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Is preferring a sexual partner of a different race political?

23 September 2014, 08:15

Nairobi - ‘So why did you never hit on me?’ I asked Rob, a skinny white boy from the ‘burbs and one of my favourite Jozi peeps. It seemed an appropriate question after a few drinks and years of a slow-burn flirt.

We’d hit that ‘it ain’t never gonna happen’ patch of our subsexual assessment of each other and it was time to draw a line under the whys and wherefores. Or at least, my fourth G&T told me so.

‘Well,’ he said. ‘I guess the truth is, I just … well, I just prefer black women. I mean, you’re attractive and everything, but yeah … you’re just really not my type.’

‘What!? All of this?’ I said, jazz-handsing all over myself.

He shrugged. ‘Yeah. What can I say? Get a tan?’

When it comes to race and sex and I tend to want to file it under Erotic Preferences, along with ‘tall, dark and handsome’, ‘kinkster’ or ‘big boobs’. A visual turn-on that is only skin deep. But skin colour is so loaded with culture and politics, it’s difficult not to feel the nudge of responsible self-reflection.

It reminded me of a conversation I’d had with a young black female student much earlier: ‘White boys want to get into my pants,’ she said. ‘But they would rather keep it secret. They wouldn’t take me to their parents. What’s that? I don’t like the idea of my blackness being fetishised.’

Fair point. But in erotica whiteness is also fetishised, as is being Latina or Asian. Or fat. Or young. (In case you’re wondering, fetishisation of bodies is where people become placeholders for particular stereotypes appreciated by the viewer. It’s not you that he’s into, it’s that you’re Latina, fat or blonde…)

Later as we paid up, the black owner of the bar came over and started making that owner-type small talk that always endears you and your patronage to a particular restaurant. He made a comment about me being Rob’s girlfriend and we all lolled until I blurted out, ‘No. Because he,’ I thumbed the skinny white man with a grin, ‘prefers black women.’

The owner raised his brows and shook his head in disbelief. ‘You prefer black women?’ he asked, scrunching up his nose. ‘Why? I’ll take her any day. White women are much nicer.’

It would be simple to point fingers at the male of our species and smack lips at the objectification of women’s bodies and the inherent misogyny this supposes. But that would be a one-sided oversimplification.

I’ve been fascinated by the number of US-based swirling (mixed race dating) sites dedicated to the topic of black women preferring and dating white guys. And I’ve met many local women of colour who just have a ‘thing’ for white boys, and white women who just have a ‘thing’ for men of colour.

So many things, you could almost throw a party.

When you zoom out and change your lens to be a bit more inclusive of people’s vast array of tastes in bodies, sounds, smells and textures, isn’t it possible that we could allow ourselves the glimmer of just liking what we like without being hauled over the coals for it politically? Or dissing the opposite?

Some of those swirling sites go a long way to bad-mouthing black men and I’ve been sad to see a number of South Africa’s own black ‘twitterati’ make a big stink over ‘black brothers’ who sell out and date white women (my fave implication here is that the women had no say in the matter).

I wonder if all the other non-black-and-white mixed-race couples feel left out of the judgement loop.

It might be willfully ignorant to ignore the vast weight of history and how this plays out in our sex lives when discussing whether you prefer cocoa, cinnamon or vanilla. It would be disingenuous to say that fetishisation doesn’t happen. But does it really have any more to with how you ‘turn out’ than if you find yourself becoming a raging kinkster in some sort of psychosexual sublimation of your NG Kerk upbringing?

Is it possible that calling foul on race politics in sex is just another way of keeping us all in our neatly defined boxes: white, black, straight, gay, us, them…

The biggest proclamation I’ll probably ever make about race, culture, politics and dating in South Africa is that I am about as likely to date a very traditional African man as I am to date a very traditional Afrikaans man – not likely at all. They’re two different-coloured peas, in the very same ‘women-are-less-than’ pod. Oh the irony.

As for Rob? I have a beautiful black New York friend visiting soon with a penchant for skinny white boys.

 - Women24


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