Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Taboo That Isn't

"Damn, I wish THOSE bad boys would come out and play."

Today, a white woman with whom I work (and happen to have a good on-the-job relationship) asked me an interesting question. We were joking around about the idea of Suzanne Somers digging around in the ashes of her home looking for Botox and a thighmaster (poor taste, I know) when she suddenly asked me point blank, "If you were single would you date a white woman?" Now, I don't believe she was asking me this question because she's interested in me. She could be but I doubt it. I just think she finally reached the point at which she felt comfortable enough with me (it happens with many white people I've learned) to broach the subject of race and interracial dating.

In any event, I felt comfortable enough with her to give her my honest reply: "No. I don't think I would." As soon as she heard my answer her face sunk and she could not hide her disappointment. Again, I don't think this was because she's digging me. I think it has more to do with her assumption that, because I'm a relatively cool dude, I'm educated, and I'm familiar with most of the major pop cultural references that white people frequently access (for example, I happen to know that white guys within a certain age range absolutely LOVE the movie The Big Lebowski and I've made more than one white bartender go apeshit simply by asking for a "Caucasian") I would be able to "see beyond race."

I certainly didn't get any joy out of giving her a response that she didn't want to hear. Just because I author a race-conscious blog doesn't mean I dislike white people or that I get off on shunning them. After I told her that I just couldn't do it, I explained to her the unimpeachable logic behind my answer. It doesn't have anything to do with the fact that I find black women more physically attractive. This alone might explain why I would pursue certain relationships but it can't completely eclipse the fact that there are plenty of attractive white women out there too. Neither does it have to do with my understanding of how race operates in this country. I know quite a few outspoken, "pro black," fist-in-the-air militants who have significant others named Heather and Amy (paging Paul Mooney). Also, it has little to do with the loyalty I feel for black women in general. Frankly, as I've told my wife many times, I sincerely believe that, if most white men were checking for black women, it would be a wrap for brothers. "Something New" is actually something quite old. Even though the current focus is usually on black men who "trade up" for white partners, black women have also used white men to elevate themselves socially for years. In his 1916 book From Superman to Man, JA Rogers wrote about black women rejecting black men in favor of white men with hateful expressions like, "Nobody asked for any coal."

No. What I gave her was the absolute truth. At this point in my life, were I single, I wouldn't date white women because I believe that making relationships work is difficult enough without having to overcome significant racial and cultural differences - particularly when it comes to black/white unions. I realize that this sounds like a cop out but I stand by it. I can not imagine a scenario in which I have to defend myself against racist barbs both in my professional and personal lives.

One of my close friends has to do this regularly. He's living with a white woman on the West Coast. When it's just the two of them everything is cool but whenever her friends and family come around he struggles with endearing himself to them while maintaining his dignity and his sanity. It should go without saying that, like I assume of the woman with whom I work, these white people also accept the idea of colorblindness. They claim not to see color. Yet, they consistently question his intelligence, capability and white woman worthiness at every turn. On one occasion, during an argument over how much income hospital emergency rooms generate, his girlfriend's sister tried to convince him that he didn't know what he was talking about (he happens to be a graduate of the top-ranked MHA program in the country and an executive for a major health care system). On another, he found himself at his apartment having to endure a discussion about how considerably lucky he is to be dating his girlfriend. When I told him that comments like these are normal and that he may have been overreacting, he made it clear to me that this wasn't the typical kind of "you'd better take good care of her" protective banter that new boyfriends have to endure. He told me that they made it pretty clear to him that they really couldn't understand why she would be dating someone like him (he also happens to be a big-hearted, intelligent, relatively good looking dude).

This kind of thing wouldn't work for me. I don't particularly care for white liberals - they seem to only be able to accept their black people as charity cases and not as equals - and I can't abide the malignancy of colorblind racism (whenever I have a choice, I prefer my racism to be candidly expressed). Having to sift through that rubbish in my own home would be a deal breaker.

I don't want to make it seem as if I'm disparaging interracial dating. If you're lucky enough to find someone, no matter their color, who can endure you, God bless. I do have two pieces of advice, however, for those of you who are dating "outside." The first is more of a request actually. PLEASE, if you are in an interracial relationship, do folks like me a favor and don't mythologize your bond. I can't stand it when people try to make it seem as if, by dating someone of a different race, they're doing something courageous, and akin to tasting the forbidden fruit. Believe me, that fruit was picked from the tree a LONG time ago. Also don't castigate men or women who belong to the group that you've chosen to avoid and try to make it seem as if they forced you to look elsewhere. If you want to go in another direction that's your choice but there's nothing worse than a brother who dates a white woman because he claims black women don't do this or that. Stop being an Uncle Ruckus and take some ownership of your decision for Christ's sake. And for you women: blanketly smearing black men while you're snuggling up to a white dude is definitely not a good look. Say it with me now, "I'm with Megan (or Jack) because I like Megan (or Jack)." That's all the explanation you need.



At 8:37 AM , Blogger Breez said...

Wow, this

I feel like this is going to launch a blog topic of my own, but we'll see.

I will say this though, I can't see myself with anyone but a black man. I have no "outside" interests. I don't buy into the "brothers done me wrong so now I'm going to find me a fill-in-the-blank because they treat their women fill-in-the-blank." It's rubbish.

At 9:25 AM , Blogger Another Conflict Theorist said...

Peace Breez,

I'm sorry this one was is so long. I was just writing and writing when I realized that I should probably conclude this one.

"I will say this though, I can't see myself with anyone but a black man."

I hope I didn't come off sounding like people need to "stick to their kind." I, like you, just don't see myself - at this point in my life - going through all I'd have to go through to make an interracial relationship flourish.

At 2:09 PM , Blogger jali said...

YOU are invited to our blogger-a-go-go in Dallas. We'll have a ball.

I really like your frankness - great post.

At 3:09 PM , Blogger Clifton said...

This is a deep topic. I agree with you.

Since I entered the professional world, I have experienced an advance or two from white women. It always puzzled me. I knew them well enough to know it wasn't some strange curiosity but I just couldn't see bringing either one of them home to my dad or going to meet theirs. Maybe that's the old fashion New Orleans upbringing in me but it always seem to be too much involved with trying to make that work.

At 3:27 PM , Blogger Breez said...

No, it wasn't that it ran long. I just don't like to hijack great posts via the comments section.

I didn't get that you subscribe to "stick-to-your-own-kind". How does the oft used saying go? We are the sum total of our experiences, or something like that? My experiences make me choose a black man. That is what works for me. (Granted I'm using the term "works" VERY loosely. *eyeroll*)

At the end of the day, we all have our idiosyncracies. I just choose to stick with what I know because, well, I have enough adventure with that.

At 12:56 AM , Blogger Sara Rosell said...

I agree with Jali, who likes your frankness. In reading your comment to my post, and reading this blog, it is refreshing to hear such honesty.

On my own behalf, I too will have assumptions on things and then change when I learn new information. It's good to do that as much as possible.

By the end of your blog I also felt compelled to write on the topic myself, thank you for this genuine insight. I look forward to more!

At 1:37 PM , Blogger Invisible Woman said...

Interesting perspective...

At 11:05 PM , Blogger Rachel's Tavern said...

ACT said, "I can not imagine a scenario in which I have to defend myself against racist barbs both in my professional and personal lives."

There are some parts of your post that I agree with, and some parts that I think misrepresent the realities of racism in families. Take the quote above. I don't think that marrying someone of the same race will shelter you from racism in your personal life. People internalize racism all the time, so while racism (both the anti-black variety and anti-interracial relationship variety) may be more apparent to people in IRs, I don't think it is right to assume that keeping people of other races out of our intimate circle is going to stop racism.

Furthermore, what bothers me is that in general people hold this very high standard for interracial marriages, while not interrogating how racism plays out in intraracial families as well.

At 12:47 PM , Blogger Another Conflict Theorist said...

Hello Rachel,

Thank you for stopping by with a fresh perspective.

I'm guess I'm not exactly familiar with how racism plays out in intraracial relationships or the extent to which this has harmed those who are involved in them. I'd actually love to get your thoughts on this.

What I do know is that I've never had to explain to my wife how it feels to be misjudged or marginalized by whites simply because I happen to be black. Her experiences as a black woman in this country have given her a perspective that closely matches my own. That, in and of itself, creates a kinship between us.

Also, I know you might not be referring to me directly but I don't think I'm holding interracial relationships up to a higher standard. I just don't expect to have to endure racist attacks within the walls of my own home. The situation of the friend who I wrote about is, unfortunately, not unique. I know quite a few black men involved in interracial relationships who have to put up with similar race-based insults - insults that certainly wouldn't emanate from an intraracial relationship.

At 4:40 PM , Anonymous pink said...

I don't agree with the idea that Black women are only with Black men because white men aren't checking for us. That statement is untrue on so many different levels. Personally, I'm around so many more white people than Black which makes dating that much harder but I would gladly remain single than date outside my race, and I don't believe I'm rare. I let my white colleagues know often that I may hang with them, but I'm not dating them.

I hear black men coming up with reasons for dating non-Black women all the time whereas Black women stick it out with Black men because we don't have the same desire to see what's on the other side and dating white hasn't been made a symbol of status for us the way it has for Black men.


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