Written by Asa, creator of the YouTube channel, The Mellow Lyfe
I met my White [then] boyfriend now husband during the same year the Black Lives Matter movement started (2013). We were searching for an apartment to move in together for the first time when the BLM movement picked up steam nationally, the same month Michael Brown was shot (August 2014). We were young impressionable college students, so we took to the streets along with our school mates, in protest of police brutality.
My husband and I met at a college party near campus, but at the protests we went to, there were people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, there to support and show solidarity for Black people. And at the end of every protest, people would mingle, make plans for the next protest or event and even exchange phone numbers. I’m not saying the BLM became a hookup spot for people, I’m saying there were many nonBlack people who showed up because they genuinely cared, my husband was one of them.
After a while, I started noticing certain occurrences that led me to stop going to protests.
My husband and I would get glares, snarky remarks or the “cold shoulders” from some of the other protest goers. I simply presumed this to be “shade” because as an interracial couple, that comes with the territory, but I soon realized it was more than that. I started to get “shade” from the other Black women, some sucked their teeth at me, others couldn’t stand next to me. I thought to myself, “oh I shouldn’t have brought my White husband to an event centered around Black men”. But if Black men weren’t in attendance at a protest pertaining to them, which race of men were they expecting to show up instead? Are Black women supposed to be the only ones in the Black race who seek political asylum from police brutality? Who will seek asylum on behalf of Black women? I didn’t understand what my role as a political Black woman was supposed to be. I only understood the simple fact that men of other races showed up because they also cared about racial equality, the same way my then boyfriend did. To be perfectly clear, the above observations would have made me frustrated without my White partner; the snarks we received from other protesters were less bothersome than the fact that most of the protesters there were Black women.
Because of my previous involvement with the BLM (Black Lives Matter) movement and its subsequent WOKE movement (everyone wants to be woke and everyone wants a partner who’s woke, as evident on #Blacktwitter), I almost became frustrated with the reasoning that you (a Black person) can’t be pro-Black if you’re not in a union that will produce “fully” Black children. You can’t be pro black and date outside your race, you aren’t proBlack if your partner isn’t Black and so on and so on. We’ve all heard these arguments -however incomplete – many times before. Regardless of which side you’re, the dialogue almost always and very swiftly changes focus to what that Black person is doing in their bedroom: “You can’t be pro black and sleep White”. When did political movements involving the socioeconomic betterment of a group of people become about sex?
Okay let’s entertain that idea; suppose I were a sex worker who had sex with rich White clients, and I donated my profits to Black-owned charity organizations? I’d be having sex with White people, but wouldn’t my philanthropic endeavors make me pro-Black? Would I have to have sex with Black people for my financial efforts to count as being pro black?
What are empirical examples of proBlackness? Who or what specifically, is pro black? Is proBlackness merely a theoretical process that one goes through? Is it that exactly, a theory? Well, every political movement, every scientific experiment, every business endeavor, every global movement begins with a theory, so perhaps defining proBlackness is seemingly difficult because there are so many theories of how a shade (Black) mistakenly became a label for a category of a social construct (race). And by the time we all fully understand what this label of “proBlack” is, there’d probably be so many biracial children born out of this movement itself, that we’d have to create more labels for more social constructs – because everyone wants to belong to a group- and some will do everything to stay within that group, while keeping others out of it.
I presumed because I was making efforts to better myself as a Black person (attaining higher education, securing financial freedom, abstaining from dangerous behaviors that would lead to STIs or unwanted pregnancies etc.) while taking part in political events for the betterment of Black people as a group (participating in BSU, donating to charities etc.) – that I was already pro-Black. I was doing all of those things while I was dating another Black American student, a Black American astrologer (who happened to be very abusive but we’ll come back to that), a Korean American businessman, an El Salvadorian contractor, a Jordanian massage therapist, an Italian American graduate student and finally, my White American boyfriend I met at a college party. I was the same political Black woman while I dated all those men from different nationalities and ethnicities and none of them flinched or winced at my involvement with an organization called Black Student Union. Some of them even loved the fact that I cared about something bigger than myself, that I wasn’t selfish.
In retrospect, they would have cared about me just the same if I wasn’t involved with BSU or BLM. What frustrates me is my own negligence, my need to prove to other Black people that I was so “down with the cause” that I neglected caring for myself, I especially neglected my mental health. I was so concerned about the betterment of the collective of Black people (both in the United States and around the world) that I forgot about a significant Black person, the one writing this essay.
If I don’t take care of myself, then I become powerless and therefore unable to help anyone. Besides that, why did I make it my responsibility to protest for a whole community? What if the men I was dating (my husband included) were not okay with me going out into the streets to protest? What if they would have wanted me to express my political prowess in a more subtle and covert manner? What would have become of my relationships then? Would I still be married to the love of my life? Perhaps not. Perhaps he would have become tired of my politics and would have moved on to someone who’s more focused on bettering herself, because that’s exactly what my husband’s focus was, protecting and providing for his partner – me. He cared more about my wellbeing than I did about my own. And maybe that’s my privilege, maybe that’s why I wasn’t arrested at any of those protests, maybe that’s why I wasn’t attacked. I had someone there to protect me. More importantly, I had a man there to protect me.
Post university, as I grew older and became more interested in settling down with my husband, starting a business and starting a family, I became less invested in political movements. And when – if ever- I return to politics, it’ll be in a much subtler, perhaps more effective way. All that would have resulted from going to more protests is that I would have gotten arrested, which would have directly jeopardized my academic and financial future. I was lucky, or more specifically, I’ve always had an open mindset when it comes to dating, and that allowed me to secure a stable relationship with someone who made it his priority to protect me and that meant coming to the protests with me.
I didn’t care about his race when we met, and he didn’t care about mine. We had a list of non-tangible and non-physical characteristics that we were looking for in a romantic partner: loyalty, genuine care, reciprocity, a sense of humor, a certain level of intellect, passion, curiosity about the world and work ethic, just to name a few. It’s certainly not that I couldn’t find all those traits in a Black man, or that he couldn’t find them in a White woman, it’s that we were both ready to commit when we met. And we weren’t going to miss out on the opportunity to build a lifetime with each other, just because we are of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. There was spark, passion and genuine care, those sentiments can last a lifetime, we both knew this. It’s what we both wanted, the opportunity to build something real, something that can last.
Perhaps it’s because we’re of different racial backgrounds, or perhaps because of our curiosity, but my husband and I have had more discussions about race and racial equality, gender equality, and international politics than any of the Black men I have dated. If there’s any significant factor in the vetting process of nonBlack and especially White men – it’s making sure they’re not racist. What’s important to note is that what’s racist to one Black woman might be trivial to another. I have worn my hair natural ever since I moved out of my parents’ house at eighteen years old. My most worn hairstyles have been locs and it was important that my husband didn’t attempt to fetishize my hair or anything else about me. He’s been clear about how and why he finds me attractive, but he’s never fetishized me; my fear of fetishization came from the Black American men I dated before meeting my White-American husband.
Let me explain.
I was born and raised in Liberia, West Africa or as one of my Black American ex-boyfriends puts it: “from the source” or “from the motherland”. I’ve been called a “natural queen” for simply wearing my hair in natural styles, a “natural down to earth sista” especially when I attempted to be more high maintenance, as if I needed a reminder that I look like a “natural down to earth sista”, because of my locs. I’ve had a Black American male friend ask me to “speak African”, after I told him about the specific tribe and country I come from. Another ex-boyfriend wanted me to wear my “traditional African dress” while I cooked for him. He wanted to feel “like a king” since his “African queen” was cooking fufu and peanut soup for him. I felt more like an African slave than a queen, but I couldn’t admit that to myself because the man making those demands was Black, so I didn’t categorize it as a fetish because I was embedded with the notion that only White people are capable of fetishization. So naturally, I was expecting the same treatment – and admittedly ready to scold him if he proved to be problematic – from my husband, but he showed no sign, no interest and no taste for feeble behaviors like fetishization.
Nevertheless, I vetted my boyfriend; in fact, we vetted each other because we knew we were ready for a stable relationship. Since I continued my involvement with BLM and BSU after meeting my husband, I thought of myself as proBlack then. I was invested in the betterment groups of Black people around the world, my husband understood this, so I didn’t see a conflict of interest pertaining to my political and personal lifestyles. What’s noteworthy is that I felt a need to classify as “proBlack”, especially since I was dating a White person. I felt this need until late 2017, when I found myself in the hospital recovering from an episode of psychosis and the only people in my corner were my husband and his parents. They took care of me when I was most in need, when I wasn’t conscious and aware of my surroundings. I’m still recovering and coping with PTSD, depression and anxiety.
I’m not sure how much I’ve benefited from being proBlack, but I can put a dollar amount and an interminable amount of physical and emotional labor to how much proBlackness or proBlack movements/organizations have benefited from me, and that’s not to say I regret my efforts. My point is I can’t specifically say how being proBlack has led to my self-improvement.
Who benefits from Black women being pro black? Black men. Wait, why on earth am I dragging Black men into this? Well, I’m dragging just two Black men, one is African and the other is Black American: my abusive father and abusive ex-boyfriend (the one I made fufu and soup for in my “traditional African dress”). What do they have to do with my mental illnesses? Well, a lot. I was in the hospital because of them. I have PTSD and anxiety because of them. Perhaps my depression is simply from surviving extreme poverty or it’s just an accompanying mental illness.
[TRIGGER WARNING: in the following paragraph, I talk about physical and psychological abuse, including lethal harm. If you’re not in a safer place to continue, please skip the below paragraph if you don’t want to read about these things]
I still have scars on my body from the beatings I received from my father, the mental scars will probably take a decade to mend. My father fit the bill of a “strict African parent”, what’s more, is that he was a narcissist who also beat his [common law] wife in front of his children. All his grown children (as soon as we turned 18) left his house to seek a life of our own. Only the youngest two girls – both under age fifteen – remain in his custody. A friend of the family informed me a couple years ago that his common-law wife left him as well. I still have nightmares where I’m screaming in my sleep or running from my father; sometimes it’s a nightmare that wakes me up in a cold sweat and sometimes I wake up my husband. The trigger that landed me in the hospital was a kitchen knife. My ex-boyfriend chased me around his apartment with a knife during an argument. I ran and hid in the closet while he laughed maniacally, standing at the door. I moved out soon after that. He harassed me years after, even after I had moved on and married someone else.
After those experiences, I developed a definite distaste for abusive men and narcissistic people at large, but it never led me to hate Black men as a group. That would be foolish. I still love my Blackness, I still love Black men (who are not abusive), I still love being African. I still love being a Black woman and I still love being an African woman. However, after going through those traumatic experiences at the hands of my ex-boyfriend, I made a conscious decision to broaden my dating scope and open my options to men of other races and ethnicities. And I knew I wanted my future children to have a father who is nothing like my father. For me, it was a matter of life and death. I want to inform other women that it shouldn’t be this drastic of reasoning, for them to date with intent, to date while prioritizing their wellbeing. I was able to find men of different races/ethnicities who were not fazed by my Blackness. I found men who were able to appreciate my Blackness and my Liberian heritage without fetishizing me. I wonder if that makes them proBlack. I wonder if my husband’s efforts in the BLM movement makes him proBlack, because I’m beyond the point of proving myself or proving my personal [dating] choices as not political and therefore being more political than necessary. I’m beyond it this, I’m over it.
To be clear, I’m not trying to discourage anyone from being pro black or pro [whatever political movement you choose], I simply want to remind people (who are interested) that they don’t have to make sacrifices in their dating or marital lives to appease a political belief or a group of people. If you care for someone and/or you have a romantic interest with them, you shouldn’t ignore that connection because you could very well be neglecting your next boyfriend or husband, simply because his skin tone doesn’t match yours. None of us fit perfectly in societal boxes, and odds are, none of us ever will because they’re social constructs. I prefer to put theories aside and focus on reality when it comes to romance.