I’m A Queer Black Woman And This Is How White Girls Use Me, Even When They Love Me
Growing up, all of my best friends were white girls. Despite living in a predominantly black area, my neighborhood itself was mostly white, and the kids in my classes tended to be white too. My friends and I loved each other in that deep, unabated way that happens when you grow up together and remain utterly in love with each other no matter how many years pass. But it wasn’t always easy. With parents raised on colorblindness, we functioned under the idea that we weren’t meant to notice the difference between us. It’s hard to pretend something as visible as race doesn’t exist, but we tried. We thought that’s what you were supposed to do.
When we finally went to college and left our diverse homes for private white institutions (though we didn’t yet know the phrase) we were blinded suddenly by whiteness and the culture shock set in. We woke up. Being completely surrounded by white people in a way we’d never been before forced us to realize that we’d been wrong about everything. That racism was real. That microaggressions were so real. We were suffering. And I was suffering, surrounded by white girls with zero concept of my blackness, let alone my biracial identity.
Being completely surrounded by white people in a way we’d never been before forced us to realize that we’d been wrong about everything. That racism was real.
It was painful in a way I’d never anticipated to be surrounded by white people who’d never even met a black person before all the time. So my white girl best friends and I started talking a lot about race. It was the only way to survive it.
These conversations worked because we had years and years of love behind us that meant we could call each other out without it hurting. I could ask my white girl friends why they weren’t being more active when Trayvon Martin died and they’d recognize their privilege and rally. My white best friend could encourage me to examine my own internalized anti-blackness as a light-skinned mixed girl and it didn’t come from a place that made me feel infantilized. It was empowering Skyping and sharing articles and listening to dialogues about how racism actually functioned for our generation. Mistakes were made, but we always found a way to check privilege. We recognized our differences. We were learning and we were learning together.
But then there were the white girls I didn’t grow up with. Most of these white girls were what my best friends would call “really, really white.” They grew up in white neighborhoods, in white counties, going to white churches, and learning from and and befriending and loving white people and only white people. When they met me, they’d either deny my existence completely by talking to any white person around me instead of me or would lean heavily on the fact that I was a mixed girl so at least it was like they were talking to half of a white person. It hurt every time.
We recognized our differences. We were learning and we were learning together.
These were the girls who were shocked that any boys would ever show interest in me (unsavory as I was with my brown skin and thick, sometimes kinky hair). The girls who made fun of how I dressed, but borrowed my clothes (because thrifted looks hippie chic on white girls, but poor on black girls). The girls who made me feel just two steps out of their inner circle because, well, I’d throw off the homogeneity of their selfies. They’d tell me about boys they liked and then say a black guy hit on them and he was cute but “Just like, no way in hell.” Or they’d tell me I only cared about police brutality because half my family was black. They, of course, didn’t give even close to half a shit about it.
We had fun together, these girls and I. We bonded. We got close. But we could never truly love each other because they absolutely refused to see me for who I was. I was just their Black Friend. And then, well, I became their Black Gay Friend.
Everything got even more complicated when I started dating white girls.
I didn’t mean to exclusively date white girls, but on a very straight college campus of over 6,000 — but with fewer than 200 black people and a totally teensy number of other people of color — it was hard enough to meet a queer girl, let alone a queer woman of color. It became a baffling thing to be in queer spaces because everyone was always white, and yet in black spaces I always worried someone would find out I was queer and kick me out of the club. It wasn’t until graduation that black girls started publicly coming out as queer and my soul still aches for the friendship and support we could have provided for each other.
I wanted us to be perfect in our girl power, I wanted us to be something magical and beyond the bullshit of society — but we weren’t. The power dynamics still came into play.
The first white girl I dated was more up-to-date on issues of race than my white girl friends, so I found solace in her awareness. Still, I ended up hurt time and time again by her slip-ups. She’d say things like she was so jealous that I could say the n-word and she couldn’t, and she thought it was silly that I chose not to say it when it was such a privilege. She was the first person I dated who made me feel comfortable with my natural hair and yet she couldn’t engage with me when Zimmerman was released, despite murdering Trayvon Martin. We were in this constant bizarre space where we were so linked by our queerness and yet always distanced by our racial differences. It made it impossible for me to be who I was, actually: not just queer, but queer and a black, mixed girl.
White girls I hooked up with fawned over me in a way that made me feel like a fetish. They’d tell me how beautiful and exotic I was and I’d grit my teeth and kiss the words from their mouth. It felt like internalizing everything I’d removed from my system all those years before.
Interracial relationships are always complicated, but when you’re an interracial, queer, same-sex couple, there are so many pockets where you want to feel the same but don’t. I’d find myself excusing behavior from white girls I’d never in a million years excuse from white boys because I wanted that sense of sameness so very badly. I wanted us to be perfect in our girl power, I wanted us to be something magical and beyond the bullshit of society — but we weren’t. The power dynamics still came into play.
I’m dating a white girl now and we talk about race probably on a daily basis. We pull awkward moments to the surface and don’t let them turn into something heavy that leaves me silent when I need support. She is the first to call someone out and the first to ask me what I need. But not everyone can do it. Not everyone can deal with the amount of work that goes into making an interracial relationship work. It takes a very thoughtful, issue-engaged, white tears-free white girl to be able to date a black girl, especially now. And only we can decide for ourselves if it’s worth it.