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If you want to be my lover, you have to get with anti-racism

Navigating mixed cultural backgrounds in romantic relationships

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For the first time since I was 15, I spent Valentine’s Day alone. But it wasn’t because I opposed the holiday in some sort of anti-love agenda. With age and experience, I’ve refined the qualities I seek out in a partner.

At the top of my list? Anti-racism.

The combination of former President Donald Trump’s racist administration and the current events revealing systemic racism in America has led me to think more about my cultural identity and what it means to be supported in that by my partner. 

As a Mexican American woman in the United States, I’ve experienced microaggressions, observed the over-sexualized image of the Latina body, and felt at times like I don’t “count” as either a Mexican or an American. Constantly being told I’m not “Mexican-Mexican” because I have financial status and an education — and that I’m not “mowing lawns” — creates profound identity challenges. 

There are a lot of complex components of having a mixed minority background in the United States that I, myself, cannot fully understand. And as the University of Washington remains a predominantly white university, I have yet to find a partner who fully understands it either. 

That isn’t to say that my partner must be a minority or some sort of “diversity expert.” What my ideal partner boils down to is simply an intellectual peer who employs empathy, seeks to understand my lived experience, and is actively anti-racist. 

Oftentimes when I have discussions with white people, the conversation easily slips into conversations I really don’t like to have: It consists of them bragging about their knowledge, citing their research, and falling into long tangents that highlight their competence on the topic. 

It’s funny how little I’m actually asked about my own thoughts on racism and prejudice, but I don’t blame them. There is a misconception in the United States that the only way to support anti-racism is to have a lot of knowledge about it. And while that is attractive, it can sometimes be frustrating that my partner thinks that they know how I feel and what I’ve experienced without even asking me. 

The truth is, every person of color in the United States has a different story to tell. The times I feel most supported are those when I’m given the space to tell that story. 

“How do you feel about it?” 

“What's your experience been as a Mexican American living in the United States?” 

“What do you need from me to feel understood?” 

A genuine curiosity about other cultures and the background of your partner is a great way to make them feel accepted. 

Beyond being able to inform my partner on anti-racism work for my community, I would like my partner to engage in authentic anti-racist work beyond performative activism. For years, minority groups living in the United States have attempted to bring awareness to the prominence of microaggressions and systemic racism, only to be met with a lot of hesitation and hollow responses from white people. 

Now that social media has become a space for activism, suddenly everyone is anti-racist. But I grew up involved in theater and choir, so trust me, I know what a good performance is.

Performative activism is selective; it’s when people choose to advocate for certain social movements only when it works in their favor. It’s also dangerous, because people who participate in it consider themselves involved enough that they don’t continue to ask themselves introspective questions about their own prejudices and microaggressive behavior. 

I’m not saying that all people who recently began advocating for minority groups are faking it. That being said, activism is so much more impactful when it doesn’t come from your ego.  

And while there are mistakes that can be made in advocating against racism –– such as mansplaining it to your fellow minority friends and engaging in performative activism –– the most annoying trait for someone to have is not having any opinion about politics at all. 

I’ve met several people who identify as apolitical — and that simply isn’t acceptable anymore. Politics is woven into every infrastructure of our country and is heavily intertwined with racism. Like it or not, decisions made in the White House and your local government affect minority groups significantly more than they do other people. 

So don’t attempt to escape differences in opinion by identifying yourself as “someone who just doesn’t like to talk politics.” What 2020 has shown us is that standing on the sidelines isn’t enough anymore. Your political alignment is reflective of your personality and your values.

It’s time to demand more from your partners when it comes to race and racism. You deserve to be with someone who is willing to understand and support you in every facet of your life.

This year is also a great time to reflect on yourself and how our systems benefit or disadvantage you. That’s what I’m doing. I’ve realized that I need to resolve my own identity issues before I can expect anyone else to understand them. A community is at its best when people bring their own refined and thought-out perspectives to the table. 

All this being said, it’s OK to make mistakes. I’m not perfect either, and I’m still learning how to be knowledgeable and supportive of other minority experiences in the United States. It’s important to still try to be supportive, to be willing to learn, and to act with a humble and open-minded perspective. 

This Valentine’s Day season, let’s be proactive in the anti-racism movement by starting with ourselves and our relationships.  

Reach contributing writer Veronica George at Twitter: @veronicaggeorge

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