I remember the excitement and chaos that made up the fall of my senior year of high school. The college app process was in full swing. I was getting brochures by the dozen, analyzing financial aid packages and drafting essays for all the potential schools I wanted to attend. Most of these schools had under 3,000 students, were in the middle of nowhere and very, very white. At 18 this didn’t bother me. I’d never had a problem with white people before now, I thought. Why should this start in college.
For years I considered myself an atypical black girl. After all, I watched Wes Anderson movies and listened to the Sex Pistols. I saw Bob Dylan live. At one point my room was full of posters of old white men. This difference, this “quirkiness” was something I basked in. I suffered from “Not Like Other Black Girls” syndrome well into high school.
Maybe part of this came from growing up and hearing both black AND nonblack people challenging my blackness, wondering if I had black friends or claiming that some other non-black person was “blacker” than me. Or maybe it was just the typical adolescent yearning to stand out from the crowd. Either way, this translated to me mentally alienating myself from a lot of other black people. Unfortunately, this also meant putting a lot of value in whiteness.
Not just white musicians, or artists or writers. White boys too. I think the concept of having a “thing” for any race is gross for a number of reasons, but for all intents and purposes, I will say that I had a “thing” for white boys. I thought about the day I would date one. Once I settled on the college of my choice, I pictured myself getting to college and hooking up with as many corn-fed, rural white boys as possible. It wasn’t that I found other races unappealing – but where else could I find a blue-eyed, Daniel-Day Lewis look alike?
So I went off to my rural midwestern school, surrounded by more white people than I could have ever imagined. At first I wasn’t too bothered. Everyone was nice enough, and sure being the one black person in most of my classes was weird…but hey, there were boys! White ones! Lots of them! This was what I wanted, what I had been dreaming of…wasn’t it?
I had an ugly realization: white boys weren’t all they cracked up to be. I remember when one told me I should grow out a giant afro just so he could touch it. Or when two others asked me if I was a “strong, independent black woman who didn’t need no man.” When one jokingly referred to my privates as an “African Jungle,” I really began to interrogate why I saw white boys as special specimens. But even before that, I had to admit to myself that I saw them as special, as a cut above the rest.
Coming head to head with my own internalized racism wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t a quick process either. I still hooked up with boys who were white – I even dated one. To me it wasn’t so much about finding white people unattractive so much as it was about acknowledging the beauty of other men, and examining the role our racist society plays on beauty ideals and who we find attractive. Now that I no longer see whiteness as special, find it easier to see the beauty in myself, too.
Decolonization is a continual, arduous effort. It takes a lot of active learning and unlearning to critically think about the way I construe beauty. I’m happy I came to realize that whiteness only seems glamorous because it’s the norm. To all the other girls of color that continue to place a pedestal on all things white: know that no amount of idolizing will make you like them. And I hope one day – this could take weeks, months, years – you too can kiss your love for whiteness goodbye.