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Guilt/Bitterness regarding privilege with partner

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This topic contains 28 replies, has 6 voices, and was last updated by avatar SherBear 3 months ago.

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  • #739166 Reply

    It is well known that lots of couples break up during grad school; lots of them because they don’t seem to grow at the same pace. It is also true that it’s harder for people with any kind of privilege not to be able to understand how they benefit and it takes longer for them to “see” and much longer to do something concrete about it. You cannot force this process and you cannot shorten his chose path of “wokeness” but it seems you resent him profoundly and resent his success and his existence without him doing anything to you or actively being an asshole. This is not healthy for you nor for your boyfriend. You need to address those feelings, not healthly at all and it’s not your boyfriend’s fault (btw: I’m a PhD of color, activist myself with a white partner)

    #739174 Reply

    “…you resent him profoundly and resent his success and his existence without him doing anything to you or actively being an asshole.”

    @haggith – agreed.

    #739279 Reply
    Sue Jones

    I can appreciate a lot of what you say. I am also from a minority, and as women YES it is true right now that we still (damn it!) have to work 10 times as hard to get 1/2 of the recognition that men do in general in the workplace. That is just the facts of how things are right now in the world. Yes it sucks but please don’t take it out on your boyfriend. It is not his fault and I am sure that he is trying his hardest to understand. And yes he is probably oblivious to his privilege in a lot of glaring ways. When an average not exceptional woman can succeed the way men do then we know we are there, but as of now any woman has to be beyond perfect and even that isn’t enough (reference our last USA presidential election and the asshole thug who is currently in office!).

    I don’t have a lot to offer except to recommend that you release the competetiveness towards your boyfriend. You both need to be a team and have each others’ backs. Relationships corrode when the competetiveness creeps in. Try to support each other more. And as it happens, if you were to marry and have children, often someone’s career takes a hit and it is usually (though doesn’t have to be!) the woman’s. I have always been the main breadwinner with the more lucrative career and I have to say that there have been many times once I had kids that I wished I could scale back a bit but can’t. So there is pain either way. the pain of having to balance it all and work extremely hard on both fronts or the pain of putting my career on hold or both.

    Channel your anger at the situation into fighting world injustice not towards him. I am hoping he is being schooled by being in relationship with you and witnessing your struggles.

    #739306 Reply

    I’m a white woman who dated a black woman for 2 years. I was raised in a middle-class home (dad made $60,000 to support 4 people, mom didn’t work and never went to college). My ex-partner was an activist and honestly, she was the first person who really made me aware of White Privilege. Until I met her, I never even thought about my privilege (which is embarrassing and disappointing to admit, but true). She was constantly telling me to “check my privilege,” which I tried to do all the time. Dating her really made me realize just how absolutely unfair life is if you don’t have white skin in America.

    I have white-woman-in-America privilege. It’s undeniable.

    My ex had to plaster a pleasant smile on her face and be extra polite when pulled over by a cop — so as not to look suspicious or dangerous. As a white woman, I’ve never done that, and never will have to.

    My ex has been questioned by convenience store security guards 35 times thus far in her life; they have asked her to empty her backpack or pockets, or done things such as accused her of trying to steal cigarettes. I didn’t even believe her when she first told me this because 35 times seemed like such a high amount. But I was with her one time when it happened (when she wasn’t even doing anything that looked suspicious), and so I believed her after that. As a white woman, that has *never* happened to me.

    As an undergrad, my ex was turned down for jobs at retail stores (that she was qualified for) only to see, weeks later, that they hired a bubbly teen white girl for the position. We can all say “Oh, maybe the white girls were more qualified,” but privilege does exist, and to think that my ex was rejected solely bc of (“lack of qualifications,”) would be shortsighted. Sadly, I could never even relate to her on this (though I did feel very sympathetic to her) because in high school, I was the teen white girl retail shops were hiring without even checking my qualifications or references — all because I was obviously a suburban white girl.

    These are just a few examples of my white privilege. Every day that I live, I am privileged. I’m sure I enjoy privileges I’m not even aware of. Sad but true.

    A short while after starting to date my ex, I started feeling so guilty because of my privilege. Every day, I felt guilty just by existing. I would often ask her what I should do to “make up for” the fact that I’m privileged. She would always tell me to take action, but never gave me concrete details of how do do that. (She’d say “The fact that you don’t know reveals your privilege.”) So I started volunteering weekly to tutor adults who were studying for their GED. I figured that since I was born privileged, I should use any skills I have to help others. Most of the people I tutored were were black. My ex was mad when she found out I had started tutoring; she said I was “just using my White Guilt to be in a position of superiority over low-class blacks, where I’m the teacher and they are the student.”

    I was very sad over this. In my mind, I was just trying to make up for being privileged, and I was trying to understand the perspectives of people who came from a different background than me. I was also trying to be “good enough” for her because I loved her.

    In the end, we broke up. I broke up with her because I started hating myself; I never felt like I was enough for her. I always felt she had disdain for me. We were so happy in the beginning (we met in grad school, loved the same films and literature and music and philosophers, loved to cook for each other, etc.), but as time went on, I just couldn’t be enough for her. If she had told me specifically how I could have “taken better action,” believe me, I would have done it.

    So LW, I’m saying: If you can tell your boyfriend *how* he can take action — and if he then makes his best attempt to take that action — then that’s probably the best you can hope for. If that’s not enough, then nothing will be.

    As a white male, he will always have privileges you don’t have. Even if he recognizes he is privileged and sees how utterly unfair the world is, he will still have those privileges until the day he dies. Even if today he tells every man in your lab “You know what, these female researchers are not getting the opportunities we white men have, let’s give them first-authorship on the next few papers,” (or whatever it is that would define “taking action”), he will STILL have white male privilege.

    Please ask yourself if there is anything he can ever do to make you not resent him. If the answer is no, then maybe just break up.

    I am grateful for the years I spent with my ex, because she opened my eyes to stuff I wasn’t seeing (and needed to see). I know I still have A LOT to learn and understand. But when it comes down to it, I just wanted to be with someone who didn’t resent me and make me hate myself, and I hope she is now with someone who is more “worthy” of being with her.

    All I’m saying is: Privilege exists, and it’s not fair. If your BF doesn’t want to realize that (even after you explain it in a non-accusatory way), and if he doesn’t want to take action when you give him *specific* details about how he can take action, then maybe he’s not the man for you. 🙁

    #739320 Reply

    @Anetta Honestly your ex sounds like she was an awful partner who got satisfaction from putting you down. I hope you kept up with the GED tutoring – anyone that insults your volunteering is an a**.

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