Debased, filthy and unworthy, black men, we are told, are sexual deviants incapable of either desiring or maintaining healthy, meaningful relationships.
As a racially ambiguous woman, I have the privilege of changing the way society receives me at my discretion. Sometimes I am black, other times I am Indian or Latina, or I may be French, or just a white girl who tans a bit too much. Sometimes I am intimidating or a race-baiting Angry Black Woman, but I can just as easily morph into innocent and approachable. Over time I’ve found that the easiest way to change my ethnicity – change the way people treat me – is to change my company. And the company that most defines us is, in fact, our choice in a mate. When I choose to date a black man, I inevitably send a message to society about who I am and what I represent. When I choose to date a black man, I choose to be ignored at bars, barred from clubs, humiliated by groups of drunken white men, or passed over by taxis. I choose to internalize their experiences of undervaluation, passed over promotions and emasculation. I choose to carry the burden of [dating] black men, and I choose it often; 90% of the men I’ve dated are black.
One night, a date and I decided to hit a local New Jersey bar. As we approached the secured entrance, a white couple was also entering, walking only steps behind us. Before we could hand over our I.Ds, the white security guard informed us that we could not enter, as my date was violating the dress code; mere seconds later the white couple reached the door and was promptly let in – with the guy outfitted in the same ensemble. We stood there gazing at one another, he obviously embarrassed, pondering the same silent question; should I say something or just take this as a loss and walk back to the car? If you’ve never been in a situation where you are singled out and denied access to a space because of your race and then forced to decide what action will allow you to leave with a bit of dignity, let me tell you, it is always painful and humiliating. But, perhaps more shameful than being publically passed over is thinking that just maybe your life would be easier – better even – if you were dating a white man. While I was angry with the security guard and the establishment, I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a tinge of regret at that moment for being with a black man or a hint of frustration at the very man who was just victimized and dismissed. I knew that the Access Denied Pass did not extend to me – when I was in the “right” company, so shame on me for surrounding myself with such company, right? Shame on me is right.
I still remember how I felt when I first dated a white man. I was welcomed into any space and important; we didn’t need to dress a certain way to prove our membership. Respectability politics were a non-factor. The burden had been lifted; we wouldn’t get turned away at the door, in fact, we always skipped the line. The ease with which this white man navigated the public sphere was simply amazing and I wanted that. Dating was just easier. Life was just easier. I implicitly signaled to whites that I was mainstream, that I shared their middle-class values, that I was civilized – that I wasn’t angry, but safe and approachable. I felt safe and free and privileged. I realized I could choose whether or not my sons looked like Trayvon Martin, or my daughters like Marissa Alexander.
But I also felt like an outsider. The ease I was afforded became mitigated by the fact that my otherness amplified in increasingly white situations; while part of self-identification lies in perception, a portion rests in reality. No matter how I modified my company, as a conscious black woman, I knew I was different and could not shake that suspicion of being exoticized by white men; I could never fully trust these relationships were real because at the end of the day I was still black. I was not raised a sheltered, “white washed” black woman, and so the permanence of being black, with all its burdens, was always more important to me than temporary ease of access – but that privilege afforded by my complexion was not so easy to ignore.
The feelings I experienced that fateful night at the bar, and admittedly many times thereafter, now evoke the wise words of Malcolm X: “If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” Unpacking privilege and sorting through the complexities of racial and sexual politics as a bi-racial woman in white America can be a high task. Accepting that my seemingly personal decisions regarding who will occupy my company or my body, is a high task. But, choosing to date black men when somewhat more privileged unions are possible is, for me, the unequivocally more perfect union, and regardless of how “taxing” carrying the burden of dating black men can be, I wholeheartedly accept it.
This piece originally appeared on For Harriet.
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