I'm Open to Interracial Dating and Maybe You Should Be Too

by Tiffanie Drayton

Last year, I was asked to be featured in a documentary about catcalling. I had no idea that within moments of responding to the question, "When was the first time you were catcalled?" I would completely break down in tears. I was overwhelmed by the shame, guilt, and anger that accompanied the memories. Recalling them was very difficult for me, especially on camera. Still, I detailed an encounter with a group of Black men in their 30’s and 40’s, as an 11-year-old girl.

"Come over here," one of the men requested, interrupting my walk to the supermarket. I hesitated, then approached the group.

"I always see you going to school," the same man said, "I could school you. I bet there's a thing or two you don't know."
That was the first of many encounters I shared of being harassed throughout adolescence and adulthood. By the time I finished recounting my experiences, my cheeks were flushed, and my eyes were puffy, covered in tiny white residue left behind from the tissues I used to dry my tears during breaks.

The director and producer of the project, a Black man in his late 30’s, stared at me, puzzled, when the shoot finally came to an end. “I'm sorry you had such a hard time with catcalling growing up,” he said, “but I don't think its as big a deal as women are making it.”

His callous insensitivity did not surprise me. After several conversations with Black men about the horrors Black women face while walking down the street, and Black men’s dismissal and even denial of that plight, I was already well-aware of one sad, yet undeniable fact:Black women have no allies. And thus, she must fend for and emotionally support herself.

As a 25-year-old Black woman who writes about gender and racial inequality on a daily basis, that is precisely what I have learned to do: fend for myself. I never expect white people to understand the realities that people of color—specifically Black women—face in a society rigged against them. Matter of fact, I expect dismissal and anger. When I expressed dismay when a white guy I was dating said, “You have the prettiest face I have ever seen on a Black girl,” he responded by telling me he didn't care to have to always be politically correct. In other words, it did not matter to him whether or not my feelings were hurt by his backhanded compliment.

Similarly, I do not expect Black men to feel empathetic towards or take a stand for Black women in the battle against sexism and patriarchy. I accept the fact that many Black men find the problems that affect women like me to be “non-issues,” unworthy of discussion, let alone something they feel might be worth changing.

I once dated a Black man who claimed to love me, but argued that I should suck it up when I was suffering from severe anxiety and fear, after a man stalked me near my home.

"Don't be the damsel in distress, waiting for a knight in shining armor," he suggested and hung up the phone.

I understand that, generally, potential male partners—regardless of their race—will often be unwilling or simply unable to provide the kind of support that I need, as a Black woman, to endure such an onerous existence. That understanding has major impacts on who I choose to date and how I date—especially as I grow older and become more open to meeting a potential “life partner.” It has also forced me to conclude that if my partnership with a Black man is not going to provide me, as a woman of color, with the emotional support and understanding that I need to feel secure, certainly something else must.

What that something else is precisely may indeed offend many, but it is nonetheless pertinent to the success of any relationship: I need financial security.

I was raised by a single parent—a hardworking Black woman—and I have never received a gift or birthday card from my father, who is also Black. Sadly, this scenario is neither original nor improbable; a vast number of Black women were raised in single, woman-headed households with very little support from men. Regardless of that fact, when I first began to date, I was very open to dating men of any background: Latino, Black, White; poor, rich, middle-class. Back then, it was all about having strong feelings for a partner and having those feelings be mutual. I imagined I could support myself, do it all, and be “Superwoman,” as society so readily requires of Black women.

Then I began a relationship with a first-generation Russian immigrant from an upper-middle class family. At the time, I was mildly depressed from spending my high school career in an overcrowded, underfunded school whose student body consisted mostly of minorities, and I was still trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to do with my life. In the interim, I decided going to a junior college was the best option. Mainly, because I did not have anyone around me to support me or push me to apply to a four-year college, and partially because I thought I was too poor to afford any better.

"You are way too smart to be wasting your time in community college," my then boyfriend said one day.

He was right. For the most part, I was not challenged intellectually or academically and deeply wished to be in a more stimulating environment.

"But my family doesn't have any money," I responded, "I can't afford to go where I really want to go."

Growing up relatively well to do, he never considered the reality of my financial constraints before.

"You are just limiting yourself, Tiff," he said after a moment, "You deserve better than that."

He meant it, too, so he set out to prove precisely that to me. Throughout the duration of our two year relationship, he proved to me that I deserved better—that I too had the right to think outside of the constraints of my finances. On his dime, we traveled. We went skiing every weekend. We tried new foods. And most importantly, he arranged for me to attend several college open houses in New York City, where I wanted to go to school.

With his support, I enrolled and graduated from a private college that allowed me access to new opportunities, specifically the wonderful world of writing. I often imagine what would've become of my college career without his influence and the thought frightens me. It also forces me to acknowledge the truth: Many Black men and men of color would not have been able to provide me with the financial support that he did.

When we consider the facts, Black and Latino men have the lowest median weekly income compared to White and Asian men. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Black men earned $667 compared to a median earning of $904 for white men in 2014. These median numbers do not account for the nearly one million Black men who are incarcerated or those who are unemployed.

We know and understand why this is: A system of racism has cyclically disallowed Black men (and men of color) from access to higher education and employment, and instead criminalizes and incarcerates them. We also know that a Black man who has never been arrested has the same likelihood of getting a job as a white man who has been to jail. Still, the burden of who shoulders the responsibility of this racial inequity in terms of relationships and families often falls squarely on the shoulders of Black women who must not only work and be the breadwinners of their families, but also take on the responsibility of raising the children and maintaining their households.

According to the CDC, 71.5% of Black babies were born to unwed mothers in 2013. Though that does not mean that the number of women were necessarily "single" (many couples cohabitate without getting married), it is still safe to assume that a decent number of these women will inevitably become single parents. And of that number of single parents, most of those ladies will have to hold down a job in order to make ends meet.

All of these financial, emotional, and familial obligations are very burdensome. And those burdens are further exacerbated by Black men’s dismissal—and even contempt—of women's issues. After all, should the women who are holding down the Black community by raising our children not even have the right to feel comfortable walking the streets alone? In the opinion of many Black men, whether they do or do not is inconsequential. This, of course, merely provides an example of the many ways that Black men marginalize Black women's issues, to further a male-centric agenda. The list of such indiscretions seems to be one that is never ending.

I am a realist, and that realism requires honesty. In my honest opinion, in the absence of a Black male population that has access to financial stability, or is willing to be emotionally supportive of and stand beside women of color, Black women should certainly at least be open to seeking that support elsewhere.

This is not an indictment of all Black men. There is most certainly a sizable demographic of Black men who are not only financially, but emotionally supportive of their families. However, there is also a vast number of men who simply are not and cannot.

For Black women, dating is very much like an unfair game of musical chairs, where the number of chairs represent suitable dating options who are Black men, and the number of players (some of whom are non-Black women) far outnumber those options. The possibilities for "winning" are very slim. That's the truth many Black women must face, if they truly seek an emotionally and financially supportive partnership.

I am not exclusively advocating for interracial dating. But I most certainly think Black women should be open to as many options as possible. I know for a fact that if I weren't, I probably would have never lucked into a writing career through the connections I made at my university in New York City.

Photo: Shutterstock

Tiffanie Drayton is a regular contributor to For Harriet.

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