Sometimes I wonder what type of Black guy would date me, if I were to get with a Black guy. I feel like I’ll end up with another “bougie” Black guy, since I’m supposed to be so “bougie” myself. It makes me sad because I can’t imagine what it would be like to date a Black guy who isn’t bougie, but I’ve never dated a Black guy, period.
Part of why I wanted to go to an HBCU (historically Black college/university) like Howard University was because I thought that maybe I’d find some cool queer Black guys who didn’t fall for imperialist (yes, I said it) traps of “bougie” vs “real.” Guys who could easily talk about and critique Clueless as easily as they could B.A.P.S.
I want to believe that it can happen once I leave Oberlin. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. If I end up spending a significant amount of my life with a non-Black person, I wonder what that will be like. I wonder if I will have moments where my partner will want me to “not be so loud,” or to “stop assuming people are racist,” or things like that. I wonder if we’ll have kids, and what type of kids we’ll have, and if we’ll raise them to know all aspects of Black culture, good and bad. Every culture has good and bad to it, and we’re exposed to the good and bad of white culture all of the time. So, for every inspiring Martin Luther King Jr. quote they read, they’ll also know something about Nene Leakes, since she is also a significant part of Black culture and how Black culture is perceived in this country.
What I appreciated growing up was that I was exposed to so many various aspects of Black culture, and my parents never agreed on anything about it. My mom loved Aretha, my dad thought she screamed too much. My dad loved The Wire, my mom only occasionally watched it. My mom owned and constantly watched all of Tyler Perry’s plays and films, my dad thinks he’s a disgrace to the black community. And I grew up knowing that two people could feel different ways about a subject, and both could be right. And that subject in question was what it meant to be Black and what it meant to love Blackness. So I felt like I didn’t need to like one thing or another just because it was Black.
College forced me to confront all types of people who did act like that. It scared me, it almost felt like Blackness was a fetish, and it was weird because there were many Black people fetishizing it. I wondered if I would have been like that if I didn’t grow up the way I did.
Sometimes I feel uninspired talking about Blackness at Oberlin. It feels academic and stifling, and it feels like a performance that I don’t want to be a part of. And then I spend time in Chicago, in the “violent areas” of the city where my family currently lives but where I didn’t grow up, and half of the conversations I have in college feel so silly, because I’m sitting on a bus trying to politely talk to a drunk, older Black man with the most beautiful eyes who’s telling me about some bitch that fucked him over and how he’s just trying to survive, and I end up wondering if a guy like that would ever find me attractive and pursue me and want to start a life with me. Because every once in a while, I may hook up with a guy like that, but it’s in a bathhouse, and it’s usually after all of the white guys have rejected us, and it’s never beautiful, just sad.
Sometimes people talk about Black love and how beautiful and powerful it is, and then I think about the Black love in my life that I experienced, and it was my mother trying to stifle my creativity so that I would be more business-like and not a failure like my dad, and it was my father trying to make me the improved version of him even though I could never be like him. They loved me, but it was not always positive or beautiful. So maybe there is a qualifier that someone should add to it, like “good” Black love. I don’t know, I don’t always get to talk about it with people, so I end up talking about it with myself.
Sometimes I can tell that a Black man who is talking to me can sense a weird power dynamic between us because I carry myself like someone who goes to an elite college, so I call him “sir” to give him respect, even though my dad forbade me from ever calling anyone “sir” or “ma’am.” He felt that it was reminiscent of slavery and sharecropping and servitude, and a tool of survival that I didn’t need to use. But it’s funny, because all the while, the guy I call sir, my father and I are all poor and trying to survive.
I guess all of these rants make me a “race man,” in the tradition of race folk in history like August Wilson, Harry Belafonte, or Nina Simone. It means that I’ll be “pigeonholed” into only talking about race, which is funny since all of these theories of intersectionality state that you can’t talk about anything without talking about race.
I wonder if in 100 years, people in the U.S. can talk about race more effectively. My best friend’s mom told me before I went to Oberlin that I grew up in a generation where the children of liberal parents were raised to think that talking about race was racist, so now they are adults with no idea of how to talk about race, and are learning now. These are mostly non-Black peers, but some Black peers as well, depending on the circumstance. But because of what I’ve been through and who I am and where I’m going and the fact that these peers are more likely to listen to me then more conservative-leaning people who will easily dismiss me as a “troublemaker” at best, I can start to talk to these peers of mine about what I know and help them start to think through these conversations. Feels kind of martyr-esque. But it’s been the cross I bear since I first came to Oberlin.