by Imani Franklin, ’13
Let’s be real. You try to resist that Robert Downey Jr. white-boy-swag, coupled with the bang swish that only a true So-Cal white boy can pull off, and it’s a failed attempt from the start. A friend of mine can’t, for the life of her, understand why I like white men. She thinks they’re boring, like factory-made white bread: stale, tasteless, and a little problematic. I try to explain to her the appeal of white men for me and (dare I say) millions of straight women of color around the world. We’ve been simultaneously conditioned to see white men as some sort of prize (shout out to 400 years of old-school colonialism) while also taught to view our black, brown, and yellow skin as rendering us less desirable than our white counterparts. The result of all this: a lot of women of color who want what they believe they can’t have. Which, as we learn in Psych 101, only makes many of us want them more.
Now before you interpret this as some sad Pocahontas story, I should explain that this is a lot more complicated than me liking white boys because my mind is colonized. Lately, I’ve realized that there’s also a considerable degree of exotification in how I view white men. They’re mysterious. Whether they’re on the screens of romantic comedies or sitting beside me in math class, white guys have always felt far more distant than men of other races. I project my prejudices and idealizations onto them with few substantive interactions to prove just how unfounded my stereotypes about white men are. Even after dating a white guy during my sophomore year of college, my exotification of them didn’t lessen as much as it probably should have. This was largely because he didn’t actually identify as a “white man” in the classic Will Ferrell-loving, investment-banker-by-day, overgrown-frat-boy-by-night sort of way. To me, he was always distinctly different from “them.”
And even though boxing white men into a stereotypical mold is antithetical to my liberal ideals, I haven’t been able to stop. Theoretically, I know the answer to deconstructing this mental box:
Step 1: Spend time with white guys whom I previously would have pegged as walking stereotypes.
Step 2: Get to know them as 3-dimensional individuals.
Step 3: Success! They’re no longer mysterious and my slightly problematic fascination with them dies out.
Unfortunately, I haven’t started this process yet because, in addition to loving white men, I also hate them. I hate white men not as individuals, of course (I went to a predominately white school for far too many years to be an actual bigot), but as a concept. My understanding of historical and present injustices paints white men, or rather white manhood, as the engineer of oppression. The mastermind behind everything from South African apartheid, to the extermination of indigenous peoples throughout the Americas, to the construction of urban ghettos designed to ensure the perpetuation of poverty in African American communities. Nbd. It’s hard to reconcile my visceral disdain for the white male symbol of domination with my romantic fascination with them.
And then there’s the biracial children. First let me say that I love adorable, curly-haired biracial kids as much as the next single-race girl. But my immediate fear is that I would have kids who would say those statements that I’d never heard until I arrived to the Bay Area. Things like, “Excuse me, but I’m not black. I’m half white,” as if to be associated with that other half would be simply dreadful. To overcompensate, I’d raise them celebrating Kwanzaa, reading Malcolm X bedtime stories, and praising Jesus in a predominately black congregation every Sunday. My white husband, who naturally would be on board with all this, would insert his culture when he could and help me explain the Middle Passage to the little ones.
Up until a few months ago, I’d consoled myself that I could successfully have biracial kids who still knew how to be black and proud. But then I had this dream, a nightmare really. My biracial kids married white people, and then my ¾ white grandkids told me, “Grandma, we’re white. The Civil Rights Movement stuff you ramble about sounds cool and all, but we don’t see how that’s relevant to us….” I simply couldn’t take it. Waking up from my bone-chilling dream, I realized how much I want to see the vibrant black culture I was raised with continue in my family for at least a few more generations. Just another of the many factors that complicate my white-boy-love….
I try to explain these complexities to my black guy friends who scoff at me for liking white boys, but they don’t buy it. To them, I’m still that 7 year old girl who saw Titanic for the first time, fell in love with Leonardo Dicaprio, and has been taken with blue eyes and dirty blonde hair ever since. To them, my talk of colonized minds and exotification is a filmsy cover for my gut-level attraction to the white male phenotype. One of my black guy friends asks me if dating white guys makes me feel like a “race traitor,” particularly given my connection with Morehouse College. I don’t, mostly because I don’t prefer white over black guys, especially when all things are considered. I feel much more comfortable with the idea of marrying a black man, and I crush on black guys at least as often as white ones. However, while my conscious preference may be for black men, my subconscious instincts don’t always act accordingly. When I walk into a club, for example, I’ve noticed that I’ll start unconsciously scoping out the cute white men long before I notice the black guys in the room. This is not something I’m proud of, or even okay with. I’m just not quite sure how to change it.
One of my best black guys friends from home (who happens to unabashedly LOVE white women) tells me not to worry about all this. He buys into the school of thought that says, “You like who you like. Don’t read into it.” With all due respect Hamp, that’s bullshit. Ignoring the fact that sociological factors heavily influence whom we’re attracted to doesn’t make it cease to exist.
But for the most part, I don’t spend my days wallowing in guilt over liking white boys. The main time this whole hate-them-want-them dynamic becomes an issue is when I start trying to crack a joke. Thanks to my adoption of Boondocks humor, my comedy often falls along the following line: “The black man can’t do nothin’ right. Thanks to white baby Jesus for his graciousness.” For some, the fact that I actually do like white guys adds a layer of confusion to my jokes and dilutes the irony. Multiple times over the past week, I’ve had to stop myself from saying a racialized, white-is-right joke for fear that friends would take me seriously. For the record: I’m definitely more in danger of buying into Stokely Carmichael’s ideology than Uncle Ruckus’.
So to wrap up this litany of ramblings, I’ll just say this:
I’ve come a long way from being that confused little black girl in a sea of white kids who wondered why the white boys didn’t ask her to be their girlfriend when all the other 6th graders started dating. I’m far more confident (sometimes too much so) and no longer torment myself with the “white guys don’t like me because I’m brown!” train of logic. Let’s be real: if they’ve got anti-black color preferences, I wouldn’t like them anyway. My goal: to see white guys as just…guys, who can dote on you or not text you back just like men of other races. They’re not some prize, nor are they all budding Leopold IIs waiting to colonize my lands. But, unfortunately, I’m not quite there yet. Now excuse me while I go watch Sam and Mercedes make flirty eyes at each other on Glee.
Imani Franklin is a junior majoring in International Relations, with a minor in Arabic. She is the 2012-2013 co-president of Stanford’s Black Student Union and hopes to promote more meaningful dialogue between ethnic and race-based communities on campus. She In her free time, she enjoys attempting to cook peach cobbler from scratch and acting in theater performances.