O.K., let me just get to it. I think I broke up with my last girlfriend because she’s white. Actually, no, I definitely broke up with her because she’s white.
First, some history: When I was a child, watching my pops get ready to go out was something to behold. He would spend hours preparing his mask every morning for whatever crowd, person or community he faced. A fresh shave followed by a ton of cologne (he’s Dominican, and it’s important to him that people know he’s coming, and know he’s there), and then blow-drying his hair to get that perfect coif.
Even years later, when he was married and a father, my pops still took longer to get ready than my mother and sister combined, delicately taking a black Sharpie to any stray grays that might pop up in his goatee.
I’d ask him: Why? What’s it all for?
My pops would explain that as a young man in the Dominican Republic, you had to work so hard perfecting yourself, preparing your mask, so that when a young European or American woman came through, she might choose you, as he would put it, might take you home with her, like that was your only way out.
Later he made his way to New York City, where he met my mother, who is Colombian. He was married now and no longer had to be “chosen.” But habits ingrained in adolescence can be hard to break.
So early on I learned how important it was to be “chosen,” selected. Selected by whom became and remains my dilemma.
It’s been a year since I broke up with my girlfriend, and I haven’t told her the real reason. I talked around it, mumbling about how I was trying to figure out who I was or whatever. She didn’t understand. I’m not sure I do either. There was nothing wrong with her at all.
I don’t really know what my tipping point was. It just kind of happened. At 30, I woke up one day, took a deep breath, looked at her and thought, “I don’t think I can date white women anymore.”
Maybe I wouldn’t have broken up with her if it hadn’t been for all the judgment coming my way. Over the years I have dated brown women and black women, but mostly white women. I hadn’t thought about why that was, but when some brown and black people in my community started giving me a hard time about dating white women, I sensed they’d be happier if I stopped.
I also got weird vibes from some white people, namely the parents of the women I was dating. Like the ones who — even after I’d been dating their daughter for six months — kept thinking I was from Puerto Rico. I’ve never even been to Puerto Rico.
Or the ones who said upon meeting me, “Oh, I love ‘Buena Vista Social Club.’”
Yeah, for sure, that’s a great movie, but so is “Gladiator.”
And the ones who asked me if I speak Mexican. Yes, that is absolutely a thing. So is the father who opened the door and said, “Sorry, it’s not taco night,” and then closed it in my face, only to open it again because he was “just joking.”
I’ve been with people in grocery stores who point to the dulce de leche and say, “Look, Chris, that’s you.” Actually, I’m lactose intolerant.
But the real reason I think I can no longer date white women isn’t any of that. It’s because in today’s hashtag-woke society, there is mad pressure to be hashtag-woke. To be aware of the implications of whom you’re attracted to and why. Which means that in the eyes of others, the color of the women I date is a big deal. Like I’m the problem. Like I’m betraying my people if I date white women.
But I was taught that we were all one people!
I see people watching me with a stink eye, noses turned up, as if they think black and brown people would somehow be better off if I dumped my white girlfriend. It’s a lot of pressure. Along with each watchful eye, the whispers of, “Pick a side, Chris, pick a side,” fill my already noisy mind.
I started reading James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates and other black and brown authors looking for guidance, a road map, help on what it means to be a brown man in the world. Like: Yes, our bodies have been colonized. Yes, I am a child of blackness. Yes, the black body has done more for society than it has gotten in return. Yes, society seems to want to embrace a lot of things associated with blackness without actually being black.
How did we get here? If everyone is so woke, why are things so terrible? Maybe everyone isn’t so woke. Anyway, what am I supposed to do? How do I love as a brown body in the world in a way that makes everybody happy? I fell for a white woman and she fell for me — simple as that — yet I feel as if I’m doing the wrong thing by dating her.
Am I the problem or is everyone else? Do white women find me attractive or do they see me as some exotic idea they should find attractive? Do I find white women attractive or do I see them as they some exotic idea I should find attractive? Do I even know whom I’m attracted to or why?
I have to think my preferences were at least somewhat shaped by the ubiquitous image of Latin men as “The Lover,” an image that’s been shoved down my throat. Not because of what or whom we love, but as a way out, a way of being seen and of being saved. Like my pops said, “Maybe they’ll choose you.”
It’s a message amplified by movies and TV, from “Save the Last Dance” to “Master of None” and dozens of other narratives that all feature, in one way or another, a black or brown man being made better from being with a white woman.
Since I was a child, I’ve internalized the idea that the hand I hold determines my worth more than my own hands. That my power is only as valuable as the person by my side. A whole system is coded within me. Why wasn’t self-worth coded within me?
Before I was born, my mother told my father she was pregnant at 3 a.m. on a New York City subway platform. She and my pops made a commitment to give us children everything they never had, to strive and achieve and provide for us, and in response to their aspiration, some in their world thought they were leaving their roots behind and trying to become something else. Those folks said to them, “You trying to be white now?”
What does that mean — trying to be white? We’ve all heard it (maybe not all of us). I’ve said it. If we think about it, it’s really just a comment on power: “Chico, you trying to have power now?”
Yes, yes I am.
In truth, colorism has always been a thing. An aspiration to “better the race” has always been a thing. My grandmother and other grandmothers and mothers would warn us: “Don’t date someone darker than you. Don’t date coarse hair, big lips and big noses.”
I brought home a black girl in high school and my aunt angrily mumbled, “Oh, do you see him and that Negrita?”
I should have spoken up. “Ay, yo, stop! I don’t care about your damn opinions about how dark people are and how kinky their hair is. You ever look at old family albums? You ever look at me? You ever look at yourself? We ain’t white. Not even close.”
But I didn’t say anything. (“Pick a side, Chris, pick a side.”)
So here I stand, trying to be woke, and not dating white women, and feeling kind of bad about that. Because I’m definitely dating, and thinking that the decision to no longer date white women might not be my own, that any decision to choose a side doesn’t help the whole hashtag-woke thing because how do we solve anything if we just separate and isolate? And also, I mean, a lot of white women are really cool.
Obviously white women are cool. All women are cool. Cool is such a simple word, not the word I want to be using right now. I don’t just mean cool. (I probably shouldn’t even be talking about dating or not dating white women. Ah, man, this isn’t going where I wanted it to — )
Anyway, this is me yearning, praying, journaling, writing, dialoguing, putting up a one-man show, wishing, trying to pick a side, wondering how to choose myself and trying to wrap my head around this, hoping that I’m doing woke right, because something just doesn’t feel right.
Christopher Rivas is a storyteller, actor and the creator of “The Real James Bond Was Dominican!”
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