by Guest Contributor Ryan Barrett, originally published at Cheap Thrills
I noticed a funny thing while visiting my family in D.C. for Christmas. Simply put: every female in the house (my mom and aunt, who are African-American, and me and my cousin, who are interracial) was either involved with or married to a White man.
The truth is, the topic of interracial dating is always bubbling in the back of my mind. I went out on a limb and wrote a post about it some time ago on this blog, which got me into some deep water with a few of my readers (a disagreement that I haven’t fully resolved in my mind).
But just recently, the issue resurfaced during a conversation I had with a fellow blogger (a White male) about how personal Obama’s candidacy was to many Americans. I know, I know… interracial relationships? Obama? The two are linked, sure, but they don’t really go together. Which is what made the conversation so poignant.
My friend asked me whether or not Obama was well liked among the African-American side of my family.
“Of course!” I exclaimed. “My family has always held a fondness for Obama. But what truly won our hearts – well, mostly for my mother and aunt – was his marriage to a dark-skinned African-American woman.”
“Wow, really? Even though they’re both married to White men?” My friend was baffled. “That’s… strange.”
Before that point, I had never thought of it as strange at all. But maybe it is. And after that, a troubling question began creeping into my mind: do some Black women hold an interracial relationship double standard?
Most Black women who I am close with approve of, and even cheer on, a Black female/White male interracial relationship. But one that’s the other way around evokes a feeling far less warm and fuzzy. For example, if Obama had been married to a White woman… eek. I’m sure we wouldn’t have been as quick to embrace him (and actually, I’ve talked with men and women of every color about this hypothetical situation, all of whom expressed a similar “cringe” – perhaps a topic for a different post).
I’ve been trying to figure out WHY this is for some time. Talking with my family has helped a bit. My aunt, who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s during Jim Crow, gave me this bit of insight:
- At age five, I knew I was black. (At that time in 1950, the term was “Negro.”) I also knew that “my kind” of black – luscious dark chocolate – was not valued one iota. I was in that strata of folk to be relentlessly taunted and derided – the least desirable folk in the whole of the United States of America – BLACK-SKIN FEMALES.
Being called ugly by my childhood peers – other Negroes – was an everyday experience. …At monthly dances, (wearing my prettiest felt skirts with the poodle-on-a-leash design and for-the-occasion “straightened” hair with ever-so-neat bangs and Shirley Temple curls) no boy ever asked me to dance. Not once. No boy ever asked me for a date. No boy took me home to meet his family. No boy would dare to be seen with me. Far too risky.
What we did to each other is ‘our shame’.
I also spoke with my cousin a bit. She grew up in D.C. as well, only during the 80’s. She hung out with and dated Black guys, but oftentimes found that many of them were looking for something “not quite her”: long nails, thin straight hair, etc. Which is the façade that most of her female cohorts put on. But she wasn’t interested in pretending, and, interestingly, discovered that the few White guys she dated were much more eager to accept her as she was – thick bushy hair and all.
So what does this all have to do with Obama’s marriage to Michelle? He’s African-American, she’s African-American – no interracial relationship there. So why was she the reason my family members so embraced his candidacy?
Well, it’s this—a simple statement voiced by my cousin at the end of our conversation that slid all the pieces in place:
“I guess we just love men who really love Black women.”
Wow. The conversation never had anything to do with men (of any color) and everything to do with women. Black women.
So maybe we do hold a seemingly illogical but deeply personal double standard—one rooted in experiences that go back decades. From hearing about my grandmother’s experiences as a dark-skinned Black woman in the 30’s and 40’s to my aunt’s to my cousin’s to mine, I’ve grown an intense fondness for any man who appreciates a brown-skinned lady…
…and I’m half-White. Go figure.