Ever since I started noticing boys which was probably around 4th grade, I had this feeling that white boys were not an option for me. No one had ever literally said that to me, it was a notion that I had clearly inherited, it’s not just our looks that we inherit unfortunately. Either way, that’s just how it was for me, I simply excluded them. I started to notice in grade school how I gravitated toward only black and Hispanic boys. It just seemed to me this is just naturally how it “should” be.
Though, before I go further let me point a few other things out. I am an afro Latina, with very fair light skin and green eyes and in my family, I am one of only two light skinned women. It never really occurred to me what that meant to either myself or the outside world until one moment in 7th grade. I lived in a predominantly black and Hispanic community. I spoke Spanish, I loved Spanish and fried foods, R&B, Hip Hop, Salsa and everything about my rich culture and my people. This was how I was raised. I never thought that I could be perceived as anything different than that. Let me say this is something I struggle with even today, I’m aware of the privilege my light skin gives me, and I struggle between wishing I looked more like my people and owning all of who I am, especially in this moment in time.
In 6th grade I had a crush, he was black, and he was beautiful. He was smart, funny and had a great smile. We talked and one day waiting for the bus outside school we kissed, just a tap kiss. Nevertheless, shortly after that we began “dating”, which at that time meant, holding hands, eating lunch together and walking me to the bus. One morning I remember getting off the bus at school and hearing that some girls wanted to fight me. I couldn’t imagine who or why. Later that afternoon I found out from my best friend, that a few black girls whom I wasn’t exactly friends with were pissed because I was dating this boy. I racked my brain trying to figure out what the issue was and soon realized they didn’t see me as I saw myself. I talked this out with my friend who is black, and though she didn’t feel that way. She was able to understand their position. Now I will not assume to know how they felt because the truth is, it was never discussed. I called my mom from school and she came to school and essentially threatened everyone and well nothing ever came of it, though I was left impacted for life.
After this incident, I began to question who I was, was I a fake, did I just acclimate to my surroundings etc.… An existential crisis at 10, and with parents who had no clue on how to have a real discussion with me about any of this. So, what I did was I chose to claim who I believed I was, I kept dating this boy and I didn’t let what other opinions were on the matter affect my choice. However, they did deeply affect my self-identity. Living in a household of chaos and where my needs were at the bottom of the list, I was left to explore and define this on my own.
As stated, I claimed who I was, and I also realized that I lived in a world that was not ready for such an exclamation or lack of excuses. This had me look at everything, I began questioning what I liked, disliked, all my choices. Now though I knew who I was, it didn’t change the fact that what they saw was a light skinned girl with light eyes and not the Indigenous girl I am. Or if they were also indigenous, they saw a light skinned privileged girl. I was constantly stepping outside the boundaries of others and having to deal with the impact of that, just by existing. So, that’s where the fear of dating a white boy originated. I started to read books and magazines. I watched every movie I could find. What I came away with was as Anita told Maria in West Side Story, “stick to your own kind”. That was my safest bet. I began studying everyone and everything around me. I saw our cultural differences and the assumed views our cultures had of one another. It was traumatizing, and it was sad. Based on what I had been told, seen, read, and experienced, I came to the following conclusion. White men dip into the Latina/Black pool for few reasons. 1. To experiment, 2. We’re thought to be slutty and sexually promiscuous 3. We are the women to have on the side. My response to this was a quick fast get the hell out of here. That’s when I officially made the decision for myself, no white boys for me and I stuck to it. Stuck to it I did, at least until after my divorce from my Puerto Rican husband. Hey, trauma changes people.
I had a mild flirtation going on with a white business associate I often crossed paths with at work. He was handsome, accomplished, and he was white. We never crossed any lines until a few years later when he got wind that I was divorced and to my surprise so was he. After a few phone calls about life after divorce, kids etc. he asked me out, I was terrified, but I said yes. Every single fear I had developed and some new ones, came up. To be completely honest, deep down inside, I never really thought I would be any more than a good lay and a good time. I eventually said fuck it, I met my fear head on and went for it and we had a great time. Our first date was a blast, great conversation, great food, a night of dancing and laughing and yes, we spent the night together, but to be fair I had known him for over 5 years at this point, we were pretty good friends (still making excuses for myself). For the next 6-9 months we dated and had a great time. We had some similarities and many differences, but we had a great friendship and amazing chemistry. Our relationship deepened, and we bonded over our mutual experience as single parents and starting over after failed marriages. It was great, and I fell in love, as did he. I recall one of our last days together, after making love, he told me I really thought you were the one. Our last night together went like this; he had called me, he said hearing my voice made him want to see me immediately. He drove over an hour to see me close to the middle of the night. He came over, we talked, we laughed, and we made love and that was the end. Less than a year later he was in a serious relationship with a single, never married Italian woman with no children. Someone he could proudly bring home to meet mom and dad.
I knew why he ended it and I confronted him about it, but he denied it. We had come to the point in our relationship where as he said, he thought I was the one. So, what would have been the logical next step be? Introducing me to his family and eventually his children. I believe, I didn’t fit the model for a traditional Sicilian Roman Catholic family, because I am Spanish, divorced single mom. Not an Italian, divorced single mom which I assume would have eased the burden a bit. I never did get him to admit it to me, but I didn’t have to because I just knew. I knew he loved me and I knew the block had nothing to do with how he felt for me personally. It was heartbreaking, I didn’t go into a deep depression about it, but I was present to the things that divide us as human beings. The fears of letting down our families, of upholding standards that we didn’t create, to doing the “right” thing for the external perception versus following our hearts or beliefs. This was a sad state indeed and such a downright depressing way to live life.
Eventually I got over him and over it. I did end up dating another white man after him, but I kept it cool and detached, zero emotions. We are friends to this day. This experience did not leave me opposed to dating white men in the least, though I would be lying, especially in this current social climate if I said I wouldn’t hesitate. I would hesitate, but I wouldn’t let it stop me. After all, these are made-up barriers and inherited ideals we must outgrow if we are to evolve. Of course, there are people evolving everywhere all the time, but I can only speak of my own experience and it is still something I struggle with and see others struggle with too.
This conversation hasn’t gone away for me, but I’m aware of it and I know it’s not real. However, that still has not changed the fact that I know I am not always perceived by others as I am. I must work to shut off the voices that are constantly screaming at me which stereotypes society has boxed me into today, which varies depending on who I am in front of. In front of a white man/woman who knows I’m an afro Latina, I show up as one thing. In front of a black man/woman I show up as another and so on and so on… This really does get exhausting, but even through my personal fears, inherited voices and self-deprecation, I go on. I talk about this stuff with friends and clients all the time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and so it will take some time for us to get to the place where we see one another as human being to human being. I have hope, and I believe that we are working on breaking stereotypes and the boxes we put people in before even really knowing them.
This works both ways, all ways in fact. As a parent, I especially believe this is an important teaching, one that I’ve discussed with my children, whom have already had their own experiences regarding the color of their skin and their heritage. Of course, we can’t change everyone’s perception, but we can create change one being at a time. Right now, that is the best we’ve got.