Years ago, when I was struggling through a brutal frog-kissing phase, a friend helped me compile a dealmakers-over-dealbreakers love list, complete with illustrations.
We spelled out (and drew) all of the musts for my future Mr. Right: 1) Must be smart. 2) Must be funny. 3) Must be financially independent. 4) Must be out of the closet. 5) Must love pop culture. I can still remember the animated Jennifer Lopez–big booty included–that we used to illustrate No. 5. My Mr. Right would have had to get that.
For all the ground we covered, we never touched on race. When I pictured the man of my dreams, he had certain character qualities but no physical ones. He was a man without a face. Skin color never entered my mind. It still doesn’t. If you lined up the guys I’ve dated and slept with over the years, it would look like a massive Benneton ad. That multi-cultural slant; however, doesn’t apply to the ones with whom I’ve gotten serious. They’ve all had one thing in common: They’ve all been white.
How can someone who preaches equal-opportunity dating have such a whitewashed ex list himself? It’s a question I’ve been asked many times since I began writing about race and sexual attraction. In fact, it echoes a question that goes back to my virginal days on the playground: “Why do you only hang out with white people?” my black classmates often asked me. The question always seemed unfair as it wasn’t one my white classmates ever had to answer. Had my childhood pals all been black, nobody would have noticed. Wasn’t putting racial expectations on my social circle just a form of stick-with-your-own-kind racism?
I had no checklist when it came to making friends. But while many of my black classmates were sizing up my blackness and ridiculing my Caribbean accent and my fey ways (like Chiron in the newly minted Best Picture Moonlight, my childhood bullies were overwhelmingly black), the white ones were generally making more of an effort to get to know me. They became my friends almost by default. My adult social circle has expanded to include more colors and nationalities, but the black kids on the playground probably would still “tsk tsk” at the company I usually keep.
Surely they’d disapprove of my ex files even more. As I’ve lived around the world, often in countries with a minuscule number of black people, my boyfriends have all been white and Latino. (During my four and a half years in Buenos Aires, I kissed exactly three white non-Latinos, one of whom was a visiting friend from my University of Florida days.) Does that make me as racist as those I call racist for putting “No Asians” in their Grindr profiles?
In a word, no. You can’t base accusations of racist solely on a person’s friends and lovers. Well, you can, but that doesn’t make it an indisputable fact. An Asian woman isn’t automatically racist because she’s only been with Asian men; nor is a white person who’s dated only white people.
Your dating past and present doesn’t make you racist, but your dating future does when it’s predetermined by race. There is a difference between someone, like me, who has only seriously dated white men, and someone who only seriously dates white men. The former is about past and possibly present experience, while the latter indicates self-imposed limitations that encompass past, present and future.
Sexual racism involves active exclusion. When you make a point of banning an entire racial group from your pool of dating possibilities–no blacks, no whites, no Asians, no whatever–then you’ve waded into racist waters. Minorities shouldn’t be held to different dating standards than everyone else. If we’re not going to demand that gay white men date within their so-called race, we shouldn’t turn around and pin that same expectation on men of color.
As beautiful and essential as Moonlight was for finally bringing gay black love to movie screens, the romantic relationship at its center doesn’t reflect every gay black man’s personal experience, nor does it have to. If we all grew up in an apparently all-black Moonlight world, maybe it would. In the end, the people we date and with whom we fall in love are determined by a confluence of factors. It’s not our choice alone. They choose us as much as we choose them. I’ve pursued guys who were white, black, Asian, and Middle Eastern who, in turn, rejected me. You can’t always get what you want.
The men I call my exes are not completely representative of whom I would date. But for whatever reason, the guys I attract, the ones who approach me and the ones who accept my advances, both online and offline, tend to be white and in their twenties. Maybe I play a subconscious role in what I attract–perhaps I give off vibes that make them click. But it’s not something I’m interested in challenging and changing just so that I can meet someone else’s black-boyfriend quota.
Who knows what the next man of my dreams will look like? He may be white. He may be black. He may be Asian. He may be a Martian. Well, considering that I’m living on planet Earth, and I call Australia home, he’ll probably be human and white.
And he’ll probably say “mate” a lot. But I’m totally open to the completely unexpected, no matter what color he comes in.
Jeremy Helligar is the author of Is It True What They Say About Black Men?: Tales of Love, Lust and Language Barriers on the Other Side of the World. You can tweet him @Theme4Gr8Cities