfriend the best! I look forward to hearing more of their journey in life together.
I love this article! I’m married to a Filipina-American and we have 3 beautiful daughters. One day, I happened to walk past the room while my wife was homeschooling our kids and realized that she was teaching black history. My first thought was that I should be teaching that subject but I was glad that she took an interest in my culture as well. Once again, great story!