Friday, June 18, 2010

What's Love Got To Do With It? - Part 2

Yesterday, I wrote about why I don't advise Black people not to get romantically involved with White people (aside from the fact that, of course, that it's none of my business what somebody else does with their heart...or their genitals). Today, I want to write about some of the reasons I think Black and White people DO get romantically involved. And it's complicated stuff. So I'm not suggesting that this post is going to constitute the last word on the subject. I just want to present a couple of the ideas I've been mulling over for the past few months, since I got personally involved with a Black man. Again.

Before I get started, however, I want to give you a bit of back story. I went on a date with a Black man the first time as a young adult. He was a medical student and it was a blind date. He later admitted to me that the only reason he went out with (and bedded) me was that I was White. An interesting experience, as I'm sure you can imagine.
Since that time, I have dated or had "romantic" relationships with a number of men of color: Asian, Latino, and Black (African, Caribbean, and African-American). I have also been "involved" with White men, including the father of my now deceased son.

I never chose a date or a mate on the basis of his skin tone, his age, or his accent; whether or not he had good looks, a college degree, a job or even a car; the size of his bank account or his penis. That's just me. I sincerely believe that most of us -- however much we talk smack about "love" -- choose our mates rather particularistically, however, tending to opt for "our own kind" (those from a similar background, similar intelligence level, similar socio-economic status, and so forth). I, on the other hand, tended to go with the moment. And I think there's probably a bit of a wink in that sentence, if you're paying attention.

In any case, I have opted to pick and choose at will. Which has opened a lot of doors for me (and others like me). Keep in mind that I spent the past ten years of my life alone. I don't mean living alone. I mean alone alone. In a single bed. No dating. No relationships. And only a couple of forays into the embarrassing territory of one night stands. So it isn't that I must "have" someone to "feel like" someone. In fact, until recently, it was more like I never really wanted to be romantically involved at all (can we say "is-sues"?).

My point is that I, of all people, am proof positive that we can live happily and well by ourselves, if we're of a mind to. And a romantic relationship in and of itself ensures absolutely nothing in the way of contentment or satisfaction or well-being, other than the possibility of having access to two paychecks to address shared bills. I mean, color me jaded if you want to, but I'm talking about what I see all around me, as well as what I've experienced, not to mention all the research I've read since I started teaching courses in gender.

Additionally (and I mentioned this point yesterday, but I think it's crucial), Black people romantically involved with other Black people, White people romantically involved with other White people, and so on, appear in public and private every day everywhere in the world in relationships that scream "neurosis" on a range of levels, and nobody ever seems to have a problem with this (even when innocent children are being routinely put through a wringer in the process). Nobody says, "Gosh, maybe people should just avoid relationships entirely unless both parties are totally healthy individuals to start with," though this idea makes all kinds of logical sense.

But when a "Black" person (and remember, we're talking about skin tone here) gets with a "White" person (or at least one who passes for White, because how the hell do most of us really know?), we become convinced that the relationship HAS to be neurotic and has NO hope of being healthy in ANY way REGARDLESS of endless indications otherwise. And that's just dopey. As well as unfortunate. Since life is hard enough without trying to tell people they must love and/or have sex with only the person YOU would pick for them.

Nevertheless (as I pointed out already a few paragraphs ago), the vast majority of human beings choose our mates particularistically. We don't necessarily walk around with a checklist on a clipboard, checking off the characteristics a prospective "candidate" for a relationship might or not have, so we can make a decision. But we just go with the path of least resistance. We only allow into our "prospective mate pool" those who meet the gender, race, religion, educational level, socio-economic potential level, and attractiveness quotient we would find acceptable. This is why we don't see more "blending" than we do. Oh, it's there all right. Lots of it. More all the time. But not all that much, when push comes to shove. Because most of us just don't cross the line.

We have help to stay in our places, too. Others (in our group or a different one) do what social science researchers call "border patrol." In other words, they look at a Black woman with a White man on her arm and ask pointedly, "This is your boyfriend?" with just the hint of a pause before the telltale word. And by the hundredth or thousandth time this -- or a similar -- question is asked or statement is made, the "border" becomes as littered with painful debris as the Rio Grande. And the romance can become not worth it.

So why does anyone "cross the [fill in the blank] line?"

"You can't help who you love," we haste to chatter.

But I've already raised the idea that most of us choose pretty carefully and have plenty of help to make sure we do that.

So, why is anyone willing to take on the whole society's wrath and ridicule when there are literally millions of options that won't call down the Dogs of Hell? I think it's personal and political. And I think the personal IS political.

I'm sure there are at least a gazillion reasons a person might decide to be what sociologists call "deviant" (which only means, after all, different from the norm, different from the usual way things are done in that society). And some of them are unquestionably (or at least) neurotic, ill-advised, stupid, hilarious, weird, sad, outrageous and/or predictable. But I would argue that the same thing could be said of a relationship between two people who are NOT being recognizably deviant in their choice. So what's the point of singling out, in particular, Black people and White people "in love with" each other?

I already wrote herein that I wouldn't feel comfortable telling a woman she "shouldn't" be in a relationship with a man, or a gay or lesbian person "shouldn't" love someone with the same genitals, or a Muslim "shouldn't" marry a Jew. But neither could I begin to have a clue for absolutely certain about all the reasons that might be involved in their decision-making. That's why I use the term "complicated." There could be more than one. There could even be many. There is more to mating than "lying back and thinking of England" (what they used to tell women to do who were faced with the ignominious duty of submitting to their husbands' advances). There is more to mating than "chemistry" or arranging a marriage or making babies to carry on the family name(s).

Some of us choose -- bold-facedly and with no apology whatsoever -- the harder road. We choose, knowing the cost, to breech the social compunctions, to commit to a different, better world of possibility, to allow our lives and our bodies to become the battlefield on which the rest of the human race claims the right to fight some of its ugliest wars. We mate as a political act. An act of rebellion. Against any system, any ideology, any historical tradition, any individual that purports to have the final say in our only, most private existence.
And if that makes some people who choose to stay inside their prescribed borders uncomfortable in one way or another, then it is what it is.


Jane said...

Asking whether or not Black and White people should be in relationships or have children together is the wrong damn question. It's not as if by avoiding interracial relationships then the problem of White Supremacy goes away or black people are somehow less harmed culturally. Much worse is that this sends a message to actual living and breathing biracial people that they should not exist in the first place. Obnoxious. Cruel.

A better question would have been Do people, especially White people who mate and procreate interracially, have a greater responsibility to be aware of the ways in which White Supremacy can damage their relationships and their children?

Another: Should Black and White people in relationships agree beforehand to work to resolve issues of white supremacy as they play out in their relationship? Or is resolution even possible to achieve?

Choice of mate HAS to be an individual decision if our communal goal is ending oppression. Proclaiming racial allegiance and uplift as your primary motive for choosing a partner ... well that just sounds creepy to me. Not all that different from the Lebensborn Program in Nazi Europe, but for black folks.. and without the power to make it happen.

I am a Black Woman in a relationship with a White Man. Yes, this causes some conflict on occasion. But we do have other signficant oppressions and privileges at play in our lives. For example, we are both trans, and we have found the common ground we share as transpersons has been far more unifying than our racial differences have been divisive.

Other areas of conflict: he has several physical disabilities and grew up in poverty. I am relatively able bodied and grew up middle class with all the economic benefits that implies. The kyriachical structures of our relationship are much more complicated than issues of Black and White. Yet we remain committed to each other and to our relationship enough to tease out the many kinks together. Everybody has the right to do this. Nobody has the right to tell somebody else who to love. How in the world would THAT end oppression anyway?

Changeseeker said...

I couldn't have said it better myself, Jane. Thanks and thanks again for your two cents.

Will Capers said...

Piggybacking on what Jane said, there are some, if not most, whites who believe that if they have friends or lovers of POC, then that means they are not racist. Also, those who avoid interracial relationships is no different than avoiding the topics of race and racism altogether.

fwoan said...

Exactly, Will. POC with white friends who think this means they aren't racist are only waiting to be used as a shield against the blowback after an eventual, "I'm not racist but..." or "Some of my best friends are black!"