Some wonderful single, black women I know have recently been considering, for the first time, dating outside of our race. A set of circumstances – namely, building an intentionally multiracial community with Christian friends – has made that a viable and even reasonable proposition for them. For the first time, they can actually imagine (and have even experienced) white guys being attracted to them and are themselves opening up to being attracted to white guys. Hearing more about the journey they’re on, I was prompted to return to this blog post that I wrote almost two years ago but did not quite have the courage to make public … until now. (Though, frankly, even now, the courage is barely there.)
On numerous occasions, Dan and I have been invited to share the story of how we met. I found my conscience pricked after the most recent one where, before a group of white fellow-church couples, we had another such opportunity.
Some of you have heard the story and might recall that Dan “accidentally” uttered, “you’re beautiful” – very romantic, right? But, my mental response was, “he’s creepy”.
In the beginning, I used to tell the whole truth about what motivated my thinking that. But a couple of occasions into telling our story – very often to white audiences – it struck me that it might be rather insensitive to do so. After all, what did it say about me and how I perceive white people? About how racialist (or down-right racist) I am? I was especially put off when one of my black friends derided the reaction, thus suggesting that it was ludicrous even to a black person.
The truth is that the root of my reaction was that I didn’t know white guys to view black girls in “that” way – except if they fetishised them. And, in my limited experience, white guys who fetishised black girls had some exotic (even kinky) ideas about them. If that was the source of Dan’s saying what he did (which I wrongly assumed it must be), that was creepy.
I couldn’t tell people that and so told them that I associate out-loud overtures to unknown girls with (black) construction workers whose belief, according to their culture and etiquette, is that such is a compliment to a girl. It was, in a sense, true: I did make that mental association with Dan’s statement and thought it inappropriate for him to borrow this etiquette for such a “respectable” conference as we were attending. But, the overwhelming thought was that he must be fetishising me … because he couldn’t really think me beautiful or be “hitting on” me.
In minor defence, I did postcolonial studies in undergrad and I continue to find myself largely persuaded of Frantz Fanon’s troubling reading of the world of especially romantic black-white relations. That’s where I learned the words, “exoticism” and “fetishism”.
But, there are two more important issues that my reaction raises which I’d like to tackle here. Firstly, the question of why I felt that I couldn’t tell this “truth” to our friends, especially our white friends. Secondly, the empirical questions of the extent to which black girls feel white guys are not attracted to them and whether white guys are typically attracted to black girls.
The answer to the first question is simply that I haven’t felt that the social climate is good enough that I could be this honest with my – or even moreso, Dan’s – white friends about this. The social spaces in which our friendships exist do not feel safe enough that I would be comfortable airing these latent assumptions and wrestling openly (and mutually) with the multitude of racial assumptions we all walk around with in our heads. The hard truth is that I think white people would be hurt at my assumptions. And, I didn’t want to tarnish our white friends’ – especially Dan’s friends’ – views of me as a “good” black person; good enough for their friend to marry. Also, why ruin for people a great moment and story such as the telling of how we rather unlikely persons came to be a pair.
On the second question, I cannot claim to have holistic knowledge of the extent to which black women feel un/desirable to white men, especially since the black friend who ultimately put me off of telling the truth on my views in this regard was a woman, and I know many not to care. However, a recent study Dan and I read on black-white couples and their communities makes me confident to say that many black women (even those in black-white marriages) are of the view that white guys do not normally find them attractive.
The same study (and numerous others investigating black-white relationships, in the US especially) persuasively argues that white people generally – but white men more than white women – draw the line of relationship with black people at intimate relationships such as dating, and marriage, above all. In other words, they are happy to be friends but no more. (There’s a reason why the commonly defensive refrain is “some of my closest friends are black”; never, “my spouse is black”.) You’ll also recall a recent account of two very well-meaning and open-minded white male friends telling a black, female friend and me that they don’t see black women as they do women of other races. This partly accounts for the comparatively low white male-black female marriages.
But, mind you, white men are not the only ones who are commonly disinclined to date/marry black women. Black women also tend to be quite committed to dating and marrying black men. Yet, the studies suggest that – among their reasons – black women often cite the fact that they worry that (given the racialised/racist societal context) white men may not treat them with respect, and/or that white men don’t find them attractive anyway. In this regard, as previously suggested, it would not be true to say white guys don’t ever look at black women at all romantically. However, as also suggested, when white men do refer to black women as attractive, their comments often smack of exotic or sexual sentiments that seem commonly to resonate in admittedly complicated ways with racist views expressed during the oppressive eras of segregation and apartheid – times when black women were molested and raped by white men who found them “good” enough to father the “bastard” children of but not good enough to love publicly, “make honest women of” and treat with due respect. (Do a quick online search, if you dare.)
My purpose is not to make white people feel bad; or even to persuade white guys to date (more) black women. My objective is to demonstrate how scarred we all are. As a friend recently said to me, “apartheid was not just an externally oppressive system; it was psychological warfare”. This among other relatively recent social ideologies (the association of black skin with inferiority having only emerged in about the 16th century) destroyed the way that people perceived themselves and the other as mere human beings. It irrationally coded all of our reality predominantly in terms of one of many distinguishing human traits: our skin colour.
We are wounded people, you and I. And I suppose it is high time that I told the truth about how that history puts a stain on even the otherwise beautiful story of how Dan and I came to be together.