Why do black brothers love white sisters?
Black men, white women and the politics of pleasure of interracial relationships
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