Two in one day? I’m procrastinating, what can I say?! This is the number one blooper, and it came from a girl in college who I was seeing, but who “wasn’t gay.”
1. So let’s call her...Kara. Kara and I began seeing each other when I broke up with my “boyfriend” for the first time (the quotations will be explained in subsequent posts. The short version is that I’m gay, so I broke up with my boyfriend a lot, partially because he annoyed me as a person, but mostly because I wanted to sleep with Kara :-) ) Kara had never dated a black person, or a girl, and so she was enamored of the female body, but she also seemed to be intrigued by certain aspects of my physique. “I just love your ass,” she would often say; “I wish I were black so I could have that ass.” This, in of itself, wasn’t an issue. It was more so that she would come to attribute things to my blackness that had nothing to do with race, and she had eventually created this ill-conceived archetype of “the black girl.” “You have such an amazing singing voice,” she’d say; “I want to be black so that I can sing like that.” And then there was “God, your breasts are so perfect; I want black girl boobies!” My all-time favorite was “you’re so strong and independent. You’ve got this ‘I don’t need a man' mentality. I wish I had that; I wish I could be confident.” I told her that it would come in time, that you have to know yourself in order to be sure of yourself. “But it’s more than that,” she said, “all of it...it just embodies the strong woman, the strong black woman.” Ok, so I should have stopped hooking up with her WAY sooner, but....that’s another story. The point is that she somehow thought that all of these qualities that she saw me as possessing were what blackness was—a finite set of characteristics, a checklist, if you will. And yes, more black people have the kind of ass that I have than white people, but I have seen enough breasts to know that there’s no such thing as “black breasts,” and the fact that I have an “I don’t need a man” mentality probably has a lot more to do with the fact that I really don’t want or need a man, than the fact that I happen to have brown skin! It wasn’t long before I began to feel completely tokenized, but I didn’t know how to articulate it, so I let it slide. I finally stopped seeing her for good about two years later, but more because she wouldn't stop saying she wasn't gay than anything else.
It’s funny because, looking back, I realize that I would have felt guilty about confronting her with her racism. Racism, we're taught, is this ugly and malicious thing, perpetrated by skinheads and back woods fascists, but for a lot of people it’s born out of sheer ignorance. I didn’t want to make her feel bad, didn't want her to think I was equating her with a skinhead. I just wanted to set the record straight. I didn’t do it then, but I’ll do it now. (Don't you love how you're only able to say things clearly and articulately like six years later? Awesome.)
To Kara: There is no racial checklist, no definitive mold. Race is as superficial as any other physical trait. Stereotypes do exist for a reason, and racial similarity often leads to ethnic and cultural camaraderie, which can translate into to a shared cultural experience, but there are so many other factors at play. I am who I am because of a myriad of things, and my being black has nothing to do with many of them. All black people don’t sing well, have round butts, and they are not all “strong black women.” This is not written into my genetic code; it is not a given. Also, when you say that you "want to be black" like it's the hip new thing, I feel kind of strange and uncomfortable. Oh, and one more thing: if you’re “not gay” than stop sleeping with me! (Sorry, this last part is a little bit of therapy for me.)
I have no desire to speak for other black people because I doubt that many people could speak for me, not accurately anyway. Blackness, in the 21st century, is more complex than ever before, as is the case for whiteness, and most other racial categories. Progress almost always assures amalgamation, and during this process, stereotypes are turned on their heads, made obsolete, newly formed, and lived out of existence. Maybe they used to be true of about 70% of the people in a given group, but that number is steadily decreasing. You can’t tell much by looking at a person anymore, so we would all be better off if we stopped trying to play concentration with an ever-changing deck of cards. Flip over a card, read it, and take it for what it is. Stop trying to match them—you’ll never win.
So, those are my top 3 bloopers. There are many more, but I won’t bore you anymore, at least not now. Thanks for listening, and have a good end to the weekend. Hope you've enjoyed your time in the Grey Space; I have certainly enjoyed sharing with you.
Peace and love and bugs named Doug,