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As a man of color, I am not your fetish

“Dude I’m not into black men and I think your sexy that’s saying a lot.”

—Text message from a white woman I used to know

While most romantic—indeed, nearly all—relationships are full of complexity and turmoil, there is a particular and specific kind of dynamic in my heterosexual relationships with white women as a Black male feminist. Navigating the fetishization of my Black male body and the tenets of my feminist beliefs while interacting with these women has been quite a tumultuous endeavor.

Since I’ve declared myself a feminist and committed to feminist work, I’ve wondered how I can best deliver on the claims of that identity in relationships. As a heterosexual (I prefer this over “straight” because it implies that deviation from this sexual orientation is “crooked”) Black male my feminism has manifested in my romantic relationships with white women in rather complicated ways.

What’s been most difficult, but in retrospect not surprising, is how my Blackness has been fetishized, desired for its “exotic” qualities and circumscribed by racist discourses. My first girlfriend, a 4’10” white woman, said that she wanted someone with whom she could have four children— “little niglets,” she called them. I can’t make that shit up.

It shocks me to realize, in retrospect, how in many ways she desired me for my potential exotic gift. That is, I could give her that cool and hip “thang” called Blackness, make Blackness grow inside her, and, viola, it’d be like she produced something Black. If Black is the epitome of cool, and she wanted the cool exotic Blackness for herself, what’s the Blackest thing you can do? Why, make your very own Black person, of course. Appropriation on another level—natal Black cultural appropriation.

But it doesn’t stop there. Not long after that relationship ended, I met a white woman online who said something to me that cut deep. I received a text, midday, out of the proverbial blue, which said: “Dude I’m not into black men and I think your sexy that’s saying a lot.” I pretended like I didn’t just experience the weight of centuries of degradation and the jumping of Thomas “Daddy” Rice’s Jim Crow on my Black body. And I pretended well—through silence. And it might have killed some part of me as it has so many others. Then she followed up with “And that’s why I call you STUD.” All I see, instead of STUD, is BUCK, or STALLION, or MANDINGO. I doubt she saw it too.

Her comment was no mere “Good job with our coital experience” but an insidious reference to a legacy of the hypersexualization of Black men. The fact that thinking a Black man is “sexy” is “saying a lot” because she’s “not into” them implies that nearly all other Black men, are categorically “un-sexy,” that it takes an intellectual feat of strength to muster the words “you’re sexy” to a Black man. Which is to say, “I usually think Black people are icky, but you’re one of the few non-icky ones. Way to go! You get my [white] approval.” And the sole reason for my non-ickiness is my being a racialized “STUD.”

But, reader, it doesn’t stop there, though I wish it did. I had been casually seeing another white woman who, because I gradually realized our ideological incompatibilities, I decided to no longer see. Enraged by my cutting ties with her, she responded: “Whatever then. U talkin to some other bitch aint u? I bet u ben talkin to her this whole time 2. Bitch ass. I expected more from a black boy but I guess you aint real. Deuces then.” Of course, I must have been flirting with some other woman. Black dudes just can’t seem to keep their huge “STUD” dicks in their pants, can we? Can’t be satisfied with one woman, so I must have been talking to other women while with her, because, you know, Black dudes always have side jawns.

And you “expected more from a black boy”? Don’t call me boy, please, as too often the racial dynamics of white folks infantilizing (or “toddlerizing”) Black folks—who are often full-grown adults—does not resonate well historically. And might I ask what is this “more” you expected from “black boys”? Did you expect “real” “black boys” to just fuck fuck fuck unquestioningly until there was nothing else to fuck? The assumption is that there is a “real” Black maleness that I don’t fit, an authentic and virile Black masculinity that nevers questions the offering of sex. This is fueled by the racist belief that Black men are hypersexual: because they have massive penises, apparently, Black men can’t get enough sex. Therefore, my rejection of sex meant that I didn’t fit her racist view.

I guess she was kind of right, then. I wasn’t very “real” if real means a lustful, lascivious Black Buck.

I thought my feminism meant giving unquestioning validity to every opinion a woman made. I certainly continue to listen to thoughts that come from the particularity of women’s social positioning, but man, sometimes it’s hard when some women seem to subvert everything you thought common goals and solidarity meant. But still, whether they commit to what I conceive of as feminism I must continue to enact it despite their seemingly anti-feminist, racist slights.

Now, this is certainly not to imply that I am a relationship saint. I am not: my male privilege at times takes hold, I am standoffish, my questions can be interrogative, I express flourishes of intellectual elitism, and rarely have what most people call “fun.” But this—this is, to me, unacceptable. And I will not tolerate it. 


[image via x]

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Written by Marquis Bey

Marquis Bey is an unapologetically Black feminist Ph.D. student in Cornell University's English department studying Black Feminist Thought, African American Literature, and Transgender Studies. He has published a number of academic articles on race and gender, and also writes for more public forums on the topics of feminism, Blackness, and language. Aside from his "academic jam" (thank you for the phrase, Kristen), Marquis enjoys watching cartoons, working out, collecting cat posters, and losing touch with the outside world by receding into the tumultuous recesses of his own mind.

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