Thursday, May 2, 2013

Why Your Skin Isn't Why I Like You

A few days ago, I had lunch with two really close friends who are dating. They've been together for over a year and are super cute together :) To keep up with the cuteness radiating from our table, I mentioned a guy that I've recently become attracted to, and my friend, the boyfriend of the couple, asked me if he was black. I offhandedly responded yes, just like I would if asked if he played soccer or went to church. My friend responded with what, to me, seemed like pleasant encouragement, but his girlfriend halted the conversation, asking him why it was good that I was interested in a black guy, pushing him by asking if he would ever say the same thing about her dating a black guy.

I silently watched the conversation, not even sure I knew how I felt about any of the questions or answered. I knew neither of them were trying to offend me--- they're wonderful friends who never meant anything by the conversation, but that didn't mean the topic didn't stick.

I've ignored my race for most of my life. I grew up in a well off black family, have a medium-tan complexion, and went to private school all my life. The media's portrayal of the typical black family in America just didn't seem to correlate with my life. I went to a diverse, but very small elementary school (I graduated with 8 other students from 6th grade), so my parents spent a lot of time and effort encouraging my siblings and I to develop friendships with other black kids. A lot of those friends ended up being kids that they're friends had, and yet, I still didn't feel like I connected. In middle school, I entered a new, larger, suburban private school where I was met by less diversity and lots of wealth. There were affinity groups for students of color, but I secretly felt guilty for feeling more at home and in tune with the white friends I had made at school.

When high school started and I began to take guys a bit more seriously, I began to get mixed messages from black friends and even my parents about who I "should" date. That's not to say anyone ever told me that dating a white guy wasn't ok, but very few of my black girlfriends ever gushed about the blonde hotties in class. My parents less subtle, often commenting that "I probably wouldn't want to date or marry a white guy, right?" I pretended like I was ignoring everyone's opinions piling on top of me. I'd repeat over and over that race didn't matter to me while questioning just how ridiculously blanketing that statement was or whether I was into mostly white guys in an attempt to oppose what society thought I was supposed to do.

With all these mixed messages hurling towards me, I did what I always do: write. I questioned myself, the world around, the advice I've listened to, and most importantly questioned what all that meant for what I was going to do next. I'm going to date who I want. I'm going to end up with a great guy in my life one day (hopefully), but I'm not going to spend time preoccupied about what people may or may not say about who I chose to spend my time with. I'm not trying to say tradition, culture, and ethnicity don't matter. Those will all be parts of what make up anyone you meet, but, for me, they aren't the main points. They aren't even on the checklist.