Ask a Very Smart Brotha: White Girls, Soul Food & Marvin’s Room
Dear Ask a Very Smart Brotha,
I have a situation that needs your advice.
My boyfriend and I have been dating for about 10 months. We’re both middle aged and get along great. The one issue between us is he’s African American and I’m white, and he’s never dated outside his race. I have, I’m cool with it, but he’s a little.. uncomfortable at times, I guess. His comfort level has gotten better over time but he’s still very conscious of the fact that I’m white, he’s black. As an example, we were talking about where we would go for dinner and I mentioned soul food (YUM!). He was quiet, then suggested someplace else. I asked if he didn’t feel like soul food, and then he told me he wasn’t sure he’d feel comfortable going to a soul food restaurant with me. I’d be fine with it – wouldn’t be my first trip to eat some tasty greens, wings, whatever. He’s been honest about this stuff with me and I know it’s a serious thing, and I don’t want to push. We have been to some events where I was one of just a few non-African Americans and I was comfortable – he was a little nervous – but everything was fine.
I’m wondering if you have any suggestions of how I can help him feel more comfortable, or how we can work together to see if we can work through this. He’s a wonderful man – caring, funny, great dad, supportive – and I want to do what I can to make this work, but I also don’t want to be 3 years down the road and have him decide it won’t work.
I appreciate any help you can give!
Bay Area WF 🙂
Dear Bay Area WF,
Reading this letter recalls a bit of a dilemma I faced while catching the bus to work a few years ago. It was packed when I got on, but I was lucky enough to find a seat near the front — the last empty seat. A younger and attractive white woman — think January Jones, the actress who plays Betty Draper on “Mad Men” — got on at the next stop, and stood next to where I was sitting. Now, the gentlemanly thing to do in this situation is to stand up and offer your seat to the woman. But, as I was about to do this, another thought went through my head
“Dammit. All the people on this bus are going to think that I’m colorstruck and doing this just because she’s a pretty white girl.”
I gave up the seat, but I also felt the (real or imagined) eyes of each of the bus riders staring at me, and that was the longest five minute bus ride I’d ever been on. A part of me was even tempted to turn around and scream “Stop judging me!!! I love my black momma and black women!!! I have a black girlfriend, and even though my black girlfriend is light-skinned, I think Kelly Rowland is super hot!!!”
Anyway, I’m bringing this up because it appears as if your man doesn’t want everyone to think that he’s “that guy.” And, by “everyone” I mean “black women” and by “that guy” I mean “one of those guys who only dates white women.” I can definitely understand why this may seem frivolous and silly. After all, you’re both old enough where these types of societal pressures shouldn’t still affect how a person chooses to live their romantic life. Also, just like how I’m sure that most of the people on that bus didn’t give a damn about me giving up the seat to a white woman, I’m sure 95% of the black women you all encounter could give two Shytes about who he happens to be dating. This neurosis is largely psychosomatic.
This neurosis occurs because we realize that being branded as that guy has the possibility to affect us socially and romantically. It’s a very, very, very small possibility, but the possibility does exist.
In this case, though, your man has to get the hell over himself. If you’re good enough to date and presumably sleep with, you should be good enough to sport wherever. There’s nothing you can do to make him more comfortable, but I do think you need to confront him about this. Tell him that if he wants to continue dating you, he can’t continue to act like he’s ashamed of you. If he can’t get over himself, then, well, I suggest you get on a packed bus in an inner-city neighborhood, and date the first guy who doesn’t hesitate to give up his seat for you. Sure, there’s a (large) chance that you might not be compatible, but at least you’ll know that he’d have no problem taking you to the soul food spot.
Damon Young (aka The Champ)