Monday, 3 April 2017

Love and Whiteness (Part II)

So the last time I wrote a post on this subject it was more directly lamenting the difficulties of loving a white person and the ways in which they fail to see you on a one-on-one level.

But as we get deeper into our relationship big things keep coming up. And this is why it has taken me so long to get around to writing part two of that post. Put simply, loving a white partner is not simply about the one on one relationship the two of you have. It is about much much more than that. See, there are the interpersonal dynamics between the two of you, then there are the larger societal power dynamics.

Basically, what I have been coming to realise over the increasing course of my relationship is that deciding to build something with a white person is complex, because the advantages they have of being in the world slowly crowd out the little space you have.

As a pansexual person in a heterosexual presenting relationship, this is because of the role patriarchy plays - a woman slowly is expected to conform to the culture of her partner, and her partner's family. That is, assimilation. But this is compounded because of the settler-colonist culture in South Africa, whiteness is seen as the highest bar of existence for all, and so with whiteness comes a sense of supremacy and entitlement, and if you don't fit the bar, you guessed it, you are less than worthy of being a part of the family.

There are a number of challenges that come up when I think about the costs that being in a relationship with a white cis-het male have had on my psyche. And to speak frankly I am tired. In fact all the women in me are tired. But because it is a release, and because it may help someone else out there I am going to dish them up right now. So sit back, and enjoy (if possible).

1 - Privilege and the associated lack of lived experience. This is perhaps the biggest stumbling block in our relationship. If you are a black woman (or person) dating a white male, there probably is a phase where it is all hunky dory. But sooner or later, one day you wake up and have the earth-shattering realisation that:

"There is no way in which my cis-het, upper class, able-bodied, christian, male partner, has ever been systemically discriminated against in his entire life."

And this shakes you up because all you've ever known was struggle. As a woman, as a person of colour, as a non-hetero person, as a poor person, for me - as a survivor. And for a second you can't reconcile how it is that the two of you are together. For a split second you feel lucky, like maybe you won the lottery. You remember how hard it used to be when you were young, how you struggled through abuse, through trauma, through the vicarious trauma of those in your community, and you think "Ah, how did I get here? That all feels like a long and distant dream." Then you wake the fuck up and realise that you are not lucky. That the boundaries of the prison have just changed, and now while you are able to live and love and exist a lot easier than you were able to before there are constraints facing you that you would never imagine existed and these come in the shape of your partner's privilege. 

Obviously different people are woke to different levels, but white partners in particular tend to suffer from the white liberal affliction. They think that because you agree on the basis of morality and ethics there is no need to do extra work to be a good ally. In fact they may not even know what allyship means. And the burden of educating them is then defaulted onto YOU, the partner. 

Because they are an entitled white male, they get offended when you say that it is not your duty to educate them. They don't understand that you don't owe it to them. If you choose to educate them it is because you love them and you have committed  to your relationship. Educating them is a god damn privilege, not your job.  

In any case, privilege fucks with the power dynamics, and unless your partner is willing to put in the active conscious work, reading, listening to podcasts, watching stuff, reading and reading, he is not going to wake up. Not now. Not ever. 

2- Compounded with class and privilege comes family. In the case of my partner, he is half foreign, and half South African. And I always find that the half foreign aspect is what has saved him. Of the micro-aggressions that I experience at the hands of his family, those from his dad - a white South African apartheid era male - are the worst. To him I am not an individual, I am other. Whenever he talks about black people or indians, or black colleagues, he makes eye contact with me. Needless to say he thinks I am the fucking spokesperson for every Indian person in South Africa. 

And while the microaggressions from him are regular and particularly bad, it is not much better from the rest of the family. While the mum is less problematic she is not unproblematic, and the sisters are so couched in their own privilege that it suffocates me. This is the thing, when you relate to them (the whole family) it is on their terms. You do what they want and expect you to do and you do it in their way. They speak upper-crust english, and because I speak my vernacular I become a fucking cute little joke to them, "Oh, Anne*, did you hear how she said that?". Ha. ha. ha. Big fucking deal. I am sorry I am not a colonist settler who stole land, preserved imperial culture and went to the most expensive private school owned to man. 

So, yeah, white families. And guess what, you tell your partner about it and they accuse you of hating their family? It has actively started causing me anxiety. I can't go there and not get a tummy ache or headache, and a sinking feeling (Queue get out) in my stomach. Worst part is - they don't know it. My partner thinks he is between a rock and a hard place, and to date has only had a discussion with them about how problematic they are on one occasion.  And in this process I am villainised. It becomes me against the family. Well it wouldn't be if they weren't such passively racist human beings. 

3- Friends. I'll keep it short. This post is becoming taxing. The microaggressions are terrible. One of the friends also did the thing all white people do by referring to me as curry! Racist pig. There was no backlash from my partner who then went on the defensive and like a week later forgot it happened. Well, I didn't forget. Then, there are the extremely racist and misogynist friends. He has a friend who had a road rage incident and drove past the woman, rolled down his window and flashed a wad of cash in her face. Then bragged to me and my partner about it, and proceeded to say that he 
was sure that she wanted to fuck him. My partner sees this as a once off isolated incident, and his family says boys will be boys. My partner also thinks he is between a rock and a hard place. 

Don't they understand that these are our fucking lives - oh wait, they don't!

2 - Society. South Africa, and particularly Cape Town is the most racially segregated racist place in the country. It is worse because white liberals who live here go to church and think they are doing their duty unto society. They live in big houses on the foot of the mountain and donate blankets and money to charity but have never paid retribution and will not give back the land. They see no link between the exploitation of black bodies under apartheid and their economic success. And because they are colonist-settlers, they think they belong here and also behave as Gods. They don't make eye contact with you if you are not white, and do not acknowledge your humanity. When they do it is in a patronising way. They don't see black people as people, forget as their inferiors. They are entitled trash. Period. Now think about having kids, black kids, and this is what they aspire to. Nope.

3 - The lack of a reprieve. So, I go to work. It is extremely white, I go to therapy, she is white, I go home my partner is white. My family is scattered. I am alone in this city. My black friends have moved on from this mini-apartheid state to places that will feed their souls. My white friends mostly have the liberalism affliction, and I am isolated. There are very few public spaces that have black bodies in them, and it becomes suffocating.

Loving a white person, then, is not about loving that individual. It is about being able to live with the toll that that love takes on your psyche and the price you pay for it. But I've basically decided that I am no longer willing to pay this price for our love. I demand respect from his parents, I will not associate with his friends, and he has to graft for it. I mean I could keep writing about this, the anger, the erasure, but I'll stop here.

I love my partner. I really do. When it is just the two of us hanging, I see his soul and I truly feel that he sees mine, and I don't wanna end what we've been building. I dig it. I dig him. I dig our life. But add to the equation the expectation of settling down (I don't want to) and where (Cape Town? City of spatial apartheid?), monogamy (contentious one)  and kids (I am strictly adopting when I decide I am ready - too many abandoned lil puudin' faces ouchea), it quickly becomes a lot. Look, I don't have the answers. Being in a relationship with a non-white male could easily have just as many challenges, there is always patriarchy and religion. In any case, we're investing in something here and I will try to make it work, but the bottom line is this guy is going to have to put in some serious work.

I guess if I could speak frankly to him I would say:

I know you've never had to work for anything in your life. I know you are hyper-intelligent, so why don't you put some of that intellect to work and research concepts such as wokeness, allyship, feminism, intersectionality?  Oh it bores you? Well listen up... this is the lifeline of our relationship, and it is ALL up to you at this stage. You think that what I have displayed up to now is rage? You have no idea of the leaps and bounds by which it will expand if you don't do something about it.

Gone, are the tears and the fear. This is a fight for survival, and you are either going to step up to the challenge or not.


  1. i can relate to this on so so many levels. it really is tiring having to explain your experiences only to have someone not take it in, try to rationalise them away or make it about themselves (hurt feelings!! wtf)... sending lots of love xx

  2. I hope you feel like you have communicated how you feel. I hope he hears you. Thanks for writing.

  3. TY for this. My white ZA hubby comes from a liberal Durbs family that helped POC's during apartheid and I *still* have to deal with some of this shit too. Man if it was from a stuck up Capetonian family I'd have probably done some fisticuffs by now. You're so much more patient than I am, bless you!