On the Nurturing Potential of Black Lesbian Relationships

by Kesiena Boom

For anyone who knows me — and quite a few people who don’t (thanks to this essay I recently published about the whole sorry mess) — it’s no secret that I have made some really awful decisions with regard to my love life. To be specific, it is widely known that for a significant period of time I dated and lusted after white women who could be described, quite frankly, as ‘the worst.’ I misguidedly and self-destructively sought acceptance and worth in the arms of whiteness, as though it could strengthen my sense of self and firmly place me in the box marked ‘validated.’ Luckily for me, there was light at the end of the ‘internalised racism/reverence of white girls’ tunnel and now I’m firmly of the belief that dating another Black woman is the best thing a queer Black girl can do for herself. I really believe that even if you happen to live around the most switched on and knowledgable white women in the world — who take the time to make themselves aware of the way that racism operates — and consistently and quietly tackle it in their everyday lives, you should still date a Black woman.

Making a conscious decision to save your affections and attention for Black women instead of pouring it into white women is radical. It shouldn’t be, but it is. Because who is there for lesbian and bisexual Black women aside from others just like us? Who will affirm and nourish us and see us in our entirety instead of fetishizing us and reducing us to our bodies?

Most depictions of Black lesbians in mainstream media show us with white girlfriends, for example Bette and Tina/Bette and Jodi in The L Word and Lena and Stef in The Fosters. Our queerness is more palatable if twinned with a blonde woman it seems. And in real life, same sex couples are more likely to be interracial than straight ones. Black women loving other Black women isn’t something that is widely represented or discussed. I had to read the work of Audre Lorde before I ever came across two Black women caring for and fucking each other.

Most people are straight. They have no real choice. If they want a relationship, it comes with an inherent power disparity. Not to be too blunt about it but men are the dominant class in our society. It is in the hands of men that the economic, social, political and cultural power is concentrated. They maintain this by actively exploiting, dismissing and devaluing our labour, bodies and minds. Anyone who denies this is living in a small hole untroubled by reality.

Women who love women have the chance to sidestep some of this. We have the chance to build a life with someone whose identity isn’t predicated on the violent suppression of our own. Isn’t that kind of wonderful? Though of course, it’s not that simple. Because if you’re a Black woman in a relationship with a white woman, the whole ‘centuries of racial degradation’ can really put a dampener on things.

Loving another Black woman gives you the chance to experience what it’s like to come to your partner as an equal, for your relationship to be entirely about each other as individuals, rather than it having the taint of oppressive power structures. I know that I am sick of having bonds with people that begin to fray because of differences in identity. In a utopian society, it wouldn’t matter if your partner was the same race or gender as you, but that’s just not the world we live in. Like it or not, it matters, and I am aware of so many Black women who love their white partners, but are frustrated by the limitations of their racial understanding. To avoid this feeling in the relationship with the person that you want to build a life with is something unbelievably precious and incredibly rare.

As someone with a ‘triple minority’ identity almost everyone we encounter will have some kind of systemic power over us on at least one axis. Why should we have to endure that in our most intimate relationships? Why wouldn’t we choose to have a space in which we can just exist?

Rather than your relationship becoming an exercise in the various ways in which someone you love can let you down over and over again by enacting or defending racial microaggressions, instead you can have a partner who can empathise wholly and truly when you encounter racist bullshit, and who can help you shut down said bullshit from a place of lived experience and keenly felt furious empathy.

Loving another Black woman means that you won’t have to spend precious time and energy explaining exactly why Kylie Jenner makes you want to hurl or what it’s like to have every random on the street wanting to pet your hair or, heaven forbid, why reverse racism isn’t real. You don’t have to ‘do the work’ constantly, you can just be. With a white partner you have to carry out emotional labour to guide them through the process of education, or if you’re ‘lucky’ enough to have someone who understands what whiteness has done to the world, to soothe their white guilt. That shit is exhausting. No one wants their relationship to feel like a weird combination of teacher/mother/therapist.

Loving another Black woman means that you don’t have to justify your anger about misogynoir and the unique challenges that Black women face. You don’t have to worry that you’re coming across as an ‘angry Black woman,’ you can trust that your girlfriend knows why you’re mad and won’t judge you or write you off as ‘mad’ or ‘oversensitive.’ Instead she’ll talk it out with you, you can rage together, let off some steam and then go and watch the video to "Bitch Better Have My Money" to really make you feel better.

It’s not just the big things either. It’s stuff like being able to share haircare routines and products rather than the panic you feel when you spontaneously stay at your white girlfriend’s place and all she has is some 2 in 1 shampoo/conditioner and a comb that would break if it so much as LOOKED at your hair. It’s being able to relate to each other when you talk about the awful perms you’ve had or awkward stages when you weren’t really sure what to do with your hair at all. It’s the sense of satisfaction that you get when you clasp hands and stride down the street together looking brown and beautiful and united and you know that you have each others’ backs. I think these smaller things add a kind of lightness to a relationship. They are tiny reminders that you and your person are similar, you can imagine what it’s like to be them and vice versa and it brings you closer together.

All that most of us are looking for in this world is the knowledge that we’re not alone and that someone understands and cares for us. Ditching relationships with white women who will always, no matter how wonderful in other respects, have a chasm in their understanding of us, is transformative. As lesbian or bisexual Black women we face a lot of shit, from the irritating to the life-threatening, and having another Black woman by your side who truly understands it all is not to be underestimated.

Black women deserve the love that only we can give each other.

Photo: Elixher

Kesiena Boom is a radical, Black feminist, lesbian writer who adores sisterhood, the sociology of sexuality and Audre Lorde. She is a regular contributor to ForHarriet and has also published work on BuzzFeed, Everyday Feminism and Autostraddle. Her website is kesienaboom.com and you can tweet at her via @KesienaBoom.

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