You see, I’m black and my boyfriend is white and we both live in the south. He and his family grew up in an all white part of town and I grew up in a racially mixed environment. My new boyfriend is very close to his family. He has told them about me, but I’m afraid he hasn’t told them my race or the race of my children. He wants me to met his family, but I’m a little afraid since I don’t know how they’ll respond to me or accept me.
What are some pointers you can give me as to how to handle our first meeting? Also, how do we handle family and friends not approving of our relationship? Lastly, do you think a relationship like ours will make it? I really love this guy and I would hate to come between him and his family. I know how awful racism can be and how it can tear up families. We have even discussed it, but there is a difference between discussing and experiencing it. — Racially Torn
It’s great that you and your boyfriend have started discussing a future together and how you will blend your families and create a new one together. But I find it odd that in all this discussing and planning, you don’t have a clear idea whether your boyfriend has mentioned to his family that you aren’t white. Obviously, you seem to think, if for no other reason than you two live in the south, that it could potentially be an issue, so why don’t you just ASK him if he’s told them? If he has, ask him what their reaction was. If he hasn’t, ask him why not, and whether he thinks it’s wise to keep it a surprise until they meet you in person. For all you know, they’re progressive southerners who couldn’t care less what race you are and it didn’t even occur to him to mention it to them, which would be awesome. And if you KNEW that, you’d probably feel a lot less nervous about meeting them, so ask your boyfriend what the deal is so you can prepare yourself.
Your boyfriend will have better insight into his family’s reaction to your race than you do, and certainly more than I do, so he’s the one to talk to about it. If he thinks there could be backlash, you deserve to know that. You definitely deserve to know that before you meet them in person, especially if he doesn’t plan to tell them you aren’t white before he introduces you. That’s really not fair to you. It’s not fair to any of you.
Even if race isn’t an issue, there are general steps anyone can take when meeting a new significant other’s family. Find out the names of everyone — and their relationship to your boyfriend — beforehand, memorize them, and use them. Ask your boyfriend if the older generation in his family prefer to be referred to as Mrs. and Mr. or by their first names. Since you’re in the south, I imagine “ma’am” and “sir” are always appropriate. Avoid polarizing or family-inappropriate topics like politics, religion, and sex. Ask his family about themselves — what they enjoy doing, favorite vacations, and what your boyfriend was like as a child. Maybe his parents even have photos they’d show you, which could be a good bonding activity. Bring a small gift for them, especially if they’re hosting you. Flowers are good, as is a small box of candies, chocolate or tea.
Finally, if there is racism in your boyfriend’s family and it could potentially create friction in your relationship, you and your boyfriend need to have some serious discussions about that. How much influence does his family have on him? If they can’t accept you, is he willing to sacrifice a relationship with them to have one with you (is that something you would even want?). And how would his family accept biracial grandchildren (or black step-grandchildren)? As a mother of two young children, you really need to think about the kind of environment and family you would be exposing them to. If it’s hostile to them, no man is worth it. Especially not a man you’ve only known a few months.
Obviously, you have a lot to discuss and think about. Start with the important questions and pose them to the person who can answer them best — your boyfriend. Hopefully his answers will calm some of your fears. But if they don’t, you need to figure out whether you really want to pursue a relationship with a man whose family may not treat you and your children with love and respect. Racism IS an ugly thing. It’s one that your children will inevitably face, especially living in the south. You won’t always be able to protect them — or yourself — from it. But you can protect them from having a family who rejects them based on the color of their skin.
As for any friends you might have who wouldn’t support your relationship simply because its interracial, they aren’t friends worth having, end of discussion.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.