It’s difficult to wrap one's mind around existential inquiries over reggae beats.
"So you don't date white guys?" asked one such guy, his declaration shoddily camouflaged as a query—so notably lacking the uncertain inflection all question marks demand. Bravado mixed with Bounty Killa. But how does one argue the affirmative in the face of hipster jeans all hyped up on Bob Marley and rum punch? In my case, I responded with a thin slice of stock answer so stale its edges have begun to crumble: "Umm, well, I don't not date white guys."
Which, in double-negative logic, actually makes a lot of sense. Because for approximately two weeks practically 10 years ago, while I was in college, I dated Spencer, a fellow co-ed of German descent by way of south Florida. In the beginning, I assumed we were just friends because, um, he was white. He lived on the floor below mine and The Simpsons was always on in the common room, so we became late-1990s-sitcom boos.
Then one Thursday night, coming back from a bagel run, Spencer tore off half his onion bagel with pepper jack and offered it to a hungry man on the sidewalk without provocation—or looking to me for points. I thought, This is the kind of man I could get behind if only he were … Come to find out he had been making steady inquiries to my better half (my roommate, Raquel) on whether or not I "dated white guys." She answered "no" automatically, but felt it wise to warn me nonetheless.
Eleven days of equal opportunity hooking up ensued. Raquel and I even went to a "gig" Spencer and his "band" were "playing" in a basement bar you could get into with good luck and smile. "Oh. My. God," she whispered as the two of us tried blending with the walls, too cool to be seen in that type of scene, "you're dating someone who plays the air guitar." And with that, my new-boy butterflies flew away with the invisible notes of Spencer's pretend strings. Although, the ones belonging to my heart were still taut with uncertainty. Cognitive dissonance never sounded so silent.
So skip ahead a few tracks to the new reggae spot on U Street and a white guy I’d just met who demanded to know why I was a social segregationist. "See, I don't understand why some women say that. Why limit yourself?" He asks this while wearing a scarf that would have been more than at home in my grandmommy's closet but still looked cool in that "I take full responsibility for wearing a glorified pashmina in public" sort of way. See, I like guys like that. But this guy?
Over a dancehall soundtrack, he went on to present his power points on dating without borders. And I just nodded, keeping time with Rayvon and Red Foxx while waiting for the familiar hook of every "date white guys" debate: "I mean, I've dated a ton of black girls."
OK, as long as we're trading coupling CVs, I'd like to add that I've also dated a ton of ass clowns, but I’m actively choosing not to make that a thing. Of course, I didn't actually say that because it's rude and bitchy and makes everyone uncomfortable by pointing out the offensive flaws of such a blanket statement, which dehumanizes black women by commodifying them as the products of some monolithic brand.
We are not the new line of strong, black and single Barbies—the fully posable collectors edition complete with removable panties. No wonder Frances (my mom) refused to buy me those monsters as a kid. It wasn’t about the complex I’d develop about wanting to be young, gaunt and blonde, but the all-too-possible fulfillment of that fantasy. That it was in my purview to be a plastic thing for playing. The I’ve-dated-a ton-of-black-girls line is simply more of the same fluff. As if I am not Helena but just another black girl to add to the list of black girls that make you cool for having survived the experience.
I’ve got this one friend, James, who makes it a point to cast his dating life like a United Colors of Benetton ad. “I just like women,” he told me once when I made it a point to call him out as a black man who doesn’t date black chicks. (But then again, we used to date, so obviously that’s not true. Because, despite having probably more in common with white people which is how another friend of mine described the post-bourgie black professional experience, I am black.)
Not too long ago, James met a white girl in a bar who he thought was hot. “It was me and 10 other attorneys in tuxedos, and we're all getting bottles, which gives off the appearance that we're doing big things,” he explained to me after a pause, “Which we are.”
(This is how he talks.) James, being a man of much bravado—as evidenced in the aforementioned quote—gets bartender girl’s number. The two planned to meet up the next day for cocktails and a Cowboys game.
“Then I showed up in my regular gear, which on this day happened to be a pair of skinny ass Marc Jacobs jeans,” he said, going on to describe his outfit as gay hipster-inspired. “It was a complete 180-degree change, and I wasn't really into football, which I think she was really disappointed with. When she saw me in my tuxedo, she really had no idea what kind of guy I was, but she knew that she liked black guys, and I guess she just assumed I was your stereotypical black guy who's into white girls.” (Despite having made a date with a football game as its news peg, James thought it would be on in the background not that he'd have to back up his blackness by actually knowing the players' names.)
As everyone knows, stereotypes save time. But do they also squander opportunities?
Knowing James is hilarious and super awesome, I’d like to think the stereotypical black guy who’s into white girls is a myth I don’t buy into. But I know that’s not true. Just like I know meeting a white guy in a reggae club on a gentrified stretch of street packed with too many people flailing about desperately gives me the willies. Will I get over that someday? Perhaps. In the meantime, Spencer got married to a girl he said reminded him a lot of me. And no, she isn’t black.
Helena Andrews is a regular contributor to The Root. Her book, Bitch Is The New Black, will be released this summer. Follow her on Twitter.