Racism is everywhere. In part because white supremacy is everywhere, it is the foundation of American and other Western cultures. We are steeped in white supremacy and even when we think we are fighting it, it rears its ugly head. Racism, which is a direct byproduct of white supremacy, is like the bad penny…always showing up and sometimes when you least expect it.
I write about racism, I speak on racism and I run an anti-racism organization and yet even in my interpersonal relationships, it has become clear that there is little relief from racism. This piece is a bit more personal than usual but I suspect it is a piece that any person of color who finds themselves in predominantly white spaces can relate to.
When my marriage ended over two years ago, I knew that I would have a lot of work ahead of me; after all, I had been partnered for two decades to the same man. My most pressing concern was whether I would be able to financially provide for myself seeing as how in all the years that we had been together, I was not the primary breadwinner. My former life partner was always the chief earner of money and I was the chief dreamer and do-gooder. It was a great pairing until it no longer was and, a few years ago, I was confronted with the reality that while the career path that I had chosen was a beautiful thing, it was a very sad thing when it came to my finances. So when I realized that the party of two was to become a party of one, my focus was on rebuilding myself at midlife and learning to become financially self-sufficient.
Since leaving the marital home a couple of years ago, I have made great strides towards economic self-sufficiency as well as the mental and emotional work of flying solo (I admit, I still have my bad days) but what I am realizing is that I now live in a world rife with the minefields of casual sexual racism. The type of racism that doesn’t immediately show its hand but when it does, it hurts worse than any random N-bomb dropped from the mouth of an idiot in a car rolling past you.
At a certain point in the new life-after-marriage adventures, that dating thing comes up. For some folks, they jump immediately into dating and for others, it takes a while. It took me a while; frankly, I still needed to remember to buy toilet paper and garbage bags for the longest time…tasks that had previously belonged to the co-parent. So I already had my plate full without adding a helping of find-romance to it. Needless to say, the juggling of my professional and personal life along with child schedules in the same year that my eldest kid decided to get married and have a baby meant that my first years sans a life partner was not really about dating.
However, at a certain point, the inner woman inklings started and, well, a woman has got to do what a woman has got to do and thanks to technology and chance, I ended up in my first post-marriage relationship. It was a good pairing but our lives have taken us on different paths and several months ago, the decision was made to put the relationship on indefinite hiatus. That first post-marriage relationship was what I needed to rediscover myself as a woman, to feel comfortable in my skin and frankly get my ass back in the game instead of in my bag of Cheetos and bottle of wine.
Now let me stop here for a moment. I am a middle-aged Black woman living in what is the whitest state in America. The pickings are really slim as far as the dating pool in terms of prospects that really mesh with me on intellectual, social and cultural bases in general, and they are painfully slim in terms of non-white prospects. To be blunt, as a heterosexual woman, the pool of available Black and Brown men over 40 in this state is damn near nonexistent. That means that if I plan to date anyone, the odds are pretty damn high that I am dating a white man. Unless I plan to import some Black and Brown men to Maine, I am SOL on them. Trust me, I am trying on the importation thing but given what most folks know about Maine and how Black and Brown men are perceived here thanks to our loud-mouthed governor, it is a hard sell. After all, no one wants to be confused with the imaginary (but still prominent in many Maine minds) Smoothie or Money D. It also means that I am meeting men who have had, in many cases, little experience with real-life Black women and who have frankly spent a lifetime in the silo of whiteness. It means that I am encountering men who are so steeped in whiteness and often patriarchy that they have no idea how much work they need to do. Instead they assume that their willingness and desire to date me is proof that they are not racist. Nope, not at all.
White men being desirous of Black women is not new. I repeat, white men wanting to get jiggy with Black women is not new. Let’s take it back to Thomas Jefferson: That cat was out in the world talking about how all men were equal, all the while he was creating a whole family with Sally Hemmings who despite modern-day attempts to whitewash history was not his mistress or even his enslaved mistress. She had no agency and I am pretty sure given the time frame, Sally couldn’t exactly tell ole Tom no. This wasn’t a love connection. She was his property, a sexually assaulted slave pure and simple, no matter how we try to spin it.
White men were sneaking into the slave quarters back then and frankly many are still trying it today except that now Black women do have much more agency (even in this white supremacy-steeped nation) and while the approach looks more humane today, the end effect is often the same: the dehumanization of Black women. The refusal to see Black women as fully human. To treat them as experiments or fetishes. The belief that we are oversexed caricatures instead of fully human women who deserve more than a white man’s table scraps of humanity.
It’s the white man who has his respectable white woman and respectable life who thinks it is appropriate to try to get some side action with you. Or the man who thinks that if he buys you a few trinkets when you are low on money, you will be his faithful concubine. Also, the man who thinks complimenting you on your strength along with those trinkets is the way to your heart meanwhile he is posting happy weekend pictures with his respectable white woman on Facebook. NO sir, that is not the pathway. Especially when it is clear this his desire is rooted in the “exoticism” of your Black skin.
The flip side of the respectable white man on the down-low is the brazen white man, the one whose eyes linger too long at your breasts when you run into him and his eyes undress you in a room full of people. He is the one who after one too many drinks at the local watering hole comes up to you with offers of dinner and pleas to spend time with him and yet when you turn away, you hear him muttering how he wants your Black pussy. This guy is crass and you wouldn’t touch him if he were the last man on the planet but at least there is no pretense. He wants that “hot Black puss”y that he believes to be wild and untamed. Tarzan with a side of Jungle Love anyone?
These two types you can almost laugh at because their white male desires that focus on the otherness of Black skin is easily recognizable and while it is othering, they are the ones you will never allow close to you (OK, some people still do, but not me and hopefully not too many of my Black sisters). They annoy you but it’s what Black women, especially Black women in predominantly white spaces, put up with.
It’s the last type that could crush you but instead disappoints you. It’s the white guy who reads the books, the guy who reads your writings, the guy who annoyingly plays devil’s advocate but who is willing to talk about the uncomfortable issues and so you think there is some potential there and you allow a friendship to grow despite the voice in the back of your head that says, “Are you sure”
He’s the one who over time, you call and text. He’s the one you start to slowly develop a first level of trust for. He is the one who takes you out and you laugh together and acknowledge that there is the foundation for something real to grow between the two of you and given your failure at relationships you decide to take it slow. He is also the one whose pals who aren’t too keen on you. The ones who judge you as an angry Black woman, the one whose texts you have seen on your friend’s phone, perplexedly and dismissively questioning that friend on his interest in you. This white friend you have made and are now growing more interested in is the one who just as he starts to see the insidiousness of how white supremacy works and is on the cusp of change realizes that life was a lot easier before he met you and, in the end, the silo of whiteness beckons. And perhaps a conveniently placed available white woman (facilitated by that annoyed friend of your friend) makes it easy for him to make his getaway. He says he values the friendship and doesn’t want to lose it but in the end, as you play Monday morning quarterback with a trusted confidante, you realize that your connection had been littered with pink flags. That you were probably never more than a white boy’s way to show how down he was. That despite the words, you were never more than a curiosity piece.
Whether it is the literal pussy or the metaphorical pussy, for many white men that is all they want from a Black woman. Sure, there are exceptions but for the vast majority of white men over 40, they haven’t done the work of dismantling whiteness within themselves to understand what their “choices” mean. So when you encounter these men, it means you are literally walking into a minefield not knowing what exactly you will find. Which in a weird way reminds me of a conversation that my father had with my preteen self over 30 years when I developed a crush on a white boy in middle school.
To be blunt, my father, who having been born and raised under Jim Crow, was not a fan of mixed race unions. He understood that the words of a white woman could literally take a Black man or boy’s life. He had already lived long enough to see his family kicked off the sharecropping land they called home because of his father’s (my grandfather) refusal to let the farm owner have my aunt when she turned 18. Yes, that means exactly what you think it means. My father’s family, in the post-slavery era, lost their home because my grandfather dared to protect his daughter from a lecherous white man.
Anyway, my father (upon learning about my first crush) told me: “Honey, the Lord made apple trees and he made orange trees, he didn’t make an apple-orange tree.” For years, I thought that was cruel but his words have never left me and despite having been married interracially and dated interracially, the older I get, I am starting to wonder if there is not some truth in those words. Perhaps the struggles as a Black woman make this life too difficult to allow a white person into my world on an intimate level. Perhaps the social coding runs too deep for the average white man to understand that how he sees a Black woman (or fails to see her) is the result of a social code that was put into place many generations ago.
One thing for sure, racism is everywhere and neither love nor lust hold the keys to systemic change.
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