by Guest Contributor Sewere
I grew up in a country where despite the fact that the vast majority of people there are black folks, there are serious limitations to interactions between people from different ethnic groups.
These differences are particularly pronounced when it comes to who you decide to pair with (dating or marriage). As the product of one of those forbidden marriages, I grew up not paying any attention to who I could or could not date (obviously believing that the person should respect both my heritages and my family.) I pretty much stuck to that mantra when I moved to the U.S. So I am often surprised when I find myself pulled into conversations like the one I with a friend of my cousin’s….
Cousin [interjecting out of nowhere]: You know he’s dated white women?
Friend: What is it with these brothers with dread locks chasing after white women?
Me [playing the oblivious]: I don’t know, it probably because The Man ™ put something into the beeswax.
Friend: But really what is it with you brothers and white women?
Me: Um, I don’t know but I’ll be sure to take a poll at the next Brothers Who Date White Women meeting?
Friend: But I’m serious, is it because you don’t think black women are beautiful?
Me: That’s an interesting question, but why would you assume that because I’ve dated white women I couldn’t have dated black women, can’t love black women or any other woman for that fact?
Friend: But what is wrong with black women that you want to go look at other women? Y’all don’t know no better.
Me [wondering why the hell I’m being bothered at my own birthday]: Absolutely nothing, I’m just as attracted to black women as I am to any woman.
Friend: So why don’t you have a preference for black women?
Me [trying to understand the reason for the third degree on my dating life]: I don’t think I have a preference for any race of a woman to be honest. What’s your preference and why?
Friend: I want a Real Black Man ™. Someone who can really appreciate and deserves the beautiful black woman that I am.
Me: Ok, but what do you mean Real Black Man. Because my experience being black and Nigerian has been that I’m not really a black man.
Cousin [interjecting again]: Her husband is Nigerian!
Me: So does that mean that your husband wouldn’t be considered a Real Black Man.
Friend: You know I made him work to get my attention and I wanted him to prove he deserved me.
Me: That’s great but what if I were to tell you that he, like some Nigerian men, consider you more appealing than Nigerian women? What if I were to tell you that based on my experience some Nigerian men have a preference for African-American women because they think you’re better looking than Nigerian and/or African women as a whole?
Friend: I don’t care about that.
As much as this conversation felt that it was jumping all over the place, I think it embodies many of the conversations I’ve had with the majority of the black women who have noted their objection to my dating interracially.
I want to be clear on what I’m saying though, this isn’t to say that ALL/MOST/MANY black women subscribe to this perspective; it is simply to say the ones who have noted their objection have for the most part been unwilling to examine their privileges within the larger (global) black community.
As much as there has been discussion about black men who disrespect black women AND then use this as an excuse to date interracially, I get the impression that in conversations every black man/woman who dates interracially is automatically charged as being “race traitor” and having a preference for someone who is better because she/he is not black. I sincerely believe African American women have faced indescribable sexism from men from their own community in the form of being described as less than other women as well as being insulted as community property for dating/marrying interracially.
However, I find that when I try to engage the conversation injecting my dating history, things start to degenerate with charges of preferences, self-hating and race traitor are thrown around with no cause. This makes it particularly frustrating considering the complexities of dating hierarchies that exist within the larger black community. By this I mean the fact that in some instances black women enjoy certain privileges of preference amongst other black communities. To give you an example, I remember a conversation I had with my aunt when I mentioned that I was dating an African American woman. My aunt’s response was to ask why I couldn’t find a good Yoruba woman (I’m not even going to go into the maddening ethnic fractures that ensues when folks hear that I am Ijebu-Yoruba). She then asked me why I thought African American women were more beautiful because they had “good hair”, fairer complexion and were Americans.
Certainly, this basis of this question associates all Americans with “whiteness” and anything that is thus associated is better (even when no such difference exists between African-Americans and Africans). But this still does not negate the reality that within the black diaspora, African American women are in some ways privileged over African women. I wish I could tell you how many times I’ve actually seen this play out with exchange students I met when I was in secondary/high school and university, men and women who I noted enjoyed the attention and (to the best of my knowledge of our interactions) did not question the attention. I also remember SOME of the African American women who married well-educated, wealthy, upper class and in some cases celebrity Nigerian men*, who treated their Nigerian families and black compatriots with the kind of disdain you would expect from white colonials. I want to be clear again about this, I am not saying ALL/MOST/MANY African-American women who are married to Nigerian men wield their privileges this way. Not at all, what I am asking is why is it that black folks who date interracially are automatically labeled as haters of people of their own race when a similar unexamined racialized dynamic/ hierarchy and privilege exists within the diversity of the black diaspora?
* The anecdotal evidence that I observed on black intra-ethnic pairings while growing up in Nigeria actually bears out in the last data I’ve seen. Rachel at Rachel’s Tavern reviewed a 2006 article by Baston and Lichter in the Journal of Marriage and Family and noted that “West Indians and Africans marry African Americans much more frequently than they marry Whites” The other important thing to note is that majority of African-American and African pairings are African-American women and African men. The link is here.
(Photo credit: Nigeria’s Next Top Model, “Where’s Tyra” comment by Nijagal )