In an essay on Gawker entitled “The Reality of Dating White Women When You’re Black,” Ernest Baker writes: “Let’s be real, blonde hair and blue eyes are fucking attractive.”
A friend of mine, a black woman, responded to the line in an email to me:
“I’m pretty sure if you get in your Delorean and go back to the point where any colonized people first encountered the white man, the thought was not “That’s fucking attractive!” It was more like “What is that yellow haired thing with the demon eyes?!”
It wasn’t always true that a person would unequivocally call blond hair and blue eyes attractive. No, that idea was proselytized, inculcated, beaten, hanged, and raped into *all* of us.
My mom is black and my dad is white. But besides being an interracial couple, they were so very militant about equality. So, when in my late teens I developed an angry and visceral reaction to seeing a black man step out with a white woman, I couldn’t grasp where it came from. I’d walk down the street, and I’d gawk, I’d snarl, I’d make my eyes real small and mean. The refrain in my head always: “Oh, of course he went for the pretty blond girl with blue eyes.”
The hate I felt was out-of-body, like I was saddled with a bigot’s cloak I couldn’t shake. I beat myself up: “It’s self-hate, I want to be those white women, don’t I?”
No, I didn’t. No, I don’t.
Like Baker, I blithely ignored the hundreds of years that shaped and carved out our nation’s collective and willful exaltation of white womanhood. It’s an easy crutch, to give in to standards of beauty, to call yourself a product of your environment, to say that black women liked thugs instead of you, like Baker did. It’s much harder to connect the dots so that you might understand the origins of your preference. Maybe if Baker reflected more on his upbringing, his perceived preference, maybe then he’d be less dismissive of the black women bothered by him and his white girlfriend.
White women have been publicly revered in this country since its inception. Chattel slavery was instrumental in securing the white woman’s body as something to be especially cherished and protected.
The notion that white women were ethereal beautiful creatures was further cemented after slavery ended, when white supremacy was threatened by Reconstruction. To make sure African Americans stayed subjugated, state sanctioned terrorism known as Jim Crow laws were enacted. One of the favorite trumped up accusations and causes for lynching by white men? That black men were allegedly raping white women.
At the same time a more insidious form of investment in white womanhood known as “the cult of true womanhood” was evolving, a set of principles that encouraged virtuous white womanhood.
A short while later, one of the first commercially successful films with a plot, The Birth of a Nation, hit theaters across the nation. (Spoiler) The film dramatically ends with a white virgin dressed in white, throwing herself off a bridge, because a freed black man who wants to make her his wife is running after her.
But it’s not just that white women were being carefully crafted as chaste fairies — it’s that black women were being carefully crafted as inferior. A black woman named Sarah Baartman, known as the Hottentot Venus, was made to stand on stages in the western world to be inspected and gawked at. Her fabled enlarged clitoris represented a widely held belief that black women were lascivious and primitive.
The pain I felt when looking at white women with black men was psychic. It was a violent recollection of the centuries old preoccupation with white womanhood — and the current preoccupation with white beauty found in the pages of magazines, seen in almost every Hollywood movie that comes out.
A cis black man should date a white cis woman should date a black trans man should date a Chinese cis woman should date an Indian two spirit. It is not that Ernest Baker should be compelled to date black women. It’s that Ernest Baker should think about the ghosts of America past.