Racism: Outsider, Turned Insider

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Image: Flickr / Greg Timm

It’s hard to speak about everyone’s experience, but as a white woman, married to dark-skinned man…I’ve had some experiences that most wouldn’t be comfortable listening to or acknowledging.  I am part of a group of whites who have married into color…who have seen the other side of the story and who have had their perspectives of “race” changed forever.  Our senses become heightened and we become more aware of prejudice and racism. Growing up, I cared about race…I thought I cared about it a lot.  I was the kid who would speak up (if I felt I could get away with it) and take a stand against racism.   But being in a relationship with someone who faces racism everyday and having a daughter who has that path laid out for her by many Americans, I began to see racism in a new light.  Taking a stand is not optional anymore. When someone makes a slight at your child, denies your husband a job or promotion, and spews slurs in his direction, you instantly feel your heart begin to pound. You step outside of your previous reality, lose sight of any worries and prepare yourself to kick some you know what!

But that’s not the most upsetting part of your story as an outsider, turned insider.   The most upsetting part is how people will turn against you and how powerless you’ll feel when others fail to acknowledge your concerns.   Sure, you knew that your mom asked you to lock the doors when a black man walked by, or that your uncle used racial slurs on occassion, but deep down, you hoped that it wasn’t racism, you thought that if they only knew about brown people, they would learn to appreciate the differences.  So you try to explain, you try to let them into a little piece of your world, clue them in on racism…but they don’t want to know and they don’t want to change.  For many of us, what happens is like a sort of racism by association. You become the anti-white…believed to be against all white people.   By becoming an insider with people of color, you often become an outsider amongst whites.   They start defending themselves and attacking you.  Here’s what it looks like:

  • “You take their side over ours”
  • “You would rather be with a _______ (insert slur)?”
  • “You’re a traitor to your race”
  • “You think everything is racist”
  • “Are you sure it’s racism?  It sounds like you’re just being hyper-sensitive.”
  • “I’m not racist, there’s nothing wrong with saying the n-word, it just means ‘ignorant’”
  • “I’m not racist, I have  _______ (insert race) friends!”
  • “You never talked about this kind of crap before you were with HIM!”
  • “What, you think you’re Mexican now?”
  • “Why are you speaking Spanish, you’re not Mexican you know?”
  • “You do everything he wants, stupid Mexicans always control there wives”

…and the list goes on and on. It gets to the point where every family get together makes you wary of the coming attacks, racially charged comments and finger pointing.  Family, friends and even strangers on the street feel they have the right to point out the differences between you. They feel they are justified in calling you out as a “race traitor” although they might not use those words.  They feel confident in their belief that their hostility towards your relationship has nothing to do with racism.  Then comes the onslot of offensive questions and comments:

  • “Is it true that ______ (insert race) have/are/do ______ (insert bizare sexual stereotypes)?”
  • “I heard that ______ (insert race) steal/lie/cheat/beat there wives.”
  • “If they don’t believe in ______ (insert religion), they’ll burn in hell.”
  • “Your kids will suffer because they’re mixed.  If this hurts you, just think about what you’re doing to them.”
  • “If they don’t like your husband at work, he must be doing something wrong.”
  • “I don’t see color, I just see people.”
  • “Why should I have to learn about their history, they don’t learn mine!”
  • “______ (insert race) are always crying ‘poor me’!  Why should they get special attention?”
  • “I don’t think racism is even a problem, ______ (insert race) people just like to complain.”

To our family and friends, they’ve only said these things a “few times”, so what’s the big deal, right?   But, while they’re saying it for the first time (or 5th), we’re hearing it for the 20th, 30th, 40th time. We’re hearing these things again and again, and it’s hurtful.

Being a newbie insider, someone who “gets” what racism looks like from the other side of the page, it’s painful to think about what a lifetime of these dismissive comments and questions could feel like.  It gives us a unique perspective about why so many people of color might feel hopeless or doubt their worth.  As insiders, we begin to find that our voices are no longer heard, but instead, are stifled and reacted to with hostility. This part of racism keeps people down and makes them question whether they’re just being “too sensitive”.  The aim is to immobilize us and snuff out our opinions, but we can’t let our voices go unacknowledged.  It’s for this very reason, this stifling, that I created this blog and why I believe that we all need to make our voices heard.

Comments

  1. Karima Heraoua says

    Love your post, and I feel exactly the same sometimes. I am white and married a man from another race and religion and have mixed race children. I find it very hurtful when listening to racist comments especially when it is your own family! Occasionally I try to argue back but quite simply they don't want to listen so there is not much point! Each family get together it is people asking personal questions that is uncomfortable, because they don't ask the other family members questions! I think my kids find it harder because they are not what you would call dark skinned, two are white and one has what I would call an olive complexion. The only difference is they have muslim names, so this is where they are noticed differently at school!
    PS Keep up your good work, love reading your posts. karima xx

    • Chantilly Pati&ntild says

      Thank you so much for the comment Karima! Sometimes I feel all alone in this, which is why I started this blog. I'm so glad that I'm finding supportive people online who understand the interracial mindset. It's absolutely terrible the types of humiliating and upsetting questions and comments that our families feel justified in burdening us with. I can't tell you how many times I've felt like I had to turn down questions from family about my husband's anatomy! I completely understand you on not being heard…and just think, this is what 'our people' are doing to minorities…it's terrible! I hear ya on raising biracial kids too…luckily my daughter is still young, so she doesn't really get it yet, but this is something that we'll be talking about a lot on the new multicultural blog. If you haven't seen it yet, I do have a post that gives some advice on the topic… http://www.biculturalmom.com/2011/02/12/how-to-ra

  2. Latinaish says

    Thanks for writing this Chantilly – it's not an easy topic. I relate to a lot of what you said even though I come from a very open-minded family. My sisters, parents and even grandparents accepted my husband without hesitation — but even so, I've experienced some of what you talk about. The funny thing is, racism isn't always easy to identify. It isn't as obvious as a racial slur full of hatred, (or like the time a complete stranger called me a "race traitor"…) — Sometimes racism is borne of simple ignorance and misinformation – pre-conceived notions, which need to be corrected… like you said – something as simple as that impulse to lock one's car doors.

    As a white person, if we don't get a job, we never wonder if it was because of our skin color – but as a brown person, or a person married to a brown person, you become hypersensitive to the possibility. Sometimes it is because of skin color, and sometimes it's not – but there's always that unsettling feeling that it's a possibility.

    I see people in interracial/bicultural marriages as ambassadors or diplomats almost. I think we have a responsibility to use our marriage as a teaching tool for others who haven't had the learning opportunity that we've had. I know it's unfair that we're burdened with that on top of the difficulty of making our marriages work, but if a few minds are opened because of it, it is worth it.

  3. Chantilly Pati&ntild says

    Thanks for the comment Tracy. I'm with you, we do have a unique opportunity to share 'race' with our family and friends and also unique insights from both sides of the story. At times, that position can be frustrating and demoralizing when you are met with many negative responses, but it's also encouraging when you see that you're able to get through to someone. I know that constantly explaining themselves and going unheard can be common for many minorities and it's upsetting to imagine a lifetime of it.

    I truly believe though, that talking about it builds awareness and that there are lots of white like us out there who want to learn more, but don't know where to go for information. If you haven't been raised around people of color and especially if you've been raised hearing lots of stereotypes, it can be intimidating and uncomfortable to ask the questions or make the connections that would help you to find understanding. I think that online communities where colors collide can be that link between us and deflate racism and prejudice. We most definitely are ambassadors between communities. :)

  4. Beth O says

    It just hurts so much more when you know how those kinds of attitudes do impact someone you love so much.
    I'm lucky enough with my parents and family I guess. Remember your blog post about buying your daughter "black dolls"… I did that years ago with my (white) daughter, and when my mom asked me why I said "if she falls in love with a black man her babies would look sort of like this." My mom was speechless but I know she tries to understand. Things like suddenly locking the car doors when driving through certain parts of town were not really questioned before, and it's uncomfortable being the one to bring this sort of thing to their attention. A few years ago I married a Mexican and my aunt asked me once why would I want to be in with those people. It's hard not to be angry but I think she just really wanted to understand. I answered her truthfully, when you marry a person you marry their culture and their family too. Something about my husband's family resonates with me and reminds me of my own family: large, loud, singing/eating/drinking/loving and yes working a bit harder than other people or maybe than is really wise, proud of who they are without being pretentious, smart although didn't get the opportunity for a lot of education, genuine, honest, and above all devoted to each other. "Gente sencilla." My father said he could see what I mean. I take what small victories I can get. Maybe our generation is opening things up for future generations to be more courageous…

    • Chantilly Pati&ntild says

      Thanks for the comment Beth. About the black dolls, I've also gotten some shocked stares, but I thought it was important for my daughter because I don't want the stereotypes to exist for her. As a child I had dreams often taht I would marry a dark-skinned man (tall, dark and handsome as they say). One day, I asked my mother "What would you do if I married someone who isn't white?" Her response…"You better never marry a "n", I can't believe that you even saying this! How could you think about having a black (anatomy) inside you!?" Wow…this was when I was 12! Completely inappropriate discussion! I had never even thought about an act like this with anyone and it just shows you how deeply rooted fear is when it comes to race. Obviously there's some improvement since then and with her seeing us together as an interracial couple. It's just hurtful though and looking back I find it deeply offensive.

      When I married my husband, I felt like I was finally at home. Something had been missing all those years that his culture, language and family connections added ot my life. I totally get you on that and I agree that those victories with our families, however small, feel really good. I think we are more open than our families were and certainly our children will be light years ahead of us. :)

  5. Grace @HapaMama says

    Really insightful post, Chantilly! I can see how it must be for you to go from a position of being in the majority to really, really empathizing with the discriminated. This reminds me of my friend (a white male) who over heard a cashier berating a Filipina (his wife is also Filipina). Maybe those people will eventually come around, seeing a person of their ethnicity explaining the effects of racism.

    • Chantilly Pati&ntild says

      Grace, thank you so much.  I remember reading your post about that friend and it's a topic that I think about a lot.  I think that Tracy @@c23478901ef7115802ff8dd9b941b1a4:disqus made a good point that we are ambassadors of sorts.  Many times people don't want to hear what we have to say because they don't want to be called out on their prejudice, but every now and then we're able to get through to someone…and that is worth all the effort.  Bit by bit, many of my family members are changing…not as quickly as I would prefer, but I know they don't have the advantage of experiencing the 'insider' perspective that interracial couples are often blessed with.  Sometimes it just hard to be patient though, because it hurts so much.

      I'm so glad that I have discovered an online community that can understand where I'm coming from.  Just three short months ago…I felt so alone and attacked.  Thanks for the comment and understanding. ♥

  6. Flor Olivo says

    wow Chantilly. I love this post. I actually had a "white woman perspective on race" discussion this weekend. I think it was the most enlightening part of being in San Antonio. I realized I had many prejudices myself and I understood that these prejudices are hurdles placed by systems of oppression to deconstruct progress. I've always had this idea that I don't need to be saved by a white person, I never realized that white people who get involved in race relations aren't always trying to save people of color they genuinely want to co-exist and these issues impede that, then it goes a step further in having the integrity to stand for something you know is right. It's commendable that a person who has white privilege would choose to put that privilege aside to fight for a truth they can't deny. I personally think it speaks highly of your character as a human being. Thanks Chantilly. I am so happy I found you. 

    • Chantilly Pati&ntild says

      Thank you Flor.  I really appreciate that and that you're gaining trust in us, because there are many who want equality for the sake of those we love…our family, friends and children.  We're not out to "save" anyone, but instead to do our part in dismantling stereotypes and racism.  We cannot sit idly by anymore because the cause is too precious.  Thank you so much for reading and for your understanding. ♥

  7. LDNolasco says

    I have no children with my Dominican husband and at my age, I will probably not have any more, but I do have my grandchildren and feel most at home when they give me a hug and make me realize how much I am a part of their family. Because this is my second marriage (my first was to a Middle Easterner) I've been accused of being a "marriage tourist" but I am also better equipped to combat some of the ignorance. I can particularly relate to the "Why are you speaking Spanish? Are you [Dominican] now" comments from both whites and Latinos, to which I respond, "Yes, I'm Dominican now; my marriage has made me Dominican." That usually knocks people into stunned silence. My husband's family says it as a joke; he tells them, "She thinks she's Dominican" and his aunts reply, "Leave her alone! She can be Dominican if she wants!"

    • Chantilly Patiño says

      Lol…this story reminds me of one of my favorite movies, where an interracial family undergoes the strain of family criticism, but is finally validated when a nice tia insists, “You’re Greek now.”  Haha…you know the one I’m talking about…the interracial anthology, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”.  ;)  Still to this day, that is my favorite movie about interracial relationships and I wish that they could all have such happy endings.  I know what you’re going through, but I think the most important thing to remember is “be yourself” no matter what people think.  I know it’s not easy, but the worst thing I’ve ever done in my relationship is try to please people who criticized us.  My other advice is…get a blog!  It’s a great tool to vent, share and help others!  ;)  The fact is, if we don’t have welcoming ears in our close family and friends, than we need to seek understanding elsewhere.  This is a topic that not everyone can relate to and if you’re lucky enough to find someone who can empathize, hold onto them.  ;)  We all need to feel validated.

  8. Segmunroe says

    I like the posts I've read. The only issue I have is that you keep saying you're in an interracial relationship, but you're not you're in an interethnic. Most "latinos" are mixed with european heritage too and have varying skin tones in their own families. I know in mine we vary from fair skin blonde and blue/green eyes to a more olive complexion. Also in general I don't even believe there is such thing as race just differences in appearances and culture. Although, I'm aware that's offensive to some people as well because they like to embrace differences. I still think we can and there are definitely cultural differences I just don't think there is any actual biological evidence for classifying different "races."

  9. Segmunroe says

    I like the posts I’ve read. The only issue I have is that you keep saying you’re in an interracial relationship, but you’re not you’re in an interethnic. Most “latinos” are mixed with european heritage too and have varying skin tones in their own families. I know in mine we vary from fair skin blonde and blue/green eyes to a more olive complexion. Also in general I don’t even believe there is such thing as race just differences in appearances and culture. Although, I’m aware that’s offensive to some people as well because they like to embrace differences. I still think we can and there are definitely cultural differences I just don’t think there is any actual biological evidence for classifying different “races.”

    • Chantilly Pati&ntild says

      Thanks for the comment.  I do consider our relationship "interracial", not "interethnic".  "Race" may not be real in the physical sense, but unfortunately, this social construction is very real in the American psyche.  In our culture, Latinos are identified as a separate "race", as are "whites" and "blacks"…amongst others.  Because of this dilemma, calling it an interracial relationship makes the most sense, because it's not only our "ethnic" differences that set our relationship apart, but the racial prejudice that exists for us.  Let me put it this way…when two black people walk down the street together (of equal or similar shades) nobody questions whether they should be together…even if their ethnic backgrounds may be entirely different.  The same goes for two people of white or brown shades.  But when individuals of mixed shades walk hand in hand, it presents a unique set of situations and conflicts, thus…we are an "interracial" relationship.

  10. Guest says

    Wow- thank you for just saying it.  My family is a mix of Native American, Jewish, North Eastern European, African American, Puerto Rican, Dominican and Eastern European.  I believe we are all one Race, Human and that we have different ethnic groups.  I also know what it is like to have a waitress walk away in a restaurant when she sees me with my darker skinned grandchildren.  Thank you for working to educate.

    • Chantilly Pati&ntild says

      Thank you for the comment.  :)  I really appreciate the feedback and support from others who've been through similar situations.  The topics I talk about here aren't always the easiest to address, but I try to be sensitive, despite feeling jaded at times and I really want to share my honest feelings with individuals who either want to learn more or can relate to my experiences.  Thanks for reading. ♥

  11. Ccloveshack says

    Thank you very much for writing this!  I will email this to my husband so that he can read it and be encouraged too.

  12. Beth O says

    When I was up home I was aware that there were white people who took sides like this but I was able to live my life, go to school and work avoiding much time around these specific people. I am not saying there isn’t racism there but it is like we all know some people drink too much too, but it is not really ok. Also a lot of times it is somebody who’s shall we say challenged, anyway. When I moved to the south one of the things that was different is that I can no longer avoid these people. It seems to be everywhere I turn, otherwise normal people, and right in my face.
    In fact when I married my husband my parents have come along for the ride and their eyes have been opened to a lot of things. This is something they could have chosen not to deal with and I’m grateful. I have also found a church denomination which makes a point to give the kids positive messages. So I just try to take encouragement and a good environment from whom I can around here and hope it will be enough for my son to be ok.

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