A blessing that I have found as a writer and particularly through my blogging is that more often than I ever imagined, folks that read my writing come to me with questions wondering if I've ever written on the topic or wondering if I would share my thoughts on a subject.
With total and complete humility, I am really and truly honored when that happens. And sometimes, I don't have much to offer but I always try to share my thoughts honestly, including owning when I just don't know.
But now and again someone asks a question that I have not only thought about but also lived in a really personal way. Recently, a long time acquaintance of mine from Minnesota sent me a really honest and searching email. In some real ways he and I have had parallel journeys. We are both mixed race queer kids from Minneapolis. In fact, we both grew up in the same neighborhood. We are about the same age, and, in fact, though I didn't know him growing up, we have many friends in common. I met this gentleman almost as soon as I started going out to 18+ night at the bars in Minneapolis.
Unsurprisingly, in the mid-90s, he and I were two of a very very very small handful of queer men of color in the bars at the time.
When he wrote to me, he was asking if I had ever had the experience of having a black gay man ask me if I have ever dated a black man. Or, even more directly, accused me of being only into "hot white boys." He also asked if I have had the experience upon meeting someone in person or online and politely declining their interest if I have been accused, immediately, of my declination being about the color of the person asking, specifically, black skin. He also talked about the frustration of being in those moments and feeling that based on the place the conversation had gone that he was unable to answer honestly. For him, the honest answer is that he hasn't dated a black man. In my case the answer is yes.
But the distance between his no and my yes is not all that great.
Like my friend, I grew up in what is still the third whitest state in the country. In the last 15 years, Minneapolis as a city has diversified in leaps and bounds. The city that is now is not the city, demographically, that it was in 1995. There were no queer Latin nights at the bar. The black queer community was deep underground and it organized itself through a series of house parties. The queer Latino community also eschewed the gay bars for house parties and straight Latin clubs. Indeed, we knew who each other were at the salsa bars but it was a community in the closet--a really big closet. The Asian/Pacific Islander queer community at the time would throw late night BBQs in order to get together, and they would, from time to time, go out en masse and dance all together in the same corner of the bars. The gay bars were dominated by white gay men who felt absolutely no restraint in saying clearly and to your face, "I don't date black men." And, frankly, it didn't matter how light skinned a black man was...if the skin wasn't pearly white, then you weren't on the menu. There were the exceptions, most often white men that fetishized men of color, but, overwhelmingly, the message was quite clear: Black ain't beautiful in the queer community in Minneapolis.
Add to that the conundrum of the mixed race family. I have no idea the details of my friend's family, but I was raised by my white Mother and her family. And, although my Mom is now married to her fourth husband of color, I was deeply aware of how my own family struggled with race, and I knew some of our family history around race. In particular, I knew that my Mother's relationships with men of color had caused deep divisions in the family.
Throw on top of that all of the media messages we get about what constitutes beauty...and you have a trifecta of factors, particularly in a city with almost no visible queer community of color or examples of brown and black men loving each other openly, which has lead to many a person of color in Minneapolis that, indeed, is only into "hot white boys."
Further, my friend went on to discuss the fact that sometimes people are just attracted to a certain type of person, look, etc. And that there are folks that won't date someone because of their skin color, but he had a hard time wrapping his head around why folks would go into the world and start from a place of assuming that if they are turned down for a date/hook up by another man of color that the reason must be about race.
I really have no problem understanding that.
I have heard too many times and been told to my face or via chat on a hook up site that, "I am cute but I don't do XYZ," that I am suspicious, particularly with white men, when it comes to that. I don't assume the rejection is based on race unless they admit that it is, but when they do, I about lose my mind.
And, when a man of color asks me or accuses me of not being interested because he is black, I general have a very compassionate reaction and understand where that question originates. It originates in the very real racism, and in the case of queer men of color, internalized racism that exists overtly in the queer community. Unless said person that I've rejected is being a straight up biznatch, I generally am really clear about why it is that I am not interested...usually its because the man has a butter face, but, instead of saying that, I simply outline, nicely, that this or that isn't working for me. And, if necessary, I can always pull out my slut book and list off the 100 or so black men that I have quite happily dated and or rode like a mechanical bull at a country bar in Texas. Ahem.
That's Brandon now...Brandon in 1995 wouldn't have dated a black man to save his life. And that shit was all about me.
I grew up with a Step-Dad that beat my ass so badly that I still take anti-PTSD medication to this day. I grew up in a family where I received, never ever consciously, indirect messages that black was somehow bad--as I knew that my family had been angry with my Mother for dating black men....so....in a child's mind....logically....dating black men must be a bad thing. Being mixed race and one of the "smart kids," I had been given shit by other black kids in my neighborhood and all throughout school, so by the time I left for college, except for the black kids in my magnet program in high school, I didn't want anything to do with the community--and I had never experienced the very real and beautiful educated and loving black community that exists nor did I understand the roots of the anger of those beautiful black men that ridiculed me in school....I had been the target of anger from black men that were justifiably pissed off at white folks but since they couldn't attack them, I was the next best thing. And then coming out when and where I did and being told clearly that black wasn't beautiful was the final nail in my self-hating coffin. I then ran off to a school with exactly 9 U.S. born students of color about half of which were black. So, you know, not a lot of unlearning negative messages about blackness and beauty coming from that quarter (though there were a lot of white fake hippy children playing djembe and taking African dance...GOD HELP ME!)
I didn't think about any of that nor did I engage with any of that when looking at the men that I was dating, I just told myself that I just wasn't attracted to black men and that, you know, people are attracted to different people, so what's the big deal.
The big deal was all that shit beneath the surface that was the real reason why I wasn't attracted to black men...and it had nothing to do with black men, everything to do with me, but...and this is the part that is about community...by not engaging with the truth behind why I wouldn't date black men...and by turning a number of black men down...I was replicating the exact cycle of hurt that was dividing black and brown men from each other and made me unable to find my own people beautiful.
I was lucky. I transferred from my first college to the University of Minnesota, and Minneapolis had started undergoing a radical demographic shift and queer people of color were asserting themselves into the community. Folks were also pushing back against the racism found there. I started doing national work with other queer people of color and was given the opportunity to work in close community with loving people that knew EXACTLY the reason why it is so hard for brown men to love each other, and, through their gentle love, I was able to start seeing that my lack of attraction wasn't really just a "preference," but a result of a series of personal historical and community history events that decided for me what constituted beauty and attractiveness. I worked at a queer youth organization that was mostly queer youth of color organizing with other queer youth of color. And we all struggled around these issues together.
Finally, I made a decision that I was only going to date men of color and for almost four years that is exactly what I did. I had the blessing and the privilege to look into my own past, see my wounds, and work to heal them with other people that had experienced the same thing.
And because of that, to this day, when I am confronted by anger from men of color that immediately believe that I am not interested in them because of race...I understand. For me, now, it isn't true. And I am able to share clearly why it is that I am not interested in a particular person with the complete and secure knowledge that it isn't about race. (And I am fairly certain that the parade of nations that has made it way through my bed including some lesser known island nations in Micronesia is a certain indicator that the days of only white men in my bedroom are long gone). But I understand the anger. I appreciate the anger. And I hope that the reasons for the anger will one day no longer be there.
But that is going to take more intentional work on the part of brown and black men to examine the decisions we make, understand the decision we make, heal from any wounds that we have taken, and then look again at who we love and who we fuck. And, if at that point you still have a preference for this or that type of person that includes a particular shade of skin, you at least know that it is actually a preference and not a choice that was made for you by history, racism, and a standard of beauty that most often doesn't include men with skin like ours.