Dear Amy: My boyfriend and I have been dating for about two years. I grew up in a fairly poor, single-parent household in a small town in Virginia. The father and grandmother died and I didn’t know my mother very well.
I mostly grew up with black family members — brother, sister, uncles and cousins. I met my boyfriend through my uncle — we’re from the same town, but not from the same neighborhood. Our parents’ relationship was quite strained and never really got to the surface. We both moved out of the house when we were teens, at which point it started to become obvious to us that we lived in separate worlds.
I lived in a predominantly black town, while my boyfriend moved to a predominately white town. He and his friends told me a lot of racist jokes. They made racist comments on social media, even to my face. I noticed even when I was dating a guy who was white, he was ignorant about what it meant to be a part of a minority race. He’d say things like, “D’you believe that Obama was born in the USA?” and “If your mother was black, would you want your child to marry her?” It’s not really me to judge because he isn’t my biological father, but I got tired of listening to things like that.
I’m hoping you can give me an idea of what I can do to convince my boyfriend’s parents that their son is not “crazy,” racist or ignorant because he has been through not having anyone at home for a while. I’m seriously not cool with being treated like that.
How can I convince his parents that they have the right to get involved in my life and trust that I’m not turning on them in the same ways? (His mother is really interested in keeping us together and she has said things that I thought were super sweet, like she doesn’t want him to lose any of his friends.)
Dear Love: I’m going to start with a clear-cut reality: your boyfriend is being not only racist, ignorant and inappropriate but ageist as well. And you are providing evidence of all of this with your words.
You shouldn’t have to convince his parents, or anybody else for that matter, that he isn’t their son’s albatross. You should have to establish that fact for yourself.
Yes, they do have the right to get involved in your life. But they do not have the right to believe him about this at face value.
You mention his birth mother. She is a part of your life and should be respected — not publicly ridiculed. If you had an adult father, you should live with him and his family, and he should live with you and yours. I don’t think this is “forcing” anything. It is an essential step that is essential for a healthy future and should not be imposed.
Do you have any racially and ethnically mixed family in your past? We want you to be able to live in comfortable and diverse communities.
I believe that you will convince your boyfriend’s parents to come to your side if you use the power of the truth. You might say to them: “I realize this can be hurtful. I know that you probably feel like you have no other choice, but I don’t like the way I feel. My boyfriend is racist, ignorant and disrespectful. Is that OK for you to judge? Is it OK for you to think he is insane? He and his friends know I am not like that. But do you agree that I can’t have a normal life without people treating me with respect?”
You also might say to his parents: “Your son is three years older than me, so he is much less sensitive than I am. But I am sure he will eventually start to understand the barriers race plays in our lives. Can you consider putting me first so I can have a life and a career without the experiences of racism that he has not been through? Can you take a chance on a progressive, concerned young woman who still has love in her heart for her family?”
By the way, your boyfriend should not have to hear that these parents “aren’t cool” with him having a relationship with you.
I hope that you will come to realize that he is a good guy — and that you are at least capable of supporting one another.