Why do black broth­ers love white sis­ters?

Black men, white women and the pol­i­tics of plea­sure of in­ter­ra­cial re­la­tion­ships

CityPress - - Front Page - Mil­isuthando Bon­gela

I have not seen 12 Years a Slave. I fig­ured it wouldn’t teach me any­thing I didn’t al­ready know. Be­sides, I’ve al­ways had a weak dis­po­si­tion for en­dur­ing vi­o­lence against black bod­ies in any rep­re­sented form. But I did fol­low the suc­cess of the film on so­cial media, wast­ing no time in fan­girling Lupita Ny­ong’o and tak­ing more in­ter­est in Bri­tish film maker Steve McQueen’s work and ac­tor Chi­we­tel Ejio­for’s … face.

I was such a fan of Ejio­for’s deeply at­trac­tive ex­is­tence that I had a folder of his pic­tures la­belled Him and would post fea­tures of him on so­cial-media ac­counts that I was han­dling for var­i­ous clients at the time.

The first time I saw a pic­ture of his girl­friend, a pre­dictable film of petty, use­less jeal­ousy doused my in­sides. The fact that she was white pro­duced a grunt of am­biva­lence that came from a place I didn’t un­der­stand then and one I was ashamed to ex­plore for two rea­sons.

One, be­cause of my learnt be­hav­iour of pro­tect­ing white feel­ings over my own. Two, be­cause as a black woman, I was not so­cially al­lowed to be un­happy about black men’s ac­tive pur­suit of white women, be it in literature or rap songs.

If I com­plained, I would run the risk of be­ing pushed into the “these white women are tak­ing our men” cat­e­gory of haters – a thin and sim­plis­tic tech­nique of si­lenc­ing black women’s views, ex­pe­ri­ences and com­plex re­la­tions with race and gen­der.

I later learnt that McQueen has a white wife, around the same time I learnt that prom­i­nent Bri­tish ac­tor David Oyelowo, of Selma fame, also has a white wife. That these three men were prom­i­nent in films where racism is at the cen­tre of the nar­ra­tive didn’t soothe my in­credulity at their choice of part­ners. So, what is my prob­lem? Is it that, by the stan­dards that judge these black men, un­ex­cep­tional white women are win­ning the lottery of “ex­cep­tional black men”, or that black women are seem­ingly not de­sir­able to ex­cep­tional, ap­peal­ing and vis­i­ble black men?

I have no is­sue with in­ter­ra­cial re­la­tion­ships where two equals fall in love, and dis­cus­sions of race and the racist world we live in are hon­est, nu­anced and founded on a pro­found un­der­stand­ing of each per­son’s re­la­tion­ship to their gen­der and race priv­i­leges, or lack thereof. These could very well be the type of re­la­tion­ships that these three black men have with their white women and I might be mis­di­rect­ing my dis­com­fort. Nev­er­the­less, it per­sists.

What pre­cedes these in­evitable pro­cesses of hu­man evo­lu­tion are the racist tropes that in­ti­mate re­la­tions be­tween black and white peo­ple are his­tor­i­cally built on – vi­o­lence against the black body, sex­ual vi­o­lence against the black fe­male body and an in­vented scare tac­tic of the black-gar­dener-ogling-the-white-madam nar­ra­tive.

There is a par­tic­u­lar history at­tached to which bod­ies are sex­u­ally de­sir­able to par­tic­u­lar gazes. Of the few white men I have been with sex­u­ally, two of them pre­tended not to know me af­ter the one-time en­coun­ters, which were ini­ti­ated by them. It didn’t take a look at our history books to know it was be­cause I am black.

White women, on the other hand, rarely suf­fer the vi­o­lence of hav­ing their race used as a rea­son to find them un­de­sir­able. They don’t need to be as ex­cep­tional be­cause in a world that priv­i­leges it, their white­ness is enough.

While fetishis­ing can ex­ist in dif­fer­ent types of in­ter­ra­cial pair­ings, the black man and white woman dy­namic has been es­pe­cially ex­alted by pop cul­ture (TV shows like Ice Loves Coco) and so­cial media, and com­mod­i­fied by the porn in­dus­try’s pop­u­lar­ity of the “big black d**k and white house­wife” bi­nary.

A hi­lar­i­ous in­ter­net meme I saw re­cently fea­tures a white woman with beaded corn­rows, a beaded bracelet, Africa-map ear­rings and a dark-skinned black man in four squares. It reads: Ger­man Girl Long Street Starter Pack.

I laughed be­cause this pic­ture says the thou­sand words that black women are of­ten pres­sured to si­lence when it comes to this sub­ject. Young, help­ful, not-for-profit types from Ger­many or Swe­den de­scend on Africa as if planes were taxis. They ar­rive look­ing for a dark-skinned, prefer­ably long-haired African man, per­haps to de­tach them­selves from the ex­is­ten­tial quag­mire of be­ing priv­i­leged white Euro­peans.

And that African man, when he is found, af­ter tast­ing “white meat” as it is col­lo­qui­ally bap­tised, de­vel­ops a pro­cliv­ity for white women and soon moves to Europe for myr­iad rea­sons. Europe of­fers the al­lure of be­ing dif­fer­ent, fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity, es­cap­ing black­ness, which in­cludes the dif­fi­culty of dat­ing black women, and oc­ca­sion­ally ac­tual love. It is this dual fetishis­ing that can, un­for­tu­nately, be­come a mu­tated form of racism be­cause, for me, it is built on un­treated wounds.

It’s not what is said by the ac­tions of peo­ple who de­sire each other be­cause of, or in spite of, their dif­fer­ent races, but what is un­said re­gard­ing the history of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween black and white bod­ies.

In essence, I am not vexed by peo­ple who are at­tracted to each other, but by the pol­i­tics in the plea­sure.

If the white woman re­mains at the top of the de­sir­abil­ity pyra­mid, is the ide­o­log­i­cal era­sure and den­i­gra­tion of the women at the bot­tom of this pyra­mid avoid­able?


FOR BET­TER OR WORSE Chi­we­tel Ejio­for and his girl­friend, Sari Mercer, at the 86th An­nual Academy Awards in Hol­ly­wood


Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.