Love is Not So Black and White (Except for When It Is)

When I was in Kindergarten, I had a friend named April. She was sassy and funny and cute and I remember always being so jealous of her hair. I can’t picture her face anymore in my mind, but I remember vividly all of the little animal barrettes that dangled at the end of each of her perfectly coiffed braids. She would tell me how every few weeks, her mama would bring her to her cousin’s house, and she’d sit all day while her cousin braided her hair. I remember thinking that I would definitely sit for hours if it meant that my hair would look like April’s.

During art class one day, just before Winter break, as most of us were preparing for Santa to come, the art teacher told us to draw a picture of something we wanted. April grabbed a piece of white construction paper and began to draw. “I’m making me a house” she said. Knowing exactly what I wanted to draw, I grabbed an orange piece of construction paper. In my mind, orange was a nice compliment to April’s beautiful milk-chocolate complexion. Then, just about as well as any five year old could, I began to sketch April and her braids.

“What are you drawing?” she asked.

“Your hair” I replied.

I told her how much I loved her hair and how next time we went to the salon, I was going to tell my mom that I wanted my hair just like April’s. She giggled a little and said “You can’t! You don’t have my people’s hair!”

I was pretty confused, but also pretty certain that my mom, who was super good at French braids, would be able to figure it out.

So, I went home that day and did my best to explain to my mom what April’s hair looked like. I wasn’t familiar with the term “cornrows” at that point, so I’m sure I didn’t do a great job at conveying exactly how I wanted my hair to look. But my mama, bless her heart, did her best to give me what she thought I wanted. If you’re old enough to remember Coolio circa 1997, it looked a little like that, just with way thicker braids. It wasn’t pretty. I slept with the braids in, and when my mom took them out in the morning, it wasn’t much better. I went from Coolio to looking like an extra in Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” music video.

I probably let out a deep sigh for dramatic effect (I was a pretty dramatic five year old.) April was right — I didn’t have “her people’s hair.”

That memory sticks out in my mind as a sort of representation of my enduring love of and appreciation for diversity. For as long as I can remember I have been a student of different cultures, languages, faiths, and lifestyles. I’ve always found that where there is diversity, there is greater potential for growth, learning, and appreciation.

For me, it is that mindset that informs my views on relationships. As a general rule, I think that two consenting adults should be able to enter into a relationship, regardless of race, class, gender, ethnicity, faith, political leanings, etc. I tend to feel like most of the people who don’t agree with that idea sort of miss the mark. Call me what you will, but I also tend to feel like most of the individuals who would disagree with that are conservative white folks. (There’s data to back that up, but that’s another topic for another blog post.)

So, I was quite surprised when listening to a nationwide morning show several days ago during which their guest was a prominent member of the black community who expressed some very strong opinions regarding interracial dating and relationships. His argument was that when a Black man marries a non-Black woman — especially a Caucasian woman — he is somehow abandoning his roots in favor of his association with this woman and her community. He insinuated that Black parents do their children and their community a disservice by not demanding that their sons exclusively date and marry Black women.

Now, let me say this: I go to great lengths every single day to make sure that I am acknowledging the extent of my white privilege. There are certainly things/experiences/circumstances that I could never, EVER fully understand by sheer nature of the fact that I was born a Caucasian woman, and I remind myself of that every time I want to weigh in on a racially charged issue. I also consider myself an ally of the Black community. I love so many people whose roots trace back to the African continent, or to Jamaica, Haiti, or the Caribbean — all of whom racially identify as Black. I may not know their struggles or be able to fully grasp the gravity of their reality every day, but I do know one thing — I know that these are people that I love deeply, and when I love someone, I love hard.

Still, this one hit home for me for one particular reason: I love a black man.

I don’t love him because he’s black, and I don’t love him in spite of the fact that he’s black. I love that he’s Black because that’s part of what makes him who he is. I love him because of the way he loves me. I love him because he’s smart and funny and kind and talented and driven and genuine and independent and communicative and thoughtful. I love him because he pays attention to the little things. I love him because he knows my favorite things and he takes care to bring those things into my life in ways that matter. I love him because he embraces my quirks and idiosyncrasies and because he has loved my body in all its imperfections since the very start. I love him because he lets me talk and cry and he holds me when I’m in the throws of a panic attack. I love him because he’s an amazing lover, and because he has a sexy mind to accompany his sexy body. I love him because he shares my passion for justice and equality. I love him because he is stubborn and persistent and beautifully flawed. I love him because he lets me be exactly who I am while always encouraging me to be the very best version of myself. And I’ll be damned if anyone is going to tell me that either of us has committed some kind of injustice or that I couldn’t possibly know how to love him the right way because I am white and he is black.

I will never know what it is to be black, but I sure as hell know what it is to love a black man and all that entails. I know that some people will look at us when we’re out and think to themselves that we fit certain stereotypes they might have heard before. I know that I worry whenever he leaves and it’s late at night — what if he gets pulled over and something awful happens? I know that when he walks into a store wearing a do rag, he’s more likely to be followed by security. I know that he has to be ten times as calculated in his decisions as I do. I know that one day when he’s a father, he’ll stay up at night worrying about the world and how much scarier it is for his child than some other children born with different skin. I know that he always has to be a hundred times more prepared to justify himself than I do in any given circumstance. I know that he has to hold tighter to his culture than I do because it is under fire every day.

I love that he faces these challenges head on, and that he is proud to be black. I love that his blackness informs his worldview and has shaped who he is as an individual. I love his culture and I strive to honor that part of him every day.

I’m so glad that we’re all here in a time where we can speak up and speak out about these issues — that we can advocate for ourselves and for others to have the right to love whomever they choose to love — that even on those days when we do get sideways glances, we are free to express affection in a public setting. Love is SO much bigger than skin color or ethnic background or culture or roots or gender or any of the other myriad constructs that society tries to build in order to obstruct our right to love as we so choose. We still have so far to go — we have to stand for love in ways that we might not have imagined years ago. We have to show up without shame and without fear, and we have to love unapologetically and in ways that honor who our partners are as an individuals, embracing all of the things that have shaped them.

I don’t know yet where this road will take him and I — I hope it’s pretty far, but for as long as I have, I will spend every day being honored to be part of his life — and for right now, at least, I think that makes me the most qualified person to love him