“Never in my life have I read a book so filled with self-hatred. Can’t believe I made it all the way through. The author’s obsession with white men is troubling.”
Ouch. That’s a recent one-star review of my book Is It True What They Say About Black Men?: Tales of Love, Lust and Language Barriers on the Other Side of the World. You know what they say about criticism: A single scathing assessment stands out in one’s mind more than a dozen glowing ones.
This one, though, didn’t say anything new – nor did it make me second guess my work. He read the entire book. Clearly it’s not my work he finds offensive. It’s me.
Alas, he’s not alone. His commentary resonates like a broken record that’s been on repeat as long as I’ve been writing about sexual racism: Apparently, as a black man, I owe it to myself and to black men everywhere to date inside my race only. Imagine the uproar that would ensue if a white person dared to utter such stick-with-your-own-kind nonsense to another white person. He or she would be nailed to the proverbial cross.
Frankly, as a gay black man, I’m over the presumptions of self-hatred. Of all the things I would change about myself if I could, being gay and being black are not two of them. I consider both to be badges of honor. They’ve made me who I am, and I couldn’t love me more. That said, there are nights when I go to bed and dream of waking up the next morning and experiencing 24 hours in which my race isn’t a factor in pretty much every aspect of my gay life, from who hits on me to who doesn’t.
That’s right. It’s not just about who doesn’t want me. I write about sexual racism from the point of view of someone who is regularly pursued because of my skin color (sigh... here it comes again – more objectification and the dreaded big black fantasy) and has never been outright rejected because of it. Like people of every color, I have no control over who pursues me. If I dated black men only, many of my stories would be the same. I’d still regularly hear from tone-deaf non-white men who think “I love black men” is a personal compliment.
But then, if I dated black men only, I would have missed out on the Asian and Latino men I’ve dated and been with while living outside of the United States in countries where the miniscule black population would have made my options virtually non-existent. (Would anyone go to Argentina, Thailand, or Australia to “obsess” over black men?) Some of those Asian and Latino men probably wouldn’t appreciate being lumped in with the white men I allegedly “obsess” over. One of them carried scars from being a darker-skinned South American and therefore, in the eyes of his family and community, inferior, to his more European-/white-looking brother.
I’ve been loudly critical of people who adopt hierarchies of skin color and those who banish entire races and ethnicities from their dating and sexing pool. I stand by everything I’ve written. But that’s different from telling people what color their boyfriends should be. Boyfriend shaming wasn’t cool when Carrie Bradshaw’s therapist did it (in the Sex and the City episode where the heroine hooked up with a hunk who looked a lot like Jon Bon Jovi), or when the sister of Samantha Jones’s black beau did it (revisit her tirade in the video below), and it’s even more infuriating when total strangers do it.
For the record, ruling in or ruling out someone based solely on race and putting it in writing on Grindr, or wherever, is racist. So is telling a black man that he’s less of a person and full of self-hatred because he’s not dating other black men.
The great irony here is that a white man who dates interracially will often be regarded as colorblind and progressive, whether it’s by active choice or simply by chance. But where would they be without men of other races who would date them? If I must date in my own lane, does that mean whites, Asians, Latinos, Jews, Arabs, etc., need to as well? How is this brand of romantic segregation any more acceptable than other forms of racial segregation?
For those who think dating within your race will make you luckier in love, look around. Non-interracial couples don’t necessarily stay together forever. And black men are not the ultimate romantic saviors, my mother and sister can attest to that. Dating them may change the racial dynamics of my relationships, but the racial dynamics of my relationships have been just fine.
I’ve never been physically or mentally abused by a non-black boyfriend. The relationships may not have worked out, but race has never been a factor in any of my breaks-ups. And I do not buy the argument that black men will “get me” more than white men will. Yes, they may be able to better understand some of my experiences as a black man, but my experiences as a black man are not all there is to me. There’s so much more to a healthy loving relationship than mutual understanding of what it’s like to be a certain color.
And there’s no guarantee a black man would even understand my specific experiences with racism and discrimination, which, ironically enough, began not with white people but with black people. The first time I ever heard the N-word, in first grade, a black classmate was hurling it at me – and not in the “N―-a” sense. I instinctively knew it was something bad, and when I asked what he meant, he told me it was a word for tall people.
Despite growing up in Kissimmee, Florida, a hotbed of racism in the ’70s and ’80s, it was the black kids, not the white kids, who picked on my siblings and me for years, routinely beating us up after school because of our strange Caribbean accents. (I was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands.) They said we talked funny, too proper, like we thought we was better than they were. We had to be put in our place.
Every time I read a critique slamming me because of my white dating history, I flash back to the black schoolyard bullies who, were they around today, would probably concur. Racism and discrimination against me by white people and by black people – especially by black people – defined my formative years. So excuse me if I don’t feel a magical connection to black men just because they’re black.
That doesn’t mean I couldn’t fall in love with one. I’ve been with black men, and while I’ve yet to give my heart to one, I’d never rule it out the way all those people on Grindr rule out Asians, citing “preference.” I must admit, though, that my past looms over my present. My experiences with black Americans changed considerably in college when I started regularly meeting black people my age who didn’t give me side-eye and a fist, but damage had been done. Although I no longer harbor the fear I had when I was growing up, my early black-on-black experiences still affect me on some level. Today, I feel as much an outsider among black people as I do among white people. I’m not looking for black ripples in the white sea.
During my high-school days, back when I was still facing off with black bullies, my brother and my sister had a big blow-out over the white girls he kept dating. My sister considered it an insult to her, to our mother, and to black women everywhere.
Fast forward decades. My brother has been happily married for more than 13 years to a woman, a black woman, with whom he shares three children. On the day of their wedding, my sister’s longest and most successful relationship had been with a white man, a lovely guy who never broke her heart – unlike pretty much every black boyfriend preceding him.
The moral of this story: Love and let love, free of judgment, without limits.