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My Boyfriend Never Dated Within His Race Until He Met Me

A difference in perspective can be a bridge to understanding.

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Even though my boyfriend and I have only been dating for a little under the two-year mark, we've sort of developed the tradition of going to North Carolina for my mother's birthday in July. Four months after we met, her birthday came around and Gary was introduced to my family for the first time. Next year came around and we did the same thing.

This year, if Miss Rona doesn't stick around for too much longer, we'll be hitting the repeat button. I guess you can say we have a tradition flowing here. Two years ago when we went to Chapel Hill, we stayed in a hotel around the corner from my house and we were given our own studio apartment. A cute little air-conditioned Marriott-style bungalow, if you will.

One night, the vibe was great. We had just come in from a night of shooting the breeze and kicking it with my cousins, nephews, and my mother's friends from her old job. They traveled all the way down to North Carolina from New York for my mother's 61st birthday - still can't believe it. My boyfriend, my cousin and I were chilling in our Queen-sized bed and somehow the conversation took a turn and we began to talk about sex and relationships. One thing led to another and I mentioned, with complete conviction, that I will only date Black men moving forward.

At this stage in the game, I know what I want in a partner is a Black man to raise my Black children and they can be Black mixed with Black.

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Not to say that I'm racist or prejudiced against dating any other race, but that's just what I'm attracted to and where I foresee my romantic future going. I've dated Hispanic men, fooled around with a white guy during my study abroad experience in England, but I really like me some Black men.

When I said this, my boyfriend's face contorted within itself with touches of confusion and worry. "Why?" he asked me in disappointment. "I want a man who can relate to my lived experience as a Black woman," I responded. You see, my boyfriend is from Costa Rica, but he's Afro-Latino and identifies as Black. I'm Black. We're a beautiful, bold Black couple. I'm not saying that I would love him any less if he were another race, but I can say honestly that our conversations and interactions may be a bit different if he were. Sorry, not sorry. If you think back to the movie The Hate U Give starring Amandla Stenberg, her boyfriend played by KJ Apa - who is a white man - is a very woke, privileged Caucasian teenager who is well aware of his position in Amandla's character's life.

However, when he said, "I don't see race," that's where he fucked up...just a bit. "If you don't see race, then you don't see me," Amandla's character Starr replied. Little did I know, that movie would be a parallel to the conversation I would have with my boyfriend.

"I don't see race when I date," said Gary. "Well, if you don't see race, then you don't see me as a Black woman, or yourself as a Black man, for that matter," I replied. At this point in the conversation, I had forgotten that my cousin was even there on the other side of the bed. My boyfriend has had a few girlfriends, prior to myself obviously, and none of them have been Black. Considering that he lived in San Bernardino and went to a primarily white school, it makes all the sense in the world that he dated outside of his race. His last girlfriend was Filipino and every other girl prior to her was not Black either, so this is the first time he had been thrust into a conversation like this with a romantic partner, I'm sure.

Well into my academic career at Spelman College, an all-female HBCU, and developing a close friendship with my father, a strong Black man and Morehouse College graduate, I've developed an appreciation for a strong Black man. When I have children, I want to be able to explain to my daughter the lived experience from one Black woman to another and the importance of wearing our natural hair. I want my husband to talk to my son about police brutality and demonstrate the importance of a prominent Black male figure in his life.

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As a Black man, my boyfriend does not agree with me necessarily, but that's OK.

The perspective of my relationship between my boyfriend and I when it comes to races as it pertains to romance, sex and lifestyle are kind of different because I have been vocal about my preference for Black men/men of color and he said he doesn't see color when he thinks of romance and love. While we have both experienced systemic racism, racism in the workplace and much more, it does intrigue me as to how we can have similar walks of life, but two very different views. And that's OK, too.

For anyone who may be reading this piece, don't worry - the conversation ended in peace. We agreed to disagree and went our merry way to bed. We spent about an hour going back and forth trying to make one another understand our perspective, but the truth is, we can't. We never will, and that's fine. Even as two people in the same relationship, our views are very different when it comes to dating outside of our race. Let this be a lesson, a guide if you will, that a difference in opinions between two partners can either be a rut or a chance to create a safe space in a conversation - this is for you to decide.

When it comes to dating outside of your race, or even inside of your race, aside from the natural buzzwords, it's important to have the conversation about colorism, post-traumatic slave syndrome, and old family traditions if you planned on getting married. Let's get comfortable with being uncomfortable and start the conversation.

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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