I spent my second day in Mostar, a small, fairytale town in the southern Herzegovina part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, surrounded by lovely people. I met one of them, Nikola, on Grindr, and he picked me up in front of my hotel at 7pm for a scenic drive around the mountains overlooking Mostar.
When I announced that it was my 49th birthday, he nearly drove over a cliff.
“What?” my 34-year-old (according to his profile) date said, looking away from the amazing landscape ahead of us to re-evaluate the middle-aged guy riding shotgun. “I never would have guessed that. You look so much younger.”
I waited for more… and waited. What? No “Black don’t crack”? Nothing about how dark skin ages better than white skin?
Nope. That was it. I didn’t ask Nikola what age he would have guessed (45? 40? 35?), because what he hadn’t said was the sweetest birthday gift, topped off by a bottle of Bosnian liqueur when he dropped me off two hours later. By not making my agelessness about race, he made me feel special as well as younger.
Take note, boys. This is how you do it. Sadly, when talking to black men on Grindr and in life, some non-black men won’t even pretend to be color blind. If they’re not overtly connecting everything about us to race, from our youthful glow to our athleticism to our body odor, they’re approaching us with racially coded greetings like “Chocolate” and “Black stallion.”
I’ll never take a “black c*ck” comment as a compliment, and every time I reveal my age to a shocked white person (usually gay, always male) who says “Black don’t crack” or something similar, it makes me feel old and cranky. For us, the frustratingly ungrammatical saying is a vernacular expression of black pride, but coming from a white guy, it sounds patronizing, as if he’s qualifying black beauty, or putting it in a box labeled “Other.”
I know I’m not alone in my distaste for all the “Chocolate” talk. I’ve logged lots of time with gay black friends both in the U.S. and abroad, rolling our eyes and sharing the silly “black” messages we receive on Grindr, Tinder, WhatsApp, and all the other virtual realities where people say ridiculous things they’d never say in person.
Sure there are black guys who don’t mind being regarded as the “black” guy. Some of them even incorporate their race into their Grindr names–which is their choice, not someone else’s. But I suspect there are far more who would rather not be singled out by non-blacks with words linked to the color of their skin.
The biggest problem with racially coded hookup talk is that, in addition to being hackneyed as hell, it immediately segregates and separates us when a simple “Hello handsome” would suffice. The last time I checked, I was neither equine nor edible. I don’t even like the taste of chocolate!
We get it. We’re black. And in places like South America, Australia, Southeast Asia, India, and Eastern Europe, there aren’t too many of us walking around.
It’s cute when a teenage guy at a smalltown bus station in Bosnia or a group of tween girls outside of a mosque in Sarajevo approach me for a selfie. They’re curious kids, and since I might be the only black person they see in real life this year, it makes sense that they’d get a little starstruck.
Their interest may be contingent upon my race, but they never openly make it about the color of my skin. And it doesn’t get old or annoying because it happens infrequently enough not to.
There was a time when I felt the same way about “black” this, “black” that from gay white men. When I first moved to Buenos Aires in 2006, I was so shy and intimidated by the foreign language that I was thrilled when locals approached me in English, even if one of the only words they knew was “black.”
“Is it true what they say about black men?” didn’t really start to grate until I was hearing it for well over the millionth time, in Argentina, in Thailand, and even in places heavily populated with native English speakers (and occasionally black men), like Australia and South Africa.
It’s the repetition that makes all of the “black” talk so frustrating. I know it’s not malicious, and I don’t believe it’s necessarily racist. Still, whether the guys who lazily go there realize it, “Chocolate stud” and “Black beauty” (yep, another equine reference) sound as ridiculous as calling us “exotic.” They’re just different ways of categorizing black men as “Other.”
Thankfully, fewer guys go the “black” route than not when it comes to my incoming Grindr messages. And when they do, I no longer feel compelled to gripe in response, which in the past has led some of them to hurl the N-word at me.
The last few times I complained about racially coded come-ons, one guy told me to “be grateful” for the attention and another replied with incredibly telling words: Man you are a black. We (whites) are gift for you.
I decided to graciously accept his “gift” and say no more. Then I tossed it into the garbage along with “Black stallion,” “Chocolate,” “Black don’t crack,” and the rest of the “black” trash.
I prefer Nikola’s gift. The only color involved–red–belonged to the Bosnian liqueur on the side. Cheers.