This Week I counsel a Multiracial, Asian/White man whose White Girlfriend can’t understand why her use of racial slurs upsets him.
I’m a mixed raced Asian/White male from the UK. Throughout all my life I have inaccurately received black racial abuse and have mostly taken it on the chin because of its ignorance and labelling of my friends as a ‘joke’. Whenever I have received Indian abuse I have usually kicked off and fought so I believe that’s why I receive less of it. However recently while involved in a 3-month relationship with my white girlfriend after an argument which I thought was resolved she said “Are we going to get food or are you going to be a n***er about it?” Horrified I asked her to repeat what she said, and she did without any sort of flinching or shame. I used to remember she used the word in terms of rap culture, but I told her that I would break up with her if she continued. She subsequently called me one. I therefore broke up with her, but I’ve been receiving abuse from peers (all white btw) saying I was oversensitive and it’s a fake excuse to dump someone. Am I crazy or am I justified???? I’m so confused, and I’m made to feel guilty for standing up to racism. I’d like to know if anyone else has had a similar experience. I also warned her about similar behaviour at the start of the relationship. Thanks—
Let me start by saying, no—you are not crazy. You did indeed stand up to racism and were absolutely justified in doing so. I wholeheartedly believe that there are two sides to every disagreement, but where race and racism are concerned, the White person must defer to the person of color. As non-White people—even those of us who are “mixed with” White—we have an inherent awareness of race that White people have never had, never needed. Therefore, racial slights-intended or not—are in the gut of the recipient, not the aim of the perpetrator.
Lack of intent does not preclude racism either. In this case, your girlfriend knew how you felt about the slur and used it anyway. Possibly it was a gesture of flirtatious provocation, but she missed the mark. She showed her true colors—no pun intended—and used a word she knew to be hurtful to you regardless of how she interprets the word. “I didn’t mean anything by it,” is never good enough. When racism is interpreted and experienced, then it is racism, period. Obliviousness is its own kind of racism.
It sounds as if you appear somewhat ambiguous and have therefore had to field all kinds of racism. Your girlfriend has faced nothing of the kind. Adding insult to injury is the fact that your white friends as sided with your girlfriend. Clearly, neither they nor your girlfriend considered the racial slur a big deal. Most likely, they all wondered why you were bothered by it, seeing as you’re not Black. This is what I call a divide-and-conquer approach to racial name-calling—the notion that a person should not be offended by a slur directed at a group to which they don’t belong. But, as you and I know, racism is racism. When you are aware of it, either from childhood experiences or from growing “woke” later in life, it all offends. There is no place for racist speech in any relationship, especially a multiracial one. As for your girlfriend’s connecting the “N” word to rap culture, I say—in my characteristically non-judgmental way—um, huh? Even if she has a deep, personal connection to rap culture—and everything you’ve mentioned about her suggests the opposite is true—the “N” word should be off limits, period. (I am personally against the word’s use in any context.)
My guess is that your girlfriend and dismissive, White peers were adhering to a group dynamic where everything is fair game to riff on or talk trash about. The unspoken rule is that everyone has to laugh along. If you take umbrage, you’re uptight. This dynamic usually occurs among teens or twenty-somethings, but it can strike among people of all ages. If you care about any of these friends, if any one of them is important, worth keeping, and can be trusted, you might engage that person privately in a dialogue about what happened with your girlfriend. One on one, you might have an easier time getting your point of view across. Otherwise, you are best off surrounding yourself with people who respect you, who respect people of diverse backgrounds and who recognize that racist epithets are never okay in any context.