I love a lot of things about my man. He’s funny, he’s honest, he works hard, he reads. His intellect and his artist’s eye will blow you out of the water. He’s well-traveled. You get the idea—I think my boyfriend’s amazing. I’m sure a million other girls would say the same about their significant others.
One of the things about this man that I will always remember is his reaction to this conversation between Melissa Harris-Perry and bell hooks (who I was delighted to see address the fact that the lowercasing of her name backfired). I live on the internet and am constantly reading articles all over the place, seeing funny images and comics, commenting on statuses and blogposts…and so I’m constantly sending my boyfriend links. Anything that makes me think of him, that I think he’d laugh at or otherwise appreciate, that I need him to share in my rage about, I send it to him. My guess is that he only sees about 20% of what I send because he does not live on the internet— but what he does see, we usually talk about. I’ll never forget the morning I woke up, looked at my phone, and saw a text from my man— who, six months before, had no familiarity whatsoever with feminism— that said:
“I love bell hooks.”
Could there be anything more beautiful?
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like we (or anyone) have been able to completely escape the patriarchy. We had a lengthy argument one very early morning about the state of my armpit hair. We debated once, for days, women changing or not changing their names after marriage (and we come back to the topic often). Just recently, he told me that sometimes you have to let a man be a man and a woman be a woman. Outraged, I asked what on earth he meant by that, especially when he already knows darn well what kind of woman I am.
“I think,” he said, “my manliness would be when I say I’m done talking about something. And your womanliness would be when you just keep right on talking about it anyway.”
Which of course, I did.
There have also been times when racism goes completely over my head because I’ve never had to deal with it. We’ve both said, wittingly and unwittingly, sexist and racist things. The difference, I think, between now and before we were together is that we address those things, acknowledge them and learn from them, which sometimes is all you can really do.
By human standards, I’m a little new to the relationship game. I’ve been with my boyfriend about a year, and before that I’d been pretty darn single for almost four years. So I’m maybe not the MOST experienced or seasoned person to give romantic advice. I imagine, however, that when you’re with somebody and plan to do it for a long time, you find a lot of good in everything they are in do. Even in their annoying habits, even when they say the complete WRONG thing or don’t shut up when they need to, hopefully you even find a little good there (or at the very least, some amusement). I’m coming to appreciate most aspects of who my man is, and I hope that feeling is mutual.
It’s not hard to appreciate that he loves bell hooks, though, and there’s a Beyoncé/bell hooks post forthcoming.
If the title isn’t clear enough, I should go ahead right now and let everyone know- there will be “bad words” on this blog.
As a white woman dating a black man, I’ve gotten this question several times. For a long time, I would answer. At first it was, “I think so,” and then, “I can’t speak for all black men, but my guess based on experience is yes.” It was as though because I’ve slept with someone of a different race, I’m now some sort of black dude expert, some sort of “once you go black you can’t go back” scientist.
In case this is really necessary, I’m going to tell you why that’s incredibly ignorant and just a tad racist.
Don’t get me wrong, here. I understand that the human mind tends toward categorization. I also understand that sex is not only one of the funnest (is that a word?) activities out there, but also one of the most entertaining conversation topics there is. And let me be quite clear when I say that, in every person I have loved and in every person I have slept with, I have found things to be proud of in both their spiritual being and their physical body.
In other words, I think it should go without saying that I’m damn proud to be with my man and I’m enamored of his strong, well-endowed body. I hold those people I commit to in high esteem, and one of a thousand reasons I’m with him is because sometimes when I look at him and talk to him, I still can’t believe he’s with me.
But there will be time for amorous ravings later. Let’s get back to the dick question.
Have you seen that Meet Your First Black Girlfriend video? How about this Morning After video featuring Sasheer Zamata? Great, funny videos featuring talented black women…and, true to life, awkward white men. One of the themes that shows up in both of these videos is the white dude [awkwardly] uncomfortably trying to ask the black woman how he compares with black men. In these videos, it’s presented as funny, but also not quite right. And honestly, that’s a little bit how it is in real life.
Given the opportunity, plenty of women will rave about their man’s bedroom skills. They might even rave about his size. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. And let’s be fair, I never had a problem giggling about (not in front of him) it if a white guy I slept with was small…but I never said, “Oh, he’s small because he’s white.”
If you happened to see and watch the video posted previously to this, a conversation between Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Zadie Smith (both of whom are absolutely brilliant writers, by the way), it is said in that video that “race” really only matters because of racism. I think this is absolutely true.
I hope I don’t need to point this out, but race as humans know it isn’t a biological thing. Things like skin color, eye shape, etc etc, these don’t make other people a slightly different species. Ancestry and regional differences might mean genetic differences/advantages, such as being more susceptible to certain diseases that weren’t common to the region one’s ancestors grew up in. These differences DO NOT make any ancestral population less human than another.
But [white] people didn’t always know this, or care to know it for that matter. Throughout history (especially the times of slavery in America), we see white Americans and Europeans using black bodies as though they were another, lesser species. In racists today, we see a similar attitude. Just look at that idiotically antiquated Bundy guy referring to “the Negro” as though he were talking about his cattle. White people in history were constantly trying to prove that those of African descent were somehow different, somehow closer to animals than to human beings. The biggest reason they did this was in order to justify things like racism and slavery. There’s an especially terrible history of white men using the bodies of black women not only for scientific experimentation, but for profit. Look at the story of the Hottentot Venus: Saartjie Sarah Baartman was made into a caricature of the African woman and used as a lucrative carnival sideshow attraction. Even after death, her body was kept and casted for further scientific research because her genitalia and buttocks were shaped differently than those of European white women. Look at the history of gynecological research (will post a link as soon as I find the one I have in mind, but you can always google it). Look at phrenology, the false notion that varying measurements of the skull indicated a lesser species that for a long time, was taken as a valid science.
And this is still going on. Look at this racist piece of shit published by someone who was supposedly well-versed in evolution (I don’t fucking think so). Look at Eve Ensler, who’s supposed to be an intersectional feminist icon, obsessing over African women’s bodies to the point of likening herself to Jesus taking on their “Congo Stigmata.”
Black bodies aren’t here for the entertainment of white people. They aren’t here for our study. They aren’t here for us to try and create scientific theories about. And they aren’t here to prompt naughty giggle-fests among white women. And sorry ladies, but it’s just like with any man- you don’t REALLY get to know how big his dick is until you reach down and grab it. (Also, if you’re only having sex with a guy to see how big he is or to have a specific “racial” or “cultural” experience, you might have some other issues to deal with.)
From here on out, if my boyfriend isn’t uncomfortable with it, I’ll have no problem answering the question of whether HE, HIMSELF is a well-endowed man. But being asked the question of whether black guys have bigger dicks in general isn’t something I can address. Black men aren’t another species. Black people aren’t here for our study and our speculation.
**If any people of color would like to weigh in on this or have any corrections/suggestions, please always ALWAYS feel free to offer them.
My last post ended with a harsh statement, and I feel I’d better elaborate. Calling someone a racist is often thought of as the end, an accusation of a terrible crime bringing to mind the KKK, nooses and lynchmobs. But the cold hard truth is that we’ve all internalized racism in some way or another. This doesn’t make it okay, but it should at least make it easier to recognize. Often (particularly for white people) we enact racism in a way that we can’t even see, and because we can’t see it, we are immediately offended when it is pointed out to us. A person of color, however, doesn’t need to have racism pointed out to them: they experience it directly and perhaps on a day-to-day basis. Rather than write an essay on white privilege, let me take a quote from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s fabulous book, “Americanah” to try and convey what I’m talking about:
When you go shopping alone at a nice store, do you worry that you will be followed or harassed?
When you turn on mainstream TV or open a mainstream newspaper, do you expect to find mostly people of another race?
Do you worry that your children will not have books and school materials that are about people of their own race?
(For more information, read the book. Or just hit up google. Go to the library. Even better, hop on tumblr and search tags like “racism” and “white privilege.” Hell, ask a black friend to be completely honest with you about their feelings on racism. The least you can do is listen without taking it so personally, because let’s face it— you’ve probably used them as a shield in some verbal “I’m not racist, I have a black friend”-type defense.)
More about all this social justice/racism/privilege stuff later.
What I’m saying is, it’s unfortunately normal to internalize a little bit of racism or sexism. Like useless and potentially toxic materials we take in when we eat, these things are there in most of the media we observe. Oftentimes, perhaps most times, carrying that shit with us is unintentional.
But my grandfather is not that type of racist.
To steal a quote from my boyfriend, my grandfather is probably the type of racist who might hear a statement like, “I’m not a racist, but I sure do wish all those black people would go back to Africa,” and nod in agreement. I get the feeling that, like Abraham Lincoln, my grandfather would have freed the slaves and then tried to get them the hell out of here. My grandfather is the type of racist who admires the way black people worship in church, the way black musicians have that extra rhythm, who once saw a black boy being made fun of in school and felt bad but did nothing, who thinks that intelligent black people are somehow the exception. He is the type of racist who has no problem talking and working with any person of color…he just doesn’t want them in his family.
I might be a little resentful.
Let me explain.
I’ve always been close to my grandparents— I’ve been very lucky when it comes to my family. My college graduation and my grandmother’s death weren’t far apart, and during that year I mentioned in my first blogpost, when I was working minimum wage jobs and trying to plan out my life, my grandfather and I sort of became anchors to each other. We had lunch weekly, we went to visit out-of-state family members together, we reminisced. I learned so much from him, about my family, about history, about his political views (always so very different from my own). Most importantly, I learned that people on very different planes of opinion can still love and respect each other, and maybe even find common ground. Our relationship reminded me of an India.Arie song: “If old people talked to young people, we’d be better people all around.”
My grandfather and I had done so much for each other’s perspectives. I hoped this situation, my relationship, would be something to widen his perspective on race. My grandfather loved and respected me, had always encouraged me in my studies and my travels, had scolded me for not becoming a doctor so that I could take care of him, and had never once remotely implied that I should just find a rich husband. There was also the fact that, as far as men go, my man is pretty great. Handsome, funny, smart, well-traveled. Not just good with people, but genuinely interested in them and what they have to say. My grandfather would need a pretty big wall of denial to think otherwise.
But what would drive it home, I thought, was that my boyfriend has the same hometown as my grandfather, the same name as my grandfather’s brother, and served in the military just as my grandfather and most of his family did.
So I told my grandfather about my boyfriend, his name and where he was from.
“He’s not black, is he?” my grandfather asked. I couldn’t believe it.
“Yes,” I said.
“I don’t know if I like that,” he said. “I always thought a cardinal shouldn’t be with a bluejay.”
On a bird, differently colored feathers may denote different species. But that isn’t so on a human being. I’ve seen the insides of many different human bodies, and the ingredients are much the same— fat, blood, muscle. Bone if you go deep enough. I told this to my grandfather. It didn’t seem to drive the point home.
“You talked about bones?” my little brother said later. “You should have told him that we’re all white on the inside.”
My boyfriend and I laughed. But my grandpa’s thinking bothered me for multiple reasons. Some were based on principles. Others were purely selfish— didn’t he love me? Why couldn’t I change his mind?
I did end up bringing my man to Memorial Day. He and my grandfather shook hands, chatted, and were friendly.
This is awesome! I thought.
Weeks later, my grandfather took me aside and said, “You should be with a nice white businessman. Your friend should be with one of those beautiful dark girls from Ebony magazine.”
I’m not sure why a businessman, but otherwise, I followed my grandfather’s logic pretty well: my “friend” and I didn’t match, and so while he would never say an unkind word to my man’s face, he would always silently disapprove of his relationship with me.
Well, when we saw each other again a week later, and the next day, and the next, and that kept happening continuously…I figured out that we were probably an item.
Also, he said, “We are dating, right?”
Not long after that, my mother asked why I was never home anymore…who was he? Thinking about it now, I’m almost a little insulted. She couldn’t think of any reason more exciting than a man? Maybe I was out adventuring. Maybe I was going out to clubs or had become a drug addict. Maybe I’d gotten a new, night shift job. Unfortunately, parents know us far better than any of us ever want to admit, and mine know that I am not remotely as interesting as I think am.
So I told my mom about my man. That wasn’t so bad. She was sweet and understanding when I needed her to be, as she so often is.
Telling my father, however, was a little weird. Telling my father anything can get a little weird, though, because with him nothing is ever what you’d expect. Let me attempt to put him in perspective. At 19, I proudly told him I passed up an opportunity to try marijuana, and in seriousness, he asked “Why didn’t you?” At 23, I told him there was no way I got a job with a prestigious agency because I’d smoked marijuana in the last year, and he disappointedly said, “I didn’t know you did that.” My father is a man who reads books not for stories, but to temporarily enter another world and absorb the ambiance as though he were wandering in and out of a garden party. He’s a man who isn’t remotely religious, but has read the entire Bible and quieted family dinner parties by pointing out the cruelty in the Old Testament. He is a registered Republican, but hates Mitch McConnell and has voted at every possible turn for Ralph Nader.
Just to give you an idea.
On the subject of boyfriends, my conversations with my father have been simple. When I started dating at sixteen, he told me, “If you can have sex without getting pregnant, that’d be good.” I’d barely even kissed a guy yet.
So when, at twenty-three, I told him about my new boyfriend, I shouldn’t have been surprised when he told me to think twice about marriage, because it makes you legally responsible for all of your spouse’s debt. If they die, you’re the one who pays off those student loans.
(On a personal note, let me say that marriage is something I often imagine. In terror.)
Then, my dad asked me, “Is he black?”
“Yes,” I replied, surprised. “Why did you ask?”
“Some things you just know about your kids.”
I can say with some certainty that I’ve never known my father to be racist. But to my death, I will never understand what he meant by that remark. At the time, it worried me. Now, it merely confuses me.
After a few minutes of talking, my dad said, “Why don’t you bring him to Memorial Day?”
By this, he meant bringing my new boyfriend to my extended family’s Memorial Day picnic. Which was a cool thing to suggest— it meant he wanted to meet him, and it meant that he understood in the things I said how important this man was becoming to me.
But it was also a worrisome, gut-wrenching prospect. Because the picnic was at my grandfather’s house. And my grandfather is a racist.