This article was originally written in 2016.
I am probably black.
That statement in itself might look ridiculous to anyone who doesn't know me. To anyone who has stumbled across this article, seen a couple of my photos and thought:
Is this girl crazy?She's very clearly not white.
But for me, it sums up life as I've known it to be because for the longest time I grew up believing that I was.
White, that is.
And as unbelievable as that sounds, this went on for most of my life.
It wasn't until I lost my Dad last year, that I began to unravel the strange story that I'd grown up believing.
Because there's a lot about myself that I'm trying to find out, the story is still very much unravelling. But in order to stop myself from unravelling, I am traveling.
I'm growing through travel.
I am staying on the move.
Because my life was thrown into a permanent state of flux. So why not embrace the chaos?
I've decided to do it all on my own terms.
Growing Up White
Growing up, the word “black" was never used to describe me. I was never properly black, because I didn't talk black and I had zero cultural ties to anything considered black by the few black people I knew. To some, my features weren't black enough. To others, my very presence among white people all the time, was enough to negate my blackness.
But with a green-eyed Irish Mother, a white Father and a brother, who only had to step outside for 10 minutes to see his freckles multiply by the dozen, my own default was set as white, too.
My parents and I
I was told by my parents that I inherited my dark skin and curly hair from a distant ancestor on my Mother's side of the family.
And unless I probed my parents for answers (and I did so each and every time someone else reminded me that I just didn't look like I belonged) we just didn't talk about the likelihood of this story being true.
We got on with our lives. And I learned to bury my insecurities.
But as most non-white people will tell you, other people ask you justify your existence in a world where the default is set to white, ALL THE TIME.
So when my protective bubble of whiteness was popped with probing, persistent questions from strangers, it stung me because I never had an answer for why I was black.
On holiday as a kid, the reminders that I stood out like a sore thumb in a family where Factor 30+ sunscreen)was always a necessity in anything hotter than 64 F, always hit me like a freight train.
Was it possible I'd been adopted? How was I related to these people? Where did I get my hair from? Was I mixed, or Eritrean or just in denial?
Sometimes it was comical. Surrounded by white people on both sides of my family, I used to think my appearance in Christmas photos was funny. But I grew up never posting pictures of my family online because I cared too much what people thought.
My younger half-brother and me
When we visited my Mum's tiny town on the West coast of Ireland each year for my summer holidays (where you'd be hard-pushed to find anyone a shade up from milk-bottle-translucent, for miles) and I was told to “go back to Africa" — I wasn't particularly amused.
When aged seventeen, a teacher asked me in front of the whole class why I was marked down on the school system as “white-British" (not the smartest move from my parents, admittedly), I just didn't know what to say.
Looking back though, racial issues didn't take up too much of my headspace. But then again, that's because white people don't give too much thought to their whiteness unless they absolutely have to.
Unless they're forced to square up to their whiteness in the mirror and address how this sets them apart and above, other groups.
Not to mention, up until around the age of 16, I really believed I was white, too.
Not necessarily white in appearance, but more in the cultural, ethnic sense. I wasn't blind but I didn't believe I was black, either.
Mainly though, race was something I didn't think too much about unless other people asked me to explain myself.
My parents were ticking boxes that said I was “white-British," so to anyone who asked me, I was that too.
Luckily, I was surrounded with the kind of love from two parents that was so thick, so unwavering and so real, that sometimes I felt smothered by it. I never felt unloved. And I never felt like an outsider among the people that loved me.
But unfortunately, my family home was not a microcosm for the real world.
I did — and still do — get asked “where I'm from" around five times a month. I still don't know what to say.
On the rare occasions I heard ignorant friends or family members speak about blackness as an illness — as a concept that made people more threatening, or less attractive, or less palatable and then turned to me and said something like:
“Oh well, you're not black so it doesn't matter,"
or, “Yeah, but I'm not talking about you, am I?"
…that was alienating. THAT made me feel less than human. And so, I overcompensated. I grew louder and more confident than anyone else, because I felt I had no other option.
But then two years ago my Father got really sick – and then last year he died. Like so many people who lose a parent from cancer, I found myself unable to function. My life and the life of my family was drained of colour. Things went grey, bleak, desolate.
I also felt extremely disconnected from who I was, or should I say, who I thought I was.
So when I reached rock bottom, I started to dig myself out. I started digging because my Father's death was the catalyst for change and I felt that I didn't have anything left to lose. Half of my story had died with him, after all.
And so I did a DNA test in Easter 2016 and discovered that I'd never actually been related to the fantastic, funny, blue-eyed man who raised me — in the biological sense, anyway.
There's some material online about how to put yourself together after losing a parent. But the manual into how not to implode when you realise that parent was never related to you in the first place?
That one's unchartered territory, unsurprisingly and the news hollowed me out from the inside.
When I found out via email one afternoon at work in London that half my family weren't actually related to me, that I wasn't able to call my Dad my own anymore and that I probably had a whole other life waiting for me in a not-so-distant universe, it nearly broke me.
I must have left around five dents in the walls in the house I grew up in, whilst screaming at my Mum for an explanation, which came about slowly and painfully when I begged for it.
My Mum doesn't know much about this man (who I'll never call a Father), other than the fact he was “dark" and spoke with an Irish accent.
So I'm also coming to terms with the fact that I may never have that missing piece of my ethnic jigsaw puzzle either.
And after 23 years of saying I was British/Irish and something else unknown, I don't really know what I am.
And more than anything, I would love to know WHERE my blackness comes from.
Travel and Identity
So to overcome all this; the death, the lies, the awkward conversations, the lack of closure over my heritage and the near-collective family silence that has ensued since I've told everyone the truth — I've decided to travel.
To some, it might look like I'm running away from a series of painful experiences back home. To me, I'm delving head-first, arms wide, legs akimbo into my great unknown (read: non-white spaces) to see how that's going to help me define my own identity.
Because after 23 years, I've decided that my identity is going to be on my terms.
Whilst “blackness" is something I felt I could never really lay claim to, I also know there is no one-size-fits-all approach to being black.
And if I don't want to identify as black, I guess I don't have to.
There's still a part of me that feels as if I'm denying my Father, though (the one that raised me) by exploring this unknown part of my heritage.
I'll never want to replace my Dad, but I also feel a bit guilty that all he did for me wasn't enough to quell this deep-rooted desire within me, to find out where I come from, ethnically.
But then again, doesn't everyone deserve to know that?
At the moment, I guess I still don't really consider myself any different to the person my parents raised me to be. But after 23 years of not knowing why I look the way I do and finding out all this crazy, weird information, I feel…a shift in mindset.
And I plan on doing a DNA test to shed some more light into where my ancestors may have come from.
To be raised white when you're black is to feel like you're in a permanent state of flux with your identity; it's chaotic and confusing and so, I've chosen to embrace the chaos.
Adapting to white and black company growing up means I can feel at home almost anywhere and at the moment, the journey is my home.
Traveling helps me find out more about where my ethnic origins lie. It's the obvious and only way to facilitate my journey of personal growth, so I'm not going to stop.
Right now, I'm traveling to find out who I am and where I come from.
I'm traveling to shape myself into the person I want to be.
And I'm traveling to find my own identity – whatever that is.
Because I think I'm (probably) black.
How We Met is a series where xoNecole talks love and relationships with real-life couples. We learn how they met, how like turned into love, and how they make their love work.
I’m willing to bet that this is not the first time you’ve seen this couple. Dalen Spratt is a television producer, owner of a tailored men's suit line, and creator of Ghost Brothers: Haunted Houseguests, which is currently streaming on Destination America. Stacey Spratt is also a serial entrepreneur, focusing mostly on events and the nonprofit world, and she is the owner of two award-winning craft beer bars called Harlem Hops. But their accolades are not what united them.
The couple met years ago at their alma mater, Clark Atlanta University, when they were still working to create the life they have now, and if you had told them then that they’d eventually tie the knot, the pair probably would’ve laughed in your face.
Today, they’re new parents, flourishing in their careers, and each others’ “teammates.” When desiring love, Dalen recommends not looking to other couples for advice. And Stacey advises staying true to what you want. “Don’t put age or limitations on love and children. If God could do it for me, why can’t he do it for you?”
Here's How We Met.
How did you meet?
Dalen: We met in 2005 when she was advising the Greek sororities and fraternities in college. She was old as hell in college, and I was a young buck (laughs). Everybody had a crush on her, but I didn’t think much of it. Then, in 2007, we were in the same grad school class, but she still wasn’t trying to see me then either. I had to catch her five years ago; I was very patient.
Stacey: Yeah, everybody in our grad school class called him Young, Fresh to Death because he was always dressed in B-school (what CAU affectionately refers to as business major classes), and we’d just wear sweatpants (laughs).
So, I know Dalen was always attracted to you. But what about you? Did your attraction to him develop over time?
Stacey: So 2006-2008 – all the years went by. I don’t think we were really thinking about each other at all back then. Years later, I had an event in Dallas, and I booked him to be a speaker. Then, a few years ago, Dalen posted a photo of him on Instagram, and I slid in his DMs. I remembered him being so young and handsome, and I’m like, I should hook him up with my younger cousin. His response was: "If you’re not hooking me up with you, no thank you." But I still thought he was too young at the time, and he started pulling receipts. Taraji P. Henson was dating someone young at the time, Gabrielle Union–
Dalen: First of all, I didn’t do that. You did that.
Stacey: Okay, I did. I thought he was a cutie pie, but that age thing was on my mind!
"Dalen posted a photo of him on Instagram, and I slid in his DMs. I remembered him being so young and handsome, and I’m like, I should hook him up with my younger cousin. His response was: 'If you’re not hooking me up with you, no thank you.'"
Talk to me about the first date. How did he change your mind?
Stacey: Our first date was at Tin Lizzy's in Atlanta. During that time, he was living in Dallas, so it was long-distance. But he came into town, and we just had a good time. We talked a lot, which we still do. It wasn’t anything fantastic.
Dalen: Don’t downplay our first date.
Then, walk me through your courtship. How did you get to the next level? What was that conversation like?
Stacey: I think he knew at age 43 or 44 I wasn’t playing around. But also, I think it just naturally progressed.
Dalen: Yeah, it just happened naturally. And I’m going to be honest, I don’t think initially either one of us thought it would be as serious as it was. She thought I was too young and I wasn’t ready for marriage, kids, and all that. I think we both thought we were just hanging out. But after spending so much time together, a lot of stuff started happening. Like, she had to have surgery early on. It wasn’t just time together; it was intimate time. Next thing we know, we just never left each other. That’s why we still don’t have an anniversary date because we never really asked.
"It wasn't just time together; it was intimate time. Next thing we know, we just never left each other. That's why we still don't have an anniversary date because we never really asked."
What made you want to commit to each other?
Dalen: The moment I knew Stacey was for me was from a phone call. I don’t really like talking on the phone, and I can be really blunt sometimes. But we were talking, and I said, ‘I don’t really feel like talking anymore.’ And she was just like, okay, and hung up. I wasn’t trying to be rude, and she understood that. It sounds bad, but that’s how I knew she just got me. I felt like she could get my random awkward moments, and she does to this day.
Stacey: For me, I liked him as a person. Even when times get rough and tough, I could still like him as a human. He is my best friend. We have time. We laugh until we cry, and it’s just always like that. Even when we get pissed at each other, something happens, and we fix it. Also, how he treats his mother. That’s a momma’s boy, but I’m a daddy’s girl – so I get it. I know how I want to be treated, and I see how he is with her and that’s beautiful.
What are some important lessons you’ve learned about yourself through loving your partner in this relationship?
Dalen: I grew up an only child and she grew up with siblings. So, when you have someone who is used to doing things by themselves, there is definitely a learning curve when you get into a serious relationship. It’s funny now, but it was definitely a process.
Stacey: I agree – definitely the only child thing. There’s times I look at him like, did you ever live with anyone else? That comes from being momma's baby, too. I have to say, my “mother-in-love” spoiled him. But also with Axel (their daughter), that brings another level of patience.
Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images
What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome together?
Dalen: We’ve gone through a lot within the years we’ve been together. We suffered two miscarriages – I’d say that’s the biggest.
Stacey: Having those miscarriages and trying to understand what’s next and what our options are was a lot. I had two myomectomies (fibroid surgeries), and he supported me through that time. Also, still, it was on my mind that he’s eight years younger than me. I was wondering if I can’t carry [a child] what that looks like for us. We had very real conversations pretty early in our relationship.
"Having those miscarriages and trying to understand what’s next and what our options are was a lot. I had two myomectomies (fibroid surgeries), and he supported me through that time. Also, still, it was on my mind that he’s eight years younger than me."
What do you fight the most about?
Dalen: Nagging. Stacey nags; she’s a complainer. She’s that momma that will look in a room and just hunt for something to complain about. Like, I’m worried for Axel when she's in high school.
Stacey: It’s because I like things to be in place. He leaves stuff all over the place. I can tell where he’s been in the house because something is left around. So he says I’m nagging – but it’s like, just get your stuff.
What are your love languages?
Dalen: Stacey is gifts all day.
Dalen: We’ve talked about this. xoNecole is about to cause problems in our home (laughs).
Stacey: Obviously I love you. *thinks again* It’s words of affirmation.
Dalen: That’s it.
What’s your favorite thing about each other?
Dalen: I’ve always respected her business-mindedness. That may sound superficial, but it’s not because I’ve never been with someone who thinks like me. It’s one of my most treasured things about her. I remember one day, I was just running through ideas with her, and each time Stacey had a suggestion on how I could make it better. It’s just very comforting. She takes whatever I’m doing and elevates it – including me.
Stacey: I love Dalen’s hustle and creativity. He’s been on multiple shows, and he continues to create, produce, and reinvent himself and the product he’s putting out. I love that we can create together and bounce things off each other. Even though we may be in different arenas, there’s nothing he can’t offer me great advice about. I love that drive.
Finally, how did you know it was love?
Dalen: Well – she said it – first. (laughs)
Stacey: And he looked at me and smiled! He didn’t say it back. We were on a trip, out of the country.
Dalen: We were arguing when she said it, and she just threw it out.
Stacey: But we continue to do that. We’ve spent holidays and everything outside of the country.
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Feature image courtesy
It’s semi-consistent that someone will hit me up based on an article I’ve written and will say, “Where did you come up with the idea to tackle that?” Although I do spend a good amount of time hanging out in cyberspace to see what folks are talking about, you’d be amazed how much inspiration comes from my clients, chile. And today’s topic? You already read the title, and yeah, it really is wild how much of an issue this is in a lot of relationships — marriages included.
How in the world folks let something like this get past them before jumping the broom, I will never (EVER) know because even if you and your partner decide to practice abstinence before saying “I do” (yes, some people do still do that), intimacy isn’t just about sex. And so, if you plan on vowing “until death parts us” to another individual, conversations need to get hella extensive, deep, and personal when it comes to what each other’s wants, needs, and expectations are — both inside of the bedroom as well as outside of it. And yes, oral sex applies.
Listen, I tell people often that you are in over-the-top denial if you think that someone is going to sign up for monogamy (the original definition of that is marriage, not dating, by the way; “exclusivity” is a more appropriate word for dating dynamics) and either end up in a sexless marriage (which is sex that transpires 10-15 times a year) or one where their sexual needs end up going unmet (especially on a consistent basis).
So, if cunnilingus is a big deal to you (and sis, I totally get it if that is indeed the case) and he’s either not interested in, umm, “meeting you where you’re at” or even if he’s simply less than enthused about doing so, please don’t just grin and bear it in silence. THAT IS A PROBLEM THAT IS ONLY GOING TO GET BIGGER.
That said, let’s look into how this issue can be addressed…
What’s His Reason?Giphy
Remember how I said that my clients inspire me a lot as far as content goes? Well, I’ll never forget sitting across from a man who was an elder at his church. Chile, he was a real trip because while he had no problem with his wife going down on him (more on that in a sec), he said that there was no biblical stance behind him “returning the favor.” Don’t get me started on how many times church folks act shocked by how much Word I know, and you know what? I am very aware of the fact that sex is mentioned in the Bible quite a bit.
For instance, I Corinthians 7:5 tells married couples not to deprive each other; and that sex needs to happen consistently. The Message Version of I Corinthians 6:16-20 speaks to sex not being designed to be casual. The Song of Solomon? Chile, that book is so graphic (if you know how to read in between the lines). And then there is Proverbs 5:15(NKJV): “Drink water from your own cistern and running water from your own well.”
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: a cistern is not only “a reservoir, tank, or container for storing or holding water or other liquid,” it is also “a reservoir or receptacle of some natural fluid of the body.” That second definition? Yes, the vagina would certainly qualify — so thinking that there is some spiritual reason to not engage? I don’t think there is one. Not for married folks.
Still, I’m using this as an example because no one comes up with something like an anti-oral stance without some sort of reasoning behind it. It might be how they were raised. It might be some sort of religious thing. It might be because they had a bad first (second or third) experience. It might be because they are afraid and are too scared to (openly) admit it. It might be because they are simply selfish individuals. Whatever the case may be, if you’ve got a partner who is against cunnilingus, remember that good sex typically includes some levels of emotional intimacy. Don’t just accept what he’s saying — talk to him about it.
Does He Expect Fellatio, Tho?Giphy
Many of us know the position that DJ Khaled was on a few years back; you know, when he said that he expects oral sex from his wife, yet he doesn’t give it. Now, to be fair, there is probably some cultural and religious stuff behind it all, but still: he was talking about being a king, and that is why he should be serviced — and how could we not see a lot of ego in all of that?
Personally — and if it’s TMI, I apologize in advance — I never found myself in the position where oral sex was going down, and reciprocity wasn’t present. I did have one sex partner where it never happened, yet it wasn’t for a lack of him trying or offering (I just didn’t want to for some reason). For me, my sexual history consisted of people who were my friends…which means we knew each other really well…which means we knew each other’s sexual needs and expectations way before anything ever transpired.
However, even if that’s not the case for you, if “head” hasn’t gone down yet, talk all of this out. If it has, and it seems like you’re the only one on the giving end, you need to bring it up. After all, closed mouths don’t get fed — or eaten (I mean…). If he gives you some DJ Khaled rah-rah, that’s gaslighting to the billionth degree because if it’s a religious thing, most religions promote abstinence outside of marriage. If he comes at you on some what I once heard R&B singer Keith Sweat say at a concert here in Nashville, that “real men don’t need to go down on women” because their penis should be enough — that’s nonsense.
For one thing, if you should be fine with just his penis, he should be fine with just your vagina. Secondly, a lot more women climax from cunnilingus than vaginal penetration alone — so, if he’s a pleaser, he’s gonna want to make sure that you get pleased. And if he isn’t one…that means sex is mostly about him, and he sucks (no pun intended) for thinking that way.
And what about you? Should you keep on…pleasuring him in that fashion if he’s not willing to “return the favor?" My vote is “no” because you are rewarding his selfishness, which is something that we’ll get more into in just a moment. That said, I will put on record that since every successful relationship includes levels of compromise, there is something else that you should consider.
Is He Open to “Compromise”?Giphy
Compromise. On so many levels, it is the foundation of pretty much relationships. And how do you compromise when it comes to something like this? Compromise can be how long he’s down there for (because if you’ve ever been with a man who enjoys going down, you know that he can be there for quite a while…and we appreciate it!). Compromise can be bringing sex-related condiments like whipped cream or honey into the dynamic. Compromise can be “counting up to 69” (if you know what I mean) so that he can be receiving pleasure while he’s giving it (which can serve as an absolutely awesome distraction). Compromise can be not expecting it every time sex goes down.
Would I compromise with a man who wasn’t big on cunnilingus? Probably not because that’s how big of a deal it is for me. However, I get that sometimes you can meet a good man, and his not being interested in “being a giver” isn’t exactly a deal-breaker for you. If that is indeed the case, compromise is the middle ground that just might work for you.
Okay, but what if you can’t bend in this department?
Is It a Deal-Breaker for You?Giphy
A few years back, I wrote an article for the platform entitled, “These Are The Deal-Breakers You Shouldn't Hesitate To Have In The Bedroom.” And although “no oral sex” wasn’t on the list, I don’t think it’s shallow in the least if that is something that you just can’t seem to do without, especially if you’re gearing up for (or are already in) an exclusive type of situation. Again, it can’t be said enough that when you sign up to be someone’s one-and-only, and they do the same thing for you, this means that you are to be looking to them, and them alone, to get certain needs met.
And here’s the irony about deal-breakers: what they basically mean is two people came to the negotiating table and couldn’t find a middle ground. And while, I don’t think that anyone should feel bad about not doing something that they don’t want to do, if your man’s reason for not going down on you is simply, “I don’t want to” and he’s not even open to trying to find some workarounds, you’re probably going to find yourself very unhappy and sexually unfulfilled up the road and that means that there is a huge potential for other problems down the pike too.
It can’t be said enough that a deal-breaker is something that can’t be worked out after two people have tried to work things out. If the two of you have openly discussed the topic and he’s not willing to try to bend and you’re not willing to give oral sex up — no, it’s not shallow to end the relationship. Dating is about seeing who meets your needs, and it’s more than fair to see oral sex as a bona fide sexual need.
Do You See Signs of Selfishness Elsewhere?Giphy
Are there some people who just don’t like oral sex, no matter what? Of course, there are (check out “Sooo...What If You HATE Oral?”). Hey, I even wrote a while back about some people who aren’t fond of kissing (check out “Umm, What's Up With These People Who Hate Kissing?”). Now I will say this: for the very few I know who don’t like to give or receive, they don’t apply when it comes to what I’m about to address that is probably the issue for everyone else who takes a pass on oral sex: selfishness. And since we’re talking about guys who don’t go down, specifically, in this piece — selfish men.
Do you know what I’ve noticed about those types of guys? They tend to be selfish in other areas too because, what they are essentially saying is, that they want you to do what pleases them while not being interested in returning the favor. And that tends to manifest in other reasons. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself the following questions, and then be real with yourself about the answers:
Do you find yourself doing most of the work to keep the relationship going? Are you the bigger giver overall? If you weren’t the one initiating calls, dates, etc. would you even be in a consistent relationship? Does he rarely compromise? Do you keep putting other needs that you have on the back burner? Does he make you feel like other wants that you have aren’t that big of a deal or that you are blowing things out of proportion for not getting them met? Does he try to make you feel guilty for having certain expectations?
A wise person once said that good sex is 10 percent of a relationship while bad sex is 90 percent because the bedroom sets the tone for the rest of the room of the house. That said, if you’ve got a man who won't go down on you (or acts like it’s a chore if he does), it’s clear that your bedroom has some issues. And so, I can’t help but ask: How’s the rest of your “house” doing? If it’s selfish elsewhere, that’s an even bigger red flag.
All You Can Do Is Ask. Discuss. Then Make Your Move. One Way or Another.Season 1 Doesnt Work Like That GIF by The Roku ChannelGiphy
The reason why I decided to provide some things to think about instead of writing what I think a blanket solution should be is because the reality is that when it comes to stuff like this, no two couples are the same; there are so many nuances to sexual needs that it’s impossible to cover it all in just one article.
What I did want to make sure of is you knew that 1) your sexual needs are legitimate; 2) the way to address getting them met is to not suppress or make assumptions; you need to address them head-on, and 3) if he’s not willing to give you what you need (or want, if you choose to see cunnilingus in that fashion), you’ve got some serious thinking to do. Because, again, going the distance with someone who isn’t meeting a sexual desire that satisfies you can be a setup for all kinds of drama that could be avoided if the two of you aren’t kind enough to each other to say, “You know what? Maybe we’re not as right for each other as we thought.”
Sex is the only thing in a relationship. NOT. AT. ALL. At the same time, I’ve been working with sexually unhappy couples long enough to know that if you don’t take your needs seriously, “snowflakes” have a way of turning into avalanches.
If he won’t go down on you, address it. If he’s not willing to budge, don’t feel bad for making a move… on someone who wouldn’t even dream of this being an issue in the first place.
And sis, there are PLENTY of men out here who are just like that. TRUST.
Featured image by Tara Moore/Getty Images