I Dated A Black Man For 4 Years (And It Didn’t Make Me Any Less Racist)
By Allie Kruk
We met on a hot August night just before the start of the school year. I wore a sheer tank-top and cutoffs; he wore a red Polo shirt.
A mutual friend introduced us when 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P.” started playing. I immediately got that look of pure joy I always get when a throwback from the early 2000’s comes on.
We danced until we were so hot and sweaty we needed to step outside for some air.
I still think of him whenever I hear “P.I.M.P.,”which is admittedly a strange song to associate with the person you spent four years in love with and three years living with. Nevertheless, the words: “Now shorty she in the club, she dancing for dollars” always make me think fondly of that August night.
He was there for my graduation from college, as I was for his.
I drove his little brother to his first day of kindergarten.
He held my hand in the hospital as my father died of leukemia, and he listened to me recite my father’s eulogy over and over again before the funeral.
For the years we spent together, we were each other’s people.
We broke up just before the fourth of July at a rest stop between Pennsylvania and New York. We tried to make it work for a couple of weeks after that, but I think we both knew when I pulled over on the side of the highway that our run as a couple had ended.
It’s a cliché, but we had been growing apart instead of together. Different interests and increasingly disparate worldviews made it difficult to be in a relationship.
We ended our lease, split the security deposit, and moved to different cities.
It was sad, but as far as breakups go, it wasn’t the worst I’ve heard about or experienced.
When I think about our relationship, it’s mostly in terms of the good memories we shared — the time we looked out over the top of the Empire State Building on his 21st birthday.
When we went running together on Christmas Eve morning before the chaos of our respective family gatherings.
The day we moved into our first apartment or the nights spent sharing a twin bed in our tiny dorm room.
I share this story because I want you to understand what our relationship was before I describe what it absolutely was not.
Recently, I’ve seen several white women get called out for their subtly racist comments (usually of the “I don’t see color”/“All Lives Matter” variety) and say that they can’t be racist because their boyfriend/husband/lover/partner is Black.
It’s basically a (more disgusting) version of the “but I have Black friends” excuse.
And it’s deeply, infuriatingly wrong.
My relationship with a person of color — let’s call him T. — didn’t make me any less entangled in white supremacy.
It didn’t give me a pass to say any old racist thing that popped into my white lady brain. And it certainly didn’t make my white privilege evaporate into thin air like pixie dust.
Does pixie dust evaporate? I’m not actually sure.
*Googles “Does pixie dust evaporate?” Finds mostly articles about LSD*
The point is that proximity to Blackness doesn’t make white people less racist. If that’s how white supremacy worked then I’m pretty sure slave-owning white men would have been some of the least racist people on this planet (spoiler alert: they were not).
T. could never undo my indoctrination in a white supremacist culture, and his presence in my life didn’t somehow absolve me of the benefits I derive from a racist society.
T. and your Black boyfriend/partner/husband/lover are human beings — not white lady magic wands that make your racist ish disappear, and we (white women) need to stop acting like they are.
It’s weird, gross, and deeply objectifying.
Now that that’s clear, here’s what I did learn and experience through my relationship with T.
When I was in an interracial relationship, white people felt very comfortable being openly racist around me (as opposed to the usual, hush-hush racism that happens in “polite” society).
The term “jungle fever” came up more than once, as did the more common, but equally dehumanizing phrase: “once you go Black, you never go back.”
Black men are not interchangeable sex objects that exist solely for the pleasure of white women — which is why that saying needed to die like yesterday.
In fact, a lot of white people felt fascinated by my sex life when I was with T. in a way that has never happened when I dated white men.
White women asked me repeatedly if “it was really true what they say about Black guys,” which, for the record, is a bizarre way of responding to “I’m thinking of moving in with my boyfriend.”
I remember one time we were grocery shopping when an older white woman tapped me on the shoulder.
“You two just make the cutest couple. You’re going to have the most adorable mulatto babies! Can we still say that now? Mulatto?” she asked.
“Um, no. We definitely can’t,” I stammered, still kind of stunned that this woman both pictured T. and I having babies and also felt comfortable enough to say so out loud. To a total stranger. Using a cringe-worthy epithet.
I imagine that these incidents are a fraction of the microaggressive, racist comments people of color deal with on a day-to-day basis.
In being exposed to more overt racism from white people, I became less concerned about being “nice” when it came to addressing racist bullshit.
A few days ago, I was on a Tinder date when the phrase “I’m not a racist but…” got said. Which meant I had to give him a short (it wasn’t short) lecture on white privilege, the lasting impact of slavery and Jim Crow, and how white guilt is an insufficient emotional response to sustained racist violence.
He responded by calling me “deeply unpleasant,” which is the nicest compliment I’ve ever gotten from a white guy I met on Tinder.
It’s true: I am unpleasant. Because as Damon Young at The Root put it, “polite white people are useless.”
Civility is utterly feckless in the face of inhuman cruelty. So, after being exposed to a fraction of the bonkers-racist things white people do, I decide to forgo the pleasantries that reinforce white privilege and white comfort.
Instead, I’m unpleasant. And crotchety. And a bit mouthy.
As one (white) ex-boyfriend put it, “You talk about racism a lot. And like, in a really sad and angry way.”
Good. I have the privilege of not being labelled another “angry Black woman” when I talk about race — I might as well use it.
I became more comfortable with being called out on my own racist bullshit.
I remember T. and I were walking down the street when we passed a cop car. Feeling protective and fearful, I moved to the other side of T. so that I was between him and the officer in the vehicle.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“I got scared. So I wanted to protect you,” I replied.
“Al, you can’t protect me from the police or any other type of racist violence. But more importantly, I need you to be my girlfriend. Not my white savior.”
The first time I got called out on my racism, I froze. I was eighteen years old and told two Black men who lived in my dorm that my favorite movie was The Blind Side (which it isn’t. It’s a little-known Michelle Pfeiffer movie called To Gillian On Her 37th Birthday, but I didn’t feel like explaining the whole history behind that choice so I went with a movie about a white lady “saving” a Black football player).
One of the men replied by saying “that’s racist,” and I literally said nothing until someone else changed the subject.
Because white supremacy doesn’t teach us to own up to our mistakes. White supremacy teaches us denial. It teaches us how to minimize others’ pain. It tells us that our (white) feelings are worth more than Black survival.
However, when T. called me out on the whole cop car incident, we talked. I stopped the defensive act and started listening to the person I loved tell me about how I had harmed him. And I worked on doing better in the future.
I’m not perfect at this. I mess up a lot when it comes to owning my racism and enacting reparations for it. Sometimes, I center my own feelings. Sometimes, I get defensive.
But being accountable to someone like T. made me better. It was healing. Because as my friend Nicole likes to say, it’s loving to help another person be less terrible.
I’m still grateful to him for holding me to that higher moral standard.
But mostly, what I learned from that relationship had to do with being in love in your early 20’s.
I learned what it felt like to share a home with someone. To “do life” together. To navigate different family dynamics (his aunts once jokingly told me I hugged “like a white person” which is to say, stiff and kind of WASP-y. I’m working on it).
We grew up together in the way that college sweethearts do. I’m not saying our racial differences didn’t matter — they did — but they weren’t the only thing that mattered.
And they certainly didn’t give me an all-inclusive pass to act on my white supremacist impulses and claim I “wasn’t racist.” That’s reckless nonsense. And it needs to stop.
So, white women, love your Black husband/partner/lover/boyfriend, but don’t use them as a pawn to further your own need to feel good about yourself. Because we don’t deserve to feel good about ourselves and the ways in which we benefit from white supremacist violence.