How one interracial couple learned to talk about race

Andrea Chiu sometimes struggled to get her white wife to understand her perspective on race. Then they read Ijeoma Oluo’s best-selling book, So You Want To Talk About Race.
Andrea Chiu and her wife, Helena, came closer together as a couple when they learned how to talk to each other about race. (Tara McMullen)

(Originally published in April 2018)

For a long time, Andrea Chiu wanted to talk about race with her white wife, Helena, but it was hard to do.

"For people of colour, it's emotional," says Chiu. "But when we talk about race among other people who are not racialized, I find they are really resistant. It's not about the personal, it's anything but personal. The thinking, from my experience, is 'but I'm a good person. I have Black friends, I have Asian friends, I'm not the racist.'"

So when Chiu started listening to Ijeoma Oluo's book So You Want to Talk About Race on audiobook, she saw an opportunity.

"Every chapter, I would kind of talk to myself, like 'yes, that's so resonant!' Or, 'so-and-so in my life did that,' says Chiu, who put the audiobook on during a road trip with her wife. "She [Helena] had the exact same experience."

Listening to the book with Helena helped the two connect by teaching them how to talk about race.

Having the conversation

Chiu (right) and her wife used the book So You Want To Talk About Race to help ease misunderstandings on ethnicity and the way people of colour are treated. (Submitted by Andrea Chiu)

"We were learning about the proper vocabulary to talk about race. The definition of racism, for example, that Ijeoma talks about. ... And having that shared experience of learning proper vocabulary or ways to think about intersectionality or micro-aggressions, just having that shared experience really helped us to have a conversation," says Chiu. 

She adds that Helena is now more of a vocal ally when it comes to talking about race.

"We've had a number of conversations with her parents, for example, who are super open and willing to learn about issues around race, but come from a place where they don't have a lot of people of colour in their lives," says Chiu.

"She's the one who explained white privilege to her parents. She's also the one who stands up sometimes when I'm too tired or just don't want to say stuff in defence of, whether it's racialized peoples or Muslims."

According to Chiu, Helena also understands her perspective better.

"In any relationship, we're constantly learning about our partner. And I think this has really helped Helena understand my perspective a little more. You know, why representation in the media is important, why I might feel a certain way in the workplace."

Finding allies

Chiu understands these conversations are difficult but she says it's important for white people to talk about race.

Helena, right, learned how to be a better ally to her partner, Chiu, left, by engaging in conversations about race and identity in situations where Chiu could not. (Submitted by Andrea Chiu)

"It's really a question of: do you believe in dismantling systemic racism? If yes, then you should be having these conversations when the opportunities present themselves. But also because — similar to why we need men talking to other men about misogyny — we need white people to talk to other white people about this," says Chiu.

Sometimes the message is not for other white people but for your friends and partners of colour because we just want to be heard and felt supported.- Andrea Chiu

"Sometimes the message is more heard if it comes from another white person because it doesn't feel like a personal attack."

But Chiu says being a vocal white ally sends an important message to people of colour, too.

"Sometimes the message is not for other white people but for your friends and partners of colour because we just want to be heard and felt supported," says Chiu. 

You can read more about how So You Want To Talk About Race helped Andrea Chiu and Helena connect in Chiu's recent article for Flare magazine.