Dear Kiki: Am I a jerk for not joining my boyfriend at the protests?

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Dear Kiki,

I’m a white female, and my boyfriend is black. This is my first time in an interracial couple. We’ve been dating almost four months and we’ve been lucky not to experience discrimination yet. He’s been very active protesting since the George Floyd video came out. I joined him at a protest but I felt out of place, even though there were a lot of other white people there. Of course I believe black lives matter and that video was sad but I don’t know what role I should play in the movement. My boyfriend tells me I should keep coming out with him if I support him, but I don’t want to get in the way and I just don’t consider myself an activist, so I make excuses like studying or plans with friends. Plus I don’t want either of us to get arrested if things get out of hand. My friend called me a “Karen” when I told her all this which didn’t seem fair. How do I tell my boyfriend I just don’t want to march with him without it sounding bad? I don’t want politics to be the thing that breaks us up.

Please Help,
Am I a Karen?

Dear Am I a Karen,

You’re not a Karen. At least, nothing that you’ve described fits the definition. In a delightful twist of exactly what we’re talking about, a term that arose with a specific meaning on Black Twitter has been whitewashed and neutralized to become a generic insult, typically to mean “buzzkill” or someone viewed as selfish. I’m all for the organic evolution of language, but sometimes one group will co-opt a term — or a situation, or a movement — because it makes them feel uncomfortable in a vague way they can’t describe. There’s no malice, usually, but decentering is really, really hard. After a lifetime of being shown otherwise, there’s no easy way to accept that It’s. Not. About. You.

Four months isn’t a long time to get to know someone. You might not even know each other’s favorite childhood movie or which Golden Girls you are yet. But you’ve been thrown into a crash course in understanding the deepest, most honest and uncomfortable parts of your boyfriend’s lived experience. There’s nothing easy about nurturing a fledgling relationship under these circumstances. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or confused, the good news is that these challenges aren’t about you. The bad news?

It’s. Not. About. You.

It doesn’t matter if you felt out of place at the protest. It doesn’t matter if you’re confused about what role to play in the movement. It doesn’t matter that you don’t want to “sound bad.” This is not your moment. I get that at four months, it should be your moment. You should be getting flowers, he should be cooking you dinner for the first time, you should feel like the center of his world. The timing is shitty, no doubt. But if it breaks you, it won’t be the fault of politics (aside: the fact that this movement has nothing to do with politics is a truth you should spend time investigating irrespective of this relationship). It will be because you’re not ready to decenter yourself.

Is that fair? Shit, no. Living through moments of seismic societal shift always looks cool in retrospect, but none of us deserve to have our lives disrupted by what’s happening in the world around us. That’s where we are, though, and you have a choice to make about how you want to respond to it. Lots of couples face significant crises early in their time together. It’s the choices each person makes, not the situation, that determines whether it makes them stronger together or drives a wedge between them.

In the greater scheme of society, it’s not about you. But yours are the only actions you can control. So for the purposes of closing out this column, I’m going to make it about you again. With the knowledge that the world is in upheaval, this uprising is happening around you whether you like it or not and your boyfriend is carrying a heavy burden that he likely doesn’t have the spoons to explain to you right now, you need to decide.

Where do you stand?

xoxo, Kiki

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 283.

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