I’m not talking about the overt, idiotic, bigot who sees other races as inferior, or dirty, or sub-human. I’m talking about the liberal, fair-minded person who believes that people are people, but has a general preference for familiar skin color against your own. Or a cultural leaning that does not look foreign. And more specifically, when we seek a life-partner, is race a serious consideration?
Some people may quickly dismiss race, saying such a thing does not matter. But everybody knows that race matters in America. Look at the Presidential Race. Look at the education system. Look at who is graduating from High school, as opposed to who is not, who is being incarcerated, as opposed to who is getting post-graduate degrees. Look at the global distribution of wealth. Look at the countries without clean water, the ones locked out of the economic playing field. Race matters.
The question is more personal than that. In your intimate life, in your bed, in your body — is race a consideration for intimate relationships?
As I get older I become better at articulating what I like and what I don’t like so much. For example, I don’t date women who are in the closet (anymore). I’m too old for that shit. And I don’t date women who are abusive, or unsupportive, or crazy and I especially avoid the ones who act that crazy out in public. I also like to date women who feel familiar to me, women who allude to a past, a country — a life I left behind when I fled Jamaica to become a practicing lesbian. I have never been able to say I would never partner with a woman who isn’t Black, but I have to admit that I am most drawn to Black women. And that usually means women who look like the women who raised me, the women with whom I first fell in love, the women who make up my immediate family. The resulting conundrum is that I have had to ask myself if that makes me racist or closed-minded in any way. My human rights politics have had me time and again querying if primarily dating Black women means anything other than I like to do, eat, sleep—live the familiar. But some days I am not sure if that is entirely true.
If you are not entirely comfortable dating outside your race are you racist?
What if a White boy said he preferred to date White women? Would I see that as merely preference, or plain bigotry? What if he actually said he would not date non-white women? What if a Black boy confessed that he preferred White women? What are the implications there?
I grew up with women with skin colors ranging from cinnamon to chocolate to charcoal. The ones who abused me, the ones who were kind to me, the ones who remained indifferent to my existence—they were all of African descent. So when I began to consider women as partners, I was most drawn to girls/women who looked like my mother, my grandmother, and the sexiest of my high school teachers.
No small wonder then, that at 35, I feel most at home in the arms of women who identify as Black. This is particularly perplexing because, biologically, half of my genes are Chinese. But in America, that does little to change the fact that culturally, and certainly politically, my experiences make me feel more Black than anything else.
Now, within Black communities, one could argue that being biracial has its particular privileges, but when you get right down to it, largely, in most circles, and certainly in North America I move through the world as a Black woman. So here comes the big question. If I am really a humanist, and I believe that race is only skin-deep, then why am I so cautious when dating women from other races? And why is it such a giant leap to date women who identify as white?
These are some of the questions that are hardest for activists to answer about the way we choose to conduct our own lives. And usually, at the end of these blogs there is some kind of resolution. But this one remains an ongoing riddle. There are no snap answers. Only more and more questions. I’m still working on this. I’ll let you know as I progress.
(Staceyann Chin is the author of The Other side of Paradies: A Memoir)