Your Girlfriend’s Family Is Racist and You Should Probably Get the Hell Out of There

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Q:

How much do I need to engage with my serious girlfriend’s racist immediate family members? She is close with them, and I’ve spent time with them in the past (big holidays, etc.) since my own parents are lowkey, but put simply I no longer have the energy or inclination to do so, even though I love my gf. I chose her, not them. I have no love for them! She knows how I feel about this but it seems to weigh much more heavily on me than her. I’m also a queer POC whereas she & her whole family are very white.

A:

Friend, I am going to say something to you that is hard, but I’m going to say it with love. And I don’t mean love in an artificial way, I mean love like bell hooks defines in Teaching Community: “as a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect, and trust.” So I want you to read what I say knowing that even though I don’t know you, I care about you, I am committed to your well being, and to you knowing yourself and your worth. I feel responsible for you because as queer people of color, one of us is not free until we all are free. I respect you. And I trust you to do what you need to do with this advice. Maybe it will be helpful, maybe you will toss it out and ignore it. Both are totally fine actions, I just want you to know that it’s coming from love and not meant to hurt you.

You have to break up with her. Shorty, you’ve got to break up with her! You write, “She knows how I feel about this but it seems to weigh much more heavily on me than her.” If you’ve told her that her family’s racism bothers you so much that you “no longer have the energy or inclination” to spend time with them, and it’s still not a big deal to her, that should be a red flag. It’s not like this is her racist grandma who she only writes birthday cards to, this is her immediate family, and clearly they matter to her more than you. Get her out of your life NOW!

This is hard to take in! This is so so so so so hard to take in. Because she has pretty hair, or she smells good, or she’s got great goals and aspirations, or the sex is good, but she’s got to fucking go. You chose her, but in some very important ways, she did not choose you. I’m not going to say that a person who has close relationships with racists is a racist, but I will say that her family’s racist ideology played a formative role in her life. In some way, she is okay with that, if she doesn’t think it’s worth it to confront their racism. She is choosing them, and when things get hard, can you trust that the racism she grew up around won’t enter into your relationship? Even if she says she’ll never use [insert racial slur here], are you always going to be anxious when you get into disagreements that she might? What does that do to a relationship? Is that honestly a relationship you want to be in?

Listen pal, you and I know both know that a large part of what makes whiteness so insidious is that white people don’t see whiteness. When people of color call out racial oppression, we’re making a big deal out of nothing because whiteness isn’t seen as something used oppressively, it’s just seen as normal, no big deal. And because we live in a society where whiteness is the norm, sometimes, if we’re not being mindful, we can forget that whiteness is there. Like, of course, you’re not always going to think about how whiteness makes your girlfriend access wider privileges than you all the time, you’re in love! You shouldn’t have to think about it all the time.

But whiteness becomes glaringly visible when it’s used against you, and I don’t want that to happen to you. You don’t deserve to be partly loved by someone who thinks its okay to be in community with racists. You deserve to be wholly loved by a girl who loves you and your brownness and your badass hair and all the other great things about you. I believe you will find that girl or non-binary babe or whoever you want it to be, but my good, good, friend, this girl is not her. You need to break up with her. She’s gotta go. You’re worth 100 of her. Take that knowledge, and make this brave step for yourself. You deserve it.

Alaina is a 20-something working on a PhD in Performance as Public Practice. They are a mom to three cats, they listen to a lot of NPR and musicals, and they spend a lot of time on Pinterest lusting over studio apartments. They are actively trying to build A Brand on twitter @alainamonts. One day, they will be First Lady of the United States.

Al(aina) has written 209 articles for us.

43 Comments

  1. I feel like it’s a pretty wide leap to assume the white girlfriend is secretly (or has the burning potential to be) a raging racist because she won’t cut off her family completely. Her family’s behavior does not necessarily determine her own. I think this is A) giving advice based on bare bones information as to the degree of racism we are discussing (it’s one thing to put up with, say, a brother who occasionally makes stupid racist jokes, and another to put up with a parent who’s a KKK sympathizer) and B)dismissing the strong emotional bonds one has to their family. It’s no small order to cut off one’s immediate family completely. I think the answer to this question really depends on how much time is being spent with the family (maybe the asker can opt out of these visits if they are causing too much stress), and what words and actions exactly are causing the issue. If the asker is committed to her girlfriend, maybe try another talk, consider addressing members of the family directly, calling them out when they say something racist. All I’m saying is if you are in love and committed to a lasting relationship with her, it may be worth it to try alternatives rather than just dumping her.

    • “it’s one thing to put up with, say, a brother who occasionally makes stupid racist jokes, and another to put up with a parent who’s a KKK sympathizer”

      these behaviors are equally harmful. if you’re white, take a minute, stop, breathe, and think about why you felt the need to come here and post a paragraph defending racists, and then maybe take another breath, and then maybe walk away from the computer instead of replying angrily to me confronting you.

      if you’re a poc, i’m really sorry you feel this way. we deserve to be loved by people who fight racism always. if they aren’t against it, they’re against us. i’m holding you in my heart, and if you wanna talk less anonymously, my email is on my author page!

    • As a white woman, I kind of understand where this comment is coming from.

      Reading the answer, I too had this visceral response of – oh wait, what, does the LW really need to dump her gf?

      But thinking about it, I think the question comes down to trust – if you don’t trust your partner to have your back when dealing with their family (no matter the reason – whether it’s racism, fat-shaming, abuse, general assholism, etc) that’s a big red flag.

      If LW isn’t ready to leave and wants to give the gf one more chance – I think she could tell her gf that a) she is not going to interact with her horrible family at all and that b) she (the gf) needs to step up so the LW feels she has her back. And maybe suggest the gf read a book like White Fragility to help her become a better ally and come to terms with her heritage.

      (Bottom line, I trust Al(aina) to know more about what it’s like to date as a POC than I do.)

    • ” If the asker is committed to her girlfriend, maybe try another talk, consider addressing members of the family directly, calling them out when they say something racist. ” this sounds like a lot of emotional labor to be performed by the actual victim of the racism?

      They are good tips, but these actions should be (should HAVE BEEN, tbh) performed by the girlfriend, not the LW.

      I’m going to flip your last sentence so that the gf carries the responsibility of keeping the relationship alive: if you are in love and committed to a lasting relationship with her, it may be worth it to try alternatives rather than just *being complacent and not confronting your family for being racist*.

      All in all, what I get from your comment is that the LW should continue to interact with racist people in the racist people’s turf and expose herself to violent situations in order for the racist people to maybe become less racist./ For love./ And that’s fine, because the LW is the one who’s uncomfortable, not the gf. So why should anyone else make an effort?

    • It would be disturbing to see anyone subject the person they love most to family members who refuse to treat them with basic respect. When you add the layer of white supremacy, it’s clear that this white woman doesn’t mind that her family doesn’t see the person she loves most as fully human. It’s obviously really difficult to cut off family members for any reason (and many queer people/women are accustomed to sticking by family who are bigoted/abusive to them because letting them go is such a fraught process and we are socialized to accept abuse from family). But that’s not the LW’s problem.

      Al(aina)’s responsibility here is to the LW. Even if we take the most generous view of the white partner, she has not demonstrated the ability to protect the safety and well-being of a partner of color. That doesn’t make her evil or permanently irredeemable, but it also doesn’t mean that she is entitled to LW’s love. LW can’t trust her, and we all deserve to be with partners we can trust.

      As a general aside, not directed at you, Ann, I wonder how white readers who feel uncomfortable with Al(aina)’s response would react to a letter from a woman whose boyfriend routinely allows his closest family members to make cruel misogynist comments to her, expects her to spend time with them, and does nothing to challenge the hostile atmosphere they create.

    • Yeah, Al(aina)’s advice is spot on. The LW doesn’t say her girlfriend maintains relationships with her family in order to actively and effectively fight their white supremacy. What we can read from the LW’s statements that it weighs much more heavily on her is that her girlfriend is not prioritizing her well-being and physical and emotional safety in the face of her family.

    • As a white woman, I cannot fully understand what it is like to be in the question writer’s shoes. What I can do is put myself in the white girlfriend’s shoes, especially since I too have very racist immediate family members. If I was dating a POC, I would definitely consider it my job as a good girlfriend to stand up against my family’s racism. In fact, I do that anyway, because that’s the decent thing to do and one way I can use my privilege. If the girlfriend isn’t willing to insist her family treat the writer with respect and decency, then that is not a good girlfriend and not a healthy relationship.

      Ann, I don’t think Al(aina) is saying the white girlfriend has to cut herself off from her family. Sometimes you have to set boundaries with your family members, and requiring them to treat your significant other with basic human decency and respect is not an unreasonable expectation. If the girlfriend’s not willing to do that, then she clearly doesn’t care about or respect the writer and ending the relationship is the healthiest action.

  2. My family is mostly racist, and I no longer speak to them. If anyone asks about them, I shrug and say I don’t talk to them because they’re racist. I think you have to have some level of tolerance for racism to be fine with being close with people who are racist.

  3. I have a small amount of sympathy for people with racist families because I get it! It’s hard to be the person constantly ruining holidays because you won’t stop confronting grandpa about that racist comment he made. These are people she loves, her support network, and she wants them in her life.

    But when you are with someone in a serious relationship, you are partners, and that requires a choice. And as Al said, this person did not choose the question writer. I would have a hard time trusting them to have my back, especially since this will only get worse the longer this relationship goes!

    Great advice, and sorry question writer about your extremely shitty situation.

  4. LW, your girlfriend has decided that it’s better for you to be placed in a situation of disrespect and discomfort than for her to at the very least insulate you from her racist family, much less decide to break with them. That’s not a choice made with love and you deserve better than that.

      • If LW is interested in maintaining the relationship (I can’t speak for her) I just think it would be worthwhile to tell her girlfriend, “Hey your family’s racism is a dealbreaker and I I can’t be around them, I don’t want to spend time with them and I want holidays to be just the two of us, are you willing to do that for me?”

          • Maybe I’m just coming at this from the perspective of a queer who’s bad at communicating my feelings, but “she knows how I feel about this” could mean anything from “I told her that I love her but don’t like her family” to “I told her that spending any more time with her family is a deal-breaker to me.”

    • 100% of advice columns make a lot of assumptions based on incomplete information. This letter I think was clearer than many I’ve read where the resulting advice was dtmfa. “It seems to weigh more heavily on me than on her” is a glaring red flag for any relationship where something is profoundly bothering one person.

      • ^^THIS. Advice columnists work from a small amount of information, and if you’re ever ok with an advice columnist telling someone to break up with someone (or telling them what to do, period), you should ask yourself why you’re not ok with it in this situation. The sentence that Siena pointed to here is a big red flag. In that one sentence, it becomes clear that the letter-writer has brought this up to her gf, seemingly *more than once* and gotten unsatisfactory, vague, and/or unconcerned responses. That’s not ok for anything that is seriously concerning/damaging a partner, especially something so big and systemic and clearly effecting the future of the relationship as their family being racist.

  5. I wanted to pop back in and say how happy and proud I am that Straddlers continue to prove themselves to be the best, most considerate people on the internet – even when dealing with sensitive subjects like race and dismantling racism.

    I said this privately, but after wrestling with it, I think it’s also important to state publicly – I completely understand why this letter and Al’s response might dig up some hard emotions (especially, though not only, if you are reading it as a white person). Al said this in an earlier thread, but if you are white and find yourself needing to craft a response, particularly one that casts doubt or negativity, I kindly ask you to consider:

    A queer person of color wrote to us (queer people of color writers) for a response to a question. Many of us discussed it as a team. And Al wrote that person back with the full weight of our community’s love and care and respect.

    Knowing that, is this a space that you think, as a white person, is the best one for you to work out your hurt, doubt, disbelief, or potential (passive) aggression? Why would you feel entitled to enter a space that was lovingly and carefully crafted by folks of color for folks of color, so that you can re-center the conversation back to yourself? How would you feel if someone else did that same action in your community spaces?

    It’s 100% not my intention to “call anyone out” right now; I hate call out culture and don’t think it’s particularly productive. So, this is a general and hopeful reminder for anyone who needs it. Sometimes it really is ok to just get a glass of water, sit to read along, and listen. There’s a lot to be learned that way.

  6. Kid Fury

    This is great advice, Al…and offered in such a beautiful and loving way…thank you so much. This line in particular: “You chose her, but in some very important ways, she did not choose you.” TRUTH.

  7. LW, I’m sorry for what you’re going through. You sound like a thoughtful and loving person.

    As a White Girl in a relationship with a Black Tomboy Femme (and loving her like crazy), I have a note for your girlfriend :

    1. You will most likely say or do racist stuff.
    2. Or your friends will.
    3. If not your friends or your family.
    5. It’s because you’re white and you know, you never had to think too hard about it.
    4. It’s OK to feel ashamed by the racist stuff you (or your relatives) said.
    5. It’s even OK to feel confused.
    6. But it’s not your partner’s job to educate you, or your friends, or family.
    7. Apologize quickly and truthfully.
    8. Never, ever, ask them to explain why it was hurtful and just fucking apologize.
    9. If difficult, remember when you had to explain to someone that yep, that was homophobic.
    10. Don’t fucking try to explain to them what racism is either.
    11. Your job is to make them feel heard, respected, safe and loved.
    12. Your job is to educate yourself. Books by POC are a good start.
    13. Your job is to make sure none of that racist horseshit goes unchecked again when you’re around.
    15. Your partner doesn’t even have to be around too for you to take a stand because it’s not about them, it’s about YOU.
    16. Because clearly, you’re not only letting your family say dehumanizing stuff about, you know, human beings. You’re letting them say something offensive about someone you love and care about and that’s when you have to ask yourself why you aren’t capable of defending yourself.
    17. Sorry, that was a bit too long. Does it make sense?
    18. I’m not fluent in English, I’m giving all I have right now for you both.
    19. It doesn’t have to be a heated conversation with your family if you have conflict anxiety. Do it with wit, sharp humor, but do it firmly because it really has to stop now.
    20. You’re in love with a caring and patient person who shows interest in knowing your family and who loves you back. Fucking own it. Be better person. Grow with her.

    I wish you both all the best.

  8. AL THIS IS PERFECT

    “You don’t deserve to be partly loved by someone who thinks its okay to be in community with racists. You deserve to be wholly loved by a girl who loves you and your brownness and your badass hair and all the other great things about you. I believe you will find that girl or non-binary babe or whoever you want it to be, but my good, good, friend, this girl is not her. You need to break up with her. She’s gotta go. You’re worth 100 of her. Take that knowledge, and make this brave step for yourself. You deserve it.”

    PERFECT PERFECT PERFECT and its probably already been said but i also as someone who is terrible w advice i think watching Get Out could help

  9. I’m white… And yeah, Al is 100% correct.

    Let’s give the benefit of the doubt to the girlfriend and say she’s not racist, she’s just been socialized to not stand up to her family.

    That’s no way to live, feeling like your partner can’t support you.

    I am really close to my family, but when I introduced them to my girlfriend i was ready to say “see ya when you’ve read these ten books on gender and transphobia. We’re going to be spending holidays alone until you can get over your shit.” Luckily they were not transphobic and I didn’t have to. But that’s what you have to be ready to do for your partner. And if you’re not prepared to do that… Maybe you’re not actually that committed to the person. I would drop my family for just anyone. For her I would.

    So anyway, I say at best the girlfriend should have a very serious talk with her family, threaten to not be in their lives anymore if they can’t avoid being shitty, and maybe hand them a MANDATORY reading/viewing list.

  10. Some very good points in this thread here and has given me more insight. In a related question, how does one break up with their family who is problematic(non-white, from minority background problematic)? Because talking to them is like talking to a wall.

  11. “She knows how I feel about this but it seems to weigh much more heavily on me than her.”

    This here is the biggest red flag to me, even giving the gf every other possible benefit of the doubt. Even if she had some totally ironclad reason for not being able to confront or cut herself off from her family – she doesn’t actually seem to care much how this is affecting her partner. She doesn’t even have her back emotionally.

  12. Reading all of this has really made me realise that I should be doing more to stand up for my partner when my mum spouts abuse about her when she isn’t there.

    I have a lot of anxiety and emotional trauma/abuse from my mum and my dealing technique is to just wait it out.

    She has mental health issues she will never deal with and will never get diagnosed because she thinks she doesn’t.

    Because of this and her general paranoia with everyone, including family members, she only has me left in her life who she can talk to. My brother got as far away as he could and chooses when he will contact her. My dad has worked away for as long as I could remember and only comes back for some weekends. The rest of the family has cut her off.

    Somehow, I am the only person she talks to or can ring who will answer.

    And honestly I don’t want to be in this position. I want to piss off into the sunset and maybe have weekly phonecalls but she is so alone and isolate and I have never seen her have a friend.

    My mental health is very bad and has gotten worse the last few years and I have my first therapist appointment soon. The way my mum is, is how her mum was too and frankly it scares me that I’m going to become like her and I can set ways I already am.

    But basically, the letter, response and comments are really making me think. I think I’ve been putting my comfort of not having to deal with the verbal abuse of my parent above the worth of my partner and I need to start placing boundaries.

    Thank you.

    • It sounds like being connected with your mom in the ways you currently are is not healthy for you either. I hope you listen to the wise part of you that wants to get space from her. Either way, I wish you all the best. <3

      • I agree. I was in a similar situation once (though not with a parent) and I believed the person would not cope and might self-harm if I wasn’t there. But in fact I was acting as a crutch keeping them from finally accepting that they needed professional help, and they got better once I left.

        A friend helped me understand what had happened, and deal with the guilt, by recommending the book Codependent No More. If you haven’t read it it might be a good resource for you. But this was traumatic even with someone who wasn’t immediate family – I can’t imagine how much harder with a parent. My heart really goes out to you and I wish you strength in finding your way through this. For your partner’s sake and for your own.

  13. Just gonna briefly chime in as one more white person saying Al(aina)’s advice is spot-on. It’s not enough if she doesn’t say racist crap to you herself. That’s a pretty low bar. If she is your partner, she needs to act like it. If I were dating a person of color and my family acted racist to/about them, it would absolutely be my responsibility to support my person. If I didn’t – especially after my person made sure I knew something had happened that bothered them, double-especially if it were a pattern and not just one incident – I _should_ get dumped, because I’ve just proven I’m not a good partner for no-longer-my person.

    Good luck, LW. You deserve someone who has your back.

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