Thursday, August 2, 2007

Looking for Mr. White: interracial relationship survey: has our attitude about dating outside the race changed?

by Dee DePass

Related links:Interracial Dating Online Community

Last fall Tara, a writer in Detroit, decided to try something new: dating a White guy. The attraction? "He was Jon Stewart-ish, had a sense of humor, was liberal and smart." explains the 39-year-old. More important he seemed like a viable option. "The older you get, the more open you become to the possibility of love," says Tara. "I would like love to come in a certain form or color. But at the same time I realize that the population of eligible Black men is getting smatter. So I'm open."

And apparently so are many other sisters. We polled more than a thousand of you. Nearly half of those surveyed on essence.com (45 percent) say you've been involved in an interracial relationship. And for those of you who haven't, it's clearly not for lack of opportunities: Seventy percent of you say you've been asked out by a White guy. "One of my friends decided that Something New, that Sanaa Lathan movie in which her character falls for a White guy, was her signal to start pursuing White men and accepting their offers." says Aisha, 20, a junior at the University of Minnesota. "Now. instead of looking for an IBM--Ideal Black Man--she says she's looking for an IWM."

Cream in Your Coffee?

Your room may prefer you to bring home a man who looks like your dad. But these days if you don't, she'll probably just smile and ask him his name (instead of calling him one). Interracial couples are far more common than they were a few decades ago; in fact, they've increased fourfold since the sixties. The U.S. census revealed that there were 116,000 marriages between Black women and White men and about 279,000 marriages between Black men and White women in 2002. Numbers for unmarried couples are hard to come by, but sociologists agree there's been a dramatic increase since 1980.

"I have White friends who date Black women, Black friends who date White women. Asian and Latino. You name it." says Aaron, 31, a brother from Eagan, Minnesota. "It's always been a multicultural experience between Blacks and Whites. It's what I grew up with."

In fact, a whopping 81 percent of readers say they aren't fazed at all when they see a Black woman with a White man. Flip the script, though, and it's a different story. Fifty-three percent of you disapprove when you see a Black man with a White woman. "Sisters looked like they wanted to beat me down," says Richard, 47, a financial marketing specialist in Pasadena, California. "When I'm with a sister, I'm ignored. But the second I get a White woman on my arm, I get 'the look.'" Successful brothers like Richard who make the choice to "cross over" may draw additional ire because of the perceived notion among some sisters that Black men who have "made it" tend to prefer non-Black mates. High-profile couples could also influence sisters' feelings here. Yeah, we're cool with Halle switching from marrying Black men to dating Gabriel Aubry, a White model. But Kobe, Tiger, Terrence and Taye? Hmmm.

Two Can Play That Game

So should we admit that we have a double standard when it comes to dating outside the race? Not so fast. Leah, 36, says she got a chilling reaction last summer during a stroll through New York City's trendy Union Square neighborhood with the fellow artist she was dating. Suddenly, she says, Black strangers chanted, "Sellout." "You think you White?"

In the South, Black women with White men are still "not that common," says Maria, 38, originally of Charleston. She's had her share of encounters, being married to a White man. Even when they're surrounded by family and friends, they can still risk being called out. At their wedding reception, a young cousin started singing "Jungle Fever."

Why all the drama? "When we talk about interracial relationships, we have to talk about what happens when you leave the house, whether it's dealing with other people's reactions or getting slower service at a restaurant," says Kellina M. Craig-Henderson, Howard University psychology professor and author of Black Men in Interracial Relationships: What's Love Got to Do With It? (Transaction Publishers). She adds that just because there's an increase in interracial couples doesn't mean there's an increase in society's acceptance of them.

Dating Outside the (Black) Box

How many times have you heard a sisterfriend sigh about Black men, "I can't find one because they're all married, in jail or gay"? But there are other reasons you may not have heard why some sisters and brothers are looking over to the other side of the fence. "In general, it's less of a power struggle to date White men," says Leah, the New York City artist. "Black men can trip when women challenge them."

Richard, the marketing specialist, sees the reverse. "White women are a little more accepting of your shortcomings"--be it job, income, education or status, he says. "She looks at your potential, and a sister initially isn't going to. But once a sister has your back, she will go through hell for you. Initially, though, you sisters are hard to step to."

Phoenix attorney Garrick, 31, says getting to know White women is just easier. Once one of only four Blacks among a thousand students at Buena Vista University in Iowa, "I'd pull girls without having to do anything. I'm five feet four inches tall and fairly good-looking, but not enough to have seven of the top ten best-looking girls," he recalls. "I'd have girls walk up to me and say, 'You are beautiful,' and constantly grabbing my butt." Moving to racially diverse Los Angeles changed that. "I had to learn game because I had no game. I never had to before," he says.
Richard, who has lived in California for twenty years, also notes there's a downside. "A lot of White women here want to go out with a thug or a jock. They want a man who is as Black as possible, not some guy assimilating into society. They want a Ludacris or a 50 Cent type. Otherwise, it's 'no Blacks need apply' unless they make lots of money."

Between the Sheets

Interracial attraction often comes with cultural, well, surprises, shall we say: some Black women, for example, having to explain why they won't have sex in the shower. (Who wants to stress about water getting under that shower cap?)

Joel, 33, from Philadelphia is Black and says he'll never forget waking up with a White woman he'd slept with for the first time. "She asked me, 'What's that on your hands?'" he recalls, as she pointed to the white flakes between his fingers. "It was ash. She had never seen ash before. And she'd never heard the word nappy. Once I explained it, we had a good laugh. It's the little stuff like that, that you don't expect."

Lamarr, 30, an attorney in L.A., insists there are sexual benefits to interracial dating: "White women are much more accommodating. There's a saying, What a Black woman won't do for you, a White woman will." He says he recently had one sister tell him, "Look, I'm Black. I'm not going to be giving head like the White girls do."

Fact or fiction? "In some ways, men are saying things like this as an excuse to justify dating a White woman or having White women as a preference," says Hilda Hutcherson, M.D., author of What Your Mother Never Told You About S-E-X. The sex educator and gynecologist, who has treated a diverse population for more than twenty years, adds, "I have found, on the other hand. that Black women are more likely to be turned off by the idea of giving head. And if we do perform oral sex, we don't want to give it every night. We have to think about it; we have to buy the proper knee pads and the right pillows."

And what about White men in bed? "The earth moved. He was very good," says Lynn, 39, from Chester County, Pennsylvania, where she notes there are many Black women dating White men. Years ago she became one of them out of curiosity and was pleasantly surprised.

Even though many of you have been involved in an interracial relationship, 71 percent of you say you have a strong preference for dating a Black man. "I'm not militant. I just like my Black men," says Toni, 43, a radio reporter from Boston. "I will admit to having a big, old crush on Pierce Brosnan, and if he wants to come here and have a big, old crush on me, he is welcome. But in general I just find Black men so attractive."

While statistics indicate that successful Black men are four times more likely than they were thirty years ago to be married to women who are not Black, the reality is that marriages between Blacks and Whites occur less frequently than mixed marriages involving Asians, Latinos and other Whites. So comparatively, they're a rarity. "I don't discriminate in who I date casually," says Lamarr. "But I do discriminate in who I date seriously And I am going to marry a Black woman. Socially and culturally that's who I identify with."

What White Women Know About Black Men That You Don't

Saturday Night Live comedian Finesse Mitchell offers a hilarious breakdown of the whole Black-White thing

First off let me say that I don't think White women approach us any better than Black women do. But I do believe White women are more aggressive when it comes to letting a man know they're interested right away, Here's now:

They're fine with making the first move. How many Big Mamas have taught younger generations of Black women that it's unladylike to go after a man? Well my beautiful Queens of Color, White women don't have Big Mamas. When a White woman--let's call her Becky (because we think they're all named Becky)--likes "Marcus," she's all up in his face, getting his attention. Becky takes the guesswork out of who likes who, and some men like that. If a Black woman likes Marcus. she telepathically sends him a message that he almost never gets.

They'll take a Regular Joe over a CEO. I've heard Black men say that when they talk to a White woman, they find out in the first five minutes that she's looking for a man. When a brother talks to a Black woman, in the first five minutes he learns that she's looking for a certain kind of man. That's a huge difference. We all have standards--we know some White women have a rep for scouting out our Black talented athletes when they're still in high school--but some White women give a Black man a chance who Black women wouldn't give a second look. Be honest: How many times have you seen an interracial couple, the Black man wasn't that attractive, and you said. "She can have him"?

They don't worry about the competition. My single Black female friends say all the time how they don't like it when they see a good-looking Marcus walking around with a Becky at the club. I always encourage my friends to focus inward, not outward. When they're in a social setting, I tell them to just have a good time, and take the initiative to meet two new people before they go home. Black guys do it. White girls definitely do it. So why can't you sisters? Black people need to give one another a break. We're all a little jaded from past relationships, but that shouldn't hold us back from being polite to someone new, even when we're not interested. You never know, that person could later introduce you to someone God has made especially for you.
That's my two cents, as a man who adores Black women, and a man whose morn told him when he was moving to New York. "... have fun. be careful, and if she can't use my comb. don't bring her home."

Finesse Mitchell is also a writer and a stand-up comic.
Dee DePass is an award-winning business reporter who is currently working in Minneapolis.

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