by Guest Contributor Lisa, originally published at Orange Crushed
When I was in elementary school, maybe second grade, a white classmate asked me the deep, probing question: “When you get married, is it going to be to a white man or a black man?” To someone like me who is biracial, this question is probably up there with “Are you adopted?” and “Can I touch your hair?” But even at 7 years old, I felt that this was silly — how could I possibly know who I was going to marry so far in the future? And why would I care what color he was as long as he had all of the stereotypical Prince Charming qualities that little girls are taught that men should have? And besides, my 7-year-old self pointed out, what if he’s going to be Asian or Native American?
I can thank my parents for instilling in me the idea that people are people, and that it’s cool to date whoever you want. In fact, both of my parents were practicing misceganators before they got married to each other. My white mother and her black boyfriend once got kicked out of a Catholic church in the 1960s. When my parents got married in the 1970s, someone in the supposedly ultra-liberal college town that I grew up in would routinely slash the tires on their cars overnight. They raised me to believe that, despite the crap that they went through, the world was becoming a better place every day and that by the time I was an adult, I there would be nothing to worry about when it came to interracial dating.
Of course, real life didn’t work out that way. No, I never had people damaging my personal property or ostracizing me for my choices. But what I did find was that the interracial dating revolution from my parents’ time, when things were about challenging the status quo and being willing to take shit from everyone around you in the name of love, was highly romanticized compared to the pitfalls and quirks that I encountered when I was old enough to start spending time with boys. Given my status as biracial, pretty much anyone who I chose to date could have earned me the moniker of “interracial dater,” but I think that my skin is dark enough that it was assumed that by dating black guys I was dating with “my own” race. Still, throughout middle school and high school, I “went with” (as we called dating back then!) guys of various backgrounds.
However, if I look at the general pattern, I “liked” or “dated” more black guys in middle school and progressively less of them as I got older. This is a little bit of a digression, but I was always a tomboy, and the last black guy I dated, in my junior year of high school, really put me off by asking me a bunch of seemingly sexist (or at least nit-picky) questions about “what happened to your nails?” because I don’t get them done and “why don’t you try and look more cute” and stuff like that. I think at some point after that, as I made my way through college, I decided that I couldn’t/didn’t want to live up to a lot of the standards that the black men I knew seemed to have for women, because I didn’t care about makeup or getting my hair done and because I was actually a huge nerd who spent her time playing video games and chatting on the Internet (of course now I know that perfectly nerdy brothers exist too, but at the time I was feeling more than a little jaded).
Anyway, back to the main point. Out of the white guys that I dated before I got married, most of them fell into the category of thinking of themselves as “beyond race.” By this I mean that they were the kind of people who would proclaim that they honestly didn’t “see” color when they looked at people, due to some kind of extra special social enlightenment that they had attained and now wanted to brag about.
I can’t remember how many times I heard things like “you know, I don’t even think of you as [black, mixed, whatever]. I just think of you as a person.” And I first, my young, naive self thought that sentiment was really sweet, because I didn’t realize the degree to which it was denying a huge facet of what made me ME. And a lot of this involved complicity on my part, as well — in several relationships, I felt that I had to be careful not to do anything “too black,” lest my beloved suddenly begin to see color again when he looked at me.
The last white guy I dated fancied himself to be some kind of a poet with an exceptional way with words. I had noticed that in his earlier writing he tended to describe “beautiful” women as having “alabaster white” skin and other such bullshit, but I ignored it, because I figured that he was with me now and therefore his idea of beauty must have changed or at least expanded. Except I didn’t really ignore it. Because I was the one who pursued him and not the other way around, I found myself always wondering if he would rather be with some skinny blond with perfect, “porcelain skin” — like the girl he dated before me. I was his first non-white partner, and I always felt like a silver medal, or a compromise.
One day he started talking, poetically, about the word “pale” and how it was evocative of a special, frail kind of beauty. And I snapped.
I asked him if my lack of “paleness” made me somehow less beautiful. He got defensive and claimed that I was misunderstanding him, that he wasn’t talking about skin tone per se, but about some abstract idea. But that was it, for me. I started to think about all of the times that he told me that he “didn’t really think of me as black — just as a person” and what that REALLY meant. Like he was being kind enough to overlook a glaring handicap or something.
However, the man I am married to is also white, but instead of being a “beyond race” person, he is an anti-racist who has always found black women beautiful and desirable. He doesn’t look past my skin but right at it, and says that it’s lovely! In the past on Racialicious, I’ve seen preferences like his sometimes termed as being a “fetish”, but to be honest I’m just happy to be with someone who likes me for me, where I don’t have to wonder if he’d rather have my personality and interests repackaged in a white girl’s body.
To me, these two categories — “beyond race” versus “anti-racist” — make a huge difference in terms of interracial relationships that involve white people.