Saturday, May 14, 2011
Back To Black: Revisiting the Interracial Sexual Politics of Gay Men
By: Johnathan Fields
It hasn't been long since I wrote a piece on the interracial sexual politics of gay male communities. Still, some of the responses I received let me know this is an ongoing conversation that needs to take place.
In talking with some folks, it seems some have internalized the pain (and racism) they've experienced in interracial exchanges. Whenever I try to talk about interraciality, it strikes me as odd that the conversation always seems to steer towards white/Black relationships. By that I mean, when the topic of interracial relationships comes up, people easily pull a white/Black model out of their mental rolodex.
Why is it when we say interracial dating, people take that to mean a white/Black relationship? Is a Latino/Asian or a white/Latino relationship not interracial? Yes, of course. Or perhaps the relationship in question has a member who is Brazilian and Polish and the other is Irish? So what is it? Is it me? Is it because the folks I talk to see my white skin and try to make it relative to me since I ask the question? Is it because they assume the white supremacy of racism only affects white people? As I continue trying to uncover the pain that surrounds interracial exchanges, I can't help but wonder what it is about the white/Black dichotomy of gay male circles that keep us stuck. My thoughts forced me to tap into my own pain.
Some of my exchanges with Black men have shown me precisely how broken this white/Black interracial space can be. From some of the things being said in supposedly intimate spaces to the dehumanizing ways we interact with one another, our internalized pain needs to be dealt with. Given my own particular background and experiences, I feel it's important to go back to my experiences in dating Black men.
I've listened as white, Latino and Asian men have given their commentary whenever they suspect I've begun dating a Black man. Some acquaintances have felt comfortable enough to begin introducing me to their friends--"This is John. He dates Black men"--highlighting how the latter somehow informs the former. These same Latino and Asian men celebrate the white men they've dated while glorifying their own internalized racial oppression. At one point I asked a former friend who identified as Latino, "You do realize you date interracially, right?" His response was a declarative no and seemed to suggest he saw himself as white.
For me, this is very telling of the climate in which interracial politics breed within gay male communities. Despite the fact that Latino and Asian men may experience racism as well, the very anti-Black sentiments that run rampant throughout all of American society heavily manifest within gay circles. This is not to minimize the racism other groups experience but instead to highlight the fact that when I dated men who were non-Black, or when other white friends dated men who were neither white nor Black, I was never introduced to people with, "Hi this is _______. He dates (enter racial category) people." So this is something very telling about how society views Blackness.
As we consider some of the questions I opened with, particularly--"Why do we only consider interracial relationships Black and white?"--I think it is extremely important to not define interracial relationships through such rigid terms but to acknowledge this is a distinguishable site that should be intimately explored as well.
I'll never forget my experiences watching white men lust after Black men in such a way that you can just feel their fetishized motives by the look in their eye as they size up the man in front of them. I've watched as Black men tell me, "I'm only attracted to white men" or "the white boys love me." The most interesting part about some of these conversations is that the men looked at me as if I should be complimented that they are only attracted to white men, as if the limitations imposed by some of their internalized racism should excite me. I guess Frantz Fanon was right when he argued that the oppressed will eventually internalize the methods of their oppressor.
But I've also seen other sides of that too. In dating some Black men, I've been given dirty looks, verbal assaults and a host of other ignorantly informed commentary on the status of my relationships by outsiders. It strikes me whenever someone wants to assert themselves into my relationship, telling me how it was formed as if some total stranger can tell me I'm only dating a man because I want what's in his pants. Question: have you seen what's in his pants? No? Oh, okay then. I guess it goes back to the way I look at some men, assuming I know what their motives are.
My intentions here are not to drive people away from potentially dating outside their race. They are also not to shame people for particular behaviors. Instead, I hope by airing out some of our dirty laundry people will begin to think about their actions and the consequences they may have. One of my hopes is that people will stop inserting themselves into others relationships, especially when it does not concern them. In the same way everyone will not dating interracially, the same holds true for intra-racial relationships. Furthermore, these identities are not static. I may date a Black man, then date a white man, then date a Latino man, etc. Does that mean I only date interracially? Of course not.
Finally, I've had to work through the pain I've internalized from my own oppressors--the gay men who tried to shame me for finding Black men beautiful. I remember arguing with people that I don't only date Black men, I don't only date interracially, etc. While I still hold true to the fact I don't only date Black men, no longer will I feel shame or apologize for it. I will not be placed into a box by men who seem to think it is my "preference." I will continue to date and love whomever I see fit.
The more ironic thing I've learned in dating Black men is that people will always joke: "Once you go Black, you never go back." Oddly enough, these jokes are usually wrapped up in the sexual potency of Black identity. By that I mean, it seems to suggest that you will end up feeling so satisfied, sexual or otherwise, that you won't want to leave. Obviously, this is not always the case. Even still, the most interesting thing about the "once you go Black" phenomena is that even if you try to "go back", society and the people around you won't let you.
Johnathan Fields is a DePaul University alum with a B.A. in African & Black Diaspora Studies and Philosophy. His areas of interest include: media representations of race, gender, and sexuality in popular culture, Black feminist theory, Diasporic literature and critical race theory. He is also the latest addition to this site's family of contributors. For more information, visit www.adventuresofaboxcutter.com