Brutha, you’ve had enough of late nights with Cassandra Wilson on the boombox, smooth jazz, and leopard print sheet sets. You’re up to here with Essex Hemphill’s love poems. You’ve decided to date a white man. But you’re nervous. You want to avoid the kind of race drama that will leave your index finger and your neck broken from excessive wagging. You’ve seen too many episodes of Maury Povich to think it’s going to be a cinch. Before you get in that rowboat to Fire Island Pines, here are some basic tips to avoid dating the wrong kind of Caucasian:
1. Know your whiteboy: In general, younger, urban-raised varieties will need less deprogramming. Non-U.S. whites will tend to be less defensive about race issues, but don’t get happy yet—there’s still a racism factor. Frenchmen, for example, may love you in part because you are not Algerian. As for white Americans, try starting with Jews and selected Irish guys, as many of them have a sense of otherness that might rival yours at times. They’re often aware that their people have not always been considered “white,” and, in certain corners of this great land, still aren’t.
2. A whiteboy who admits complete ignorance about race matters is always better than one who thinks he knows everything just because he’s a big fan of Beyoncé. A must to avoid is the whiteboy who believes that he is Beyoncé.
3. Find out fast if you are his “First Black.” Even Clarence Thomas can tell you that it’s tough to be the First Black anything. A whiteboy who has crossed the color line before will probably not utter idiocies that begin, “I am usually not attracted to black men, but . . . ” You are advised to shut your ears to such sentences.
4. Beware the chocoholic! Within minutes of meeting you, he will inform you that he exclusively dates men of your race. He will flirt with you by complimenting your skin tone, comparing it with his own (no, really), trying to impress you with how liberal he is, and assuming that you’re interested in “dialoguing about race,” when all you want is a cold beer and a kiss. Remember, anyone who likes you based primarily on your color can easily find someone else of the same hue nearby. Feel free to encourage the chocoholic to move to the next Negro down.
5. Your dream whiteboy will probably have a diverse résumé d’amour, an awareness of and open mind about racial issues, and an appreciation of black culture (without overdoing it). But as the relationship continues, he may also find himself having to stand up for you (and black folk in general) in your absence. It can become more important for you to school him (your mileage may vary). But please—don’t drop a Ph.D.’s worth of Frantz Fanon on him a month after your first date. Go easy. He’ll have a lot to come to terms with, in far less time than you’ve had. Work slowly up to the part where you tell him that you hold him personally responsible for slavery, Native American suffering, and/or the perpetuation of racial injustice worldwide. He’ll love you the more for it later.
James Hannaham’s writing has appeared in The Village Voice, The Literary Review, Fresh Men: New Voices in Gay Fiction, and Freedom in This Village.