by Ernest Baker
Why do I date white women? Black women have told me it’s because I’m a sellout. The white men who can get past the mental anguish of my black penis tarnishing “their” women think I’m making some latent admission that their race has the most attractive women. White women range from those so intrigued by black men that it veers into fetish to those so reluctant to date black men that it feels more racist than preference-driven. These are generalizations, of course, but they are attitudes that I’ve personally encountered. Skepticism towards black men/white women relationships is a longstanding and well-documented part of our cultural fabric in America.
Most people have it wrong. I’m not a “black man” who “dates white women.” I’m a person. I have my own unique experiences and some of them include having dated women who are white, but because interracial dating is such a historically tense and loaded subject, it’s hardly ever looked at with any understanding or compassion for the people personally involved. The concept of a black man in a relationship with a white woman is a “thing” that people have an opinion on, and that opinion comes with an entire set of stereotypes, fueled by racist ideology, a complicated past, and sometimes even pop culture. Kanye West once rapped about how successful black men will “leave your ass for a white girl,” and then put himself into that box by marrying a white woman, furthering the pervasiveness of flawed, generic ideas about interracial relationships.
That swath of generic ideas has an actual impact on culture and society, too. How many jokes have been made at Kim Kardashian’s expense because of her history of dating black men? Twenty-two-year-old virgin psychopath Elliot Rodger just killed six people in California and left behind a paper trial of racially charged sentiments like, “How could an inferior, ugly black boy be able to get a white girl and not me?” The most visible criminal trial of the 20th century centered around a blonde white woman who was presumably murdered at the hands of her black husband, O.J. Simpson. White reaction to The Verdict may have been one of shock and rage, but it’s also largely oblivious to the history of disenfranchisement, partially as it relates to interracial relationships, of blacks in this country.
Part of the reason why black people celebrated the O.J. verdict is because it was a rare example of a black man finally beating the system that was so unjust to his people for so long. It was cold, hard, classic revenge. Throughout this nation’s history, unfathomable numbers of innocent black men have been hung from trees and burned because of often fabricated stories of their fraternizing with white women, and there were usually no consequences for the white men lynching them.
I was taught the story of Emmett Till by my mother at a young age. I don’t think she did it as a warning as much as to be like, “This is something you should be aware of.” He was 14. It was 1955. He got dragged out of his uncle’s house and tortured and killed because he maybe flirted with a white woman. A racist jury acquitted his murderers, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, despite overwhelming evidence, and, to rub salt in the wound, both admitted to killing Till in Look magazine the next year. O.J. getting off brought a twisted, but understandable feeling of justice. The shoe was on the other foot for once and so be it if two white people wound up dead. We’d lost many more. That’s harsh, but that’s the historical context of black men dating white women that I unfortunately have to consider when doing the same.
Though those events are something of which I’m always cognizant, I didn’t adhere to them as any sort of cautionary tale. The story of Till’s murder didn’t scare me as much as it made me want to piss off racist fucks even more. And I was only six years old when the O.J. verdict was read. Even then, I understood that it was racial, but there was a disconnection from my personal reality. Nothing about my worldview was sexualized yet. Whatever I learned from the trial was tucked away as something that I should know as a black man, but it didn’t have a life-altering impact on my own development. I’m not going to murder anyone. For whatever implications the trial had, that shit also had nothing to do with me. The idea was always to live my life however I wanted to live it.
I don’t say that as some guilt-ridden rationalization for dating white women. There was no rationalization. I grew up how I grew up. I never consciously set out to date white women. My attraction to them was likely a natural response to my environment. The year after the O.J. verdict, my dad was now getting enough money to move his wife and three children to a nice house in a Chicago suburb. Nobody was trying to assimilate with white people, but sometimes that’s just the way things go when you want a better home and better schools for your family. But it does have an unforeseen effect on your outlook when you’re one of the few black families in town.
Before I was even 10, I started having crushes on girls, trying to get my first kiss, and all of that. All I saw around me were white girls. I thought this girl was hot because of her freckles and I thought that girl was hot because of her soft hair or whatever and I just wasn’t in fifth grade thinking about the racial ramifications of features that I found attractive. Other people think about that, though. I was consuming all of this media and I could just sense from the adults around me that, as a black person, when I was watching TRL, it was expected that I be more attracted to the girls in Destiny’s Child than Britney Spears.
By middle school, and especially high school, those expectations were even more apparent. I started to see what it really meant to be in an interracial relationship. Sometimes white girls hid me from their family, especially their father. That was normal. I had one girlfriend in high school who strictly forbade doorbell ringing. I’d let her know when I’d be outside. She was not going to go through the trouble of calling attention to the fact that she was going out with a black guy. I can’t say that my own mother has never asked, “When are you going to bring home a girl who looks like me?” Running around with white girls comes across as a rejection of your blackness to the women in your family, even though that wasn’t the case. To me, it was simple. The girls who showed me the most attention at school were white. The world made it complicated and assumed I had an ulterior motive, and it sucks, but I understand why.
There are self-hating black men who date white women for contrived and pathetic reasons and I hate them. They’re so upfront about their exclusive attraction to white women and they’ll give you a list of reasons why. It is deliberate for them. They smugly go out of their way to put down black women based on stereotypical notions about their attitude, or hair, or something equally stupid and it’s corny and disgusting. That’s one of the issues with interracial dating. Any time a black man walks around with a white woman he’s giving off the impression that white women are his specific preference and that he has a problem with women of his own race, and because that applies to some black men who date white women, it becomes a label that all of us are subjected to. It’s nothing to walk past a random black woman on the street and get a death glare and maybe even overhear something like, “They’re taking all of our men.” I was out with my white girlfriend at The Graham in East Williamsburg sometime last year and a black woman came up to me and asked me why was I dating a white girl when she can’t even get a man. Shit is crazy out here. I promise.
There are self-hating black men who date white women for contrived and pathetic reasons and I hate them.
I totally get where black women are coming from, too. Truth be told, it’s important to me that they also get where I’m coming from and know that I’m not one of these sellouts who views them as undesirable. But because I know I’m not one of those sellouts, I feel no guilt about dating white women. If anything, I just hate that there’s such a vast misconception about my intentions from people who don’t even know me. I’ve been with many black women. But I don’t feel obligated to be with them. A lot of white women have been extremely accepting of and loving towards me my entire life and that’s all there is to it. Though this very article was written in an attempt to bring context to these consistently misunderstood relationships, I don’t have to explain who I date to anyone. The reason why I do anything is because I want to.
I never really think about race while dating unless somebody else makes it an issue or I notice that the way a white woman I’m with looks at something is flawed because of her upbringing. But that’s not a dealbreaker. I view it as an opportunity to educate and eradicate even a small amount of ignorance. If I explain some racially complex subtlety of life to my white girlfriend, that’s one more white person who knows why using “ghetto” as a pejorative is cringeworthy and offensive. That’s one more white person who knows why I’m going to arrogantly list off my academic and professional achievements if some white person asks me if I play basketball. And I do play basketball. But don’t assume that that’s how the fuck I got by in life because I’m black and tall. And I’m going to go off if you say some dumb shit like that to me. But outside of those situations, I’m not thinking about race like that. I’ve always just dated women who made sense for me. I’ve never gone into it thinking, she should be white.
The thing is, I have to consider that while I’ve hooked up with women of other races, just about all of my girlfriends in life, since I was 13, have been white. What does that even mean? Am I secretly one of those black guys who thinks white women are better and hotter and I’m just not ignorant enough to admit it? I’ve never gone out of my way to reject black women; I just have way higher success rates with white women. I went to a black high school and I wasn’t on any of that thug shit and I’m not saying all black women want thugs, but at my high school, a lot of them did and they didn’t really care about me. And that’s fine. I wasn’t like, “Oh my God, black women don’t want me,” because I’m not entitled to any woman. But there were white girls at school who were fucking with me and that’s who I went with.
Still, I can’t help but wonder if I’ve been brainwashed by the Eurocentric beauty standards that dominate the world. I’ve had varying degrees of romance with women of most races—beyond the black and white binary. Personality is always decisive, but we know that physical attraction is important. I’m very honestly and legitimately attracted to the features of black women, and Latina women, and Asian women, and Indian women, and any other type of woman, but I definitely like the straight, light hair and fair skin and colored eyes you get with a lot of white women.
It’s not like I think that type of beauty is superior, but motherfuckers try to make you feel guilty for being attracted to those types of features at all. Let’s be real, blonde hair and blue eyes are fucking attractive and thinking that doesn’t mean you’re a piece of shit who gives those features inherent value over the features of other races. Rihanna is hot and so is Blake Lively. Lupita N’yongo is hot and so is Allison Williams. Sue me for not allowing my race to limit what I find attractive.
Maybe knowing how much a diverse range of attraction upsets people is part of the appeal of interracial dating. No matter how much more commonplace relationships between black men and white women become, the historical context always gives them a rebellious, taboo component that, honestly, kind of adds to the fun and excitement.
Interracial marriages weren’t even legal in every state 50 years ago. I’ve never gone into an interracial relationship outright trying to rebel against anything, but I’ve always enjoyed making people uncomfortable because ignorant, close-minded fucks need to have new ways of thinking shoved in their faces so they understand that they’re wrong and shit is different now.
That’s why you hear references to white girls next to signifiers of wealth on recent hits like Chris Brown’s “Loyal” or Wiz Khalifa’s “We Dem Boyz.” To invoke Kanye again, he said “champagne wishes, 30 white bitches” on the best-reviewed album of this decade. White women are sadly some type of trophy and marker of success, and that’s a huge fucking problem. As a black man, it invalidates the authenticity of any relationships I have with white women. It’s depressingly superficial and it’s dangerous. This ideal is why Elliot Rodger felt he had a right to start shooting—because he couldn’t get a white woman to go with his BMW.
That said, I understand where the ideal comes from. Whites are privileged in this society and having what they have serves as validation for a lot of people. Successful minorities love to say, “You’re privileged but I’m so smart and awesome and financially secure that I have the same, if not better, house, car, and woman as you.” That says some unfortunate truths about our society, but when black men date white women, we’re put in a position where we have to think about that, whether we choose it or not. Even if you’re smart enough to look at the woman you’re dating as a human and not a prized object, that mentality is still going to be cast upon you.
You can be completely forthright and fair about whom you date but society will force you to consider these extra circumstances. I don’t walk around like, “I’M DATING A WHITE WOMAN!” I never have. I fall in love indiscriminately, but third parties will never let it be that simple for me. They’ll always question my motives, and despite having no agenda, I have to think about beauty standards and how they influence me, subconsciously or not. Black men who are confused and self-hating muddle this further, and even more so if they have biracial children who turn out to be the same way.
The same goes for the opposite side of the spectrum. A white woman can blindly fall in love with a black man for who he is, but society will never let her forget that she’s DATING A BLACK MAN. That’s just how it is. That comes with the territory. If you’ve been doing it long enough you’re used to it and it doesn’t faze you because it’s all you know. But you still get looks. You still get questions. And all you can do is continue not giving a fuck and hope it won’t be that way someday.
That’s the reality.
Ernest Baker is a writer living in New York. Follow him on Twitter here.
[Art by Jim Cooke]