Dr. Laura, interracial relationships, and the challenge of anti-racist responses

by Guest Contributor Ope Bukola, originally published at Zora & Alice

Some of you may have read/heard the latest episode in  racist rants that inexplicably affect our “post-racial” society. For those who haven’t, it happened last week when Dr. Laura Schlessinger took a call from a listener. The listener, a black woman married to a white man, called to express her frustration with racist comments made by her husband’s friend and family, and in the particular with her husband’s ignoring the comments.

Here’s a clip of the exchange from Media Matters:

Basically, Dr.Laura asks her for an example of an offensive situation then tells the call to stop being uptight. The doc then goes to prove to the caller how “down” she is with black folks by using the n-word multiple times. Of course, like any “non-racist” with black friends to prove it, Dr.Laura has since “apologized” both on her radio show and her blog. While some folks argue over whether Dr.Laura’s comments were racist or just in poor taste, I’m more interested in the caller’s initial dilemma.

What do you do when you’re in an interracial relationship and your partner ignores racist comments?

For those of us who have interracial/intercultural significant others or friends, this situation has probably come up at least once. I’ve been in many situations where I’ve been the only minority and discussions have veered into a territory where I’m thinking “hmm…what you said there sounded pretty racist.” In those moments, the best course of action isn’t usually obvious. Do you go ahead and try to have an anti-racist “teachable” moment knowing full well that Americans SUCK at talking about race and you’re about to start some ugly ‘ish?

It’s even more ackward when you have a partner or friend in the room.  A few years ago, I was at dinner with a white friend’s family when her mother made a comment about how “the blacks always think….”  My friend and I exchanged a pained glance and I could tell he was embarrassed. But, neither of us said anything in the moment or after. I remember feeling really disappointed after dinner. Yes, I could have stood up for myself and let her know that “the blacks” all have minds of our own and we don’t get our talking points from some secret Negro council.  But, I felt that he had a bigger responsibility in that moment to stick up for me. It’s his family, he knows the best way to approach them and I was the guest and odd gal out. Blogger Twanna Hines, writing about her boyfriend’s ignoring a racist moment at a wedding, said it felt “as if my partner and I were swimming life’s ocean together; however, when racism’s waves suddenly crashed into us — he swam to shore for safety and quietly watched as I drowned.”

At the same time, I’m under no illusion that it’s easy being on the other side. My parents are old-fashioned, devout Christian, and from a culture where homosexuality is still a huge taboo. They’ve said things in my presence about gays that I consider extremely offensive.  Still, I don’t always push back. Sometimes I just let it go, figuring I don’t want to have yet another argument and I’m not going to change their minds anyway. While nothing has ever come up in the presence of one of my gay friends, I do feel guilty that I don’t always stand up to injustice. If we’re really going to be anti-bigotry then we need to have the back of those who care about, especially when they’re present, and even when they’re not.

How do you react in these situations? What’s the best anti-racist response?