So I put my feelers out to my normal Race Manners experts and to the Internet more broadly and got … nothing.
I posted an inquiry on Facebook: “So, what kind of an expert would one talk to about whether/why Italian men love black women?” My friends proceeded to take over my thread with jokes about Robert De Niro.
(Seriously, if there is some agreed-upon explanation or official analysis that I’m missing, let me know on Twitter. I’m still curious.)
So I don’t know how to explain that “It’s true” to your friends except that, well, it’s true to you. And shouldn’t that be enough? What’s with the skepticism? Why would people who know, trust and like you require verification from a cultural anthropologist to appreciate your experience? Is it that unbelievable?
And do we ever make people explain the “what’s going on?” of attraction and connection unless we think it’s somehow wrong or weird?
In fact, it always seems to get messy to try to explain these things with broad cultural theories. Whether it’s a black man who marries a white woman, a white guy with a thing for Asian girls, the participants in a May-December romance or simply members of an “opposites attract” couple, it rarely goes well when you try to tell people their relationships are somehow influenced by cultural forces beyond their individual connections.
No one wants to be just part of a pattern.
So maybe that’s where the tension is coming up in your conversations with your male friends. Here’s a theory: Implicit in your comments “Oh my God, Italian men loved me so much. I’d never seen anything like it. It was the best thing ever! So much better than here!” is the idea that “American men like you can’t compare. What’s wrong with you?”
Cue the “I don’t want to feel like a stereotype” defensiveness on their part. (And on that note, you are going to be forever frustrated if you make it your mission to convince large swaths of people to change their preferences or the way they express them, so probably just give up that bit now.)
My best guess is that this defensiveness is what you and your buddies are really bumping heads over. (Another thought that’s just a gut feeling: Maybe one of them likes you and hasn’t been able to express it and is frustrated that you only picked up on attention abroad?) So I don’t think there’s any reason that you have to get your male friends on board as huge cheerleaders for the experience you had in Italy. But if you really want to talk about it, I would try to do it in a way that doesn’t have undertones of accusation and doesn’t emphasize that people in their demographic have fallen down on the flirting job by comparison.
If they still can’t believe what you’re saying, just move on (in the conversation, but also maybe to Italy — don’t rule that out!). A true friend isn’t going to react with stubborn disbelief to the idea that you made romantic connections, even if they were connections with people from another culture or on another continent.
The Root’s staff writer, Jenée Desmond-Harris, covers the intersection of race with news, politics and culture. She wants to talk about the complicated ways in which ethnicity, color and identity arise in your personal life — and provide perspective on the ethics and etiquette surrounding race in a changing America. Follow her on Twitter.
Need race-related advice? Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously in Race Manners: “What Makes White People Feel Invisible?”