Martin and Coretta, Ossie and Ruby Dee, Bill and Camille, Malcolm and Sister Bettie, Will and Jada, Barack and Michelle…
I recently asked myself a few questions that had been lingering in the back of my mind for years. Why do Black women feel so loyal to Black men? Where does this sense of “ownership” over them come from and why don’t they appear to have the same feelings toward us?
The questions were stirred by a recent conversation I had with a close African American male friend of mine about his history of, and perhaps preference for, dating non-Black women. For me, the subject was sensitive, to say the least. But I tried my best to place my personal feelings aside and listen with an open mind. I braced myself, in anticipation of a slam session, one that would convict me and other Black women of emasculating our men or being mean, ghetto, overweight, etc. However, what I received was even more jaunting. He told me that his choice to date non-Black women had nothing to do with Black women at all nor was it the result of some self-hating preference for light skin or straight hair. He simply dated non-Black women because he could.
“I like women,” was his response. “All kinds of women. Beautiful women.”
Though I question his standards of beauty as leading towards the more Eurocentric, I must say that his testimony was truthful. Over the years, I have seen him date many women of different races, Black included, and they all had similar qualities, young, smart, attractive. Their race was not the driving factor.
I was shocked, not only by his simplistic response but by his concluding remarks that I too should date outside of my race. A Black man recommending that a Black woman date interracially. How many Black women would send that information the other way?
White men killed to protect White women, lynching Black men for centuries in protection of their honor. However, I rarely hear much aversion from Black men to the thought of their female counterparts taking on lovers of different races. And when I do, this is most often reserved exclusively for Black women dating White men.
To paraphrase Chris Rock, in his 2008 HBO comedy special, Kill the Messenger, the only people more angered by interracial dating than Southern White men are Black women. Rock goes on to assert that Black men are in no threat of losing Black women due to the fact that we are not attracted to White men. Is it that simple? Can we assert that Black women do not date interracially because we are not attracted to non-Black men? Taking this further, do Black men seem to not care because they are in no danger of “losing” us, our love, and our loyalty?
Do Black women lack attraction to men of other races? Of course not. I can testify to having found plenty of non-Black men very attractive. In addition, Black women do date and marry interracially. In fact, we are doing so at greater rates now more than ever before. But there are still many Black women that will remain single before abandoning their dreams of marrying their IBM (Ideal Black Male).
I was having this conversation with a girlfriend of mine, while at work when I received some interesting feedback from a very unlikely source. A White male colleague of mine, had been listening to our conversation and offered this as an explanation for our reluctance to date outside of our race, “Black women are the keepers of the culture.”
His words resonated with me because I, like many other Black women, had been taught this very thing. Maybe not explicitly but the message was definitely drilled into me at an early age.
Proof of this lays in memories of being taught to cook traditional African American dishes. Or the pride my grandmother has in going through old photo books with me and my knowledge that one day these albums will become my responsibility to maintain and expand. Not to mention flashbacks of the previous year’s family reunion and the fact that it is the elder women of our family that pull it together each year. I had been raised in this legacy. I was to learn these traditions; I was to maintain them. Not my brothers; me. The Black woman. This was not a responsibility I asked for; it was one that I inherited. The grave responsibility of maintaining a culture and the Black family.
And can the Black family exist without the Black man? Many Black women believe not.
Black women are not the only group that wishes to utilize intra-marriage as a means of maintaining their culture. I have Jewish and Asian friends that talk about their parents desire to see them married to “one of their own.” So many of my friends dream of marrying their Black American Prince, jumping the broom and dancing to Etta James’ “At Last” – much in the likeness of Barack and Michelle. I empathize with them in this dream. I just hope that the dreaming does not prevent any of us from living a fulfilling reality.