1.07.2013

Guest Post: My Advice for a Black Woman Whose White Boyfriend "Just Used the N-Word"

I posted some of this partly because it resonated, and partly because it amused.  You can read the full post at We Are Respectable Negroes:
Dear Prudence, the advice column at Slate has a case that I thought worthy of engaging to start the week. Prudence offered up some reasonable--and I think very careful thinking--in response to a black woman whose white boyfriend called one of her friends a "nigger."

"Unspeakable," the woman who wrote Prudence ended her communication with the following: "He came to me and apologized profusely and had tears in his eyes while doing so. I accepted his apology because it was completely out of character for him, but I am now questioning our relationship. What do you think?

Channeling my best guest columnist voice, here are my thoughts on the matter. What advice would you give her?
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I can only imagine your hurt at having someone you care for use such language. One of the challenges of the post civil rights era, and especially the "post racial" multicultural moment where we as a society have internalized a "colorblind" set of scripts and rules for public discourse, is that white Americans have created bogeyman outliers who they can easily mock and deride as "evil" racists, "those people," or throwback outliers.

The reality is far more troubling and challenging: the racist is looking at us in the mirror, he or she is our friend, neighbor, relative, or colleague. In many instances, white racism has simply moved to the "backstage" where it is couched in racial humor, tweeted online as a "joke," makes itself polite by using the language of "bad culture," white privilege laced opines about "American individualism," the Horatio Alger myth, or "real America."

Contemporary white racism also slips out in casual conversation when said person thinks they are among like minded people. This is a double hurt in your case because the great reveal was by someone who you consider an intimate. You had presumed that this white man who loves a black woman would not use such speech to describe another black person. You were proven wrong.

On these matters, my decision-rule is a simple one. People are what they do. People who say racist things are racists. People who say homophobic things are anti-gay. People who say sexist things are sexist. Of course, there are ranges of behavior here. A person who calls someone a nigger, and is then apologetic about it, is a different type of racist than someone who holds a Klan card. However, both party's attitudes and beliefs flow from the same fetid waters. In many ways, the latter is simply more honest and direct than the former about what is a basic disrespect towards the humanity and dignity of black and brown people.

Your boyfriend is a racist. I will repeat that observation: your boyfriend is a racist. At present, "racist" is a word that has been so overused and misapplied (largely because of the Right's cooptation of the word "racism" in order to make the category so narrow, twisted, and bizarre, as to only apply in the case of newspeak and other related white victimology fictions such as "reverse racism"), we are often afraid to use it even when necessary and accurate. In the case of your boyfriend, it is clear that he harbors anti-black animus which has crossed over into racist speech.

The question then becomes, what are you going to do about it? How do his attitudes make you feel? Are you willing to be the person who recuperates him? Alternatively, are you willing to concede that people are complicated, contradictory, and often befuddling? Your boyfriend would not be the first (or the last) white man to "love" an individual black person but have contempt for black people. Are you comfortable with accepting that fact?

...In your letter, you mentioned your boyfriend's obvious upsetness and crying. When white people are confronted about white privilege, and also in conversations where their racism has been exposed, there are several common deflections deployed.

Tears are common. Instead of being reflective about their own values and ill-behavior, crying is a way of making you sympathize with them, and the hurt that comes with being embarrassed for their bigoted and racist behavior as either active or passive supporters of white supremacy. Your boyfriend's performance is a way of Whiteness to recenter itself in the conversation. Do not fall for the theatrics. Ask him to stop crying and to talk in a cogent and direct way about his values, beliefs, attitudes, and why he called someone your friend a nigger.

I would also like you to reflect on your 2 years of knowing him, and 6 months of a dating relationship. People show us who they are in little ways. What other things has your boyfriend said about black people? Has he ever said that you were "special" or "one of the good ones?" What is his social circle like? Who are his friends? What are his politics like?

Racists typically give many tells or hints as to what their true nature is. I doubt that this incident is the first one revealing your boyfriend's negative attitudes towards black people. Racism is not spontaneous; it is a learned behavior which is internalized and reproduced both consciously and subconsciously, as well as through day-to-day behavior. Are you willing to love someone with such a basic flaw in their character? You will have to decide.

27 comments:

  1. First, Bravo (claps loudly)...

    If this lady doesn't dump this dude I say she is the first 2013 nominee for the 'Nita Jade Hanson' award...

    One of my friends broke up with her otherwise nice white BF b/c he wouldn't check his mom's racism. Her attitude was that she clearly couldn't have black kids with a white racist grandma (who used the excuse of the mean black boss as the reason why she had issues). If you are going to have black children with a black person you have to be wiling to stand up to racism and defend your spouse and children. Nothing else is acceptable.

    And you have to love the butt hurt of a racist getting upset for getting called a racist.

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    1. If this lady doesn't dump this dude I say she is the first 2013 nominee for the 'Nita Jade Hanson' award...

      No, you didn't!!!

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    2. "No, you didn't!!!"

      Yes, she did! lol

      I agree on that. The shit is tiring especially when you trying to vet people to date. Good advice.

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  2. I should say, for my friend, it was her first and last time crossing the color line. I can see why when you consider all of the things you must do to vet a person, having to see if they can stand up to their racist family is not something you want to add to the list.

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  3. That was life throwing her a huge red flag. May she read it and act accordingly.

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  4. With some people like the woman discussed, the biggest mistake that is assumed about racism is that its cruel and obvious.Racism,unfortunately, can also be "sweet" and sneaky.

    I had a cousin talked about a former White classmate of her who made a "What do you call( fill in joke)......?" and soon as she gave her the answer to her joke, my cuz dropped her friendship. Supposedly,the White girl was upset about it and begged for her friendship with no success. Now this same classmate is trying to make Black friends (or enemies shall I say), by trying to be down with them.

    I had a conversation with a friend of mine about Mel Gibson's racist rape rants about Black men.She thought that I should sympathize with him because of what his racist father may have told him. Sure, it'd obvious that its embedded in conscious,but I can't do it. How many times have this guy be forgiven for what he said? Let's see..he mocked gays,Jews and Black people.Even if Mel's dad was a racist, it doesn't always mean the child has to be one. Besides he's a grown man. He knows right from wrong.

    Far as that woman, idk.. I don't think that I would be comfortable with a non Black man using it and as well as Black people using it.There's no kind of love with that word no matter what manner its used in. I just see this womans dilemma as an abused woman: they'll tell you I'm sorry, peace will come around for a while ,then they'll have another argument and the boyfriend will do another Mel Gibson on her.

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    1. I just see this womans dilemma as an abused woman: they'll tell you I'm sorry, peace will come around for a while ,then they'll have another argument and the boyfriend will do another Mel Gibson on her.

      Pretty much. People often take forgiveness as their I-can-get-away-with-it card. That's why "I'm sorry" has officially become the most meaningless phrase in the world, with "I love you" coming in at a close second.

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    2. " That's why "I'm sorry" has officially become the most meaningless phrase in the world, with "I love you" coming in at a close second."

      Straight. Dead easy to say; meaning it is a whole 'nother story.

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  5. The boyfriend crying and apologizing was just him being emotionally manipulative. These stories of white people in relationships with POC saying/doing racist things are everywhere. I can't figure out why these POC are so damn surprised when it happens. To be honest, I'm more surprised when a white person doesn't do something racist. POC need to stop being naive about white racism and white privilege.

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    1. All of this. I've noticed that some people (both Black man and Black women) can be so caught up in having a non-Black (esp. a White) partner, that they let shyt slide too much. I bet she wouldn't have let a Black boyfriend call one of her friends a 'bytch/ho/fag/etc' and still have him around even after a bawling-apology, yet here she is giving this N-word dropping dude a second chance. Look at Terrence Howard now singing about how he's happy he's finally free of his racist ex-wife. I REALLLLLLY doubt her bigoted colours only came out after the wedding, but hey! "Iz gotz me a white (wo)man!"

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    2. Well Terrance Howard is all about the white women. First wife was white. Don't know if she was a racist but he knows his priority is to have something white and he should be willing to take his lumps without whining since the easiest solution would be not to go there.

      Although I'm not sure what self-respecting black woman wants anything to do with Mr. Babywipes.

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    3. Terrance Howard is a confirmed woman beater. There is a 911 call of his ex calling for help and him attacking her. I wouldn't believe anything he says. Plus there has been other signs that he has issues with women and colorism.

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    4. Ugh. Yet another story of a Black woman not seeing the frigging signs lit up in front of her:
      http://ohnblog.com/newohnblog/2013/01/08/in-what-in-the-entire-fk-news/

      Also, I never cared about Howard. Something about him gives me the creeps. Just that, like Halle, we're only hearing what a racist p.o.s. the ex supposedly is after the break-up. *side-eye* Mega-convenient.

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    5. I had to read this story twice over before writing a posting my opinion about it.Now that I've read it.I think that I want to vomit.

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    6. *Typos * meant to say "writing my opinion.." in line one and intended to put a comma between the words " it" and "I" on he second line

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    7. Nichtommi,

      Don't know about his first wife being like that, but it was said that his most recent ex wife was----at least that is what he claimed. Terrance said that he was called the N word,said that this wife never wanted to be s stepmother to N kids ( His last wife looked Amerasian.Still,she had nerve if that was the case)and threatened to get members of a Russian mob to hurt him. I don't know about T but in case he was a guy who downed Black women, this should be a somber lesson for him and Black guys that do it.

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    8. Either way, let's say I believe him for a minute - there was no sign at all prior to the marriage that she had less than savoury thoughts about Black people? She waited until the ring was on and the ink was dry on the marriage license before she started going in about him and his 'N' children? Not buying it.

      People keep letting shit slide with their arm-candy partners until it's too big for Stevie Wonder to miss. And that woman in the link I gave is one very extreme example.

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    9. I'm sorry. He COULD be telling the truth, but I don't believe Terence Howard for one minute. I prefer to see him ALONE cause he is nothing but grief to women and have no respect for them. He hit her and she fought back so now all of a sudden she is a racist? So you had no problem with it until then? hmmm doubt it. My guess is he wanted sympathy and got it from the very women he wants nothing to do with.

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  6. I agree with everyone that says there is no way this is the first sign he as racist. No one starts with the n word. She just ignored/excused the other signs. Hope this is a wake up call and she leaves this bigot.

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    1. Nope it wast just the first sign she chose to read...

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  7. I graduated college at the beginning of the 90's. I had been going out with my boyfriend at the time for over a year. We were graduating the same weekend, but I was moving two three hours down the road to go live in Los Angeles. He was what they (still do I guess) call "Persian" in LA - nice pretty word for Iranian. I wonder how that community fared post 9/11 but I digress.

    I figured that his family wouldn't be too happy with me, as his father - very wealthy successful doctor and business owner in LA - was coming to our graduation weekend and would meet me for the first time. My boyfriend was in denial. I was surprised when his father was very polite and even invited my BFF to join us for his son's graduation dinner.

    So fine. But I still said to my boyfriend - your father and your family however polite and nice are not interested in their eldest son getting serious with a Black woman. But since I was moving soon, and knew the relationship wouldn't last, and I was more interested in starting a career anyways - I didn't trip.

    Well the boyfriend insisted that everything was ok, and when visiting me in LA, I was invited to his parent's house for dinner. I reluctantly went, knowing this would probably be the experience that would finally pull the scales from his eyes. Well despite all the politeness there were comments like "she's a smart one" after asking about my career plans etc and other of those "spidey sense" things that I know you all know what I'm talking about - but sailed right over my boyfriend's head.

    When dropping me back off at my place, I explained to him the things that were said and how his family "wasn't feeling it" etc despite all the politeness going on. When he finally confronted his parents a few days after that dinner, I get a call from him crying and upset, him finally realizing his parents were huge racists when they finally spelled it out for him. See they thought me graduating and moving away would end our relationship so they were going to be polite and just ride it out, breathe a sigh of relief and try to set him up with a Persian Princess.

    He was given an ultimatum: either drop his Black girlfriend or he was going to get cut off. Did I mention he was from a wealthy family who was pretty much supporting him and he'd never had to work a day in his life? (yeah I know, I was young and he was pretty). Well I told him look we aren't that serious, and while I enjoyed being with him, I unlike some people had to work on a career and don't get your lifeline cut off on my account.

    Well he did. And not so much about me either, which was fine, but because he could no longer be beholden to racist bigoted people, even if they were his parents. He ended up getting cut off, struggled a lot but managed to be ok, get a job and start for the first time being an adult. I was happy to have been the catalyst for change, and we kept in touch over the subsequent years.

    Now if things had been different, either us moving on in life together as a couple, or that we were more serious in our relationship than we were by the time we graduated, I would have been the one laying down the ultimatums. I remember mostly wanting him to come to the truths about his family for his own sake, more than mine - since I was already moving on at that point.

    How that guy grew up in a home like that - I won't repeat the things his parents said about me and my kind - and didn't fall victim to their racism, I'll never know. And when it came down to parting ways or toeing the line he bucked the traces and straight up refused to be any part of their illness. I think his starry-eyed idealism and his views that there is good in everyone managed to shield him somehow. But it was interesting that when he finally saw the truth he reacted the way he did.

    Can only hope that old girl from that post will finally see and accept the truth about her BF and hop the hell on outta there!

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    1. I wish that I could read more stories like yours, Jojo. It's depressing to constantly read about people either treating their POC partners like crap while their partners put up with it.

      What I'm learning from posts like these, is that it is helping with my deprogramming...because I like white men, but I have never dated one. Stories like these make me regard them with a lot of suspicion and lately I've been getting angrier at whites as a group for the things that they do to other people. I don't hate them, but the callousness and lack of self examination while still feeling entitled to the love and attention of POC is appalling.

      I just want to say thanks because posts like these are really valuable and will help me to vet friends and potential partners more closely.

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    2. @ Jojo

      Was he 1st gen? Because with some of these Asian kids who actually grow up with white kids - unlike their parents - I wonder if they get some insight their parents can't.

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    3. Hey K, sorry for the late reply - I was offline for a little while.

      I'm thinking first gen. I know his father had a heavy accent still, and I'm not sure his mother spoke any English. Both he and his younger brother and sister where pretty much assimilated.

      Truth be told, I'd never seen anyone so shocked at those racist revelations - it was almost inconceivable to him that anyone - parents or not - could have such deep prejudices.

      But here's something interesting. During the months after graduation, and before that fateful dinner, his father went to bat for me when he heard (through my BF) that I was being ripped off at this car repair joint.

      My BF was still living at that college town 2 hrs away, and I'd called him upset that it was going to take forever to get my car back because of how much they were charging and how extensive they said the repairs were going to be. Just a regular phone call, I wasn't asking for help, just venting steam while I waited you know?

      Next thing I know his father charges into the repair shop, cusses out the the mechanics and the boss and errbody in Farsi - they all happened to be Iranian too - and magically, I get my car repaired for next to nothing and in record time too.

      So go figure on that. I guess it is a simple case of I'll be polite to you and even help you out of a jam but don't marry my son kinda thing. Racism hardly makes any sense and is for sure not logical.

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    4. I guess it is a simple case of I'll be polite to you and even help you out of a jam but don't marry my son kinda thing.

      Sounds like!

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    5. I was thinking he was hoping for her to get in her little car and drive away as a thank you.

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  8. By the way, did anyone read the comments on the Dear Prudence article? White folks were lining about round the block to tell her not to dump the guy. One actually said a "racist wouldn't come back crying and apologizing."

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