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Dear Sahaj: I am an Asian American and second-generation immigrant woman married to a White man. Some time before Donald Trump was elected (2015?) I gently opened a conversation with my husband about diversifying the media we consume. He readily agreed but did not seem to realize what that looks like in practice. Later that year, I noticed that the books he read, including ones he bought for our children, were always written by White men.
When I asked him about it, he got defensive and said he was looking for a chemistry book, as if people of color had nothing to say about the subject. Over time, he has admitted being defensive about racial issues. He might read a book I suggest but I have not seen him choose one written by a different demographic on his own. Recently my children introduced him to streaming music. He did not used to listen to music but he is embracing it. Who is on the playlist? Tom Petty, John Denver, Bruce Springsteen, Dire Straits, Kenny Rogers. I am not exaggerating. I feel a little nauseous and a lot tired.
How can I confront him about this productively? Or should I just bite my tongue knowing that will not do any good? I have tried the strategy of talking about how it makes me feel, but the answer I get back is some petulant variation of “you do you” and how petty I am for wanting to dictate his personal choices. Our three kids are all children of color and visibly so. I am so frustrated. I want a better future for them and if their own father will not put some effort into shifting his worldview by expanding the content he consumes to other perspectives, I feel very depressed.
— Frustrated in Seattle
Follow this authorSahaj Kaur Kohli
Frustrated in Seattle: You should not compromise your own sense of self, or racial or cultural identity, for anyone, let alone your husband. Whether or not you have both explicitly acknowledged this: Race is and has always been a part of your relationship. Your husband may have learned to pretend it is not, compounding the load you carry. It is important to recognize how the same experiences of marginalization and invalidation out in the world may be replicated in your own home. This can contribute to feelings of low self-worth, self-betrayal and even anxiety or depression.
You say you are “nauseous” and “tired” and “frustrated” in your letter and that level of sadness concerns me. I think your pain is less about what your husband does not know or do and more about how his lack of consideration impacts you and your family. The bottom line is that if you have not felt supported or respected about this, it makes me question if you feel supported or respected in other ways. There may be a bigger issue here. When your husband says “you do you” that is a form of invalidation, and an indication that he may not care that this is important to you.
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Your husband is operating from a place of ego and defensiveness. He feels that by changing what he is already doing, he admits to being “wrong.” This is common for folks who are coming into awareness about their privilege for the first time. You ask about how to be “productive” in confronting him. Unfortunately, you cannot force your husband to engage with you about race or seriously reflect about his own behaviors. He has to be willing to do this work on his own.
When you talk to your husband about this, focus on the impact of his choices on your sense of self and the racial identity development of your kids. When he gets defensive, avoid matching his emotional response. Instead, stay calm and focused on the problem at hand. Focus on the impact of his lack of interest by finding something you agree on, such as your shared love for your kids. It will help to understand what specific actions would show you that your husband is an active ally to you and your kids. It will also help to reflect on what has not worked. Are conversations always spontaneous or when one of you is unprepared? Recognize what specifically angers you.
Also consider when you do feel supported by your partner. Reinforce those moments to your husband so it does not feel like you are only pointing out his shortcomings. It is not about perfection but a willingness to learn and try. So model humility and acknowledge what you are also learning and reflecting on about your own racial and cultural identity. In choosing to be in a partnership with him, you want to focus on being in this together, not against each other.
Since this is not new, and talking about how you feel is not working, you may have to get creative. Maybe your husband will respond to White people talking about Whiteness, like this podcast episode or this TED Talk. Consider ways you can model and integrate that into your family life. You can read books like “So You Want To Talk About Race” or “Race Talk” to learn more about facilitating these conversations with both your husband and your kids. It is also important to expose your family to different cultures and have your kids see themselves represented in different ways in the media they consume.
Given the intensity of your disappointment in your letter, couples or individual therapy may be a necessary next step to help you have a productive and accountable space to explore your feelings and be honest. It may provide you with tools to communicate and bridge the gap with your husband. Or you may decide this is no longer something you can tolerate in your relationship and you will have support in navigating the impact of that decision.
Source link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/advice/2023/09/28/ask-sahaj-husband-white-men-media/