After Ernest Baker's essay about interracial relationships, "The Reality of Dating White Women When You're Black," ran on Gawker earlier this month we received hundreds of comments and emails objecting to, agreeing with, or otherwise responding to Baker. This week, we're publishing some of those responses as part of a conversation about race and relationships.
I had only ever dated black females until I met my first boyfriend—an attractive black dude who lived several blocks away from my mother's house. I was twenty. I was an unverified gay. And I secretly desired a man, a black man, who fit neatly into the box otherwise known as my desire.
My imagination was less vast than it is now at thirty-eight. If I were to have a boyfriend during that time in my life when I feigned heterosexuality, I needed him to have certain qualities. I needed him to be masculine, head-turning beautiful, suave, borderline player (and, to my chagrin, he was), well dressed, unafraid, and, yeah, black.
He was all of those things, for better or worse. I first saw him at our city's annual Thanksgiving football game. We were both alum of the rival schools. He walked alone donning a fitted hat, Nautica sweater, almost-baggy jeans, and Timberland boots. His unbothered and smooth posture made my embarrassing and thirsty gawking that much more apparent.
But I was also attracted because he seemed to be someone who would feel at home when around my family; someone who would know how to maneuver on the sometimes-rough streets of Camden we grew up on; someone who would be fearless in the face of homo-haters in the hood and burbs; someone who would know that being black and gay in a world that privileges the white and straight among us required resolve and fearlessness. We eventually met and started dating seriously and I felt like I had found the perfect partner. Unlike me, he was unapologetically black and gay. I told my family that he was just another "homie."
So much of what he represented to me at the time—even if a lot of the personality characteristics I imagined him possessing were figments of my dream-boyfriend fantasy—had to do with my desire to be in an intimate relationship with a man whose presence felt safe. I longed for physical and psychic protection in spaces where I had otherwise experienced the brunt of anti-blackness, class prejudice, and antagonism because of my perceived sexual orientation.
He understood me, and not in a sympathetic damn I can't imagine what that must be like type of way, but deeply. He understood me when I explained how strange and isolated I felt as a first-year college student struggling to stay afloat academically and mentally in a majority white college two hours away from my black neighborhood. He was familiar with "stop and frisk," and not just the type of action expertly executed by police, but also the ways that our black male bodies would cause some white gay men to pause, and the more courageous of them to touch, when we entered Woody's, a white gay bar in Philly. We were not only lovers; we were brothers, real family, bound by a shared history, culture, and set of experiences that shaped our connection to ourselves and each other. I never thought that I could feel safe among white men, especially a white intimate partner, because white men had always represented the type of prevailing presence that I needed protection from.
It could be argued that my nearly exclusive attraction to black men from the first guy I dated to the one I hope to spend the rest of my life with has something to do with my restricted imagination—my limited ability to envision and live into the idea of a post-racial USA. I am not a believer in lies. But I am a Utopianist, if there is such a thing, who dreams of an anti-racist world where skin color privilege, legacies of violent racialized oppression, and their residual effects do not negatively shape the ways we relate, especially affectionately and sexually, as bodies in post-chattel slavery America.
I want to believe that we can kiss, hug, whisper, flirt, and have sex outside of the context of a racially stratified social world where we learn that whiteness is to be aspired to and desired way before many of us black and brown folk claimed the type of radical self-love that allowed us to refute the lie of white racial supremacy. But love, like sex, is political. Love of any variety is shaped by ideas and institutions, laws and the threat of the consequences should we break them.
In other words, our loving and love-making are never without context. And some of that context is the traumatic trace and presence of racialized supremacy—the kind that makes some of us feel like we need a white gay partner as proof that we have finally arrived, the kind that can easily turn sex between differently raced partners into conquest. That's why I wasn't surprised when a "crush" recently texted me, after I let him know that I was mutually attracted, and told me he was in shock because he assumed that black LGBT public persons, especially those who talk openly about racial politics like me, are only ever attracted to and in relationship with white people.
Truth is, I've rarely dated white men, and I empathized with the deep concern, unspoken pain, and feelings of rejection that were rooted in his comment. And I would be less than honest if I pretend that my dating and sexual politics have not been shaped by my desire to love the hell out of black men and women because I know that so many withhold love from us. And whether I've turned to the biographies of Bayard Rustin, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin and other black LGBT luminaries of our present, I've often ended up intrigued after discovering that many were in interracial relationships. I've been bewildered by a seeming phenomenon of black lovelessness, or, rather, the moments when some black LGBT people have purposefully and specifically sought out white partners for various reasons including the fact that the potential prospects weren't black.
But I've had to critically reflect and remember that censuring another's love or sex life because of race is an act informed by racist ideology. Disallowing interracial intimacy reinforces the white supremacist lie that socially-constructed races are to be separate, never equal, never in love, never in the same bed. And as a citizen living in the America of past anti-miscegenation laws—state sanctioned laws that banned interracial marriages that remained in some states until they were ruled unconstitutional in the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court Loving v. Virginia case—I know better than to allow my actions or thoughts to echo an odious past. So, I try to build and move into a future that is less restrictive.
I went on a date with a guy recently. The first date was short and memorable. He showed up donning a fitted hat, a well-tailored blazer, a button-up shirt, slacks and Nike sneakers. And he was white. I told my friends cautiously because I felt hypocritical. Just a few weeks before I had been venting about the number of black LGBT public figures who have white partners and I showed up later with details of my own date with a white man. All of my friends responded by moving our conversation from one focused on his race to one centered on how good of a time he and I shared. I enjoyed the date. I laughed a lot. I was inspired by his story. I was physically attracted to him and wanted to see him again. And for a short moment, somewhere in the time between our lunch and walk in the park, the fact that we were differently raced was less of a dominant thought. I was reminded of the need to free myself from the type of race-think that I often relied upon to shape my desire.
I am not sure what will become of the date, if anything, but I am more certain that racism is such a real, palpable, strong, and terrifying actor in our lives that some of us foreclose the possibility of love for self, those who look like us, and those who don't, because we have become so comfortable with racism's heavy hand directing cupid's arrow. But, really, that's no way to live, and to love.