I'm a 33-year-old white woman who has been dating a 36-year-old black man for about a year. He has a great professional job in Atlanta, and I’m living in Athens while finishing up a graduate degree. For the last few months, things have felt more serious. We've been seeing each other almost every weekend and talking in a roundabout way about me moving to Atlanta after I graduate so we can continue to explore this relationship. He is loving, responsible, intelligent and gorgeous, and we have a lot of fun together.
Twice when we've been out together, black women have come up to my boyfriend in a confrontational way, asking him why he's with a white woman and basically accusing him of betraying black people, especially black women. He found this seriously annoying and told them in no uncertain terms to “go away” and mind their own business. But it's not just those women and the side-eye we get when we're out. He tells me that his mother and sister also don't like it when he dates white women, and that they make that known to him.
Since then, I've done some reading on the subject and hung out in chat forums where people are discussing this kind of thing. I've learned that black women have good reasons for being annoyed when black men—especially educated, responsible ones with good jobs—decide to pair up with white women. My boyfriend has dated all kinds of women of every race, so it's not like he's only attracted to whites.
I'm aware of some of the systemic racism that has conspired and continues to conspire to keep black people poor and marginalized in this country. I'd like to see African Americans finally get the equal opportunities and prosperity they deserve. My boyfriend is active with an organization that is all about helping AAs to be successful businesspeople and promoting a growing black middle class. He himself grew up poor and is the main financial support for his entire family. Is he a hypocrite for saying that one of the most important things to him is helping to lift black people out of poverty and marginalization, but then pairing up with someone like me?
When I've talked to my boyfriend about his views on all this, he says I'm over-thinking it, and that it's all about love, compatibility and personal preference. But is it really? I come from a white, middle-class background and am admittedly pretty ignorant about AA culture. I'm concerned that I'm getting in over my head here.
Rebecca With the OK Hair
Your boyfriend is right: You’re completely overthinking this.
I’ve dated racist white people before, and they usually make themselves known within a week or so. That’s not you, and someone else’s annoyance at your life choices has no real impact on your life. Systemic racism is real, but I don’t see it as something that influences your relationship. How do your personal dating choices influence systemic racism in America? They don’t.
You’re a good person for thinking constructively about racism and privilege, but white guilt is making you view your relationship through the lens of respectability politics, and that’s bad no matter whose respect you’re after. You are othering your partner by wondering if it’s right to date him because you’re not black. Suddenly he’s not your partner—the man you’ve loved for a year—anymore, but a black person whom you feel you must uplift with your privilege. You’re acknowledging the difference between you two, but you’re putting his blackness before your love for each other, and that’s a huge problem.
You can be a woke white woman who dates people of color, but you should not let social justice inspire you to engage with someone’s skin before acknowledging their personhood. Your whiteness isn’t a non-starter, but I’d describe these concerns of yours as racist because you’re literally asking yourself, “Is it socially acceptable for me, a white woman, to date a black man?” Racism is a system of oppression, and I want you to resist its influence on what sounds like a great relationship.