While I love my man, we’ve recently come into a problem I’m not sure how to feel about. In light of what’s been happening with Gucci and Prada and their blackface controversies, my boyfriend and I recently had a conversation about it. Before I go any further you should know that I’m black and my boyfriend is white. The reason I guess that matters is because he basically told me he understands white people dressing in blackface is wrong, and he would never do it, but thought people may be overreacting to Gucci and Prada designs. He thinks the companies had designers who were just designing, and had no racist intentions behind their designs.
I responded to him by telling him that may be true, but that doesn’t negate the fact that the designs are offensive. I told him the black community has every right to be offended and boycott the labels. He responded that not everything has to be about black and white, which really pissed me off. As much as I love my boyfriend, I’m disappointed in his attitude about this. He’s not racist clearly, but damn it. Even though we agreed to disagree, I’m still salty. I guess the question I have is how do I get him to see that what Gucci and Prada did is a big deal? Heck, how do I now not look at him differently?
Mike & Ike 95
Mike & Ike 95,
Thanks for writing to me. I’m going to attempt to be brief in my response, but I feel like there is quite a bit to unpack here. Even though you are seeking advice about your relationship, the issues you’re currently having go beyond love and romance. You touched on issues of race, and culture understanding and respect. So again, I’m going to try and brief, but I want to make sure I hit on a few points.
Let me first say this. As a black man, I honestly think that companies like Gucci, Prada, and the manufacturer behind Katy Perry’s shoe line, aren’t necessarily racist. However, I do think they are racially ignorant. What I mean, is that the higher-ups in these companies lack a knowledge or understanding of diverse cultures and history. The racially ignorant aren’t always aware of what language or actions may offend the black and brown population, because the racially ignorant haven’t really taken the time to learn and understand the history of offense in America (and around the world). Or even worse, the unaware feel as long as they aren’t referencing racial violence or practicing open discrimination, that none of their actions can possibly be offensive in a post-Obama era.
Now am I giving a pass to these oblivious folks? Absolutely, not! Although, I think if there is an opportunity to help someone wise up, we should take it. You combat a lack of knowledge, with a wealth of education. I’m fully aware that there are people that will read this and wonder why it’s their job to teach other grown individuals on social etiquette and race. But to be honest, the alternative is to just keep canceling people, which is fine. However, just canceling people will teach them that an action is wrong, but won’t tell them necessarily why it’s wrong. (To be clear, I’m cool with just canceling folks if the folks in question refuse to learn or are clearly just racist.)
Okay, so narrowing this down to your relationship. If you love your boyfriend and think he may be suffering from some racial ignorance, take the time to show him why blackface and any clothing referencing it is offensive. Tell him about the disgusting minstrel shows of the past, and how white portrayals of black people were incredibly disrespectful and demeaning. (If you need help with that, I got you. Check out a recent USA Today article.)
Unfortunately, I can’t control how you look at your boyfriend going forward. That’s really something that’s up to you. What I will say, is that because you and your boyfriend come from different cultural backgrounds, there may be times when cultural misunderstandings arise. You just have to know his heart, and determine that offending you or other races is never his intention.
Suggestions going forward.
- Again, if you love your boyfriend and vice versa, use this opportunity to educate your boyfriend and make him better. Especially, if you think he is just aloof about the history of race relations around the world.
- Now if your boyfriend still doesn’t see your point after you try to explain to him the history of blackface, you may want to consider an exit strategy for ending things.
As always nothing but love,