“My dick really isn’t attracted to black girls.”
I tried to explain how his comment could come off as a tad bit racist.
“Well, it’s just that I don’t usually like girls like you.”
“You mean, you usually like girls with blonde hair and blue eyes?”
No, this conversation wasn’t with John Mayer. It was with a Caucasian male in a fraternity, one of my peers at USC.
I cried that night on my two-mile walk home from “frat row.” I cried the next day. Ok, I cried for countless nights. Not because I was sad about some guy, or because he claimed he “wasn’t interested.” I cried because I was disappointed that American Eurocentric culture still produces people who fear challenging what they have been taught. I had already experienced so much racism from both white and black people, and at the time, I felt raceless.
According to sociologists Sarah Spell and Valero Bacak, hookup culture is heavily influenced by societal beliefs surrounding race and ethnicity. Both authors claim that white men and women have more opportunities for hookups than minority individuals, and set the standard for who to pursue when hooking up.
However, this isn’t always a bad thing for African-Americans. Because of stereotypes about specific genders and races, white men and women often find it exciting to hook up with people of different races. This is also a distinction that doesn’t end simply with the line between white and black: because of historical relationships between house and field slaves, African-Americans with lighter skin are still viewed as more attractive than darker skinned African-Americans.
Black women, in particular, have been categorized as hyper-sexualized “jezebels,” an image which sometimes makes white men find it thrilling to hook up with black women.
I set out to find out what my fellow college students think about hooking up with people outside their own race. A Caucasian, male USC student from Portland, Oregon, remarked, “I do find it exciting for the sole reason that it’s different. People of different ethnicities have different builds/looks and it’s exciting to have sexual variety. I don’t think it’s because of the ‘taboo,’ but I could be subconsciously enjoying that: who knows.”
In contrast, an African-American female at Duke University, noted that she usually hook ups with guys within her race, and even specified that she prefers “lighter skinned black guys with light eyes.”
It is clear that racism between white and black Americans is prevalent in hookup culture, however this prejudice definitely goes both ways. Most of my own black female friends and family members feel uncomfortable dating white men, and prefer to date black men to avoid seemingly uncomfortable cultural differences. I once asked my father if he had ever kissed a white woman. He responded with:
“No. Why would I?”
His attitude is a perfect example of the collective attitude many African-Americans carry, especially black women. While it seems that many black men are willing to hook up with white women, white men may be less popular because of the racial trauma associated with their sexual dominance over black women during slavery.
A white power structure that I learned to fear through watching and listening to my parents, grandparents, other family members and friends recall stories in which white men had “ruined everything.” But being the rebel I was as a child, and still am as a young adult, I chose to challenge one of the heaviest paradigms I’d received from my parents: that white will always be different than black.
So, I did not give up on that frat boy until he would tell me the truth, until he would admit that he had been attracted to me, a black woman. Only a week after he made the “my dick isn’t attracted to black girls” comment, I marched into the frat house and found him.
“Admit it! Admit!” I shouted repeatedly. He knew I wasn’t leaving until he said it.
“Ok, Ok. I admit it. I did like you. Why can’t this just be about how I was attracted to you?”
And even though he finally asked the question that I wanted to hear, the question I needed to hear, I realized his attraction to me didn’t really matter.
It would never fully be about someone’s attraction to just me. I would always just be “pretty- for a black girl.”
His behavior left me with deep feelings of racial shame: it wasn’t that my individual character wasn’t good enough for him, but my people, my heritage, my color were just too inferior for someone like him.
I will probably struggle with finding a life partner who understands that race is one of the most important aspects in the continuing formation of my identity, but I will not settle for someone who sees me as something new and exciting because of my blackness. This guy feared change and made the conscious choice to live by the prejudices and supremacist attitudes that once defined his ancestors, and still reside in specific cultural contexts across the world.
But that does not change the fact that their color-blind racism is still racism, and that women of color, while we will never be white, will always be beautiful.