Out in the dating world I have encountered this declaration from a variety of men. It always felt like a backhanded compliment and it took me a long time to pinpoint why it made me feel uneasy; after all I should feel that I was special, feel that this was a huge compliment, right? I should feel as if this was some sort of progress and that my uniqueness was finally being valued, right? But let me it break down why this isn’t the compliment it would seem on the surface.
There are typically four types of men who will use this phrase:
Type One: The Sleaze. This one is the easiest to pinpoint and I’m not going to spend a lot of time on him. This is the man from another culture who has made The Black Woman a fetish. He thinks that we can unleash sex magic into his life. This is the same guy who can take out his personal binder full of women (Sorry Mitt, I couldn’t resist) and probably has a check list of women of every nationality that he is working his way through for the notches on his bedpost, despite his claims of “only dating black women”.
Nope, I’m not here to fulfill your Blaxploitation dreams. Moving on!
Type Two: The White Guilt Guy. He is carrying maybe more than a little bit of white guilt. He may also carry this idea over into everything that he does. He listens exclusively to R&B music or Bob Marley, eats ethnic foods, and maybe he has even dreaded his hair. He tells us repeatedly that we should wear our hair in an Afro and be proud of our true natural beauty and not live under the oppression of “the man.” He flogs himself with the whip of slavery; always apologizing and reminding us that he has not forgotten our struggle. Type two can rattle off ALL the horrific facts of the damage done to black people by “the man.” He is almost docile and cowering when it comes to dealing with us, co-opting our pain as his ticket to a deeper relationship connection.
I appreciate the acknowledgement and all, but I just want to sit him down and say: “You, personally, are not responsible for every depraved act white men have perpetrated. You are absolved my son.” I know MY history; I know MY story. I want to see who you are as a person, not some stereotypical copy of what you think being black means in some misguided attempt to speak the only language you feel I can understand. Respect me as a human being, be my ally when necessary, but I’m so much more than the history of horror that has happened to my people.
Type Three: The Militant Black Man. He is the flip side of Type Two. He is at war with the Blue eyed devil and it comes from the passion of his utter and unwavering conviction. He is in a constant battle for the salvation of all of African Humanity. Type Three views that every white person is his enemy. He is forever quoting Malcolm X’s most militant words, showing you the newest video by Louis Farrakhan, wearing the colors of Africa, and telling you that you should wear your hair in its natural state and stop trying to meet white beauty standards. There is no middle ground with him, we must only live completely and entirely enmeshed in our black culture or you are a “wannabe and/or a sellout” because obviously liking anything he has deemed as solely belonging to “White Culture” is treason.
I simply cannot and will not live in that kind of constant anger and fear. My skin is not armor in a culture war; I seek to unify all of humanity, not just one skin color. What message would it send to seek equality then banish myself to a certain subset of behaviors in order to be considered black enough? Why trade one type of oppression for another, my brother?
Type Four: The Upwardly Mobile Black Man. He was a bit harder for me to spot. He hit closer to home for someone like me who glides effortlessly in a diversified world and he was just under my radar, initially. He navigates working with diverse groups of people well. But Type Four carries all the trappings of assimilation like a mask. He is the Master of Code Switching, but let’s be honest, we all do this at some point; you behave one way at work and another way with friends and its something that black people have had to become very adept at in order to survive and flourish, so code switching, in and of itself, is not a problem. But Type Four guards his personal life as if it were Fort Knox. These guys are usually afraid. Yes, afraid. They are, when the chips are down, ashamed of being black and of our colloquialisms. He does not want his white counterparts to see him in his natural state. He only goes out dressed to the nines and he will not be seen with his wife with her hair tied up nor allow himself to speak too loudly. He isn’t in love with the African Queen as he claims so much as he is only truly comfortable around people who are like himself. He needs a black wife so he can be himself at home but will be the first one to attempt shame that same black wife if she even hints at doing something deemed as a black thing to do, in public where his peers might notice. And let’s be completely honest his wife is probably light skinned because that is of value to him when he is out and about being seen.
I don’t mind being your safe harbor during the storms of life but I’m not where you hide from the world. I’m not here for you to dump your anger on, that anger you are afraid to unleash at your job or with your white friends. We can be a unified force sharing our hopes, dreams, and fears but that means I have to be your ally not a visual representation of what you are running from.
All of these men are unique but the one thing all four of these men have in common is that they have reduced me to my skin color. I have graduated from college. I’ve had poetry published (under Pamela Coleman, you know in case you want to look). I have a variety of interests and I am constantly monitoring myself and working on who I am as a human being. All that feels as if it were for naught when someone tells me they “only date black women”; I feel diminished, not loved– not revered. I feel like less. All that hard work on becoming a better person and better citizen of the world–fighting tooth and nail for the world to respect my humanity–and still the only thing you see is what color my skin happens to be, the rest of me tossed aside like so much fluff. This is no less of a threat to me than any other form of racism because it denies me the fullness of my life and all the variety that makes me who I am. Our community already has to face the racism of perfection that we get in respectability politics, as a community we have to be twice as good to get half as much and that is exhausting.
So when you walk up to me in the library or encounter me at the New Year’s Eve party and one of your opening lines to me is how you “…only date black women.”; you will now know why the conversation hit a wall and why my mood cooled towards you. I appreciate the sentiment, but I don’t want you dating my race or the shade of my skin–I want you dating Pamela. I’m not like anyone else in the world and until you are ready to delve in and explore the many facets of who I am, prepared to meet the woman I am with a man just as strong and unique, you are only doing me, yourself, and I dare say, the African American community a disservice.