Having a crush on someone is, for me, the absolute worst. It’s like being trapped and controlled by my thoughts and feelings about the person I’m into. And because of my social anxiety and general awkwardness, and the fact that my life isn’t a rom-com, nothing positive ever comes from these situations. Unfortunately, it happens more often than I would like.
Most recently, it was a handsome brown-eyed friend whose deep voice and bright smile lingered in my imagination during every waking moment for months. Thinking about him all day rendered me basically useless as a productive human being. I could barely write, study, or finish an episode of Gilmore Girls without curling up into the fetal position with a sigh, where I would just feel.
When I have feelings for someone, even if it’s just a crush, I fall pretty hard. Although I can be attracted to someone of any race or gender, like so many of my other major crushes, he’s male and white. And I know this has something to do with why I’m attracted to him.
I have a thing for white guys. And writing that last sentence makes me feel gross, like I’m a traitor, or a self-hating black woman. I know it’s wrong to think this way, to focus on being with a white guy as the ultimate goal in my love life. And I have been trying, very hard, to resist the notion that I must aspire to getting a partner who has lighter skin than I do.
Even as a kid, I knew it was strange. I hadn’t yet learned the word problematic, hadn’t studied sociology, and didn’t know how to think critically about race, but something about being attracted to the white boys in class, and hating my dark-skinned, kinky-haired, full-lipped face when I looked in the mirror didn’t sit well with me.
When I was in high school, I read The Color Complex, learned about the Clark doll tests, and it hit me. Huh. I was literally taught by society to hate myself. This realization didn’t instantly dismantle the structures of white supremacy in my colonized mind. To this day I’m still working on freeing myself from the years of damage that the media and my history books and the boys who made fun of me at school have done.
Just to be clear, I’m speaking from personal experience, and I don’t think that every single black woman is attracted to white guys because of internalized racism. But I have a feeling that some of us, and perhaps many women of color, are.
In my case, both personal experiences and white supremacy are to blame. Personal experiences include the black boys who made fun of me and made me feel ugly when I was a kid and the black men who have harassed me in public.
Undoubtedly, mass media and Eurocentric beauty standards have also had an effect on my repeated crushes on white guys. White men in mass media are portrayed as handsome, romantic, kind, caring, and ideal partners. Black men in the media are portrayed as lying, cheating, abusive, and delinquent. And throughout my childhood, everyone and everyone would remind me, with or without words, that being a black girl, especially one with darker skin, means being undesirable.
I wanted to make up for that, as do many other black girls. So we would buy skin lightening creams, try to stay out of direct sunlight, and chemically relax our hair or otherwise alter its natural state or appearance. It wasn’t enough, and it never would be. Being black isn’t something you can hide with wigs, weaves, or extensions, no matter how well-done they are.
Let’s talk more about hair for a minute, because it is at the core of black beauty standards. The above picture is probably the only picture I have of myself within the past 10 years with my hair in its natural, uncovered state. Since the idea of being seen with my natural hair meant letting people see me as my most authentic black self, showing it to the world is slightly terrifying.
Viola Davis, who started wearing wigs after developing stress-related alopecia, continued to wear them after her condition was resolved. She described her insecurity about her natural hair in an interview with Vulture: “I wore a wig in the Jacuzzi. I had a wig I wore around the house. I had a wig that I wore to events. I had a wig that I wore when I worked out. I never showed my natural hair. It was a crutch, not an enhancement . . . I was so desperate for people to think that I was beautiful.” I’ve been wearing wigs for the past few years for the same reasons.
The idea of being with a white man was never about the men themselves, who, besides their whiteness, are often mediocre. It’s that being loved by a white man would make up for my perceived inadequacy as a black woman.
Black girls, especially darker-skinned ones, are unwanted. Up until very recently (praise be to Shonda Rhimes), we were not the love interests. Books, TV shows, and film didn’t acknowledge our humanity and complexity, with the occasional exception of the lighter-skinned black girl. The way we are portrayed in the media is representative of real life desirability politics. According to OkCupid’s data on race and attraction, black women are the least desirable among all groups of women.
The first, and only, boyfriend I ever had was a white guy. As inexperienced and anxious I was about relationships, he made me feel comfortable because he made me feel good about myself. I was very insecure, so I needed him to frequently tell me that I was beautiful.
I realize now, years later, that I probably had no business being in a relationship with anyone at the time. But he was hard to resist, because by just saying simple, trite things about how much he cared about me, he made me feel like royalty. Because this white man had chosen me, somewhere in the depths of my subconsciousness, where the internalized racism dwells, I knew that I had won the jackpot. Knowing that he had chosen me instead of a white woman somehow compensated for my blackness and made me feel special. It proved that I was actually beautiful (despite what I had been made to believe my whole life) and capable of being loved. And as an added bonus, if we ended up having kids, I wouldn’t worry as much about my daughter (who would have lighter skin and curlier hair than I do) having the same self-esteem issues that I did as a child.
The guy I mentioned at the beginning of this piece ended up flat-out rejecting me. Which was totally fine, and expected. What I felt afterward were the normal symptoms of “being rejected by your crush” syndrome: humiliation, hurt, longing, loneliness. But also disappointment in knowing that I’ve once again failed to achieve the ultimate goal of obtaining the white male gaze. I felt worthless: I’m not pretty, or smart, or interesting. I, as a black woman, am not worthy of loving, or at least that’s how I felt. I’m working on realizing I am worthy of those things (in general, not just from white men) unlearning years’ worth of lies I’ve been told about my value.
Loving oneself as a woman of color is as vital to survival as it is revolutionary. That’s why the idea of a young black girl wanting to look like her brought tears to Janelle Monáe’s eyes during an appearance on The Queen Latifah Show. This is why Lupita Nyong’o’s rise to fame as a dark-skinned black woman is so relevant to our community. And why at the SAG Awards Viola Davis thanked the creators of How to Get Away With Murder “for thinking that a sexualized, messy, mysterious woman could be a 49-year-old, dark-skinned African-American woman who looks like me.”
Thankfully, we live in a time when it is becoming both legal and acceptable for people to date whomever they want. I don’t think my attraction to white men is inherently problematic. Though since it has been a pattern, I do think that it’s necessary to analyze it and interpret racial patterns of attraction with a sociological lens, and I would encourage everyone to do the same. Be attracted to whomever you want, but understand why you have these attractions and how they perpetuate racism if you’re white, and how they reflect internalized racism if you’re a person of color.