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In-laws ignore my race

post #1 of 55
Thread Starter 
I'm Asian and DH is white. His family has always been kind to me and has never made my race an issue. It's almost as if they don't acknowledge that I'm Asian, KWIM? I think they like to believe that they are color blind or that race doesn't matter. Well, it matters to me. I completely embrace my heritage and am proud of it, and I wish they would show some interest in it as well. They act like my Asian-ness is invisible to them.

I live in the Midwest in a community that is 90% white, so I just feel so ... alone sometimes. I will even make Asian jokes sometimes to "remind" them that I'm Asian, but they give me a blank stare. I think sometimes that whites are afraid to acknowledge race for fear of being thought of as racist. I love to hear about people's heritage and culture, whether they are Asian, Italian, black, or Arab (there's a sizable Arab population not too far from here).

Has anyone else experienced this?
post #2 of 55
Totally. All the time actually. "I just don't *see* you as Black" was a familiar refrain from friends, family of friends and my ILs as well.

Are your kids of colour? That is what makes it so important for me in relation to my partner's family. I actually maker *her* talk about it with them. She makes sure to tell her family that her son needs his cultural and racial heritage and history acknowledged in order to grow up as a full and complete human being. Parts of him can't be ignored, and since it is mostly her family trying to avoid the convo, I think it is appropriate that she deal with it.

Is that possible with your DH?
post #3 of 55
If it weren't for your location (I'm in MI, too, BTW), I'd think you might be my SIL.

I don't have any wisdom, but I hear you.
post #4 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by hparsh View Post
I think sometimes that whites are afraid to acknowledge race for fear of being thought of as racist.
I'm white, and I can tell you this is true (not for all of us obviously, but in general).

And not only that, but also (speaking for myself) I feel awkward talking about race just because I feel anxious about how any talk I'd have would be received, even beyond the "racist" label. Being white in the US means being almost without a race at all, since it's the "default." I've read or overheard many people of other races complaining about even "enlightened" comments from white people, saying that white people don't have a clue or don't have a right to talk about it.

I've visited China and Tanzania and see that race is seen very differently outside of the United States. In Tanzania, race was not a touchy subject at all. I felt no racial awkwardness. Obviously there was a difference between me and the Tanzanians, we live such different lives (mine of privelege) but the racial barrier seemed to be lifted. In China, race was definitely noticed and also talked about without shyness. White people were stared at. An African-American in my group with dreadlocks was the object of intense scrutiny (they were amazed by his hair). I talked more about race in China with strangers than I ever did in my whole life here in the US.

I don't know what your inlaws are like, but if it were me, if you told me frankly but gently "you know, I sense sometimes you're shy about talking about my Asian heritage. I really enjoy talking about it, and am very proud of it." and maybe also "Do you have any questions about my heritage or anything you'd like to discuss?" (which may be a bit tricky, but could potentially open that conversation up pretty wide), I'd probably take that as a cue to relax about it and would probably enjoy talking to you about your heritage.
post #5 of 55
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kwynne View Post
Totally. All the time actually. "I just don't *see* you as Black" was a familiar refrain from friends, family of friends and my ILs as well.

Are your kids of colour? That is what makes it so important for me in relation to my partner's family. I actually maker *her* talk about it with them. She makes sure to tell her family that her son needs his cultural and racial heritage and history acknowledged in order to grow up as a full and complete human being. Parts of him can't be ignored, and since it is mostly her family trying to avoid the convo, I think it is appropriate that she deal with it.

Is that possible with your DH?
I hate to say this, but DH's family is not exactly "worldly" if you know what I mean. I grew up in Southern California, where there is so much diversity, and everyone was always discussing different foods, cultures, etc. Here it is the complete opposite. It's extremely homogenous. I honestly don't think my in-laws are all that interested in my heritage, so I have to be vigilant about it. We have a bi-racial son together (6 months old) and I've been thinking a lot about how I want him to speak my native language (Vietnamese). I am bilingual but have been raised in the U.S. since I was 2, so I'm more comfortable with English in general. My family still lives in CA, so DS is not exposed to them, and I fear he will not learn Vietnamese unless I try really hard to use it, and being in the Midwest, it's hard, since no one here speaks it, and I use it most often around my family.

DH was more like his family when I first met him, but he is much more curious about other cultures now (thanks to me ). He will tape shows for me if they have anything on Vietnam. It's so cute. LOL

My biggest fear is that my son grows up to think he's "white" and relate only to being white. I want him to feel just as Vietnamese as he does white, KWIM? It will be a challenge when most of his friends will probably be white.
post #6 of 55
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by frog View Post
If it weren't for your location (I'm in MI, too, BTW), I'd think you might be my SIL.

I don't have any wisdom, but I hear you.
You have an Asian SIL? Are you white (hope I don't offend you by asking)? If so, I was wondering if your family is afraid to approach the topic of race.
post #7 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by laohaire View Post
I've read or overheard many people of other races complaining about even "enlightened" comments from white people, saying that white people don't have a clue or don't have a right to talk about it.
It can be kind of a double edged sword. I know I feel stuck in the middle sometimes. If I bring it up I fear the "Oh so now Im just a color" if I don't I fear the "you are ignoring who I really am"
Just because I am white doesn't mean I dont have a heritage of my own though, and I find it really doesn't come up that often unless it is the topic of conversation.
post #8 of 55
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by laohaire View Post
I'm white, and I can tell you this is true (not for all of us obviously, but in general).

And not only that, but also (speaking for myself) I feel awkward talking about race just because I feel anxious about how any talk I'd have would be received, even beyond the "racist" label. Being white in the US means being almost without a race at all, since it's the "default." I've read or overheard many people of other races complaining about even "enlightened" comments from white people, saying that white people don't have a clue or don't have a right to talk about it.

I've visited China and Tanzania and see that race is seen very differently outside of the United States. In Tanzania, race was not a touchy subject at all. I felt no racial awkwardness. Obviously there was a difference between me and the Tanzanians, we live such different lives (mine of privelege) but the racial barrier seemed to be lifted. In China, race was definitely noticed and also talked about without shyness. White people were stared at. An African-American in my group with dreadlocks was the object of intense scrutiny (they were amazed by his hair). I talked more about race in China with strangers than I ever did in my whole life here in the US.

I don't know what your inlaws are like, but if it were me, if you told me frankly but gently "you know, I sense sometimes you're shy about talking about my Asian heritage. I really enjoy talking about it, and am very proud of it." and maybe also "Do you have any questions about my heritage or anything you'd like to discuss?" (which may be a bit tricky, but could potentially open that conversation up pretty wide).
The sad thing is, I don't know if they are that interested. That makes me sad. My MIL will go on and on about her ancestors being French or Scottish, but when I mention anything about my culture she practically ignores it. She's either uncomfortable talking about it or not interested, or both.

I've even thought of giving the nieces and nephew on his side money in a little red envelope for Chinese New Year (a tradition in our family), just for fun, but then thought to myself, why would I do that? They would be clueless as to what it meant, and would probably think it's weird.

As a side note, we went to his cousin's graduation party a few weeks ago, and there were some little kids there. Well, two of them were whispering back and forth and staring at me, and one of them blurted out "Are you Chinese?!" and laughed and ran off. My niece on DH's side thought it was a really rude question and got really upset. She is 8 years old and very close to me. I thought it was interesting that she found it rude to even ask about my race. Granted, the manner in which the kids asked was kind of rude, but they were quite young. I shrugged it off and told my niece that it didn't bother me and they are just kids.
post #9 of 55
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by AniellasMommy View Post
It can be kind of a double edged sword. I know I feel stuck in the middle sometimes. If I bring it up I fear the "Oh so now Im just a color" if I don't I fear the "you are ignoring who I really am"
Just because I am white doesn't mean I dont have a heritage of my own though, and I find it really doesn't come up that often unless it is the topic of conversation.
I think I feel like since I am SUCH a minority in the area I live, the should acknowledge or show some interest in my heritage, especially since they know I was not born here. When DH comes to visit my family everyone asks him about where he's from and his family, but they are not shy about discussing race or stereotypes.
post #10 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by hparsh View Post
The sad thing is, I don't know if they are that interested. That makes me sad. My MIL will go on and on about her ancestors being French or Scottish, but when I mention anything about my culture she practically ignores it. She's either uncomfortable talking about it or not interested, or both.
Just based on what you've written here, I agree it doesn't sound like she's interested. If she were interested (like I would be), then she would have already taken that (at least tentatively) as an invitation to talk about it. How rude of her to go on about her heritage and not give yours any interest. Sorry you have to face that.
post #11 of 55
I don't have any personal experience with what you're going through, but I think I understand.

Your in-laws may be uncomfortable talking about it because they don't understand, or are afraid. I'm going to venture to guess that their exposure to anything Vietnamese prior to your DH bringing you home was reading about the Vietnam war.

I think that introducing "fun" parts of your family customs might make the nieces and nephews more comfortable asking about it, and might get them to talk to their parents about it.
post #12 of 55
Quote:
I think sometimes that whites are afraid to acknowledge race for fear of being thought of as racist.
Well, from the perspective of a white person...
Yeah. Sometimes it's like we just can't win.

I have been told bluntly "If you notice that a family walking down the street is a different color, then you're a racist. You're supposed to see them as *people*, not as whatever color they are".

This is difficult for me, because I notice differences of all kinds, all the time, and I *love* to notice them. OTOH, if I look away so I don't seem to be staring or "noticing their color", I feel they must think I'm ignoring them.

My own family is very interested in my dh's cultural background (Ethiopian) but they are very different from most of the other American families I know. Long before I met my dh, my parents were into traveling, learning different languages, learning about different cultures, exploring cultural foods, and they would invite anybody to our home--when I was a teen they made it a habit to invite residents at the hospital to eat with us, since many of them were newly arrived from other countries and were pretty lonely and isolated in our little hick-town.
post #13 of 55
I agree that often it seems like it's better to err on the side of too little attention than too much. For many white Americans their racial background isn't much more than trivia. The might be proud of being from a certain country but they aren't really connected to it in any real way anymore.

I think if your heritage is important to you than find ways to show it rather than talk about it (save that for your kids). Here in Norway I can put on a Thanksgiving dinner and invite the inlaws, they don't really "get it" but it shows them a glimpse of American culture. For Easter I make a Polish bread that my mother always made and I bring it with me to the family dinner. Are there any special traditions that you can include them in or share in some way?
post #14 of 55
I'm white married to a Vietnamese man. I agree that you are in a somewhat difficult situation there. From your description, it sounds like your IL are the sort of people that just don't venture outside what they are comfortable with. They are comfortable discussing European heritages but Vietnamese is too foreign. Or yeah, maybe they are worried about being considered racist.

Bottom line though, it doesn't really matter why they are like this. lf you want the discussion to happen, you will have to take the initiative. Feeling that "they should bring it up" just isn't effective, KWIM? They aren't going to bring it up, and you'll just end up resentful. Vietnamese culture has tons of fun, wonderful things that you can share with your husband's family. Maybe the IL won't ever really catch on, but the kids will. I think your idea of giving lucky money is great. Make it fun. Explain the tradition to the kids before you do it. Maybe get a "con lan" costume when you go home on a visit to California and bring it back for the kids to play with. There's so much you can do. Just make it fun, and chances are your ILs will gradually become comfortable with it and may start asking you more.

As for raising your kids to speak Vietnamese and be aware of their Vietnamese culture, yeah, that is hard. We live in Seattle which is fairly diverse, and we both speak Vietnamese, and STILL dd is much more American than Vietnamese. I think it is inevitable that children will identify most with the culture in which they were raised. Sometimes dh gets frustrated about it (he wants dd to be "more Vietnamese") but I really don't know what to do about it. We finally moved to Vietnam for several years just so she would learn Vietnamese! :LOL

I don't mean to make it sound like it can't be done, because it can; dh has several friends that have successfully raised there children here speaking fluent Vietnamese and very aware of their culture. But if it is going to happen, you will definitely have to be proactive. Don't wait for things to happen or other people to take initiative. Speak to your kids exclusively in Vietnamese. Cook Vietnamese food at home. Celebrate Vietnamese holidays, and invite dh's family to participate. Etc etc.
post #15 of 55
i think that it is true that people ignore it rather than deal with the reality of race. and it is infuriating. i worked with some women a while back and one of them said, "i believe in racial profiling." just like that with me sitting there.

at which point, i had to remind her that i am actually black and this is not a suntan. her response? "oh, but not for you..." my response? "ah, just other people who happen to look like me?" boy was i hot!

but i think after a while they think they are doing a service to see you without any trace of race, which actually takes an element away from you. i would have a talk with them. it may also work to take some of the tension out of it for them.
post #16 of 55
this is question that I've mauling over for sometime.

On one hand, we don't want to have all the negative stereotypes with no basis about a group of people, but at the same time we like to celebrate the differences among different cultures (the language, the food, customs, holidays, worldview, belief system, religion etc)

so how do we effectively do this? What's the protocol? It's a fine line.

Also, is being "white American" a seperate culture of its own? What is "white American culture", if any?

Just questions, questions I'm having.

And should we identify ourselves as beloinging to group of people? And when it came down to it, should we look at the group as "us" vs "other"? Or do we try not to have any boundary and only look at individual for who they think they are?

So complex is the topic of race, heritage and identity.

just my thoughts rambling in my mind.
post #17 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by cappuccinosmom View Post
I have been told bluntly "If you notice that a family walking down the street is a different color, then you're a racist. You're supposed to see them as *people*, not as whatever color they are".
Ah... but told by whom? In my experience, this is primarily a white phenomenon. Those of us who are not white in America don't have the luxury of "color blindness."

Quote:
This is difficult for me, because I notice differences of all kinds, all the time, and I *love* to notice them. OTOH, if I look away so I don't seem to be staring or "noticing their color", I feel they must think I'm ignoring them.
Differences exist. The trouble comes when people try to make generalizations based on those differences. Some people are so defensive that even acknowledging said differences upsets them, and that's unfortunate. I don't think, though, that the majority of non-white folks in America feel that way, though, and Id be willing to bet money that the vast majority of intermarried folks don't.

Quote:
My own family is very interested in my dh's cultural background (Ethiopian) but they are very different from most of the other American families I know.
It's very sad that they are the exception, rather than the rule.


Quote:
Originally Posted by moonyoungi View Post
On one hand, we don't want to have all the negative stereotypes with no basis about a group of people, but at the same time we like to celebrate the differences among different cultures (the language, the food, customs, holidays, worldview, belief system, religion etc)

so how do we effectively do this? What's the protocol? It's a fine line.
I saw a woman on Oprah once (can't for the life of me remember her name, but she was terribly freaking cool) who said two things which have stuck in my mind as pure genius. The first was that "tolerance" was not something to be worked toward; Nobody wants to be "tolerated," they want to be *accepted.* Tolerance is about putting up with things; Acceptance is about... well, accepting them.

The second (which best answers your question) was that we shouldn't be aiming for a true melting pot society, but for a salad bowl. Ideally everyone will not be the same, but everyone will be present and accepted as they are. Carrots, cucumbers, and lettuce greens are all different, and all have a place in the bowl. And that's the protocol: Learn, and accept. Lifelong processes, both, but it can be done.. at least, I have that much faith in humanity.

(For the record, the woman I'm thinking of was white. I wish I could remember her name, and the name of the book she wrote...)

Quote:
And should we identify ourselves as beloinging to group of people? And when it came down to it, should we look at the group as "us" vs "other"? Or do we try not to have any boundary and only look at individual for who they think they are?
Forgoing the nature vs. nurture debate, and sticking to adults, I'm going to reframe your question a bit: Should I identify myself as "a woman?" Should I identify others as "women" or "men?" Or should I try not to have any boundaries and look at individuals as all being of no sex (or both sexes)? It sounds ridiculous, doesn't it, to imply that men and women are the same when clearly they're not. This is the root of hparsh's problem with her in-laws: They want to think of her as being just the same as they are, when clearly she's not. It could be out of ignorance, or arrogance, or actual overt racism... but whatever the reason for it, it's making hparsh feel... well, unappreciated, to say the least. I grew up obviously mixed with a white mother who was afraid to address race at all; As a result, I thought that there was something very wrong with being "not entirely white" and thought that I really ought to do my best to "pass" for a long time. There was more to it than that, but my mother's well-meaning avoidance of the subject really messed with all of us for years, and we floundered as we tried to find racial "homes" for ourselves. It was WORK, and a lot of it could have been avoided just through open conversation.
.
post #18 of 55
Quote:
I've even thought of giving the nieces and nephew on his side money in a little red envelope for Chinese New Year (a tradition in our family), just for fun, but then thought to myself, why would I do that? They would be clueless as to what it meant, and would probably think it's weird.
It might not be so weird b/c most schools include the Chinese New Year in the holiday curriculum. They might actually think it's really cool. I do! Go for it!
post #19 of 55
They're scared of being racist or so I think, don't hold it against them.
post #20 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by Thao View Post
I'm white married to a Vietnamese man. I agree that you are in a somewhat difficult situation there. From your description, it sounds like your IL are the sort of people that just don't venture outside what they are comfortable with. They are comfortable discussing European heritages but Vietnamese is too foreign. Or yeah, maybe they are worried about being considered racist.

Bottom line though, it doesn't really matter why they are like this. lf you want the discussion to happen, you will have to take the initiative. Feeling that "they should bring it up" just isn't effective, KWIM? They aren't going to bring it up, and you'll just end up resentful. Vietnamese culture has tons of fun, wonderful things that you can share with your husband's family. Maybe the IL won't ever really catch on, but the kids will. I think your idea of giving lucky money is great. Make it fun. Explain the tradition to the kids before you do it. Maybe get a "con lan" costume when you go home on a visit to California and bring it back for the kids to play with. There's so much you can do. Just make it fun, and chances are your ILs will gradually become comfortable with it and may start asking you more.

As for raising your kids to speak Vietnamese and be aware of their Vietnamese culture, yeah, that is hard. We live in Seattle which is fairly diverse, and we both speak Vietnamese, and STILL dd is much more American than Vietnamese. I think it is inevitable that children will identify most with the culture in which they were raised. Sometimes dh gets frustrated about it (he wants dd to be "more Vietnamese") but I really don't know what to do about it. We finally moved to Vietnam for several years just so she would learn Vietnamese! :LOL

I don't mean to make it sound like it can't be done, because it can; dh has several friends that have successfully raised there children here speaking fluent Vietnamese and very aware of their culture. But if it is going to happen, you will definitely have to be proactive. Don't wait for things to happen or other people to take initiative. Speak to your kids exclusively in Vietnamese. Cook Vietnamese food at home. Celebrate Vietnamese holidays, and invite dh's family to participate. Etc etc.
This, except I'm vietnamese married to a white guy. I gave up trying to bring up vietnamese things to my ILs because they aren't interested and we have other issues (they are racist bigots) BUT for your fear about raising your child more "american" than "vietnamese", sometimes those things will happen. Thao has some great suggestions - bring as much vietnamese culture into the house as you can. Sing songs, make foods, and celebrate as many holidays as you can. my three year old son's favorite song is con buom vang and he sings it All. The. Time. He's even taught it to some of his playgroup friends, it's super cute! on the same hand though, he reverts to english instead of vietnamese (I have to remind him to speak to me in viet) because it's what he's exposed to all the time since we live in Seattle.

a big thing we do is we throw a HUGE party for Tet every year at our house and invite all our friends and family. I even have friends come over beforehand to learn about cooking and everyone has a lot of fun. We give away li xi to the little kids, have a money tree, and even do karaoke. My ILs have never come to a Tet party (we've been married for 6 years in Sept) but that's not our fault, it's theirs for not being comfortable with it.

just keep including them and if you have a good relationship with them eventually they'll warm up. chances are they just don't know how to broach the subject with you. good luck!
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