By now you’ve probably read Jill Scott‘s comments in Essence on the ‘wince’ she feels when she sees black men married to white women. She didn’t say anything most of us hadn’t heard before, and the conversation went the way these things tend to go.
But I wanted to point to some of the reactions that popped up in the wake of the whole thing. Here’s TNC:
I’m a black dude hooked up with a black woman–but I don’t sleep with “black people.” “Black people” don’t pay half of my rent. “Black people” didn’t take my son to tennis lessons this week. “Black people” didn’t support me while I was trying to make it a writer. An individual, with her own specific hopes, dreams and problems, did those things. Now it’s true that she’s black. But the qualities that allowed her to do those things–compassion, commitment, vision–are not “black” qualities. …
Writing about this has helped me get clearer and clearer on this. To be blunt–I think people who spend their time stressing about the DNA admixture in other people’s relationship need to give some thought to boundaries. When we bemoan Reggie Bush’s relationship, we overstate our knowledge, understate our ignorance, highlight our lack of a serious life, and low-ball our own worth. It’s petty gossip masquerading as social commentary, and unbecoming of a “welcoming and open-minded” people.
Emphasis mine. This spate of news stories about the constellation of woes black women regularly face has the veneer of topicality, of political urgency. You’ve got race. You’ve got sex. And you have stats for the appearance of sobriety and rigor. But the end result tends to be Steve Harvey — Steve Harvey — on Nightline, in his new, fairly ridiculous role as an ostensible relationship expert, lecturing to a bunch of Atlanta-area women he’s never met about what they’re doing wrong or how black men have failed them. It’s The Michael Baisden Show with ABC News’s imprimatur.
But I digress. The much-missed hilzoy made an appearance in TNC’s comment thread, and offered up one of her typically thoughtful elucidations in service of Jill’s P.O.V.:
It’s perfectly reasonable for TNC to say: look, I’m not involved with “black people”, I’m involved with the particular individual who is the mother of my child. Some other black guy who is involved with a white woman might not be involved with “white people”, but with this one very specific white woman whom he loves. That would be perfectly reasonable as well. It’s just not the only form that relationships take.
But I think it’s also perfectly reasonable for black women who have experienced various unflattering assumptions about themselves to wonder, in a given case: might something else be going on here? — I mean, consider the analog in employment discrimination: sometimes when someone white is hired over someone black, it’s completely legitimate: the white candidate was better. Sometimes, on the other hand, it’s racism. In the first case, an employer might say: look, I didn’t hire “white people”, or refuse to hire “black people”; I hired this particular person, as opposed to that one. That might be completely reasonable. But it would also be completely reasonable for the black candidate to wonder, or to feel a twinge. S/he doesn’t necessarily know whether this is one of the ‘you were, in fact, the less qualified candidate, as sometimes happens to all of us’ cases, or one of the racist cases. The existence of widespread employment discrimination makes her twinge reasonable.
To which TNC insightfully responds:
I think this is true, but let me push you on that point. People don’t necessarily share the same experiences, or process them the same way. I’ve had my share of racist things happen to me as an adult, but my reaction is very different than my partners. Part of that is because she’s been dealing with this sort of thing since she was six, whereas I encountered almost no direct racism as a child. Another part is that we’re different people.
I could very easily see a black woman rejected because of her race, literally laughing and moving on. I think the differences in how we process these things have to do with who we are. I wish I’d read more in that piece about who Jill Scott, the individual, is and how that interacts with her collective sense.
That’s what I don’t see in these pieces, no sense of difference. There’s an assumed proprietorship that hasn’t really been earned. Yes you can speak to how a macro force like racism shaped your life. But can you really assume that it shaped other black people’s lives in the same way?
Some semi-related thoughts: It’s worth pointing out again that it remains arguable how much impact “dating out” has on black marriage trends. In the most recent census data, 93% of married black men were married to black women, and that as of ’07, only 4.7 percent of all married blacks were married to white people. (pdf)
I was having a conversation with Carole Bell last night in which she made the point that when you consider the age skew, the numbers look a little different, and the dating out phenomenon is more pronounced on college campuses, where black men are already underrepresented. She said her research and interviews with black women on college campuses suggested real and deep anxieties. Her point is well-taken, though I wonder how much of this is what two black friends who attended selective colleges called (in completely independent conversations within a week of each other) the B.S.U. phenomenon. In both cases, they pointed to two extremely sought-after dudes on campus (in one case, the tall, charismatic dreadlocked dude who quoted Fanon; in the other, the academic standout who was N.F.L.-bound) scandalized the black women on campus by having white girlfriends. They said there were heated meetings and student group-led discussions about these revelations — ah, college — which I’d guess amplified the awareness of such pairings and made them seem overrepresentative.
Update: Comments on this thread are now closed. PostBourgie is, among other things, a feminist/ally site, and the tone of the conversation is not in keeping with that aim.