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Ebony and Ivory

Ebony and Ivory

Interracial couples still face prejudice wherever they go, but what if that prejudice could come from your own family members? Is meeting the parents a bad idea? The 4-Way panel responds.

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Dear 4-Way,
I’ve been dating someone special for about seven months now and I invited her home to meet my family at my mother’s sixtieth birthday party in April. Here’s the problem: my girlfriend is black and I’m white. This has never been an issue for either of us, but my family lives in a small town in Georgia, and though they think they aren’t prejudiced, they are. My brothers still tell jokes using the “N” word and when my parents come to visit me in LA and see interracial couples together, they openly stare and become visibly uncomfortable. I don’t agree with my family’s way of thinking, but I also really like this woman and want them to get to know the person who’s so important in my life. But I also don’t want any inappropriate comments to hurt my girlfriend. Am I being selfish to want them to meet? Should I just bag the whole thing? Or do you have some advice that could make this go smoothly?—KH, Los Angeles, California

The Straight Man’s Perspective: Chris Kennedy
Do you think your family’s racism is stronger than their love for you? I would hope they would eliminate these kinds of jokes in the presence of your black girlfriend. If they don’t, they’re being disrespectful of you and your girlfriend.

I think your instinct in wanting to bring her home is a good one. You might as well, because you’ll have to do it at some point if this is someone you want to continue dating.

Have you mentioned to your family that you have a black girlfriend? Did you mention that you’d like to bring your black girlfriend home for your mom’s sixtieth birthday party? What is their reaction?

It’s natural that you’re concerned about their behavior, but you must give your family the benefit of the doubt that they can put their prejudice aside and welcome her.

If you haven’t already, you have to be honest with your girlfriend about your family’s ways. Preparing her for that is important in helping her not get hurt or upset.

It’s not realistic to think you can change your family overnight. Work to find things your girlfriend and members of your family have in common and to enjoy the differences as well. It’s a process, but you gotta have faith. Because as you know, you can’t look at things as only black and white.

The Gay Woman’s Perspective: Jody Fischer
This is your mom’s sixtieth birthday. It’s her day; it’s not about you or your girlfriend. So if you’re planning on taking the focus off your mom’s special day and making it about problems and discomfort, then keep on doing what you’re doing. I say pick another occasion for them to all meet. If you really want to stand a chance of things going well, then consider the timing.

It’s super challenging to try to make your family act/think differently from who they are, but this does not mean that you and your girlfriend shouldn’t make a trip out to see your family. Just do it smartly. Perhaps you want to stay somewhere else, like a hotel. Make sure that both parties, your girlfriend and your family, know about each other before they meet. That means making sure that your family knows that the woman you love is black and that your girlfriend knows that your family is not aware that they act in prejudiced ways. Practice what you and she will do and say if something inappropriate is said or done.

I’m also wondering what you’re doing to take care of yourself. Putting yourself between your family and the woman you love is not an easy place. Do you feel like you have to choose a side? How will you handle that?

KH, you are indeed being self-centered if you make this meeting happen on your mom’s birthday. Doing this at the right time and with ample planning and preparation may yield a much more positive outcome.

The Gay Man’s Perspective: Darren Maddox
Well, you’ve come to the right source here. I grew up in an all-white county in the buckle of the Bible Belt, so I hear what you’re saying. I’ve got those relatives, too. I was scared to death to take my partner home with me for Thanksgiving. Not for fear that he would have issues with my family, but because I was afraid they would have an issue with me being gay. My family completely surprised me, though, and I’ll bet yours will too. But have you at least told them that she’s black? It really shouldn’t matter, but I would advise you to do that before you just show up at the door to lessen the blow for all involved.

Then brace your girlfriend for the truth: that their way of thinking doesn’t necessarily reflect yours. It’s your mother’s sixtieth birthday. Don’t miss it because you’re scared to face the “what if.” You’ll regret it, and you may end up resentful because of it. If your relationship is a strong one, it will survive whatever is thrown your way during a brief stay. Besides, what’s the alternative? Never telling them about her or sharing them with her? That may be even harder. Good luck and please keep us posted on how it turns out.

The Straight Woman’s Perspective: Rebecca Brown
I don’t think you’re selfish at all, but I do think that this situation calls for a little of the “hope for the best, but prepare for the worst” strategy. Prepare your family by telling them—all of them, not just a few select members—that your girlfriend is a woman of color. Do it well in advance so they have time to get used to the idea and get any questions or insensitive comments out of the way. If people in your family truly object to you bringing her, this will give them ample time to voice those objections and give you ample time to decide how to deal with them. If someone makes enough of a fuss, talk to your girlfriend about it and decide between the two of you if you feel up for dealing with a bunch of ugliness on what’s supposed to be a fun weekend. If you think you can get through it with smiles and a few belts of Maker’s, I say go for it. If this woman is as important to you as it sounds, you’ll want your family to meet her at some point anyway, and there’s no time like the present.

You should also prepare your girlfriend for what she should expect, not only from your family, but also potentially from your community. I remember way back in 1984, I traveled to a tiny town in western Kentucky with my high school basketball team as a team statistician. I was shocked to see that, at least at that time, the only black people in the gym (and as we were later told, in the whole town) were the ones who were traveling with us. When our group walked in, the entire gym booed. No one was prepared for that and it turned our trip a little sour.

There’s a line from My Big Fat Greek Wedding that I love, and I think it holds true for your situation: “Don’t let your past dictate who you are, but let it be part of who you’ll become.” Take the best of your family and celebrate it, but know that old beliefs die hard, and if you really want to challenge those, you may have a long road ahead of you. But as Gandhi said, you have to “be the change you want to see in the world.” And that change may start with you and your family.

 

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