Dating, Children, and Black Culture

The latest entry in Gawker’s series on interracial dating is the most interesting one, as it grapples clearly with one facet of interracial dating: Family. And specifically, starting a new one:

I know that many white people also grapple with the Negro Problem, and have an acute understanding of the myriad ways that being black affects people’s lived experiences. But there’s a tangibility divide between sympathy and empathy. This matters to me in some parts of my life and not in others. For some reason, it matters to me in dating.

I date black men in part because I’d like for my partner to understand the perpetual contradiction of the black experience. The older I get the more important this is to me, as my children, once nebulous balls of brain fuzz, inch closer to reality. I want my children to have the experience of being black in America, and because of my skin color, their chances diminish significantly if I don’t marry someone black.

Not surprisingly, this angered a few of the commenters, who wondered why race or “skin color” should have anything to do with who you marry and have children with. And it shouldn’t. Which is why it’s good that the author doesn’t disagree.

What’s important to understand about black culture—and what’s lost in a racial dialogue that equates race with skin color[1]—is that membership has less to do with what you look like and more to do with your experience of American racism. This is’t precise, obviously, but broadly, “black people” are those whose ancestors formed the bottom of the American racial hierarchy, and who as a result are linked to the racist oppression of the past and present. “Blackness,” put simply, is marked by skin color but defined by common experience. It’s the difference between an African immigrant—who might resist the bond to black Americans—and her child, who might embrace it, having been raised in the hierarchy.

What the author wants, it seems, is a partner who has the black experience and can pass it on to their children. She doesn’t want visibly black children for the sake of their phenotypical blackness, she wants them because she wants to guarantee a connection to a culture that defines her and millions of other Americans.

  1. One thing I will stress here, and always, is that “racism” isn’t just treating someone differently because of their skin color. “Racism” is assigning value and hierarchies to skin color, and thus groups, for the sake of oppression. Affirmative action is differential treatment. Redlining is racism.  ↩