Our panelists are: LM, long time commenter and friend of the blog; CV, LM’s partner; Andrea Plaid, our sexual correspondent; Tami of What Tami Said and Love Isn’t Enough; Nonso Christian Ugbode, friend of the blog and occasional contributor; and Lisa Factora-Borchers, friend of the blog and blogger/author at My Ecdysis.
LM: My first memory of anyone commenting on my dating preferences or experiences in the context of race came from friends in college, all of them black. They said that I preferred black women. I dismissed the notion. Part of this was that I hadn’t dated a lot and had been interested in all kinds of girls/women. Part of this was my Pollyanna-ish thought that to avoid the subject — of race in general — was the right thing to do. By then, maybe my sophomore or junior year at a large state university in New York, I did have a hard time seeing myself in a serious relationship with a woman who wasn’t black — and I wasn’t seeking any casual relationships. Still, I figured the fact that most of my romantic interests on campus were black women sprang naturally from the fact that most of my close friendships on campus were with students of color, most of them from the black diaspora. I still think that. I’ve never faced significant opposition, overt or not, from family, friends or others around who I’ve been with. My parents were a mixed marriage, though I don’t believe they considered this an obstacle: my father white, born in New England of Scotch-Irish heritage so many generations back that he insisted that no hyphens belonged in his “American” label; my mother Puerto Rican, with an off-the-boat Irish father and American Irish step-father — and herself phenotypically white so that with an Irish last name of course only one in 1,000 people would ever guess she was Puerto Rican before she spoke Spanish… and then perhaps 1 in 250.
Andrea: Wait, I still date interracially! LOL
The messages I received growing up were mixed: marry Black (this assumed cis men) and have Black children. (One of my aunts went as far to say that if I brought a “mixed” baby to her, she’s refuse to be bothered with the child. My other aunt looked at her and said. “Yes, you would.” That shut that down quick.) My mom, as pro-Black marriage as she was, also said that if she saw a Black woman on the arm of a White man, she’s know the woman was “getting hers” and “stepping up” economically. But the assumption was that the White man in question was not, in her words, “white trash,” so there’s a definite class component in what my mom thought in terms of interracial relationships. As far as other races/ethnicities of men, they were “aight” in Mom’s opinion, which meant “a very distant thought” or “not quite.”
CV: As a first-generation American (my parents were born/raised in West Africa), there was a subtle hope that I would marry someone from either my parents’ tribe or at least country. However, growing up here in New York, I was exposed to so many different people and found myself occasionally attracted to men who didn’t necessarily look like men in my family. It was when we moved to a predominately black neighborhood that I began getting teased for it, and was accused of being an “Oreo” for being more attracted to John Stamos in Full House vs. John Amos from Good Times. In high school and college I became a “militant” (quotes emphasized) and hated all things white-in hindsight, more as an attempt to fit in, than honoring what I truly felt. It was only when I was in my late 20s that I began to re-embrace what I believed to be my inherently more worldly views, and that began to translate to my dating choices too.
I have remained friends with one of my mentors from an internship I held years ago, right after college, and, when I told her I several years ago that I was seeing an ex of mine, I clearly remember her responding with something like “but you’re African, I just can’t see you with this guy, I’ve always seen you with a tall, big and strong black man”. Then, when I married my husband, who is not only white, but shorter than me, I remember her being happy for me, but being a bit surprised there too. We don’t speak much anymore…
Tami: My parents never gave me any messages about dating within my race. And while they probably expected me to marry a black man, given my rabid high school crushes on pale, skinny English rock stars, the fact that I might be attracted to a white guy would not have been shocking. My parents never met any of the non-black men that I dated. That’s not by design; it just happened that way.
I did meet the parents of one white boyfriend. They were cordial, as were his friends. But frankly, a significant barrier between us was not race but class. He came from a white, ethnic, urban, working class background. I was raised by multi-degreed, black professionals in the suburbs. Our professional and social lives were very different. An example, I think, that there is so much more to relationships than the blackness or not blackness of your partner.
LM: I grew up thinking I’d be married in my early 20s and have kids a few years later. Didn’t turn out that way. By the time my wife and I got married I’d come to view marriage itself as less important than the commitment of our relationship, entwined though the ideas are. My girlfriend, then fiancee, now wife, was more attached to the idea that marriage was important. We had a great wedding day but we both agree it didn’t change much about how we are with each other.
LM: Same thing as when I was single — that for individuals, any sort of recommendations based on broad sociological study have limited utility, and if mined too deeply for advice too specific to that person can take one’s eye off the reality that these are individual relationships. The broad studies have their place, no question — but by definition they follow, not lead, what’s happening on the ground, and at best can explain what someone is experiencing or observing in his/her own life. Developing a relationship isn’t like picking a pair of jeans.
Tami: Preach, LM! So much this. I am what I understand is more rare than a unicorn–a black woman happily married to a black man. Stop the presses! It always occurs to me that I never followed the sort of advice found in these articles and, as far as I can tell, neither did my married friends. None of them “acted like a lady and thought like a man” or searched for non-black partners purely out of desperation. Hell, so much of all this is chance anyway. I’m not sure that I am married because of any special trick or set of rules. I just happened to be waiting at the University of Chicago train stop at the same time as a handsome former sailor from Jersey with nice legs and a bucket of Garrett’s popcorn and we got to talking. Had one of us taken a later train or stood a little further up the platform, we may never have met, and I may have been writing this as a single woman or a woman in a different sort of marriage.
All of this hand-wringing hinges upon the idea of women as products rather than consumers in the dating market. The men are doing the buying and we need make ourselves as attractive and valuable as possible to prove our worth. If no one is “buying,” you’ve failed. There is no notion of black women being the ones actively selecting a mate (or not), based on what works best with our lives. In fact, we are cautioned against being “too picky,” as the Essence article points out. While I think the piece contains some valid assessments, it just seems like the latest in a long line of articles creating a crisis and lecturing black women on what we need to fix. In this case, we’re allegedly too narrow in our dating choices.
CV: Quite frankly, I stopped reading these articles a while ago, because I find them boring and repetitive. It’s so much more complex than what can be covered in a few pages in a magazine.
Andrea: After a while I roll my eyes. These articles so deeply play into the insecurities built into the salvific wish, romance-novel idealization, and myths about maturity: heck, I fell for a bit of it. I got married partly out of the 30s Panic: I didn’t think I was “mature” unless I got married by age 30. I met that goal…only to be a divorceé by the time I was 33. So, I had to re-evaluate what I thought about marriage and partnering. I really don’t find marriage fascinating or something I “need” to do to have a partner in my life. In fact, I don’t necessarily think monogamy is the partnering solution for everyone–which is another thing these articles rarely talk about except in the most salacious yet dismissive terms.
Lisa: I’m with CV here. I stop reading anything about marriage. Those who are married across lines of racial or cultural difference know the truth is so much deeper, and it likely won’t come up in any research or report.
Andrea: I think what’s at work is a particular meme that is rarely, if ever, addressed in these kinds of pieces: that Black women are unattractive (and least as marriage partners) and stupid. In this particular article–even with assurance stating otherwise–these types of articles seem to say that Black women are unwanted romantically and marriage-wise and we’re so thickheaded that we need “experts” to tell us what to do. (Since Steve Harvey gets poo-poo’d by a certain segment of Black women, we now have to get this article to grab that segment of Black women. What this article amounts to is making Black men want to marry us by having men of other races desire us. Basically, it’s the Make Men Jealous ploy on a racialized tip.) The fact that it’s Essence, a magazine that is advertised to be for “Today’s Black Woman,” is playing on these centuries-old stereotypes galls me. And no, I’m not going to blame the recent hiring of White staffers in key roles on this piece.
Tami: I agree, Andrea. While I am not surprised that Essence published this feature, I find myself disappointed. The women’s magazine I want is one that puts the lie to the whole black women’s marriage crisis and tells women to honor themselves and live their lives boldly, not twist and contract to be in a position to best get a man. But then, it’s hard to sell to people who feel too good about themselves. Better to ensure black women that there is something wrong with them (unmarriagable) so they will buy the books and magazines and workshops to “fix” it.