Despite my overarching hatred of white privilege, I recently fell in love with a white person. Their name is Elliot. When I worked at Bicycle Coffee, they came in twice a week to order coffee for their job. I was attracted to them, but I initially chose to distance myself energetically. They were patient. Four month later, we spoke in length for the first time. Many conversations followed. This was one of them:
Kim: What are feelings that have come to the surface for you that you didn’t foresee so far?
Elliot: I think that in past relationships I’m used to being treated as disposable when I fuck up. And I feel like I fucked up pretty badly that morning. You texted me that you got fired over some bullshit. And you were expressing how frustrating it was to feel like all these white coworkers are fucking up and there’s no consequences, and how you feel like you have a lack of control in your life because you can invest all this time and energy and be doing better than anyone else is even trying to be and still have it come out of nowhere. And I made the mistake of apologizing and trying to be shitting on white people with you. And you made a really important and generous set of points back to me which was like, I am actively benefiting from the oppression that is oppressing you. And that I don’t get to be compassionate or say I’m sorry, I don’t have the basis for sharing in that moment with you in that way.
It was a lesson in understanding that I need to work on my shit and continue to fight against all I was socialized to do in these situations. And also that you’re not going to treat me as disposable.
And it made me think about what you go through on a daily basis, in terms of what I can tell from your interactions in public, at work: having to constantly navigate people’s fucked up language, questions, and conversations. I see you put in so much effort navigating that and being incredibly gracious and generous with yourself and your energy. It just seems exhausting. And I don’t want to be one more person that, because of our connection, you feel like you have to be that generous and gracious for. I want to be supportive of you and not taxing your energy more.
Kim: That makes me feel like, in what ways could we develop a partnership that did feel like a two-way street. Like one person wasn’t constantly draining another one. If possible, because I don’t think in any relationship there’s ever going to be a dead-on even exchange. It makes me think, what are we building together that substantiates both of our experiences? For me, it feels really important to know that you’ve been active in the community. I’m not trying to adulate you for things you should be doing, but on some level I want to recognize that it does take effort that 99.9% of people don’t put forth or do but for the wrong reasons. And analysis-wise, politic-wise, energy-wise, I feel like there’s a lot of ways that I’m compatible with you. And that to me, overrides or at least compensates for my obvious inability to connect with you on a cultural level.
I think at the place I am now in my life, I cannot be around anyone who I feel like I have to like consistently educate on a basic level. And that’s not to say that I still don’t have a lot to learn, and I learn a lot from you. But if I was in a relationship with someone who was Black but didn’t understand any of the things that I wasn’t interested in explaining anymore, I wouldn’t give them a pass to my time, just because they were Black.
We talked about it yesterday and I asked you what are we going to do if anyone calls us out on our connection, and makes you or I or both of us feel like we should not be engaging in this because we come from two very different places.
We come from two very different places, but we are in a very similar space right now. We look very different, our daily experiences are very different, but I feel like our missions are very similar. And you understand a lot more politically than I do, and I’m excited to learn about that from you. But when I explain things to you about how I feel, it feels like you just get it, and that feels really important to me. I definitely have my fears, like I said to you the other day, I’m not proud that you’re white. You’re not some trophy I’m wearing on my arm because of your skin tone, if anything I’m ashamed and cowering because of it. And if anyone expressed their issues regarding this with you, I would hold space for that. I wouldn’t let anyone hit you, and I wouldn’t let anyone verbally abuse you. But if they had feelings that they wanted to channel, I feel like that’s valid.
Elliot: Yeah, absolutely. We talked about this yesterday. I want to hold space for those objections and not succumb to patterns I’ve been working against like defensiveness, because it’s not about me.
Kim: How do we ensure that on some level that maybe we’re not even conscious of that this is exoticizing, or fetishizing? How do we navigate that inevitability?
Elliot: I’ve been really grateful for the amount of time and structure that you’ve led of communicating, and creating space to get to know each other as people, and opening up pathways for us to be able to have difficult conversations. And have it be okay and something that we can do in moments where we need to address shit head on.
I think with fetishization, I’ve been trying to understand where desire comes from for a couple years, reading books, talking to people, and thinking about it. One of things I’ve heard from multiple sources is that we are often attracted to the things that have traumatized us in the past, and we engage and have sexual fantasies or desires for those people or what they represent, and it’s a way to try to master the trauma and go back to that place of vulnerability and feel like we have more control over the situation than we did back then.
I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m attracted to like your masculinity, for example. I’m on high alert about how the racial dynamics of us as individuals, as individuals in this specific society, have informed my attraction to you or how our relationship is currently unfolding or where it will go. That is something that I would like to develop a practice around, whether it’s individually or collectively.
I’m going to get set up to see a therapist this year. I heard two women speaking the other day, and they were saying it’s extremely dangerous for white people not to be in therapy. Because like, white people are socialized to believe they are entitled to people of color’s, particularly Black people’s, time and energy and labor, and often use folks in their life as emotional labor drains. And white people should be in therapy as a way not only to unlearn that but also as an outlet so they’re not hurting people on a daily basis in their life. Therapy is something I want to explore and make sure that I have a responsible practice and way to be accountable to you about that.
We also talked about getting couple’s therapy now, at the beginning, as a way to avoid negative patterns and address them as they start to emerge. One thing I was thinking of was like I would be highly uncomfortable with 99% of white therapists out there taking on that role of mediating us, like I don’t think there should be two white people in the room for this discussion.
Kim: Totally, that was on my mind. I just never articulated it.
We also talked about how our feelings towards one another don’t have to be one-dimensional. There’s room and a rightful place for all views in the spectrum, maybe more so on my end than yours. Like, I can have deep feelings for you, I can at times be angry and frustrated, and attracted and repulsed, understanding that our dynamic historically is so layered, and having any expectation that we’re going to escape that is completely unfair.
But I think the goal is to implement tools now that will hopefully help us navigate these inevitable issues, and communicate honestly about the ways we’re going to struggle.
What are you feeling?
Elliot: I’m feeling a mixture of fear and excitement, like I’ve never taken so much intention and time to set up a dynamic in a romantic connection before. And it feels so important and I’m wondering why I hadn’t done this before. It makes me feel like really close to you. I am also recognizing how much we have left to learn about each other.