Why Ignoring Cultural Differences in Cross-Cultural Relationships is Harmful

(photo by Maxx R via Flickr.com)

While reading Laura Banks’ dissertation about interracial relationships with a Chinese partner, something in the conclusion caught my eye:

Each couple has different ways of viewing their own situation. Some address it directly and define the boundaries and what must be done to ensure cultural understanding. For example one couple said; ‘from the outset of our relationship, we have been conscious of intercultural issues and keen to address them by talking then through and explaining to each other what we are thinking.’ Other couples like B…and L…have addressed it in a completely different way and have ‘done something that is very unusual in Chinese-foreign relationships; we have never talked about that I am from a different country especially not in the case of conflicts’ and they feel that ‘many people like to overemphasize the influence of cultural differences.’ The way in which they address the situation is what works for them as a couple and as with many things in life there is no wrong or right way of dealing with it.

Naturally, since I write a blog meant to promote cross-cultural understanding between Chinese-Western couples, it seemed bizarre to just ignore cultural differences in a cross-cultural relationship. But as much as I would love to say that “there is no wrong or right way,” I can’t agree. In fact, the B/L way — essentially, a colorblind approach to interracial/cross-cultural relationships — is harmful.

Why? This article, titled Colorblind Ideology is a Form of Racism, explains the problem:

Colorblindness is the racial ideology that posits the best way to end discrimination is by treating individuals as equally as possible, without regard to race, culture, or ethnicity….

In a colorblind society, White people, who are unlikely to experience disadvantages due to race, can effectively ignore racism in American life, justify the current social order, and feel more comfortable with their relatively privileged standing in society (Fryberg, 2010). Most minorities, however, who regularly encounter difficulties due to race, experience colorblind ideologies quite differently. Colorblindness creates a society that denies their negative racial experiences, rejects their cultural heritage, and invalidates their unique perspectives.

Let’s break it down into simple terms: Color-Blind = “People of color — we don’t see you (at least not that bad ‘colored’ part).” ….colorblindness has helped make race into a taboo topic that polite people cannot openly discuss. And if you can’t talk about it, you can’t understand it, much less fix the racial problems that plague our society.

….When race-related problems arise, colorblindness tends to individualize conflicts and shortcomings, rather than examining the larger picture with cultural differences, stereotypes, and values placed into context. Instead of resulting from an enlightened (albeit well-meaning) position, colorblindness comes from a lack of awareness of racial privilege conferred by Whiteness (Tarca, 2005). White people can guiltlessly subscribe to colorblindness because they are usually unaware of how race affects people of color and American society as a whole.

The American Psychological Association’s Multicultural Guidelines offer further evidence of the damage that colorblindness can cause:

While the color-blind approach is based in an attempt to reduce inequities, social psychologists have provided evidence that a color-blind approach does not, in fact, lead to equitable treatment across groups. Brewer and Brown (1998), in their review of the literature, note “…ignoring group differences often means that, by default, existing intergroup inequalities are perpetuated” (p. 583). For example, Schofield (1986) found that disregarding cultural differences in a school led to reestablishing segregation by ethnicity. Color-blind policies have also been documented as playing a role in differential employment practices (Brewer & Brown). In these cases, the color-blind approach may have the effect of maintaining a status quo in which Whites have more power than do People of Color. There is also some evidence that a colorblind approach is less accurate than a multicultural approach. Wolsko et al., (2000) for example, found that when White students were instructed to adopt a color-blind or multicultural approach, those with a multicultural approach had stronger stereotypes of other ethnic groups as well as more positive regard for other groups. White students in a multicultural approach also had more accurate perceptions of differences due to race/ethnicity and used category information about both ethnicity and individual characteristics more than those in the color-blind condition. Wolsko et al. concluded, “When operating under a colorblind set of assumptions, social categories are viewed as negative information to be avoided, or suppressed. … In contrast, when operating under a multicultural set of assumptions, social categories are viewed as simply a consequence of cultural diversity. Failing to recognize and appreciate group similarities and differences is considered to inhibit more harmonious interactions between people from different backgrounds.” (p. 649)

In essence, if you choose to ignore cultural, ethnic and/or racial differences between you and your partner, you end up treating him or her in an unintentionally racist or discriminatory manner.

Let’s explore this through the couple B and L. Since they avoid conversations about cultural differences, I assume that if you asked them why, they would argue they’re emphasizing those “universal” behaviors or qualities that all people share. But that’s the problem. What exactly is “universal”? If you’ve ever traveled, you soon realize that many behaviors and assumptions change from culture to culture and country to country — which makes determining what’s “universal” and “normal” practically impossible.

But I imagine B and L probably never even ventured into a discussion about what’s “normal” or “universal”. And if so, then chances are they’re going by someone’s idea of “universal” or “normal.” Given that colorblindness is a concept often preferred by Whites, I’m willing to bet that if one of them is White, they’re going primarily according to the “normal” for the White individual in the relationship. He or she probably feels relieved — no more “uncomfortable” discussions about culture or race. But you can’t say the same for the Chinese partner, who now has to operate according to expectations that weren’t theirs growing up. That’s another way of telling them, “Your culture isn’t important.” And because culture is a part of who we are, in essence they’re also saying, “You’re not that important.”

(Yes, theoretically, this can also work in reverse, if the non-Chinese partner is expected to conform to Chinese cultural expectations. But I expect that happens less often because, in China, white foreigners still enjoy preferential treatment — something Chinese will never experience in a Western country.)

I hope this post reminds anyone in a cross-cultural/interracial relationship with a Chinese partner to think twice about forgoing conversations about cultural differences and preferences. It’s not that we’re “overemphasizing the influence of cultural differences,” as B and L suggest. It’s about finally acknowledging that everyone is a cultural being, whether you’re a white girl from Cleveland, Ohio, USA (like me) or a guy from Hangzhou, China (like John).

What do you think? 

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41 thoughts on “Why Ignoring Cultural Differences in Cross-Cultural Relationships is Harmful

  • July 22, 2013 at 6:49 am
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    Interesting topic Jocelyn. Kudos for always sparking debate on topics that matter. I agree with both the person you quoted and you though. Let me explain why.

    A person is an independent entity that exists within the context of their culture. Meaning that they are not just their cultural norms and values, but a complex amalgam of their own values and how their culture shapes them. Which is why even in collectivistic cultures that value homogeneity you have as many types of people as there are people themselves!

    Therefore taking one or the other approach (i.e. noticing or ignoring culture) can be dangerous. I have seen myraid posts here by many who chalk down their relationship problems and failures to culture, when if they were to just view it with common sense, was not a cultural problem at all. However, culture can as easily become a rug to slide problems under. He/she doesn’t do this because its a part of their culture. He/she is acting this way coz thats what chinese/american/indian people do. I am from a very old and complex culture, yet if someone who had studied it for very many years were to come up and strike a conversation with me, I couldnt guarantee that we would get along.

    For one, they know my culture, but they have no clue how I relate to my culture. For all they know I might accept and reject many norms. Secondly, assuming that just by knowing someone’s culture you have a better understanding of them is as naive as assuming that you dont need to understand someones culture to know them. What is more dangerous in the former is that people might focus on all the wrong bits of info while making a judgement about the said person. An example is the myraid cases in fenshou where women focus on their faults and chinese culture to explain why the chinese man disappeared. I have spoken to, and closely known many chinese men and women and far as I know they are less likely to ascribe such behaviour to culture than to, being a jerk basically. Culture is just a grandoise excuse for a classic ‘he is just not that into you’ scenario then.

    Having said that though, assuming that culture is not important is also naive. We DO speak different languages sometimes and not just literally. Subtle differences that we might not even notice or be aware of can have huge impact. For instance, the issue of weight in chinese culture. It is very common for chinese to comment on peoples weight. MOST of them do it, with anyone they meet and know well enough. But most people would find this offensive (especially in the west). In this case it is important to know the cultural difference as that leads to drastically different assumptions about a person’s intent. While a less aware person might think said chinese person is being a jerk, a more informed individual would say that they are just looking out for/ commenting on something (akin to commenting on the weather even).

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  • July 22, 2013 at 7:23 am
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    Hello Jocelyn! I have read quite a bit of your blog posts recently and wanted to say thank you for your continuous interest and posting –gives me food for thought. Also there really is not enough information about interracial Asian male/Caucasian female couples so thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience!

    Just wanted to post my two cents on this post:
    I agree pretty much with the previous commenter. As an intercultural person myself, I get pretty annoyed when I am in one or the other country and supposed other culture is used as a blanket explanation for something I did that was different or not immediately intelligible. The monolithic concept of ‘culture’ has become a new form of delineating people according to stereotypes that is decoupled from biological elements (unlike with racism), but is not really an improvement in the way we categorize people. Even the multi-cultural debates and/or integration projects tend to create categories that we then view as equal to one another, but keep us from viewing each individual on their own personal level and as a result of their myriad, unique influences. Anyway, even in that post from the APA it said that people with multi-cultural political backgrounds have ‘stronger stereotypes of other ethnic groups,’ which is also definitely something to be viewed critically (i.e. what happens when they are negative). Especially with globalization, the amount of differences within one (supposedly clearly defined) ‘culture’ is monumental. That said: totally agree that color-blind approaches do not help…and can be used as cop-outs to not deal with racism/cultural essentialism. But if those people can within their relationship approach each others as equals relatively free of cultural stereotypes then power to them. Just as long as they do not pretend the rest of the world will play along.

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  • July 22, 2013 at 8:05 am
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    I feel that its important to acknowledge differences. If you can’t acknowledge differences, then why bother dating someone from another country? I also feel its important to get to know the person and the culture they come from because that way you will understand them. I’m curious, but what are some examples of “multicultural behavior” and colorblind approach?

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    • July 23, 2013 at 1:55 am
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      I don’t date people from other countries in order to experience difference. I date people from other countries because I fall in love with them. I said ‘multicultural backgrounds’ in combination with that APA quote from the post.. I am assuming that means in that study people who were taught that every culture is seperate but equal. But multicultural people are those that were raised in several places or are a diaspora community -take Turkish immigrants in Germany who are neither accepted by German culture and authorities, yet are considered germanized by Turkish citizens. Then your culture is neither/nor and you become multicultural. Or the children of parents from different places.. Or the children of migrants.

      Obviously there are differences between people based on what they have experienced in life and where they grew up. I just would prefer we didn’t say its necessarily culture, but rather just who they are as a person. I am not denying difference; it’s fascinating to see all the different ways people can interact with one another!

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  • July 22, 2013 at 11:00 am
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    I can only speak of what this so called “colorblind” approach means in the US, coming from my perspective as a white, straight CIS female. And what it means, when a white person says “I don’t see race” or “there is only one race, the human race,” is that the person is either purposefully or as a byproduct of unexplored white privilege, wiping out the culture of a POC by perpetuating the supremacy of the white culture in this country. It is harmful, to say the least. There really cannot be any room for this kind of approach.

    This is not to say that white people should not be mindful that other cultures approach disagreement differently. Exactly the opposite. In order to not be running roughshod over the culture of the POC in the relationship, it is incumbent upon the white person to really sit down and take a good hard look at things. Yes, of course in an intimate relationship, both partners must come to a decision together. But I am of the belief that whites hold an additional responsibility in multicultural relationships, and that is one of non-perpetuation of white supremacy. Does that mean that if you are a couple and you get into an argument and you win you are engaging in that? Certainly not. What I am speaking of is that you must not drown out the cultural practices of your partner just because you find them difficult. Exploring the differences and being mindful of them is the cornerstone of having a respectful and fruitful relationship.

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  • July 22, 2013 at 11:24 am
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    ignoring the culture differences or being culture blind is certainly not a healthy attitude in a mixed culture relationship, because mixed-culture relationship is inherently more “difficult” than a homogeneous one (attested by the higher divorce rate among mixed couples.) However, I think we also have a tendency to over-emphases it as well, to the extent, we use it as an excuse to glaze over problems caused by personality/humanity issues. In essence, I view culture attributes as the “outer” layer of a person, the “core” of the person, which are more of the nature of the universal values and humanity i think, plays a more important role in shaping who we are and relationships we are in, no matter which culture we are from.

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    • July 22, 2013 at 12:05 pm
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      There is no core. 😉 We’re radically contingent.

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  • July 22, 2013 at 11:28 am
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    Great post. Very intellectual and analystical, my type of posting.

    Understanding does not equal to agreement. Try to understand other’s perspective does not mean you should change your own perspective. That is what empathy about. You are right. When people apply so-called `universal standard’ which really means Western standard to judge others.

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  • July 22, 2013 at 12:02 pm
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    I agree with SBC. All too often, culture is used to justify behavior that can isn’t just cultural. I have often met Chinese who will chalk up a disagreement to ‘culture difference’, which usually means that there is no right or wrong, everybody can have their view, even if that view is racist or offensive. Of course, often there’s more than one way to run a kitchen or eat at the dinner table, but is ‘culture difference’ being evoked to clear the air and help people understand different habits and behavior or is it being used to justify negative views or negative behavior? I think it gets used for both.

    Of course, my Chinese boyfriend and I try to navigate our differences. After over two years, I can see the ‘Chinese’ side to him. I know it’s “American, all too American” of me to get irritated by ‘maybe’ so often (not just in China; in Arabic countries where I sometimes work, you never get a ‘yes or no’, you get “Insha’allah” or ‘god willing’ [Q: yes, but DOES the gas station open at 9 USUALLY? A: God willing…]), and it’s the Chinese side of him that doesn’t commit to a yes or no when he sees a dispute on the horizon. Navigating cultural differences are important. But I also can see where his not-to-popular, quick-to-anger, self-important friend and former classmate uses ‘cultural differences’ to try to shut up an American from saying anything negative about anything in China.

    So I think there could be value in the approach to ignore cultural differences: it forces people to accept each other AS THEY ARE. After all, I am often told “when in Rome, do as the Romans do,” and I get to spring the same argument on my boyfriend. But if we are just ourselves alone, regardless where we find ourselves (e.g. Guangzhou, Hong Kong, the US), I think he should be free to be himself (and to eat with his mouth open) and the same for me (lying on the sofa after a meal).

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  • July 22, 2013 at 3:27 pm
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    yup you have to talk about everything from A-Z. You can’t ignore even a tiny thing.

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  • July 22, 2013 at 7:28 pm
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    I totally agree with the 1st poster.

    It doesn’t help to ascribe all problems that come up in a cross-cultural relationship to cultural differences, neither does it help to be color blind. What’s important is to see where culture really comes into play and where a person should be judged on an individual basis. This might be hard in the beginning or if you’re not familiar with your partner’s culture, but I think it gets easier with time.

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  • July 22, 2013 at 9:26 pm
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    There is no “one side fits all” in a relationship. Not everyone is good at elaborating culture issues or any other issues openly. If a topic is a hot button issue, it might be better to leave it alone.

    But I do agree it is better to have an open discussion if possible.

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  • July 22, 2013 at 10:14 pm
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    At the beginning of your relationship, cultural difference can play a bigger role. You and your partner need to learn basic cultural expectations. As soon as you become more familiar with each other as individuals, I think you have to look beyond cultural assumptions. It is easier to blame on culture differences.
    A person’s own upbringing shapes who they are more than anything else – our values, morals and personalities. Cultural background is one dimension only. However, your ability to negotiate in a relationship is heavily influenced by the host culture. We need to be mindful who our partners are as a person and how they are influenced by cultural (or social) expectations.

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  • July 22, 2013 at 10:19 pm
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    I agree with a lot that was said in this article. Why would anyone want to ignore cultural differences…as this is what makes life exciting? However, I do think it is important to be colorblind in a sense that you do not think one “color” is above another, and one culture is not more important than the other. True love takes compromise, understanding, and patience. This means that you take into consideration how your partner might feel having certain backgrounds and habits and traditions they are used to. One thing that I disagreed with is the part where it said something along the lines of “colorblindness comes from a lack of awareness of racial privilege conferred by Whiteness.” To me it seemed to imply that whites have a racial privilege. Please, just…NO. In my many experiences, there is just as much racism regarding whites but it is just never made a big deal due to media and propaganda. How about a nice girl who is in love with a Chinese boy but his parents do not accept her no matter what because she is not Chinese? Do you think this is a privilege? My thoughts are that there is no racial “privilege” above another. Same goes for cultural privilege. That sentence just added onto “white racist” profiling and believe it or not there are many of us that do not fit that stereotype. All cultures are important and all need to be considered in any relationship. Being more “white” or whatever shouldn’t have to do with it. That in itself is racist, even if it is written by someone white. Anyway, I think I went off on a tangent, but that line kinda bugged me. 😉

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    • July 23, 2013 at 1:44 am
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      Unfortunately, white privilege is definitely a fact upon which our entire world is built. I mean, just look at which countries the world over are the most economically successful (based on a history of colonialism) and what skin color most people in those countries historially had. On a federal level, the most successful people in partically every ‘multicultural’ society are white. But a white person can go practically anywhere in the world to travel or live and will be more or less accepted. You think someone from Cameroon (regardless of money) could do that? If they go to the US or Europe, they would be massively discriminated against… if even let in at all.

      The example with the Chinese parents has to do with cultural identity and not with skin color. White privilege is that 40 percent of incarcerated males in the US are African-American, or that border guards racial profile for Muslims when they enter the country. Or that here in Germany teachers overwhelming recommend white children for higher education, creating a ‘racial’ difference in education standards. You are more likely to be societally and literally stopped, controlled, arrested if you are non-white, and promoted if you are white.

      Have you even heard of anyone ever being lynched for being white?

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      • July 23, 2013 at 8:37 am
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        “The example with the Chinese parents has to do with cultural identity and not with skin color.”

        That’s simply not true. Most Chinese see white people as 外国人,白人 and as one cultural unit. Chinese make racial generalizations all the time (especially about black people).

        I know some Cameroonians here in the USA. They weren’t stopped at the airport.

        And yes, I have heard of white people being lynched. It happens all the time. They just don’t use ‘lynch’ to describe it.

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  • July 23, 2013 at 12:58 am
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    Omg. This is really interesting and so relevant to me (and I imagine legions of others that read you, Jocelyn).

    For the sake of the others reading this, I am an American girl who is married to a Taiwanese (Chinese) guy and living over in Taiwan, in the capital city of Taipei.

    In my experience; I’ve known my husband for about 2 years and some months and we’ve been married 6 months, cultural differences often rise to the fore in our arguments.

    “It’s not our culture.” My husband will say. Or other times he says “In our culture, it’s okay.”

    So culture, in and of itself is a legitimate “reason” to justify one’s actions or behavior to the other party who is from a “different culture.”

    Of course I do the same thing when I demanding to be given a reason as to why people do “XYZ.” Sometimes maybe the “people” are actually my husband himself, other times they are just Taiwanese (“not western”) people.

    As much as I hate to admit it, culture is explanatory of a motherlode of shit that goes on in the varied regions across the globe. But sometimes people are just being assholes, weird, careless, etc and whichever culture they happen to be associated with is therefore irrelevant.

    So I suppose we shouldn’t ignore cultural discrepancies altogether when negotiating our interpersonal differences, but we should at least tread with caution when applying this label to excuse or explain individual behavior.

    I mean, just because “Person A” is from a certain context where his or her actions are okay and they don’t happen to go over well “Person B’s” cultural context, it doesn’t mean that Person A should feel fully licensed to continue to repeat the behavior that offends Person B indefinitely. The relationship, in that case, would be headed for disaster.

    So a person’s culture shouldn’t be used to make excuses. Getting along harmoniously takes work no matter what are backgrounds are. Many people from the same background can’t see eye to eye. They simply don’t have compatible personalities, or maybe there just isn’t chemistry.

    I think it’s easy for two people to come together romantically, but it takes consistent work and commitment from both sides to see the relationship through in the long term. Cross-cultural, or born and raised in the same town, the challenges will be different, but there are always going to be challenges. That’s just a given.

    So we should never ignore the obvious differences between ourself and our significant other, but neither should we abuse them as a convenient way to make excuses.

    In a cross-cultural relationship, cultural discrepancies are the most obvious “go-to” reason to support oneself in any conflict, but it’s usually better to be able to take personal accountability whenever possible. We are all individuals fully capable of controlling our own actions, culture is not some great invisible puppeteer that controls us.

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  • July 23, 2013 at 3:37 am
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    Whether we agree or disagree we consciously and unconsciously profile people. Even though we may believe we are not that type there are moments when we make a judgment, make statements, or even having a thought (which is not expressed) is in fact profiling of one kind or another (either of a person, a race, a culture, a country) .

    We from a young age “sponged up ” things around us though everything we’ve had contact with (e.g. school, family, media, music, culture, travel, work etc. etc ) as we get older we know/decide what is right/wrong, we make choices and decisions, we agree or disagree, change or not change those notions and ideas we “sponged up” but that doesn’t delete or erase them fully we are still aware of them it’s just that we’ve chosen a path, a way in which we want to live by what we’ve chosen is what we feel is morally right for us in our beliefs and in our wants and needs. However this in no way stops us from profiling and we do it even without us realising we are doing it.

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  • July 23, 2013 at 4:14 am
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    I agree about the race blindness but think cultural differences are often exaggerated. Individual differences within cultures are much greater than differences between cultures. You need to be especially careful in attributing things to cultural differences because such attributions are often as a result of preconceived notions and stereotypes rather than real differences. I think you can seriously harm someone by not seeing them as individuals. I think it’s prudent to always keep in mind before marking them as something indicative of their culture or group, maybe it’s just a personal quark of theirs as an individual?

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  • July 23, 2013 at 12:26 pm
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    Many Asians are not real Asians in the sense that they recognize or endorse their own heritage. You are reminded of your Asianness by society’s expectations. So not every couple have to deal with cultural conflicts in the same contexts.

    I know SBC is probably black. Most successful blacks in US have been educated in white environment. When she says she as a person is not necessarily fitting into the box where others see fit, it can really go the other way- she is unconsciously rejecting certain traits. Intercultural conflicts emerge most frequently when one partner has to live in another’ culture. It is up to the individual to identify himself or herself with a culture. I would say most people need to be more patient than average to be in a relationship with someone from a different language and cultural background.

    White privileges exist. One has to become conscious of those privileges to be open to other possibilities. Majority of population are living in denial or being ignorant about this issue. Why change the status quo to hurt your own interests?
    Whites can suffer reverse discrimination. But they are mostly on the giving end, not the receiving end.

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  • July 23, 2013 at 9:36 pm
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    I think ignoring cultural differences in an inter-cultural relationship is just plain stupid, and in part almost impossible. From the way we look to our daily habits, there’s just no way to ignore the role of cultural differences.

    But have you ever thought that maybe one partner is more culturally understanding and lenient than the other? I honestly doubt that it’s a 50/50 trade off where each party mutually understands the other (or even tries to); but rather, the ratio can be split between 20/80 or even 40/60.

    My mother is from Vietnam and my father is Irish-American. From the way my brother and I were raised to my household’s everyday habits, it’s evident to see that my mom had to bend to American culture and she is more culturally understanding and lenient than my father. For one, she had to learn English, she tried to raise her kids in an American way (let them become independent, choose their own path, ideal, etc), and she even learned how to cook American food and rarely made Vietnamese food for us when we were growing up.

    Of course my father was understanding of her differences (stocking up the fridge with durian, all night Vietnamese conversations with my extended family, Vietnamese movies being played at all hours, her indirect method of communication); but the cultural sacrifices my father made pale in comparison to what my mother had to do. In Asia it’s normal for children to live with their parents until their late 20s, and later on take care of their parents from old age. My mother knew that this was not the norm in the USA, and sent us away when we were 18 and learned to live with the fact that we were most likely going to send them to a nursing home later on.

    I’m also dating a Chinese man (I’m from the USA), and as horrible as it sounds I think that while we both recognize that there are cultural differences between us, the cultural sacrifice is much heavier on my end (mostly due to the fact I’ve lived in China for 2 years and learned to somewhat understand this place, while he has only visited the US once, briefly). Even though he speaks English and watches American TV and movies, my boyfriend will sometimes outright defy my view on money or parenting, or is sometimes left aghast.

    The cultural differences in China shock me (the way family is involved in romantic relationships, the house, the car, the overall society), but I try to understand it and take that into consideration with my boyfriend. Sometimes when he hears my stories or thoughts from an American perspective, he literally says to me “that is unbelievable and no way to live.”

    Either way, I think there is a cultural scale in every relationship, and understanding is EXTREMELY important. There are cultural differences, especially in ones with a large gap (West and Asia).

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  • July 24, 2013 at 4:24 am
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    @askdsk

    I am not sure how you drew those conclusions but I am not black (and my race doesn’t matter in this particular instance anyways) and I do agree that white supremacy might exist, even though I have only spent a few years in the US. However, the thesis Jocelyn cited might hold two meanings: One that of white supremacy and belittling the differences with other races in order to ignore the discrimination that has been happening for the last few centuries. This I am definitely against and I think it is important to acknowledge that we are all different and have been treated differently based on that.

    The second one, which I am addressing, is to acknowledge that the other person is not a representative of their culture, but an individual themselves. Maybe americans dont face this as much, but being from another culture, I find it annoying when people paint me and my other countrymen with the same brush. I am an individual and you’d be surprised how different other individuals from my seemingly homogenous country are to me. I have avoided dating men who were extremely knowledgeable about my culture, purely on one account: They assumed me to be my culture and I found that harder to work with, than say someone ignorant about my culture but curious to know ME. ME then includes both my personal values and how I relate to my culture.

    Hope that clarifies it.

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  • July 24, 2013 at 8:54 am
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    @SBC

    I am not trying to profile you for the wrong reason. I wanted to make a point of saying not everyone is aware of their blindness, even people like you who could see a deeper level. Coming from a country that is more homogeneous is often no different from a kid who grow up in a predominately white neighborhood or black inner city schools in America.

    The debate has to be on a public policy level. Countries like US has been relatively successful to assimilate immigrants of various background, more specifically people of European descents. The essence of multiculturalism is to allow and accept a person to have multiple identities. We have a long way to go.

    Unless a person who is well traveled or exposed to different cultures, I am not too bothered by generalized questions. You can’t blame the unknown, but you don’t need to accept stereotypes.

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    • July 24, 2013 at 9:31 am
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      I think there is a difference between coming from a country that is homogenous and coming from an all white neighborhood. I grew up in an all-white town in the US, but I also grew up in a town where education and media talked about race and ethnicity. And for all the criticism it gets, I believe I grew up with a more muliti-cultural understanding than many in other countries. Compared to the education one gets in South Korea or China, there is a world of difference.

      I was stunned when you claimed that SBC was black. Why would you even need to identify someone’s race here? What arrogance to state “SBC is probably black.” This could only come from someone who is used to talking about race, ethnicity, and ‘foreigners’ as a 3rd person. But that was preceded by “many Asians are not real Asians.” It makes me sick when I hear this. ‘Real’ in terms of culture and ethnicity is a fiction of a fiction.

      Second, I find your posts confused. Not confusing, confusED. I think it’s clear you do not understand SBC’s very well-written posts.

      I hope you reconsider the next time you decide to write a stranger’s biography to make a point.

      Reply
  • July 24, 2013 at 9:42 am
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    @Jason
    I posted here a lot. I read a lot of SBC’s posts. For some reason, I remember that was what she said she was. So piss off.

    I agree with being exposed to discussions of issues not even exist or ignored in Asia to give you diffferent perspectives. But you might be the exceptions. Aren’t you living in another country as well? When was last time you went back home to visit? I myself live in a predominantly white neighborhood.

    Reply
  • July 24, 2013 at 9:45 am
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    Are you trying to have a discussion, make a point, or are you telling me off? You seem to be trying to do all three at once. So you’re closed-minded, racist, not even slightly intelligent, and rude. Congratulations!

    I’ll piss off now. You try to have a good day.

    Reply
  • July 24, 2013 at 10:00 am
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    I think the lady herself can be the best judge of what I said. Don’t call me a racist.

    Reply
  • July 24, 2013 at 10:07 am
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    Askdsk, I also found your assumptions to be troubling on a number of points and on a number of levels.

    Folks, we don’t all have to agree but we should all be adult enough to accept criticism and feedback without resulting to personalg ad hominem attacks.

    Reply
  • July 24, 2013 at 10:32 am
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    It supposes to be troubling.

    Reply
  • July 25, 2013 at 2:58 am
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    I hope we can all discuss without fighting.

    1. I have never specified my race (so I doubt I would mis-specify it). Anyways, that part is not as important.

    2. askdsk, I am not sure what you disagree on. I think we are saying the same thing, probably wording it differently? Please refer to my first post. If not, I am sorry but I didn’t completely understand what you said.

    3. I think as most posters have mentioned here, the answer to a multicultural relationship isnt simple and there is no one right answer. everyone raised valid and fair points which only goes to show that the only answer is being open minded and curious about your partner and try to understand where they come from and what matters to them (which I am sure would benefit both inter and intra cultural couples)

    Reply
  • July 25, 2013 at 11:26 am
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    @SBC

    I did read your post.
    I think it is the small compromise and self-censorship we impose on ourselves to chip away our cultural identity. Sometimes we made up white lies to tell ourselves it is individual choice over influences from wider society. A relationship with another person from a more distinct cultural background requires constant choices unless one side is willing to bend to the other. Someone else said it is an added layer of challenge to a relationship. It is up to both partners to eventually accept the other cultural identity rather than change or to be changed. That would be a healthy relationship. Even in cases where you can’t blame on cultural differences, it is the first place you want to look for clues. I think you eventually internalize the process to even notice. A good attitude would see the relationship as a growth opportunity and become more tolerant. Many others would simply choose easier route in life.

    End of my case.

    Reply
  • July 26, 2013 at 7:42 am
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    Men, more than women, are often guilty of using (sometimes lying about) “cultural differences” to justify misbehaviors.

    Reply
  • July 29, 2013 at 4:57 am
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    Do we really fully correctly understand our own culture?I don’t think so! And it is developing. What I can be sure is we know our habits 、customs、traditions (either good or bad ) that are cultivated by our culture, So when we tell others that this is what our culture allows or forbids, we really are saying is our habits 、customs、traditions(either good or bad ). Culture has a very wide range, let’s talk small and concrete things like habits 、customs、traditions(parts of the culture) first. And even in China, different ethnics have different habits 、customs、traditions, even different provinces、differnt region within a province.That’s why even Chinese people from different places will have culture conflicts. So I think you don’t have to know the whole to get to know the person. You just need to know the culture of the region where he/she came from, maybe some culture shared by the majority of china along the way. In a word, culture differences could be one of the factors for a successful or failed cross-culture relationships, but i don’t think it’s the only or determing factors. Hope eveybody can find the right one in the world!

    Reply
  • November 30, 2016 at 6:08 pm
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    As a white guy married to a Chinese girl the only time we have to worry about culture is with her family. As for the pair of use we have both adapted each others cultures and come up with something in the middle, in some ways Chinese and some ways western. Oddly though this happened organically, we didn’t sit down and think we will take this, or we will do this. I think people risk their relationships by obsessing too much about culture….. Sure I am aware she has cultural things that wont change, I adapted to that as she did to me. On the other hand some of the Chinese cultural changes in my life I also would never change and the western culture she has adopted she has said she would never want to change either.

    Sometimes you gotta stop over analyzing things and just BE together, this same argument could be made between Catholics and Protestants or any other mix of differences you want. People break up over political beliefs, sexual preferences, age differences etc. Why do people see culture as being any different? Do you not think there is a difference between Irish and American culture? Cause there is, and its a big!

    Also I hear all this about white culture? What is white culture? Where are you talking about? Swedish white culture? American white culture? Irish white culture? English white culture? I hate to tell you but just because we are all white does not make us the same! Its the same here in China, difference provinces have completely different cultures! Taiwan culture is different from Chinese culture and different to Japanese culture.

    A lot of you are also ignoring the fact that there are white people raised in different cultures as that culture as well as people from other races raised in other cultures all across the world!

    Another thing that drives me nuts is that people believe that all racism is just a white person thing! One person went as far as saying that because I married a Chinese girl and adopted some of her customs that I am culturally appropriating from the Chinese!

    Yes there are issues of racism, there are issues of people being inflexible etc, but obsessing over them does not always make things better. Constantly second guessing everything in your relationship because “oh your culture is different” is stupid! There is give in take in every relationship! It feels like you believe for ever little thing you have to sit down together and have a drawn out conversation.

    For the love of god experience each other like you would any other person on the planet!

    Reply
  • Pingback:How could I forget about the cultural differences in my intercultural marriage? | Speaking of China

  • October 4, 2017 at 10:25 pm
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    Thank you for the thoughts on interracial relationship, especially between Caucasian lady and Chinese men. As more and more people will be open minded like you, those stereotypes will slowly fade away. There is still a lot of work to do, 大家加油!

    Reply
    • October 13, 2017 at 12:41 pm
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      Thanks for the comment Nanyou! Indeed there’s much to do — we’ll continue to 加油 together! 🙂

      Reply
  • Pingback:"The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap" by Gish Jen - an Interview | Speaking of China

  • December 20, 2017 at 6:41 pm
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    Marriage is hard enough, so why complicate it with marrying someone whose culture is so different to yours? It leads to endless frustration, problems adjusting to each other’s way of thinking, and having to make excuses about your partner to your family and friends, and vice versa for your spouse. The excuse thing happens often.

    Reply

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