It happened last August, a few weeks before school started. I had driven out to Merriweather Post Pavilion with a couple of buddies to catch Wu-Tang Clan and Rage Against the Machine. But traffic-clogged highways and our own tardiness wrecked our grand plans. We got there just in time to jog from the parking area to the gate and hear the Rza yelling to the crowd, “Peace D.C.!”
The show, or at least the part I wanted to see, was over. I sat through a few minutes of Rage, until the throng of gyrating 90210ers forced me to move on.
At the top of the pavilion, I found a platform within earshot of the concert but light-years away from the godawful mosh pit. I settled down with a sigh, wondering how I had managed to miss the illest hiphop act out. I don’t know how long I’d been sitting there when she approached me.
“You don’t like Rage,” she said.
“Don’t know much about ’em,” I replied, looking up with surprise at my interrogator. “They’re different,” she said diplomatically. “Yeah, I’m seeing that,” I said noncommitally.
She helped herself to a seat, asking how I had liked Wu’s set. I told my sad storyhow I’d missed its act but was a die-hard fan and had almost all of the group’s solo albums. She ran down the list of songs they had rocked, and then shocked me by reciting whole verses. She wasn’t a full-fledged head, but she did know the Funky Four Plus One’s “It’s the Joint.”
The sun had set a while earlier, and Rage was performing its last number. I needed to find the kids I had come with and so did she.
“See you around, maybe,” she said. “Yeah, maybe,” I said, half smiling.
Under other circumstances, I would have gotten the 411, trying to fill the bachelor void in my life. But I didn’t even get the honey’s name, because the honey wasn’t a honey.
When folks talk about dating, honesty doesn’t always drive the debate. But it only gets worse when people talk about interracial dating. On one end you’ve got people who flat-out disapprove, and almost always for simplistic reasons. They say things like, “It’s just not natural,” or “It’s just not how God planned it.”
The other end of the spectrum isn’t much better. Most of these folks are carefree ahistorians who gleefully extract their interracial relationships right out of America’s racist context (or try to, anyway). From black folks, you get catchy clichés like “everybody’s dark when the lights go out.” From liberal whites (and from black folks who could be mistaken for white), you get idealistic pronouncements like, “I don’t see color,” or obvious nonsense like “the world should be colorblind.” It sounds sweet, but I firmly believe most of these folks would reach for a hand grenade if they caught their relatives crossing the line.
The “it just isn’t done” folks rely on divine reasoning based in old-fashioned ignorance, but the “love is colorblind” types are equally delusional. They disregard a long history of racial and sexual stereotyping, marching blindly onward as if dating operates in some kind of extraspecial vacuum where racism won’t dare stray.
Nowhere are the issues more complex and problematic than in the union between black men and white womenthe most common of black-white unions, and in my opinion, the most suspect.
Until I went to high school, I could count on one hand the white kids I knew. I had no white friends and up until that point I had had only one white teacher. The white world for me existed on TV and through trips downtown and to the shopping mall. In high school, about 20 percent of the kids were white. But they kept to themselves. They listened to different music and had different ideas about fashion. Their parents held season tickets to Oriole games. I never had any static with any of them; they just ran with a different crew.
So it never really entered my mind to hook up with a white girl. You couldn’t take her to see Boyz N the Hood or to the Pete Rock and CL Smooth concert. But there were always a few kids who crossed the ethnic divide. They got the standard long stares and cold commentary. One thing struck me about the kids who decided to cross the line: They were almost always guys. Most of my buddies just thought the dudes were weird or going through a phase. To our young eyes, the notion of a black man stepping out with a white woman seemed like far more trouble than it was worth.
Consider the facts: If anybody should be dating interracially, it should be black women. According to 1990 Census data, there are more black women than black men in this country. Moreover, among professionalsblacks and whites more likely to meetblack women handily outnumber black men. If all things were equal, and love were truly colorblind, then it would be black women who would be most likely to cross the color line. But they don’t. It’s a man thing. Me and a few of my writer friends sometimes joke that it’s easier to find black male writers married to white women than it is to find ones married to black women.
Add in the fact that the pool of black men is disproportionately downsized by murder, drugs, and jail. It’s galling to see the disproportionate number of black men who spurn the surplus of single black women and choose white women. What does that say about what black men think of black women?
We all know the historical context. We know that on the male-constructed femininity scale, black women have historically been condemned to the brothel while white women have worn the crown of Mary (even if they often haven’t been treated like her). Black men have been labeled virile bucks, and as a result, black male access to white females has always been high on the list of justifications for segregation. While white men enjoyed freemost often forcedsexual access to black women, black men were lynched for even looking the wrong way at a white woman. Now that integration has stuttered onto the scene, it looks as if some of us have decided it’s payback time.
I know a couple of black men who are honestly in love with white women. They’ve dated black women before, but this is who they fell for. But those who manage to shake off the cultural conditioning are rare indeed. I stick with black women, not because of any aversion to white women, not because of any “Nubian princess” mythology, and not because I think crossing the line would necessarily conflict with my politics. I stick with black women because I wonder, in this climate, if an honest relationship with anybody else is possible. I stick with black women because I know how men (black and white) routinely use them for toilet stools. I stick with black women because I know to do anything else, whether I meant to or not, would be to become an accomplice to that crime.CP