Social Capital and Denying the Pain of Black Women

by Guest Contributor Tami, originally published at What Tami Said

Neo-soul singer and actress Jill Scott is taking some undeserved heat (IMHO) for her opinion piece on interracial marriage that appears in the current issue of Essence. Now, let me state for the record. I have NO PROBLEM with interracial relationships. We would all do better to evaluate people based on our shared values and interests rather than skin color. Back in my single days, I was an equal opportunity dater. Despite arguments to the contrary, I’m not so sure Jill Scott is opposed to interracial dating either.

In this month’s Essence, Scott writes an opinion piece attempting to explain the outrage expressed by some Essence readers when Reggie Bush appeared on the magazine’s cover. At the time, some black women were offended that Bush, who is dating a white woman (Kim Kardashian), would be lauded on the cover of a magazine for black women. While I don’t agree with this sentiment, I understand where it is coming from. And so does Scott. She writes about “wincing” when a new friend–an accomplished black man–revealed that he is married to a white woman:
Was I jealous? Did the reality of his relationship somehow diminish his soul’s credibility? The answer is not simple. One could easily dispel the wince as racist or separatist, but that’s not how I was brought up. I was reared in a Jehovah’s Witness household. I was taught that every man should be judged by his deeds and not his color, and I firmly stand where my grandmother left me. African people worldwide are known to be welcoming and open-minded. We share our culture sometimes to our own peril and most of us love the very notion of love. My position is that for women of color, this very common “wince” has solely to do with the African story in America.
When our people were enslaved, “Massa” placed his Caucasian woman on a pedestal. She was spoiled, revered and angelic, while the Black slave woman was overworked, beaten, raped and farmed out like cattle to be mated. She was nothing and neither was our Black man. As slavery died for the greater good of America, and the movement for equality sputtered to life, the White woman was on the cover of every American magazine. She was the dazzling jewel on every movie screen, the glory of every commercial and television show. She was unequivocally the standard of beauty for this country, firmly unattainable to anyone not of her race. We daughters of the dust were seen as ugly, nappy mammies, good for day work and unwanted children, while our men were thought to be thieving, sex-hungry animals with limited brain capacity. Read more…

Yes, the days of slavery are long past, but this view of black women as less desirable, less beautiful, less feminine and less valuable than white women persists. It is illustrated by the women who are featured on mainstream magazine covers…and those who are not (Vanity Fair anyone?). It is confirmed by the missing and exploited women that are covered 24/7 on cable news…and those who are not. It is underscored by statistics that reveal who is likely to marry…and who is not.

Black men are not immune to the message that black women are “less than.” Black women know this. We know this because we live it.

- We watch brothers fetishize light skin; long, straight hair and keen features. For most, the “preference” is subconscious, but some (Kanye, I’m looking at you) have no shame about saying it out loud. (I once dated a black man who admitted that he and his friends preferred women who looked like they were “mixed with something (other than black).” Apparently, my eyes, which he thought “looked kind of Asian” made me acceptable. Needless to say, that relationship ended with a quickness.)

- We see how First Lady Michelle Obama, an attractive, accomplished, articulate and conventionally feminine woman, has been recast as an angry, animalistic, and masculine harpy.

- We watch violence and sexual degradation against black women by black men go unacknowledged in our community. (R. Kelly….NAACP Image Award…for real?)

- We read the “what’s wrong with black women” books and articles, often written by black men. (Hello…Steve Harvey.) Or, we watch Tyler Perry movies to learn where being educated, professional successful and self-sufficient gets you. (Hint: According to Perry, alone and unwanted.)

- Speaking of Tyler Perry…He and Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence and Keenan Thompson are sure doing their part to keep the fat, black, sassy, masculine, aggressive black woman trope in play.

- We hear what brothers say when we aren’t around. I shook my head at the scene in Chris Rock’s “Good Hair” that showed a bunch of black men in a barber shop holding forth on the awesomeness of dating a non-black woman with straight, silky tresses.

The scene made me recall a white floor mate in college who exclusively dated black men. I recall how she shared that some of her paramours, in complimenting her, could not help but denigrate black women: We are too mouthy. Our butts are too big. Our features unfeminine. These black men repeated the most ugly stereotypes about black women–women like their own mothers. Yes, my acquaintance could have been feeding her own insecurity, but the dating situation on campus seemed to confirm her stories. It was not uncommon at local clubs to see tables of black women sitting idle, nursing their drinks, while men jockeyed for the white co-eds.

I’m not sure that the dating experience for black women in mixed environments has improved in the nearly 20 years since I graduated college. My stepson reports that the black girls at his majority white school “don’t really date.”

Now, I’ve never been one to spend time mourning over someone who doesn’t want me.

In any case, I am happily married and who dates whom represents no loss for me. And I do think no one should begrudge love between two people. But I don’t think that’s what Jill Scott’s “wince” is about. Nor is it about black supremacy or hatred of white women or a belief that the races shouldn’t mix.

As she said, it has everything to do with the story of African-descended peoples in America. More specifically, it has to do with the history and present of black women in America. It has to do with being a body that is constantly demonized and marginalized, not just by the majority, but by your own people, too…by the men who share your history and with whom you might find refuge. And though you cannot tell by looking why one person chose another person–whether that black guy over there picked his white girlfriend because they are uniquely suited, because love struck them like a thunderbolt or because society says women like her are the ideal or all of the above–the “wince” isn’t about fact but feeling. It is about feeling confronted with the reality of your lack of social worth and the limitation of your own choices. (see Racialicious on how race bias effects online dating choices.) And that is painful.

I am not surprised that many non-black folks hearing about Scott’s essay don’t understand. We do not have the same history and we do not occupy the same space in the realm of heterosexual dating. The black woman’s social situation has few parallels among other races, although Asian men have similar (low) capital. This is not the same as John Mayer talking about his “white supremacist dick.” Through his comments, Mayer was upholding the sexual hierarchy that Jill Scott is lamenting. In other words, in a world of white supremacist male members, it can get pretty, fucking lonely for a sister.

Jill Scott did not say that interracial relationships are bad. In her essay, she attempts to explain what it feels like to be the recipient of hundreds of years of sexism and racism; hundreds of years of “less than” messages from within and without our communities.

We may, intellectually, believe in a love unbounded by the chains of race, but that doesn’t stop the pain.

Our minds do understand that people of all races find genuine love in many places. We dig that the world is full of amazing options. But underneath, there is a bite, no matter the ointment, that has yet to stop burning. Some may find these thoughts to be hurtful. That is not my intent. I’m just sayin’.

Scott explains in more detail on CNN: