I’m white and so is my boyfriend. Since all of the protests have begun, he’s been really dismissive of the Black Lives Matter movement, and even commented once that “it won’t help anything.” I tried to tell him why organized resistance is important historically, but he keeps saying that the protesters are “doing it wrong,” though he’s not very specific when I ask him what he means. He just talks about rioting (which I correct him on and specify that these are uprisings) and the message being lost. He even started talking about ghettos and black-on-black crime. I can’t believe I’m dating a guy that’s so ignorant, and I wonder if I should try to work with him and help him or just dump him.
I’d bet you a dollar that your boyfriend exalts the mythology of Martin Luther King Jr., who was arrested 29 times in his lifetime of demonstrating for civil rights. Anyone making a straw man out of MLK or implying that people of color are unevolved in their fight for justice has a lot of work to do on themselves. Your boyfriend sounds very uninformed, and it’s a serious red flag when someone critiques any action without actually trying to fix the problem that they see.
I know that right now a lot of white people are going through some serious self-reflection as the concept of white privilege becomes an accepted fact of life, and some people decide to use that privilege for good. They go to demonstrations and stand between the cops and people of color, knowing that police enact brutality on white bodies much less than they do to people of color. They join diversity committees at their jobs, and they challenge their institutions to do better. They stop and watch and videotape cops while they detain people.
Then there are people who decide to interpret this public outcry as an attack on themselves, an attack on all white people and all authority, and they question the motivations of demonstrators. They see a reflection of the racism that they’ve lived in comfortably and assume that the oppressed want to mete out the same brutality to them. They’re the ones who decry defunding the police by arguing that we want anarchy, not justice. They conflate public demonstrations and aggressive protest signage as a nihilism that wants to destroy whiteness. Such a simplistic, self-centered view of social change is a sad result of white privilege run amok and unchecked, and the value of that privilege is so ingrained and unquestioned that any attempt to even out the playing field is interpreted as a threat to the status quo.
Don’t get me wrong—we are absolutely threatening the status quo. But that status quo ain’t your boyfriend, and it’s not the average white American dealing with the same social and economic stratification that marginalized people do. Your boyfriend will better understand this moment in time if he unclutches his pearls at the sight of people in the streets and instead listens to what they’re trying to say. He should not fall back on casual racism when trying to undermine the dignity of demonstration, and it’s really troubling that he does.
You ask if you should dump him, and I don’t know. Personally, I’d dump the hell out of this idiot and tell all of my homegirls about how stupid he is, but I’m a Black woman who becomes an unmovable object when I feel that my race is being disrespected. But you, friend, have a real opportunity here to do the hard work of allyship. Since white people invented racism, I’d say that it’s your job to do the heavy lifting of dismantling it, so it’s time for you to work on your guy. This is your boo, and I assume that you feel something like love for him at least once in a while, so show your love by helping him become a better person. There are all kinds of listicles on the internet with resources on books and films to help people better understand antiracism, so get to Googling and schedule some antiracist date nights.
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