Experiencing Racism As An “Outsider”

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 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 your 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.

Chantilly Patiño writes the blog Bicultural Mom, which you can follow on Facebook and Twitter.

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