Do we have an obligation to ensure our partners are anti-racist?

At some point or another, we’ve probably all experienced that mind-numbing level of repulsion that comes from seeing your partner do something cringey. In the recent age, we call that feeling the ‘ick’. For those who have yet to detect it, it’s sort of the psychological version of biting into something really sour – but for your brain. And instead of being rewarded with a sweeter taste after enduring the sour, the sourness lingers… forever. The ‘ick’ can be triggered by a range of things, some of which often aren’t at the true fault of the person. From seeing their ass crack when they bend over, to them using a baby voice on you, or catching an unintended glimpse of their dirty underwear. Ew.

My first experience getting it was when my (white, of course) boyfriend-of-the-time mocked the accents of Chinese tourists near Buckingham Palace. I was so traumatised, because not only did he laugh at his own non-joke, he looked at me expecting me to join him in laughter. Is there anything as ‘ick’-worthy as watching your partner be nonchalantly racist? I walked ahead planning our breakup around his flight back to Berlin.

All things considered, getting the ‘ick’ should be a minimum expectation as far as a reaction to your partner being racist goes. But the reality is, many people don’t even get that. In fact, in the previously mentioned scenario, I was no activist hero either. We didn’t end up breaking up for another 2 months after we’d had a couple of holidays together filled by a cycle of neverending fights and makeup sex.

After I did break up with him, I thought back to these continual red-flags, and I thought – why weren’t they enough for me to end it? If instead of mocking Chinese tourists, he was making fun of Indian ones, would that have been the deal-breaker, and not just the red-flag? Of course, it was a joke, and it’s possible that particular incident was not a reflection of his views (it was) (along with a plethora of others), but it begs the question: how many times have we been complicit in our relationships? And what does constitute a ‘deal-breaker’ when it comes to racism from your partner? Even, or especially if the racism is not directed towards you.

June and the rising urgency of the Black Lives Matter movement prompted a serious external and internal demand to purge out all sources of racism. Challenging ourselves, the system we’re a part of, and others around us who either feed racism or are complicit to it. So moving forward, I thought about what that means for our often most private and personal relationship – one with a romantic partner. Personally, it meant every match I made on a dating app made me want to ask them right from the jump: ‘Do you support Black Lives Matter?’ Because, why waste time? Just earlier this year, I went on a date with someone (white, of course) from Hinge and ended up arguing about whether ‘white privilege’ exists somewhere between the 2nd and 3rd drink. Thinking back, I wish I just left the date.

But for someone who’s a few years into a relationship with someone – it might not be that easy. A friend of mine who, like many, is quarantining with her long-time partner, has dealt with a few run-ins on matters that draw focus to their fundamentally clashing views.

“He’s pretty bare minimum. A lot of the things we agree on it’s because I’ve had to really work at educating them.”

When speaking about it with some of my friends, they rejected the notion that they should be ‘obliged’ to confront anyone’s views past a certain point.

“I don’t think it’s our obligation at all. Just like with friends, we’re not obligated to make sure our friends are anti-racist – that’s up to them. I can help and guide you along the way… but it’s something you have to choose to actively engage with yourself, because if you do it for someone else – it won’t be sustainable. Say we break up and your ‘being anti-racist’ was all based on me, once I’m not in your life will you still be anti-racist?”

Also, this isn’t a ‘white-partner-only’ issue. If you’re sitting around with your brown partner and they make a questionable comment concerning race – I’d hope you put in the same effort into checking them as much as you would a white person. After all, we know that colourism and the oppression of Black people is a global issue.

So to all the lovers out there, when either embarking into a new relationship or perhaps re-evaluating a current one, consider this: we do have an obligation to not be complicit to the people we’re very close to when it comes to racism. If you don’t consider your partner to be anti-racist or hold them accountable for miseducation on race, how is there any real hope for progress? It’s clear that we do have an obligation to ensure our future or current partners are anti-racist – but make sure they’re anti-racist against all races.

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