This post is going to be one of the more personal ones…
My boyfriend and I met four years ago on the u-bahn. I had just moved to Germany and was riding into the city to explore when this guy sat across from me. I was immediately attracted to him. European fashion for cisgender men? It was too hot. Who ever would have thought this would be the same guy I’d anoint with his first pair of American-style sweatpants.
The story is as “cute” and simple as it usually goes: We started talking, met for a coffee, went to a movie, had dinner, next thing you know… four years have gone by.
Overall, it’s been a great relationship. I had just graduated from high school when we met and saw the world as a place only to be known through a textbook or on a tv screen. To actually be in Europe already felt so surreal, and meeting this guy who travelled extensively (at least by my standards at the time) and challenged religion and conservatism (two elements that had been strongly imposed on me by my family) made me feel safe and loved to begin my own exploration.
It was the first time in my life where I was in a position to be exactly where I wanted to be doing exactly what I wanted to do. At 17 years old. I read intensively. I traveled. I began learning German. And I kept seeing this white guy. We’d make dinner one night. We’d fly to Spain the next. Just two young energetic students in Europe.
And then we went to Asia.
It was upon arrival in Thailand in late 2012 that my self-journey led to something I didn’t yet fully grasp: My blackness. While I have blogged about this in greater detail, the fact when it comes to this is that I, like many of my black brothers and sisters in America, grew up in an environment where I was taught to see myself as “other than black” or in other words, as “mixed”.
Asia is where my identity began to shift before my eyes. I had experiences that were blatantly anti-black racist (something I had been too “colorblind” to recognize in America). Locals would put their bare arms next to mine and recoil at my “darkness” (this happened multiple times). In casual conversations with white men, they’d float the topic onto one encouraging me to pursue prostitution (this happened multiple times). It didn’t matter that I spoke perfect English, clearly came from the West, and had a white boyfriend. I was exoticized and, in the same moment, hated. Are they even mutually exclusive?
Understanding my Blackness has unveiled race as a social construct in a way that’s shattered by previous worldview. It was a view that enjoyed environments that were mostly white, couldn’t see power structures, self-identified as “mixed — WHITE and black”, and believed respectability politics (although I didn’t know the term) were to be played with enthusiasm. It used to make sense to me. But I’m not there anymore, and to remain “happy” with the life that manifested from that worldview requires me to refuse to question the world around me and make connections to different issues. When my greatest spiritual hunger is for truth and justice, how could that mindset ever exist in me again?
Since that first trip in 2012, my life has gone through transformations on all levels. It pushed me to challenge beliefs I had never even realized were beliefs, thinking of them as just things that were.
Three years later and a million miles away, I find myself back in Thailand feeling so much love for the universe. While I do not think one must travel the world to find themselves in the context of white supremacy, I am thankful that my journey could take such extreme paths to give me a mindset receptive enough to change course when necessary.
Living a life now filled with energy to learn, connect, and fight for social justice can be confusing and painful, but discovering myself in the People’s narrative has brought me the greatest peace and satisfaction. And while it’s not easy to live a life against the current, I am living my truth and would never trade the serenity that comes with that for a chance to live in mental slavery again.
And that leaves the question of my white boyfriend.
I went to a workshop a few months ago where the leaders tried to get us to be open about our contradictions as activists and lovers. Arriving with my white boyfriend, I didn’t need to say much. Our relationship never began in a colorblind world. Was it “personal” attraction that brought us together or us feeding into narratives about ourselves that white supremacist culture has been ingraining in us since birth? I think back to all the times I’ve lied naked in bed and let a white man sweep my bare skin with his fingers. Was I just fulfilling an exotic fantasy? Am I just an exotic fantasy to white men? A fetish? Is it just exclusive to white men?
These are the analyses I am making right now looking back on the last four years of my life.
I believe that the only way to actually be a productive fighter in the dismantlement of global white supremacist patriarchy is to be as critically honest with myself within the system as possible. It is within our individual identities, beliefs, and behaviors that we perpetuate these structures.
And I’m ready for colonization to die.
It was an excruciatingly painful task to get my boyfriend to understand this facet of my being, and the questions and concerns that come with our relationship in this context. Perhaps it was the shock that he resisted the truth that hurt the most. After so long together, how could this be so hard to understand?
Then I came across works like White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, Global White Supremacy by Charles Mills, and White Privilege/White Complicity by Barbara Applebaum. While Germany and America have very different histories, the execution of global white supremacist patriarchy is a common thread among cultures from East to West.
These works helped me a lot in understanding why these conversations with my boyfriend were consistently going in a certain cycle. They helped him too. But even as my greatest ally, there are limits to our relationship that we both see and feel now.
So what will happen? Will we stay together? “Break-up”? Well… I don’t look at relationships so black and white.
First off, I don’t follow the rules of heteronormative monogamy. I believe it can be an oppressive system that I’ll probably elaborate more on in a future post. I don’t believe relationships should be thought about within a platonic/romantic dichotomy. And I don’t believe relationships should “end” unless they need to. I believe the connections that we make with others are very important, especially when they lead to relationships of deep caring and trust. But they should be honest. They should be empowering. Not contradicting. Not imposing.
I am taking an approach to the complexity of my relationships with all white people in my life by transitioning our relationships to ones that feel healthy for me. Those closest to me have the option to be my inside-men (or “allies” although I, like many activists, find that term problematic), or join the system, understanding our relationship within it. Letting go of friends and family members as strong figures in my life because they chose the latter has been a heavy experience. There is no easy answer. There is no easy way. But I am left feeling lighter and more whole.
I came across an old article on race and love recently, where the black writer ends by saying “It’s hard enough to find someone you love without making romance a test of racial solidarity.” While I may have agreed two years ago, the last year of my life has brought me to a different conclusion. If you can’t see yourself in the context of black womanhood, how will you ever understand the “love” a white man has for you? Or any man? Experiencing privilege and oppression in all interactions is hard to learn about, regardless of what side of the coin you’re on. And it does make interracial romance messy and potentially triggering. Nevertheless, it is only in recognizing the manifestations of the structure that we can dismantle the system. I love my white boyfriend, but I love my Blackness more.
And it’s left me at a crossroads. But it’s in these moments I enjoy life most. Because here is where real change begins.