Jesse Williams, Jay-Z, Umar Johnson and the Allure of White Women


“There’s dishes in the back, he gotta roll up his sleeves
But while y’all washin’—watch him
He gon’ make it to a Benz out of that Datsun
He got that ambition, baby, look in his eyes
This week he moppin’ floors, next week he’s on fries
So stick by his side
I know there’s dudes ballin’, and yeah, that’s nice
And they gonna keep callin’ and tryin’, but you stay right, girl
And when you get on, he’ll leave yo’ ass for a white girl”
—Kanye West, “Gold Digger”


There is always truth in humor. The reason Kanye West’s line is so memorable is that we’ve all seen it happen. The idea that white women have always been a graduation present or lifetime achievement award for black men has become an accepted trope among black people. We quietly talk about it among ourselves, in barbershops and at cookouts.

The thought that rich, successful and famous black men eventually trade in black women for white women is such an acknowledged fact that we don’t even bother pointing out that the guy who wrote and rapped it left our ass for a white girl.

At no time has that idea been more in focus than this week. The entire Umar Johnson controversy started over comments he made on The Breakfast Club about interracial dating. Johnson basically condemned black men who choose to date white women. While his comments were cringeworthy to most progressive, logical-thinking people, his explanation was almost like hearing someone describe a bout of explosive diarrhea—you don’t want to listen, but you can’t publicly deny that you’ve felt the same way.

That’s also how many of us caught feelings listening to Jay-Z on 4:44 explain his regret over his affair with the infamous “Becky with the good hair.” I always believed that Jigga suffered more from the widespread notion that it was a nonblack woman with whom he cheated. I mean, if you can cheat on Beyoncé, with a white woman, is any black woman safe?

Hov also released a video, “Footnotes for 4:44,” with a number of men explaining their relationship woes. Jesse Williams, the last of the light-skinned heartthrobs, appeared in the video and addressed his divorce and the pain he went through.


The feeling was echoed later in the week when news broke that Williams was dating Minka Kelly (see, I didn’t call her “a white woman,” even though many of you know I suffer from a yet-to-be-named syndrome that renders me unable to tell white women apart). The intelligent part of your brain that makes kale smoothies and reads think pieces said, “I don’t care who celebrities date. That’s their business.” But the reptilian part of your brain that likes Real Housewives and occasionally will buy chicken from a gas station said, “Damn! Not Jesse ‘Woke Bae’ Williams!”

I don’t know who Kelly is, but I assumed she was white (I didn’t even Google her picture) because:

  1. Her name; I’ve never met a black Minka. (I know a “Meka” and a “Mika,” whom I am careful not to get confused because—for some reason—if you refer to someone named Tomika as “Tameka,” you might as well just go full out and call them the b-word, because they are very sensitive about their shit.)
  2. Jesse Williams is rich and successful. And as much as we want to deny the truth in it, when he gets on ...

This is not an indictment of Williams or of white women. Williams is free to choose whomever he wants to love, and he should. And it’s not as if there’s a ceremony that graduates black men to the white-woman dating pool and gives them a secret white-girl discount to use on Tinder. It’s just a reflection of the society we live in.

There was a beautiful piece of writing a few days ago that examined the new movie The Big Sick. In the movie, a Pakistani man chronicles his love affair with his white girlfriend. Aditi Natasha Kini wrote a beautiful piece about watching men always choose the white woman. However, I don’t know if a black woman could write this without being castigated.


And that’s where the unlikely trio of Umar Johnson, Jesse Williams and white women all meet. Politeness and rules of inclusiveness won’t let us say it out loud. Our kale minds don’t want to accept it, but our gas-station-chicken-eating brains know that there is a universally intrinsic value to white women, and it is not just an American thing. It is beat into the head of every single human being on earth from the moment we are born, and black men—like all others—have bought into it. White women are the global standard of beauty. Everything about them, from the way they wear their hair to the color of their lips, is imitated and monetized by every civilization on the planet.


The brainwashing is so pervasive that it has managed to bypass our instinct and nature. Most societies want to perpetuate their culture by having the men marry within it. Ask a Korean mom, a Jewish family or an Indian father, and they will most likely tell you that they hope their children marry someone of their faith, ethnicity or nationality. There are even studies that show men marry women who remind them of their mothers.

But white women are the exception.

As a man, I know it. I feel it. I see it. But there is nothing on earth more attractive to me than a black woman. It might be racist of me to say that everything else pales in comparison, but I am often called a racist, so—everything else pales in comparison.


I know it’s uncouth to express these thoughts out loud, but I—and I bet many black women—wonder how someone can switch so easily. From afar it looks like kicking your mother to the curb. To the black people “left behind,” it feels like the person who switched sides chose to stiff-arm their culture and their people. My experience as a human on this planet is colored by the lens of living as a black man. I can’t fathom choosing to spend my life with someone who will never be able to understand that.

But then again, I’m not “on,” yet.

If we’re being honest, we’ll agree that black women are the ones on whose shoulders Williams’ platform of #BlackGirlMagic speeches and BET awards was built. They didn’t make him famous, but the core support that made Williams a star was from black women who thought he was cute, outspoken and smart—as if Steph Curry joined the Black Panthers.


Williams’ new girlfriend in no way means that he has lessened his commitment to the causes and issues he championed. And yes, Williams can and should date whomever he wants. As a rule, everyone on the planet should love whomever they choose to love. We should not let cultural norms fence in our relationships. But we aren’t required to suppress our disappointment.

I imagine that it feels a little bit shitty to navigate the trials of life with someone and have to stand there and watch that person leave—regardless of whom he or she leaves with. But living in a country that seemingly wakes up every day with the express purpose of making sure you know that, simply because of the color of your skin, you will always be in second place—and then having to watch the men who were supposed to protect and accompany you walk away, hand in hand, with facsimiles of your oppressor—must be pretty tough.


We don’t have to hide those feelings, even if they seem illogical. Emotions are not meant to have logic. We can say it out loud, and we don’t have to give a damn what people think about the sentiment, because it is natural.

Plus, anyone who cares is probably gonna leave your ass for a white girl.


hocuspocusoctopus says wash your damn hands

I’m guessing some of The Root writers got together last night and where like “Tomorrow’s Friday. Let’s see if these comment threads can turn into dumpster fires.”

Because this headline along with this sentence:

There was a beautiful piece of writing a few days ago that examined the new movie The Big Sick.

No fucks were given today.


Like you said at the beginning, Kanye told us. Actually society and the actions of others told us, but those aren’t catchy songs with a good hook. Black women are tired holding men up just to be left once the come up happens. Mary J. Blige warned us as well