By Sexual Correspondent Andrea (AJ) Plaid
MTV ruined my mom’s hope for the Good Black Life for me, she said: Black husband, Black children, Black neighborhood. All because of the pretty white boys dancing and singing before my eyes as my hormones coursed through my adolescent body.
She was right…sort of.
I’ve had lovers of various hues in my life, but my long-term partners were white—including my ex-husband. I just knew that my love life would not be monoracial. Duran Duran and Adam Ant simply sealed that fate.
When I tried to find advice to help guide me on that path—my mom certainly didn’t and couldn’t help, since she dated and married only Black men—I read Essence. No help there: while I was dating the rainbow, Essence touted various admonitions on how to achieve the Good Black Life, including the Kente cloth-themed wedding. The advice and articles about interracial dating treated those relationships as, at best, aberrations.
Cosmo? Glamour? Beyond some “general” advice on “how to catch a man,” it was some variation of planning romantic evenings and Kegel exercises.
The first publications about interracial relationships—this was the Multiculti Late 80s and 90s–treated them as cure-alls for personal and institutional racism. I knew better than that, so that literature didn’t quite interest me. And I walked the other way — more like ran across the street and screamed down the alley — when Shahrazad Ali’s pro-intimate partner violence tome Blackman’s Guide to Understanding the Blackwoman became the dating manual and coffeeklatch topic du jour for Black women in the US. Nope, definitely not for me.
When I finally discovered Racialicious a few years ago, I finally found someplace that talked about dating and race, especially interracial dating, that wasn’t full of foolishness. About a couple of years the R ran a post about the racial implications–and racist assumptions–of dating-advice books. And we did a breakdown of how race and racism worked in the online-dating world. And, of course, we ran a series on interracial dating as a response to Essence trying to position them as the Next Cure-All for the Black Woman’s Marriage Crisis.
My biggest takeaway from all of this is—surprise, surprise—the media and some people in our communities deeply participate in the Dating Economics of Not OK. Part of that economy is advertising that having color is not OK, unless you’re planning to date and mate intraracially. (The logic: you’re all the same race, so you two should relate, right?) The realities are infinitely more intricate, but intricate doesn’t sell too well.
So, I’m hoping that Samhita Mukhopadhyay’s book, Outdated: Why Dating Is Ruining Your Love Life becomes a best-seller. Because she not only takes inventory of all those dating-advice books cluttering bookshelves and e-reader lists, she also takes that rarest of inventory: an anti-racist feminist inventory of the whole dating industrial complex.
Mukhopadhyay reminds the reader throughout her book that these books consistently erase those who are not cisgender and heterosexual and able-bodied and middle-class. She also says that the dating industrial complex is also rather unkind to cisgender men–all of this because they’re trafficking in narrow stereotypes based on gender binaries. And if we believe in some sort of feminism? Well, Mukhopadhyay analyzes, these books try to make that belief the reason why we’re not getting laid, let alone married. We, to paraphrase DuBois, are the 21st century problem to be solved because, so says this literature, we dare to exist–sometimes caring about being in relationships and sometimes not.
Her take, for example, on how these books—along with communities and porn—and their net effects on dating and race:
The mainstream media is ripe with oversexualized images of women of color, and policy often stigmatized and shames this same group of people. Women of color and poor women are blamed for their inability to keep their legs closed and for having too many children. For marginalized groups of women, sex is not linked to pleasure and freedom; it is demonized and used as an example of all the ways in which these women lack self-control. As a result, a lot of conversation around sexual freedom discount the experience of people of color, failing to take into account how much sexual freedom is assumed to hinge on a woman’s privilege—be it because of her race, economic status, or social standing.
Of course, not all women of color are sexualized in the same way. For example, while black women are considered lascivious, always consenting and out of control, Latina[s] are considered exotic or overly sensual and Asian women are considered childish and prude. These particular stereotypes are reinforced through popular culture and pornography (just Google respectively “Asian women,” “black women,” or “Latina women” and then “women” and see what comes up). The common thread here is that nonwhite women’s sexuality is seen as outside the norm of white heterosexuality. It’s therefore something to uniquely desired, manipulated, exploited or controlled. Within this rather toxic climate, being a woman of color who’s in touch with her sexuality is an act of resistance. Pushing past the negative media depictions and still finding a healthy, healing, erotic, and functional sexuality is no small feat.
I have often felt trapped between discourses of sexuality. If I’m overtly sexual, I’m a threat to what it means to be a good, pious South Asian lady and to the white norms of sexuality. As a result, when I am sexual, I am confronting my ethnic community and the norms of white sexuality. Finding a more authentic sexuality that’s just me means pushing past what is considered the appropriate way for me to be sexual based on my race, ethnicity, and gender. This has meant a lot of experimentation, sometimes playing up how “bad” I am or being tremendously secretive about my sexual transgressions (well, clearly not after this book). And it meant sifting through partners and figuring out which ones are a little too obsessed with my being Indian.”
Then Mukhopadhyay breaks out a list on spotting an exoticizer.
Yes. She. Does.
But that’s what she does throughout her book…and that’s what I thoroughly love about Outdated. It’s a great, intricate mix of feminist thought, media literacy, and a couple of tips for dating while feminist (of color) from your you-ain’t-never-lied friend who’s that romantic realist. Mukhopadhyay lets you know that whomever you date—if you even want to do that—is perfectly OK.
Image credit: Feministing