My new friend is handsome, African-American, intelligent and seemingly wealthy. He is an athlete, loves his momma, and is happily married to a White woman. I admit when I saw his wedding ring, I privately hoped. But something in me just knew he didn’t marry a sister. Although my guess hit the mark, when my friend told me his wife was indeed Caucasian, I felt my spirit...wince. I didn’t immediately understand it. My face read happy for you. My body showed no reaction to my inner pinch, but the sting was there, quiet like a mosquito under a summer dress. Was I jealous? Did the reality of his relationship somehow diminish his soul’s credibility?The answer is not simple. One could easily dispel the wince as racist or separatist, but that’s not how I was brought up. I was reared in a Jehovah’s Witness household. I was taught that every man should be judged by his deeds and not his color, and I firmly stand where my grandmother left me. African people worldwide are known to be welcoming and open-minded. We share our culture sometimes to our own peril and most of us love the very notion of love. My position is that for women of color, this very common “wince” has solely to do with the African story in America.
Scott goes on to detail the history of black women, racist degradation, and beauty standards. All of which is true and holds weight. But I think the key problem here is a common one—a kind of collectivist approach toward something as individual and private as marriage. The point about “African people worldwide” is a tip-off. Now I ride for my folks, but we certainly are no more “welcoming and open-minded” than any other group of people.
One thing I’ve come to understand, through my own relationship, is that for people who are really working at commitment, a relationship quickly ceases to be a political statement. There is certainly part of me that feels my partnership with a black woman says something about me. But I vacillate on precisely what. The problem is that no committed person goes to bed with black spouse or a white spouse. They go to bed with someone who does, or doesn’t, think it’s a bad idea to blow the rent check on school clothes. They go to bed with someone who does, or doesn’t, think it’s a priority to keep the living room clean. They go to be bed with someone who does, or doesn’t, want children. In other words, they go to bed with an individual who (hopefully) has very specific idea about their life that go beyond whether the revolution will be televised or not.
I’m a black dude hooked up with a black woman—but I don’t sleep with “black people.” “Black people” don’t pay half of my rent. “Black people” didn’t take my son to tennis lessons this week. “Black people” didn’t support me while I was trying to make it a writer. An individual, with her own specific hopes, dreams, and problems, did those things. Now, it’s true that she’s black. But the qualities that allowed her to do those things—compassion, commitment, vision—are not “black” qualities.
Again, I’m not trying to demean my folks. But we often take this abstract, hazy view of an institution that, like anything else worthwhile, is mostly about dirt, work, and tedium. Relationships are not (anymore, at least) a collectivist act. They really come down to two individuals doing business in ways that we will never be privy to.
Writing about this has helped me get clearer and clearer on this. To be blunt—I think people who spend their time stressing about the DNA admixture in other people’s relationship need to give some thought to boundaries. When we bemoan Reggie Bush’s relationship, we overstate our knowledge, understate our ignorance, highlight our lack of a serious life, and lowball our own worth. It’s petty gossip masquerading as social commentary, and unbecoming of a “welcoming and open-minded” people.
By her own reckoning, Jill Scott’s friend is “new.” All she knows about him is that he’s nice-looking, well-compensated, and loves his mother. He could have a trail of baby mommas from Oakland to Kansas City. But what matters isn’t what Scott doesn’t know, but what she thinks she does—that he’s African People.
As much as my own limitations allow, I sympathize with race and the constructions of beauty standards, just like I sympathize with race and its effects on the justice system. But at some point brothers have to stop reeling off stats about college and prison, and resolve to be something more. We all have a moment, as black people, where we have to stop the process of bemoaning what the world thinks of us, and start asserting that which we think of ourselves. There is no other way.
Forgive me, if that sounds hectoring. I’ve met very few (if any) black women who need a lecture on asserting themselves. Which is why I find this constant “plight of the black woman” bit bewildering. It’s totally out of whack with what I see/hear in my daily interactions. It’s as if all our complainers, all our naysayers, all our insecurities got together and went into journalism. What the hell is going on?