The reality of being a black woman: A response to Ernest Baker

black and white hands holding handsEd. note: This is a guest post written by an anonymous woman living in New York City. 

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.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/shasty/ emmie

    Great post! We really do need to change the way the world thinks about women and let them know that ALL women (and men) are beautiful, individual complex human beings. But still really sad that you had such anger when seeing a black man dating a white woman, even though it’s completely understandable why you did. But I’ve seen plenty of black men dating brunettes and red heads too. And not all blonde haired people have blue eyes. But for some reason, some people think they “all” do. My aunt is a natural blonde with brown eyes.

  • http://feministing.com/members/cleven/ kathleen

    I really appreciate that these discussions are happening in a public forum, instead of behind thinly veiled micro-aggressions and in people’s heads… interracial relationships seem to be everywhere (including my household) and it is important to air out this loaded subject matter. That being said, both articles, this and Baker’s have left something out; Baker continually referred to himself as an individual person and yet, white women (and black women) were monolithic groups. He is a person (without gender or race) who dates white women… that belies patriarchy. The women in his piece were without identity besides their race and yet he sees himself as a nuanced individual. If he described himself as a person who dates people, who often are white, his message would be more consistent. This article, I think, glosses over the fact that white women and their role was also a product of patriarchy. However, most points in this article are important to reiterate and mostly well taken. What both articles sort of brazenly leave out is the fact that people in couples, interracial or not, are also individuals and it is possible that they find their partner in spite of and because of what is different about them. It is also possible to have many similarities despite social and racial differences that the world cannot see. If there are happy and healthy couples making it work, let’s support them.

  • http://feministing.com/members/aought/ Audrey Knight

    The history of light countenance equaling “better” seems to run centuries deep.

    “Gregory himself went with the rest, and, among other things, some boys were set to sale, their bodies white, their countenances beautiful, and their hair very fine.… He therefore … asked, what was the name of that nation? and was answered, that they were called Angles. “Right,” said he, “for they have an Angelic face, and it becomes such to be co-heirs with the Angels in heaven.”

    (Bede, History of the English people II.1)

  • http://feministing.com/members/colorfuls0ul/ Nyuma Waggeh

    I don’t think people should discredit the races of another. Just because you are dating one particular race does not mean you bash another. I can see the point as to where the glorifying of the “white community” has been instilled in us for many years. Being an African American woman I know the difficulties of being in a culture that bashes you for the color of your skin. In that case, remember your ancestry and where you come from before you make “benign” comments on a race that oppressed you being attractive.

  • http://feministing.com/members/conflicted/ conflicted

    Very interesting and I too thought that any claim white women with blonde hair or blue eyes are inherently/objectively attractive has got to be (a) inaccurate, as people are attracted to many different types of humans and (b) massively loaded, as the author of the post clearly explains.

    Only thing is though it’s worth reading the Gawker article because I do think the context of that line somewhat redeems it, albeit heavy handedly:

    “It’s not like I think that type of beauty is superior, but motherfuckers try to make you feel guilty for being attracted to those types of features at all. Let’s be real, blonde hair and blue eyes are fucking attractive and thinking that doesn’t mean you’re a piece of shit who gives those features inherent value over the features of other races. Rihanna is hot and so is Blake Lively. Lupita N’yongo is hot and so is Allison Williams. Sue me for not allowing my race to limit what I find attractive.”

    Although we’re kind of just objectifying everyone here, aren’t we.

    Actually the next two paragraphs from the article illustrate how he makes points that first make you go ARGH! and then make you go, ah ok…maybe:

    “Maybe knowing how much a diverse range of attraction upsets people is part of the appeal of interracial dating. No matter how much more commonplace relationships between black men and white women become, the historical context always gives them a rebellious, taboo component that, honestly, kind of adds to the fun and excitement.

    Interracial marriages weren’t even legal in every state 50 years ago. I’ve never gone into an interracial relationship outright trying to rebel against anything, but I’ve always enjoyed making people uncomfortable because ignorant, close-minded fucks need to have new ways of thinking shoved in their faces so they understand that they’re wrong and shit is different now.”

    (the following two paragraphs are quite interesting too, I thought.)

    Now having read both posts I feel a bit more educated about this issue (don’t worry, I am emphasising “a bit”) and particularly thank this guest author for reminding us that although “shit is different now” we should remember the shit that was because it still defines that shit that is.