Updated on-
November 17, 2022

White dad, Asian family

My journey to racial realisation
March 25, 2022
General Advice Warning. The information on DadMode is intended to be general in nature and is not personal financial or product advice.
I want to preface this post by acknowledging that I’m fully aware that the world doesn’t need any more white men voicing their opinions about racism.

The market for loudmouth white dudes is oversaturated and the world would be a better place if most of them would just shut up and listen to the experiences of people of colour.

With that out of the way, let's get into it. Buckle up.

I’m writing this as a line in the sand drawn in my own life, an acknowledgement of the mistakes I’ve made and the people I’ve hurt along the way. It's also a beacon for anyone else out there to say that defensiveness and anger is not the answer when confronted with an ugly truth. It's my exploration into allyship, marriage and fatherhood as a white man with an Asian family.

Let's talk about racism

I’ve been through some difficult stuff in my life but one thing I have never experienced is someone discriminating against me because of the colour of my skin, the shape of my eyes or where I was born.

As a straight white man, I’m at the peak of privilege. I’ve always found it easy to get a job, people aren’t intimidated by me and I’m always met with acceptance wherever I go. I always knew this wasn’t everyone’s experience and I’ve seen the pain in my Asian, gay, trans friends' eyes but I never saw myself as someone that could do anything about it. I was just there if they wanted to chat.

Some comments I’ve overheard.

“Fuck off back to where you came from and give me your seat” - Said to my ex-girlfriend on a tram in Melbourne.
“Oh look, a terrorist” - Said by a colleague as a man with a turban on walks past.
“Mitch must have yellow fever” - A friend from high school
“I always knew he would end up with a Thai Takeaway”

I didn’t speak up when any of this happened. I was too afraid of how I would be seen, or what they would say to me. “it’s just a joke” Probably.

Racism is not always this overt.

I’ve been told it’s the little comments that hurt the most, the subtle ones. The comments you can’t condemn easily because they are so often denied. I’ve heard they make you feel like you’ve imagined them. Gaslighting at its finest.

What is my role as a white man with an Asian family?

My wife is Asian, so are my two kids (obviously). Katie has had it all, comments, physical violence you name it.

How can I contribute to a less racist world and what is my role not only as a father and husband with an Asian family but as a man at the top of the privilege pyramid?

Racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, bigotry, sexism. None of it applies to me but how do I help my kids navigate a world where it exists and how do I use my privilege for good?

These are the questions I’ve been asking myself since I became a dad and I’m ashamed I didn’t think like this before.

I’m by no means perfect. I’ve said and done some things that I regret. Haven’t stuck up for people that have needed me and by no means have been the best ally. I’m trying to listen to the experiences of the people around me and then act in a way that aligns with the needs that I'm told. I don’t always get it right and I don't have all the answers yet.

This may all be straying a bit from the usual content I write for Dad Mode but it is something that I consider to be a massive part of being a good dad. Sticking up for those around me and standing in the way of discrimination. But what does that look like in practice?

In the spirit of transparency, I want to tell you a story about setting boundaries with racism, no matter who it comes from and what the consequences are.

I called out racism in my family, here’s what happened.

I’ve been trying to write about this for a long time and haven't known where to start.

Do I go all in and give you a play by play recap of what happened? Or do I use vague language to not piss anyone off?

Let’s see what comes out, shall we?

It’s been over a year since I’ve spoken to half of my family, Spare a few emails back and forth to try and reconnect, and I finally feel like I'm ok with it.

About $3000 worth of therapy later (where do I send the bill?) I finally realise that there is nothing I can do or could have done to make it any different.

I feel like I can breathe again.

Ok, here we go.

My family has this curse.

On the maternal side, there have been constant arguments and fallouts over the last 20 years. Someone is always pissed at someone else and they end up not talking.

Like clockwork, this happens.

Argument - not talking - start talking (with no mention of the problem) - move on to the next person and the cycle continues.

I call it a curse but it's really just a good example of how your behaviour is passed down to your kids, positive and negative. This bloody terrifies me as a dad and has amplified my focus on self-work. It also led to the creation of Dad Mode so some good has come out of it.

In February of last year, my mum said something racist about my dad's partner. If you want to know what it was you can see it in bold above.

As well as degrading and offensive to my dad's partner, the comment directly affected my wife, her being Asian and of course me being white.

This was upsetting, especially as our son was there. We ended up not saying anything at the time, I don’t know why to be honest. We should have. I think we were both a little shocked or maybe I was scared of what would happen. Deep down I knew that because of the ‘curse’ I shouldn’t rock the boat or I would be at risk of being the next victim of a fallout.

Then a few weeks later we were talking with my sister about our mum meeting my dad's partner. Katie mentioned in passing that she hopes she doesn’t say anything racist as she has before.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, I'm visiting my sister and I get sat down and berated for that comment. Here are some things that are thrown at me.

"It's disgusting that she would say that about her (Mum)"
"How could you call her a racist in front of my child"
"You have to know her history, she has done so much for refugees, I can't believe you called her racist".

I didn’t know what to do. I’ve always been passive in my family to avoid any conflict but this was the next level.

They both saw us commenting on racism as more offensive than the actual racism itself. Huh? I now know that the culture between them is one of non-confrontation and almost a sacred protection from any criticism.

I left that day with my hands shaking.

My whole view of my family had been shattered and I immediately felt like a child again.

By the way, I was 30, married and had a kid at the time. I was very much not a child but I was made to feel like one. We will explore a bit more on this at a later date as there is A LOT to talk about.

Over the last year, there has been a few email exchanges. Mostly coming from us trying to explain how language is important and seemingly throwaway comments are offensive and damaging. We’ve explained our side of the story and apologised that perhaps we could have handled it better.

Although our efforts were sincere, they were met with personal attacks and comments like “you think you’re better than us”. This reaction to criticism is understandable, it’s not a nice feeling to have your mistakes noticed and spoken about.

Turns out this reaction is an often experienced one.

White fragility - The discomfort and defensiveness on the part of a white person when confronted by information about racial inequality and injustice.

It’s that feeling you get when you’re being told you’ve done something wrong but you just want to instinctively deny it or twist the story to your benefit or to avoid the confrontation. I’ve felt it, still do.

Journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge is an author and journalist who wrote a blog post and book called Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. Everyone needs to read it.

“They’ve never had to think about what it means, in power terms, to be white, so any time they’re vaguely reminded of this fact, they interpret it as an affront. Their eyes glaze over in boredom or widen in indignation. Their mouths start twitching as they get defensive. Their throats open up as they try to interrupt, itching to talk over you but not to really listen, because they need to let you know that you’ve got it wrong.”

It may be difficult to read, it was for me, but that's the point. We need to confront these feelings head-on before we can move past them. It's not about blame, it's about acknowledging that you may have beliefs or behaviours that are hurting people and doing the work to grow past them.

Check out Reni’s book.

It's not about what I lost, it's about what I gained.

I lost my mum and sister last year but I gained something I had been searching for all my life.

Confidence.

Confidence to be the husband I always wanted to be. Confidence to be a father that my kids are proud to have. But most of all I’m confident that it’s ok to make mistakes or say the wrong thing. It’s what you do after that determines who you are.

To be clear, I still love my family and if they are ever to reach out to me I would welcome them back into my life. Although they would no doubt notice a difference in me, I’ve stepped over my line in the sand and there’s no going back.

If you’ve made it this far thank you for reading. I know it hasn’t been the most ‘fun’ post I’ve ever done and I’ll tell you right now it has been difficult to write, but it is a necessary conversation to have. Especially for white dads.

See you in the next one x

If you have had an experience where you have confronted someone about racism and it hasn’t gone well I would love to chat with you. Get in touch HERE.

*UPDATE*

I've received some amazing responses from this post and have put some together to share.

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