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Posted under: Race & Identity Opinion

When racism is the fuel behind interracial dating

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That is how I thought, too — until last Thanksgiving.

That wonderful time of year had come and I decided to host the festivities. I was so busy setting and clearing the table, directing guests and caring for my two toddler boys that I hardly listened to the dinner conversation. But the next day, a guest called me to tell me about my teenage nephew’s views on dating. I was appalled.

Apparently, my nephew, Richard, declared that there was not a single attractive black  girl at his college with hundreds of black girls. His schoolmate then added that the only girls Richard finds attractive have long blonde hair and blue eyes. Richard, who is black himself, did not deny it. In that case, I was not shocked that Richard did not find any black girls “attractive” because I too have never met a black girl with natural long blonde hair and blue eyes. That same evening, Richard laughed heartily as he told the joke that black women died on the Titanic because they refused to get on emergency rafts. He claimed that they were screaming, “I’m not getting on. I don’t want to get my weave wet” (insert Shanaynay voice). As if it couldn't get any worse, when a question came up about a man’s ethnic background, because the dark-skinned and balding man could arguably pass for either African or South-Asian, Richard retorted that the man was “black as sh**.”

The guest’s retelling of Richard’s Thanksgiving behavior created a terrifying image of my handsome, brilliant and talented nephew, whom I deeply love. It painted an image of a black boy who, but for our familiarity and lineage, would not love me back or see beauty in me because I’m a black woman. It's not difficult to find videos of black men demeaning black women’s physical characteristics. These men promote a standard of beauty that dark-hued kinky haired black women can’t biologically attain, while mocking us in our attempts to halfway meet that standard through long, straight-haired weaves and wigs. But I never imagined that such hate speech would be present in my own home, at a table purchased and decorated by black women and filled to the brim with food lovingly cooked and served by black women.

If such lunacy could infect my nephew, then the rest of the black boys that I loved were not safe from such white supremacist indoctrination.

I couldn't sleep that night. I was awake in my bed, surrounded by black manhood. My 3-year-old son was sucking his thumb with one hand and tugging at my sisterlocks with the other. My 13-month-old son was nursing while sleeping. I played footsy with my husband. Sadly, the words of controversial Egyptian-Sudanese-American novelist Kola Boof, during her Twitter fight with Nigerian-American rapper Wale, echoed in my mind. “Our …….enemy …has turned out to be our own … self-hating sons….who …[want]..to escape …[their]… own people….” Please don’t let her words be true, I thought to myself.

The next day, a Saturday, I called Richard’s mom at 9:00 a.m.

I told her that I was deeply disturbed by certain comments that Richard had made. She didn't need to hear much more. She said “it takes a village” and handed the phone to Richard.

I told Richard that I didn’t care that he finds blonde women attractive, but I was very concerned that he does not find black women attractive. He was filled with teenage bravado and defensiveness.  

When I confronted him about saying that there was not a single attractive black girl at his college, he argued that he did not say that there were no attractive black girls. He said that he had not seen any attractive black girls in his 1.5 years in college. This distinction without a difference troubled me and I pleaded with him to look closer. I told him that his mother and sister were beautiful (they look like the model Oluchi Onweagba) and that he should look for their beauty, which is not uncommon in the African Diaspora, in the women on his campus.  

Next, I expressed that the weave joke was inappropriate, especially given the fact that out of the 11 adult black women at Thanksgiving dinner, eight donned hair that didn't grow from their scalps. Hair is an accessory used by women of multiple races. Richard argued that he told the joke to my 41-year old male cousin, who happened to be married to a white woman at the time, and my cousin didn't say anything and, therefore, the joke must have been fine. I responded that it's often challenging to speak up in such situations and my cousin’s silence didn't necessarily mean approval.

When I asked him to refrain from using the phrase “black as sh**,” Richard replied that he didn't mean it that way. I responded that it was still offensive.

I said “I love you” and reminded him that he was the most beautiful boy in his childhood. Although I was 14 when he was born, people would sometimes ask if I was his mother when I babysat him. “Yes”, I would reply. The pride of being perceived as the mother of such an adorable boy outweighed the stigma of teenage pregnancy. I told him that I take it as a compliment when people say that my sons resemble him and that at the very least he should be open to marrying a black woman and to having a child that resembles him in hue and hair texture. Seeing beauty in a black woman is seeing beauty in himself. If he falls in love with a non-black woman, great. I will support him completely!

But his interracial relationships should be based on genuine love, and not lack of appreciation of his own physical features as reflected in black women.

Knowing that he has been called horrific racist names by white people in his suburban town, I told him that his beauty and humanity are self-evident, even if certain individuals and media images deny that. Lastly, I told him that his current perspective serves as a curse upon his teenage sister who will soon navigate the dating world.

Richard didn't seem swayed in those moments. He's still a teenager who, like most teenagers, is discovering himself. But I’m confident that, at some point, he will wrestle with my words.

Please don't misinterpret me. I firmly believe that we're spiritual beings having human experiences. As spiritual beings, we should find love and companionship with others, regardless of race, national origin, etc. I deeply care for my former and present white sister-in-laws. I even used to own a dating site that encouraged black women to open their minds to men of all races. The interracial dating bloggers behind BeyondBlackandWhite.com and SwirlingandMarriage.com are my friends and colleagues. Heck, I’m an interracial dating advocate!

But that doesn't mean that I advocate racism. Racism not only manifests when whites with felony convictions fare as well, or better, in the job market than black applicants with clean backgrounds. Racism is not just present in the prejudices of police officers who kill and brutalize unarmed black citizens such as Michael Brown, John Crawford, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Abner Louima and Marlene Pinnock. Racism can be internalized. It can be present in the hearts and minds of black people and it impacts how we value ourselves and each other. The lack of appreciation of blackness and the desire to escape blackness through inter-marriage, as depicted in the famous painting Redencao de Cam, is one of the lingering psychological effects of slavery, colonization and white domination on people of African descent. For those reasons, I take issue with the race-based self-loathing that sometimes fuels interracial dating.  

For example, an African-American male friend of mine in high school once said that he loved his kids too much to have them come out with “nappy” hair like his own. He later married a Mexican woman. There is a female doctor in the Ghanaian-American community who has multiple white-looking children and their fathers are unknown. It's rumored that she has sex with random white men at truck stops in order to have light-skinned kids. Additionally, there are reports of a Ghanaian man, Augustine N.K. Boateng, promoting a service called Half-caste World which allows women and couples in Ghana to purchase foreign sperm for the sole purpose of having mixed-race children, without actually knowing or ever meeting someone of a different race. I hope that this pathological thinking is rare, but it certainly exists.

We all represent God’s handiwork with our different skin tones and hair textures. My inspirational children’s book, Sunne’s Gift: How Sunne Overcame Bullying to Reclaim God’s Gift, highlights the beauty, power and necessity of our diversity. That said, all our relationships should be fueled by love, not tainted by self-loathing of any kind.

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