Wanderlust: I May Be Smitten, But I Will Not Be Your Educator
I’ve written before about “distancing myself From white people” to avoid being constantly subjected to racial and cultural insensitivity. After years of dealing with well-meaning, but often ill-informed or inexperienced Whites, the emotional turmoil had taken its toll and I simply wanted to avoid feelings of discomfort, disappointment and even anger. I concluded that the best way to do so would be to simply avoid White people all together.
Ever since I have been in Hawaii, that has been a rather difficult task. Interactions with White people are, for the most part, unavoidable, so I figured I would just have to suck it up and get over myself, at least for the remainder of my stay. And that is precisely what I did: I reclaimed my “token Black girl” status and reacquainted myself with the unavoidable feelings that I had successfully escaped for quite a while.
It was during such an “only Black girl in the room” occasion that I became acquainted with a young man who will remain nameless. I was not particularly interested in meeting or dating anyone, because I was single and liked it that way, but he had this alluring charm and boyish grin that was absolutely irresistible. Quite honestly, I was smitten. And I did not care about the fact that he was White at all.
“So, what do ya do?” he asked as we conversed between rounds of pool.
“I’m a writer,” I responded.
“Well, what do you write about?” he questioned further.
I usually avoided answering that question when in White company, because I know how uncomfortable and aggravating discussions about racism and sexism, which I write about frequently, can be. I did not want to offend him within seconds of meeting one another.
“Let’s just keep this conversation superficial,” I said.
He smiled and shook his head.
“I didn’t take you for a superficial girl,” he retorted with a raised eyebrow. I shrugged my shoulders and avoided his subtly intrusive but warm stare.
We exchanged contact information. I was undeniably excited.
We decided to meet at a local restaurant in town in a couple nights later. I can’t ie, as soon as he flashed his smile in my direction, my legs turned to liquid. I very infrequently feel immediately drawn to someone else, so my feelings were pretty hard to repress. I could feel myself blushing like a school girl every time he glanced in my direction. And as we began to talk and get to know one another, the feelings became even stronger.
“So, you gonna finally tell me what you write about?” he asked an hour into our conversation. I divulged my secret.
“Well, that’s pretty cool,” he responded nonchalantly. I breathed a sigh of relief and we continued to swap bit of information about ourselves.
He worked on a local golf resort and spent most of his time between the West Coast and Hawaii, following different jobs. He grew up in a pretty liberal household whose family highly valued education and social progress. He also had a half-Black niece who he adored. He loved straight-forward, non BS communication — the kind I had been begging to have with my friends and family for some time now with very little success. To put the cherry on top, his kisses were sweet and passionate. And it felt like I fit perfectly into his embrace.
Nevertheless, he was White and I am Black. And the fact that this would be a problem became more obvious over time.
One day, he held my face between his hands, looked deep into my eyes and said, “You have the prettiest face I have ever seen on a Black girl.”
I accepted the backhanded compliment without flinching. He could not be perfect and I should not expect him to be. Of course, I’d have to be open to letting some minor flubs slide. That is precisely what I did. I gave him a kiss and a weak smile and let the comment go.
A few days later, he expressed, “Well, I don’t think color really matters much.”
When I asked him, “What would happen if I walked into the golf resort where you worked and asked for a job as pro?” he thought long and hard about it, before acknowledging how unlikely it would be for a woman, nevermind a Black woman, to enter that space comfortably.
Another time, we sat together in his living room, along with his roommate, to watch a golf-related reality TV show on the Golf Channel. An ad came on featuring a little Asian girl expressing her love for golf. In one shot, the little girl spoke to the camera from the comfort of her bedroom, which was completely covered in pink frills and teddy bears.
“What a spoiled bitch!” my guy and his roommate exclaimed, practically in unison.
I debated whether or not I should point to the fact that most people — usually White men — who golf are, indeed, “spoiled bitches.” In fact, these two guys themselves were flown to Hawaii on a private jet by the resort they work at, which also happens to pay half of their rent.
I hesitated, then said, “Well most of the people on this network are pretty much spoiled bitches, ya know? After all, most Americans couldn’t even afford to go to the golf course where this is being taped.”
After a brief pause, the roommate retorted, “People can do whatever they want. Anyone can pay for a vacation if they would just save their money.”
That was merely one of several questionable conversations with deeply problematic, racist and sexist undertones that I had been forced to entertain. And, in that moment, I decided it would be the last. I understood that any attempt to bring a little cultural, social or racial sensitivity into that environment would be futile. I was in the world of the White man. And in that White, male world, everything can be criticized or castigated but White maleness. I looked over to my guy as he stared at the television screen that taught him that his racial and gender identity was the “norm” and realized just how burdensome of a responsibility it would be to teach him anything different. As a writer who confronts issues of racial and gender inequality on a daily basis, I simply did not have the emotional strength to carry that burden.
So when I decided to no longer see him, I explained just that. That I did not have the energy to teach the man I am dating how to view the world outside of the lens of Whiteness. That I was not just pretty for a Black girl, but pretty for a girl period. That little girls, of every race, have the right to participate in White male-dominated spaces without being degraded. That most minority people are struggling to simply pay the bills on a day-to-day basis and cannot simply afford to save for vacations to exclusive resorts. That even though I cared for him deeply, I simply could not be his educator. And by the end of that explanation, I was completely exasperated.
He received my emotions with understanding and assured me that they was no reason for us to part ways. He believed that we could positively influence one another, with no party being burdened by the need to “educate” the other. Perhaps that could be the case, but I believe that would require he ventures outside of his comfort zone. That he exist in a place where he is forced to finally feel uncomfortable, to realize that the comfort he has long felt is a privilege that many are not fortunate to have all day, everyday as they attempt to navigate this White male-dominated world as women or people of color.
I’d be open to going on that kind of adventure with him. But I’m also just fine continuing my solo travels all by myself. And I’m almost certain that is precisely what I am going to do.