How Anti-Blackness Shapes Heterosexual Black Men’s Dating “Preferences”
Yesterday on Twitter I was called “one of the most annoying feminists on Twitter,” a “bitch,” an “insecure bitch” as well as “bitter” several times by Black men whose dating “preferences" I decided to challenge. To challenge men is to be called “bitch," or "bitter" if you’re a Black woman; that’s a favorite insult from men, especially from Black men. It was rather ironic too since just yesterday in my essay Pop Culture, Social Justice and Race: When Black People Love Whiteness More Than Fellow Black People, I wrote about Black people who openly spew venom at me in their defense of White stars and anti-Blackness. The mass conversation occurred literally within a couple of hours after my essay was posted.
Many heterosexual Black men are genuinely clueless as to how their dating “preferences” are based on anti-Blackness more than love or interest in anyone not Black, and how this anti-Blackness is shaped intraracially and interracially because of how White supremacy, internalized racism, colourism, Eurocentric beauty myths as standards and misogynoir impact them and are proliferated by them.
White supremacy is the overall culprit. Because Whiteness is set in juxtaposition to Blackness and mixed Black women as well as other women of colour who aren’t Black are placed on a sliding scale of what is considered not only beautiful but worthy in relation to how close to White they appear, can assimilate to be or how far away from Blackness they are, ultimately even when Black men decide that a biracial woman, a fair skinned Asian/Latina woman or even a darker woman of colour yet lighter than dark Black women is “better” than a Black woman, they are engaging in White supremacist logic, which by design is anti-Black.
White supremacy accompanies racism. By continual anti-Blackness propagandist messages (for centuries) being pumped out through media, marketing, art, legislation, and general popular culture, avoiding absorption of these messages is futile. It’s impossible. What is possible is to learn how to recognize, deconstruct, challenge and reject these messages. What is possible is to learn how to create and embrace counter-messages that speak to the wholeness of Black people. But it is a challenge. And many Black men are incredibly unequipped for this. They refuse to challenge hegemonic ideologies designed to infer that Black women are the “worst” women, the “ugliest” women, the “meanest” women and the most “worthless” women. They internalize this racism and since it’s easier to agree with White supremacist power structures that convey these messages—ones they accept as truth—than to challenge White supremacy and give up the myth of assuming patriarchal power as a partner with White men, they rather join in with the world and attack Black women.
Now some will ask how can they think this despite having Black mothers. Easily. Patriarchy is most easily facilitated through rigid binaries. Thus, some create god/devil binaries where their mothers are examples of “exceptional” Black women but any other Black woman is “undesirable,” so Black men are off the hook. But there’s a more complicated side as well. Some of them genuinely hate their mothers while they simultaneously feel guilt about this. They blame their mothers for their Blackness that they subconsciously want to reject. But it’s practically unconscionable to speak against one’s own Black mother, especially as a Black son since preference for sons and protection of sons over daughters is common not just in Black culture but within many races. That’s just a facet of patriarchy. In some cases, the mother who stays is hated over the idealization of the father who left. There’s a conglomerate of negative feelings that they have for their mothers but cannot project them on their mothers without debilitating guilt. Thus, these feelings are projected onto any and all other Black women. It’s not far-fetched that some Black men could feel this way about their mothers. Black motherhood—outside of the loyal mammy figure for White families—is demonized as “emasculating,” welfare-ridden, or hypersexual. To think that all Black men separate negative messages about Black motherhood from Black womanhood itself is to not understand how controlling images work. Many of the characteristics that Black men claim that they hate in Black women are actually ones their mothers have. But they will simultaneously claim that they love their mothers.
Colourism, or “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color” (term coined by Alice Walker) is a facet born out of White supremacy. (I reviewed the recent film Dark Girls that attempted to educate on this topic, albeit problematically.) Whether examining the one drop rule or past terminology such as “mulatto,” “quadroon" and "octoroon,” it can be clearly seen that the proximity to Whiteness within Blackness is deemed as “above” Blackness but still below Whiteness. When Black men decide that a Black woman can’t be “too Black” to be attractive they’re engaging in colourism. They’ve adopted the message of the inferiority of Blackness, which is especially portrayed via music, television, film and advertising/marketing. The sheer unwillingness for Whites (who dominate Hollywood, news media and Madison Avenue etc.) to cast/hire dark Black women for a variety of roles/jobs AND continually cast light or White women in juxtaposition to these roles—and portray them as beautiful, feminine and worthy—reveals the dual edged sword of racism and White supremacy. For Black men to suggest that these messages that they absorb in abundance from birth and in every sphere—just like everyone else does—doesn’t impact them would be comical if it wasn’t tragic.
Eurocentric beauty standards are more than just about how “White” women look or preferring only White women. Beauty and beauty privilege are complex and I’ve written about this before in Conversations About Beauty and Beauty Privilege Need To Be Intersectional and Continuing The Conversation About Beauty and Beauty Privilege. Some Black men reject both White and Black women. But beyond this basic rejection is anti-Blackness and sexism. Viewing women outside of the White and Black races as “exotic,” and being able to tap into the same phallocentric power that White men do (who by far tend to treat any woman who is not White as sexually exotic and deviant compared to the White supremacist myth of the purity of White womanhood and White heterosexuality) and do this as a peer is where White supremacy meets patriarchy. This can clearly be seen by the latest trend of Black men who treat Brazilian women as exotic sex objects that are “superior” to Black women in America, even if they’re paying sex workers to perform a hegemonic patriarchal relationship as a fantasy. They conflate the paid work of some women with how Black women should be, in general. This action makes them a “peer” of White men versus subordinate as they may be through status or class in America. A lot of Black men find power in being able to treat a woman as exotic and be a phallocentric peer to White men. When push comes to shove, even racist White men will align in patriarchy with Black men before ever siding with a Black woman. The Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill incident is one of the most timeless examples.
Misogynoir (from the word misogyny; [miso-: hater, gyn-: woman, noir: Black]; term coined at Crunk Feminist Collective) or specific anti-Black misogyny—where race and gender together are factors and often this misogyny creates a binary with White women (where White women represent “good” womanhood and Black women do not) or has levels that include other women of colour, but only insofar as Black women are the most degraded and placed at the bottom—is also a factor when many heterosexual Black men assert their dating “preferences.” They rarely can verbalize what they desire without also making it known that they don’t desire or that they even hate Black women. Like I mentioned on Twitter yesterday, some sage wisdom from @bad_dominicana, Black men loving Black women isn’t enough. They also have to actively unlearn the hatred of Black women. The hatred of Black women IS taught. Whether it’s buying into Strong Black Woman narratives that dehumanize us, believing that we are “unrapeable” because our sexuality is deemed inherently “deviant,” accepting the message that the further away from Black that a woman is, the more beautiful, kind and worthwhile she is, that Black women, not imperialist White supremacist capitalist patriarchy destroy Black families and an incredibly long, could fill a book list of anti-Black woman propagandist myths, misinterpretations and lies, Black men and the rest of the world are actively taught to hate Black women. And since so many Black men already don’t love Black women and can’t unlearn the hatred of Black women because they don’t have the tools to even recognize they’ve absorbed White supremacist propaganda as absolute truth, they can’t recognize how misogynoir shapes their dating preferences and how they proliferate misogynoir.
Certainly interracial couples (of a variety of races and ethnicities) exist that openly discuss race, aren’t based on fetish, White supremacy or self-hatred and even recognize how propagandist messages can shape their preferences away from their own race. They most certainly aren’t all toxic. However, when Asian women, for example, (who marry out the most, to White men) don’t recognize how imperialist, racist and patriarchal constructions of masculinity and manhood impact how they perceive Asian men and when Black men (who marry out the second most, to White women) don’t recognize how patriarchal, racist and misogynoirist constructions of womanhood impact how they perceive Black women, they’re literally going to proliferate White supremacist thinking. When White men and White women are positioned as the “best” and “normal” choice for a partner, even over that person’s own race, and when the idea that the closer to White/furthest from Black that any person is, the “better,” is added to this, it’s where White supremacy meets dating and marriage.
Black men unwilling to do the work of examining their “preferences” against Black women and how they are shaped aren’t as comfortable in their ignorance as it would seem. If so, declarations of what they hate (Black women) wouldn’t be as critical as declarations of what they “prefer.” And sadly, some of them have also bought into another facet of White supremacy—the idea that preferring Black women, their own race, is “racism.” This is more than about them not understanding what racism actually is; many people, usually White but not always, don’t. This is about how White supremacy makes loving a Black woman “dirty” and “wrong” at worst and “revolutionary” at best.
Black men like I have described here never stop to question why preferring or loving Black women is “racist” (a wrong, albeit serious word to use here) but rejecting or hating Black women is “just a preference.” White supremacy is sinister in that it often cannot even be recognized. It convinces some Black men that they are “freely choosing” to reject or hate Black women and this choice is not connected to anything else.