Why Do Black Folks Assume I Date White People?
Why Do Black Folks Assume I Date White People?
It all began at a cook-out in North Carolina. My family gathered at my great-aunt’s house for one of our summer reunions. Her spacious home was absolutely perfect for these events. On the deck, outdoor speakers blasted RnB. The smell of charred meat wafted in the air as cousins arranged themselves into a line dance on the grass. Elders shuffled in and out the house, carrying styrofoam plates loaded with baked beans, hot dogs, barbecue chicken, grilled corn… Meanwhile, I sat in the living room to avoid the heat, flipping through channels on the flat screen, though I couldn’t hear a thing over my uncles’ loud outbursts in the kitchen.
My great-aunt, wearing her signature baseball cap and oversized t-shirt, buzzed around her home, dutiful and glad. At some point, she paused to speak with my mom, and they stood within earshot of me. In the way that conversations with extended family go, people’s children eventually become the subject of interest. They exchanged glances in my direction, and I looked back curiously. Out of nowhere, I heard:
“Yeah, mmhmm. I think she’s going to end up with a white man”, my great-aunt said, smiling.
As the only person in our entire family to have married a white person, her assertion carried weight. Being ten or eleven years old and neither aware of my sexual orientation nor of the burden of race, the only thing I could think was: How can she tell?
“You either abided by the laws of mainstream Black culture or you got relegated to the margins with the white people. Dougie or die”
This would not be the last time a Black person would predict or assume I had a white romantic partner. As I grew older and could finally wrap my head around the gravity of interracial dating in the United States, I honestly felt surprised that Black folks could so easily assign me to such a polarising “category of intimacy”. Naturally, I became curious about what aspects of my personality and appearance lent themselves to that interpretation. Why are people consistently reaching this conclusion about me? Even though I can never fully understand how people perceive me, for the sake of this exercise, I am going to pretend to maintain a mythical level of objectivity in my self-observation. Let’s just speculate what about me says “interracial”.
Here’s why Black folks think I date white people:
- I’m weird. Bookworm, goofy laugh, anime, quirky fashion, poor dancer, Green Day… Being “different” while Black used to be cause for mockery and exclusion. You either abided by the laws of mainstream Black culture or you got relegated to the margins with the white people. Dougie or die.
- I’m tall. Standing at 5’11, I’ve had Black men and Black studs literally run when I stand. When those romantic prospects scatter, who’s left? White people, of course!
- I don’t use seasoning in my food. Woah. I know. Should I have put this as number one on my list? All you have to do is scroll through a couple of memes to discover what some Black people think about white people’s cooking. It’s bland. It’s flavourless. Well, guess what? I will eat a whole bowl of lentils and quinoa with absolutely no seasoning and not even flinch. Because guess what? I like it. I’m pretty sure a Black friend has watched me sit down with plain Cheerios and thought to themselves: Yeah, she’s dating white people.
- I have natural hair. Natural hair wasn’t always cool. We know this. Blackness, as an identity, is subject to fluctuating trends. Well, the trend back in the day was straight, permed hair. I’ve been natural my entire life, so that includes the era when Black folks regarded it as unkempt (unless you were Erykah Badu). How could I, with my 4c afro, possibly expect to attract a Black mate? Impossible. I have to be dating outside the race with that hairdo.
- My politics. The legendary abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, married a white Woman. Playwright Lorraine Hansberry fell in love with a white man, and after she came out, she dated plenty of white Women. Jordan Peele, the writer and director of Get Out, is married to a white Woman. All those folks have created beautiful bodies of work that, one could argue, exemplify Black radical thought. Maybe my rants about the state of the world led someone to believe that I, too, would marry a white person one day.
- The name and/or occupation of the person I am dating doesn’t seem Black enough. Once upon a time, I dated a Woman with a racially ambiguous name. She also happens to compose music for a living. When I told a Black colleague about this person, they assumed that she was white. She wasn’t.
- “You talk white”. I haven’t heard this in a while because people have finally realised how ignorant it sounds. Consciously associating Standard English with whiteness is a major no-no.
- I like hiking. Somewhere in the universe, there’s a list of things that Black folks do and don’t do. Evidently, I didn’t get that interstellar download. My interest in what is considered by some as non-Black activities would apparently be reason enough to eject me from the Black Love club.
That’s all I got.
Frankly, measuring my personality and appearance against stereotypes is troubling in itself, but that’s the busy work that people essentially do when they assume who I am attracted to or who may be attracted to me.
“I’m pretty sure a Black friend has watched me sit down with plain Cheerios and thought to themselves: Yeah, she’s dating white people”
We say that Blackness isn’t a monolith, but in reality, we hold preconceived notions about what Black people should do, say, and think (i.e. The Black Card). While we can acknowledge and celebrate our striking resemblance as a people, it’s equally important to recognise how our expectations can be exclusionary. Instead of accepting your assumptions as absolute truths, get curious. True community work continues when we each investigate our conscious need to police, categorise, or judge someone’s abilities, interests, and identity. We can always expand what it means to be Black.
And just as a friendly reminder: who you decide to date is nobody’s business!
Written By: Akhir Ali (she/her) – a writer from Washington D.C. who writes fiction, personal essays, and queer erotica. Her work centers contradiction, disembodiment, natural environments, and intimacy. Check her out on Instagram
Header Image: AFFINITY MAGAZINE