Let's Swirl: Thinking Critically About When Black Girls Love Them Some White Boys

For as long as I can remember, I have had a thing for White Boys.

I was in fourth grade when I met Landon after transferring to the elementary school in my suburban neighborhood. Prior to that, I had attended school in South Los Angeles, where my parents were teachers. Although there were plenty of Black and Brown boys to crush on, none of them were as much a novelty as Landon. His bright green eyes were shown to my nine-year-old self like rare, precious jewels. His sweet, reserved demeanor and bashful smile made my heart flutter. I remember looking up his parents’ phone number in the Yellow Pages and coming up with any excuse to call him. Eventually, my feelings for him diminished from passionate, unrequited love and he became one of my best friends through high school.

In sixth grade, it was Kyle. He was tall, blonde, and blue-eyed. He was in my grade, but in another class on a different track. I figured out which of my friends knew him and then begged them to introduce us. My friends would set up elaborate schemes for us to interact with one another on the playground during lunchtime recess. It quickly spread along the grade school grapevine that Michelle, a girl from C track, had a crush on Kyle, a boy from D track. I even got one of his friends to advocate on my behalf. Like most primary school romances, our relationship began and ended just as it had started: our friends communicated with each other, instead of us actually ever speaking directly to one another. Things were lost in translation. A few months later, we went on to different middle schools and I forgot about him.

Then there was Derek. He was the Alpha and Omega of middle school and high school crushes. Even in seventh grade, he was nearly six-feet tall. He had bright red hair, which is what immediately attracted me. No matter where he was, between his height and his flaming hair, I could always spot him across the soccer fields or courtyard. Because he was a basketball player and slightly more mature than most people in our grade, he became one of the more popular kids. And by cleverness and good fortune, so did I. We became good friends, which was a blessing and a curse. It meant I got to spend lots of time talking to him. It also meant I had to watch as he dated girl after girl, many of whom were my close friends. Our friendship ended abruptly. First, my best friend tried to have sex with him on my 15th birthday. Then, he told me I was too dramatic and slightly stalker-ish. (This may or may not be true.)

Throughout my life, I have had many a crush on other White Boys. And I’ve always been pretty indiscriminate when it came to which flavor of White Boy I prefer. Brunette, blonde, ginger, jock, nerd, class clown: I’ve been down for them all. As long as they were cute and moderately interesting, I had no problem daydreaming about what our mixed-race children would like. I dreamed they would have their father’s eyes, my curly hair, and a complexion perfectly blended between our differing hues.

As I admit all of this now, I am queasy with embarrassment. As I have gotten older and broadened my potential romantic horizons, I realize that my “affliction” for White Boys stems from internalized racism. Growing up in a suburb as one of the few Black Girls in my classes often meant that I was made to feel like an outsider. Even though my hometown was pretty diverse and integrated, there were still invisible lines that divided me from my White classmates. It also did not help that many of my peers considered me to be “white-washed,” that ridiculous and hurtful distinction used for most people of color who grow up not behaving as they are expected to because of their cultural or ethnic background.

Today, I am almost militantly pro-Black and Afro-centric. Still, I would be lying if I said I am not vulnerable to the ego-boost that comes from having a White man think I’m attractive. It is validating and affirming to know that someone from the most dominant and privileged demographic in our society finds me beautiful. It is one of the ongoing aspects of racism that we fail to discuss and one of the hardest parts of anti-racism and healing work to continuously confront.

Still, I know I am not unique. There many Black Girls I know whom also deal with this obsession for The Swirl. (“Swirl” being a term for Black and White interracial couples.) Many of the friendships I’ve forged with Black women in, during and post-college have featured conversations about our partiality to White men. We have felt guilty and like a “bad” Black person when we first admit we are attracted to White guys for “no reason.” And then relieved someone else chimed in, “Me too! I thought I was the only one.” After gushing about the White Boys we’ve longed for, past and present, our conversations become more political. We share our experiences growing up: often, we’re all seen as the special unicorn of Blackness at our school. The white-washed, indie (Black) nerd. Or we weren’t the “right” type of Black girl that our fellow Black male classmates liked.

We discussed our theories on how we came to fetishize, fantasize, and pursue relationships with our Caucasian paramours. Sometimes, we felt we had more in common with non-Black men. Or we felt affronted by how Black men treated us. It may have been the ways they approached us with romantic interest. (“Ay, girl!” will never peak my interest.) Or the fact that we’ve heard many Black men tell us that they preferred White or non-Black women themselves because they were easier, less hostile, prettier, etc. Sometimes, we admitted to wanting “cute, mixed-race babies,” which is a whole other type of fetishizing to reckon with. And sometimes, it wasn’t any of these things at all. We simply liked someone for who they are, and their race was not a huge deciding factor.

We’ve also shared our fears about how this affects our identity and confidence in being Black Women: Are we less Black because of this? Are we traitors? Does this mean we hate ourselves, hate our Blackness?

There are no easy answers. But I think the important part is that we are asking these questions. We are checking our hearts and our politics. We are accepting that sometimes, the relationship between the two is just as complicated as any other relationship. Being a Black Woman is full of complexities and contradictions. It has never been black or white.

Michelle Denise Jackson is a writer, performer, and storyteller from Southern California. She has performed in Southern California, New York, New Jersey, Michigan, and Washington, D.C. For more information, visit her website at michelledenisejackson.com.

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