Probably my entire life, I’ve heard from women in books and on television and from girls emulating them this notion of the tall, dark, and handsome guy, so obviously my life’s goal was to be this tall, dark, and handsome guy. Admittedly, there were some miscalculations: I’m not particularly tall, but I am average height, so I could date a shorter woman and appear “tall” to her; I’m far from devilishly handsome, but I have been described as “cute” a time or two, so maybe I’ll get a pass on handsome; dark, I’m black, so nailed that one, right?
Dark doesn’t mean skin tone? Oh, it doesn’t mean MY skin tone.
Being black disqualified me from being handsome?
Being average height and black makes me tall, and being tall and black makes me dangerous?
So tall, dark, and handsome can never be me?
First, of course, there are at least two interpretations of the term “dark” in this context. There’s the literal sense that typically suggests a tan; and there is the stormy and brooding sort of dark. Still, the thing is that neither is ever really used with respect to an actual black person. It’s like the average black person cannot be considered attractive, or, at the very least, they are off limits. I came up with a name for women with this affliction, I call them “ABBY,” which is an acronym for “Anyone But the Blackie.”
There is a not-so-secret rule in a lot of non-black households that you can date anyone you want, as long as they are not black. This is a sentiment that I’ve heard from white people, Indian and Middle Eastern people, Hispanics, Asians, and even some other black people. It ranges from zero interaction to friendship only to, in more liberal circles, “you can even fuck them, just don’t marry one.” It’s not only black people that these rules apply to, but we are usually the final straw, resting at the bottom of the acceptability pyramid, falling below coming out of the closet, joining a cult, and being homeless, just ask the cop who is on his third mistrial for murdering his daughter’s black boyfriend.
There is a long list of celebrities who have gotten in trouble for saying it out loud. Just this year, George Lopez was heckled by a group of audience members for saying the only two rules of a Latino household are, in this order, “Don’t marry somebody black… and don’t park in front of our house.” In Bend It Like Beckham, the main character, a British Indian woman, completely without controversy and protest, set up a hierarchy of people she would be allowed to marry, black was on the absolutely prohibited list. And even Donald Sterling told his black girlfriend that she can fuck black guys… but he didn’t want her being seen in pictures with them. Priorities, amiright?
Odds are you’ve heard it from one of your own family members and didn’t need my examples. It is such a normalized concept that good, close friends of mine have said it to me without batting an eye, including a friend that is MARRIED to a black person.
“It’s just something you don’t do,” she said.
This coming from a foreign citizen from a country with a black population smaller than my Facebook friends list. To her credit, she knew the stigma and stereotypes and still chose to marry a black man against the protest of her family, and they are still happily married. Her family came around, too, eventually. Grandkids have a way of doing that.
There are a lot of complex layers to this phenomenon. Seeing as though, I don’t have a PhD in sociology, I will attempt to address them as broadly and incompletely as possible.
The most far right end of it is just plain ol’ racism, with the hard R. I’m bored with racism. Racism has been a vastly unchanging cornerstone of human existence. I’m sick of it. Racism is essentially people with the wealth of scientific discovery for the last two thousand years, sitting in a cave declaring themselves to be at the center of the universe. I don’t have time for these kinds of people anymore. I just don’t. Nothing I say will reach them anyway.
The next category is a mixture of things. It largely falls into the ‘ignorant bias’ pile. The pile is a giant mix of historical biases, tribalism, and media influence — it’s social conditioning. It’s is the people who have never had a bad interaction with a black person, who may even have black friends, who still feel a bit weird around them for no other reason than their skin color and aren’t quite sure why. It’s people who say “Greeks marry Greeks” and talk about preserving the culture because someone of another culture wouldn’t understand or value your culture the same way. It’s someone who says “our people have always had problems with those people.”
(Side note: any time anyone says we have always done anything as an excuse for continuing to do it, remember my center of the universe analogy and slap them with it, metaphorically, of course, unless they really really deserve it.)
It’s people who watch too much Fox News or read Breitbart articles and believe it without venturing to dig deeper. I’m just saying if you are going to talk about crime in black neighborhoods, also talk about redlining, poverty, and segregation. That’s it, Fox. That’s it. You’ve come so close at times. Just say it.
And just fuck you, Breitbart!
But I digress…
It’s people who will make an exception for every good and upstanding member of another ethnicity that they encounter, while still clinging to their biases about the group as a whole.
These people are lazy. I can’t fault them for that completely because I’m lazy too at times. It is easier to stay in your small world where you are sure of everything, than risk going out into a bigger world and learning how foolish you were before. It’s less risky to sit back and speculate about the shadows on the cave wall than to go outside and investigate them, but it’s also dishonest and cheap.
I think the last category of people are the most fascinating and to a degree, the most honest. These are the people who understand how the world treats black people, judges it to be unfair, and then actively decide that they don’t want that kind of life for their own children. They may not harbor a racist bone in their bodies. They teach at inner-city schools and volunteer to tutor children. They coach predominantly black teams, and take racial slights against their teams personally. They marched at a BLM protest. They are “woke,” in modem parlance, but at the end of the day they are still willing to say “it is okay for them, but not my own children.”
It is honest.
Truthfully, I don’t know how to take it.
How much further can you ask someone to spread themselves? How long before your coach or teacher becomes a martyr? Is that something you should even expect? Isn’t the goal of a parent to give their child a better world than they had? Would you condemn your own children, grandchildren to a life of strife, even if through no fault of their own?
The clear answer is no, even if it meant saying ABB and appearing to be a racist at worst or hypocrite in the best light, but things dealing with race are very rarely clear. To give up is to give in to an ideology you don’t believe in. You must fight, but to what end?
I don’t know.
Life is complex. Love is complex. Attraction is complex.
I don’t have all of the answers. Everything I’ve said here I could be completely wrong. I’m just trying to figure it out like everyone else. It may be a mixture of all of the above and more. It may be people who have actually had bad experiences who are now passing it down like a family recipe. There is, of course, some degree of pure unadulterated personal preference, though that is in part subject to conditioning too. There’s infighting and reluctant acceptance. There’s the threat and actuality of being disowned and cut from the family will, and the fear of losing touch with the community that raised you. I can only present you with more questions, the most important of which is why? Why should the color of someone’s skin seal their fate on life, love, and happiness?
I am a proud black man. If I could choose and do life over, I would be black all over again. I would take every slur, slight, and fist fight again, but I worry about my fiancée. I worry about her future, her safety, and her comfort.
Last year, I took her on a trip to Ireland, which overall was amazing, except for one part. We went to a nice restaurant, where we were effectively denied service. They greeted us, told us that no tables were ready, then took us to an area to wait. Then another couple came and they were sat immediately. First, I chalked it up to a reservation. They were dressed nicely, like maybe they had a plan. Then another couple came, they were clearly walking in off the street, and they were sat immediately too. Then the person who sat us came over and said it would be another 10 to 15 minutes. I knew immediately was was happening. They wouldn’t say they wouldn’t serve us, they would just keep skipping us until we chose to leave or they closed. I’ve seen it before. So we left.
I was furious. Of course, I was. But not just because it happened to me, but because it happened to her. I was angry that she had to go through that because of me. I was embarrassed… embarrassed that racism was something she would have to learn to deal with because of me, like racism was some drunk uncle who she should expect to drop by unannounced, like it was a normal and inconvenient part of loving me. I wondered for the first time in our relationship if she would have been better off dating someone white who wouldn’t have to go through that. I like to believe the answer is no because no one, white, black or green, would love her the way I do, but I worry.
I worry about our future children. I worry about my sons and the potential dangers they will face, because I have faced them. I worry about my daughters in a world of uncertainty and dangers I don’t even know to expect yet… but maybe–maybe I could I save them some measure of pain by saying “anything but black?”
Or, will I say love, even though it hurts?
What will you say?