It’s Time to Own Our Shit and Change Everything
When I wrote My Husband’s Unconscious Racism Nearly Destroyed Our Marriage I decided that I wouldn’t defend it. That it would stand on its own and people could interpret it however they wanted, because that’s what readers do – they interpret. They filter what they read through their own experiences and decide what they read means to them.
I do it all the time. I recently wrote how Beyoncé’s Lemonade affected me deeply when thinking about my relationship with America. I don’t relate to the unfaithful partner narrative but I understand betrayal. I understand that feeling deeply. I also understand powerlessness, anger, and resolve, which I think were some of the underlying messages of the album, but again, that’s my interpretation. Someone else with other experiences may hear it differently.
My essay about my marriage is very personal and from a distinct perspective, that of a Black, cisgender, heterosexual, 40-year-old, American woman married to a white, cisgender, heterosexual, 40-year-old, American man. I wrote it because I see a lot of interracial couples and never hear about that part of the struggle. I remember the pain and isolation I felt while trying to work through these issues. I remember wondering over and over if I’d made a mistake.
My biggest fear was whether I'd married a racist when the reality was that I had. My mistake was believing that it wasn’t possible.
I’d asked a bunch of other people if they thought it was possible that my husband was racist. The general consensus was that if we were together then he wasn’t a racist. “A racist wouldn’t date a Black person, much less marry them,” they’d said. I laugh looking back on those responses. Even then, I knew they were wrong. That wrongness was why I kept asking over and over again.
I knew it was possible because I’d been courted by several racists – men who at some point in our association would try to get me to cosign on some “Black people are bad” bullshit. I don’t know if they approached me to prove to themselves they were “different” or to check off a box on a list, but I knew they weren’t interested in me. They were interested in my Blackness.
I’d had white men approach me who thought I was some special magical Black person in a sea of worthless ones. That I didn’t talk like the rest of them or dress like the rest of them made me different…better. For a while, I bought into that. Like many non-conforming Black kids, I was teased by my peers for how I talked. I was never popular and in fact, I was recently reminded that I spent much of my senior prom sitting under a table. Needless to say, I was more than a little weird.
My weirdness made it easy to accept anti-Blackness because in my experience, Black people rejected me for being unconventional. If you spend any time in the Black geek blogosphere, you quickly learn that many of us felt like outsiders among other Black people, including our families, and that many of us sought acceptance from people who shared our interests. That acceptance of our interests was usually in white dominated spaces. What was also in those spaces was rampant racism, sexism, and anti-Blackness, but because we are lonely, we learn to adapt. Loneliness is brutal. And while the internet helped us create spaces where we found other people like us, remember, I’m over 40. The internet was born around the time I started college so many of those networks didn’t exist for me.
I felt alone in my idiosyncrasies, isolated by my inability to fit in, and struggling to embrace it. I had no known identity and it affected how I navigated my life. I struggled with dating, with figuring out how I fit into the very gendered, extremely sexist roles that women were supposed to occupy. It was much easier to have sex than to date, so that’s what I did. I figured a lot of things out about myself as I learned again that I didn’t “fit.” I’m smart, vocal, and assertive - a combination that seemed to turn men off. I’m fat, which made some men think I was desperate for attention. I also have a dominant personality, which made some men want to control me. I continue to fight being defined again and again.
I am a Black woman because that’s what the world tells me I am but I break that mold daily to create who I want to be.
I accept my womanhood but reject what people tell me it should mean. I cannot deal with anyone trying to put me in a box. When I was single, I proudly proclaimed myself a slut and fucked whoever I wanted…and a few people I didn’t - I own that and all its complexities. I reject many of the approved roles for women – Madonna, whore, mother, good girl, bad girl, submissive, quiet, nurturing. I am a woman because that’s how I look, not because that is who I am.
I accept my Blackness but reject the components I’m told go with it. I do not accept religion as the only time my belief mattered was when someone was trying to convince me to devalue myself. Religion is a tool to control people – their money, their sexuality, their choice to forgive…It is a form of control I reject and that rejection distances me from the popular “Black American identity.” Just because I’m unpopular, doesn’t mean I’m not real. It also doesn’t mean I’m alone.
I am a Black woman in America. I fuck, but am not less for it. I refuse to wear heels. My marriage did not make me respectable. My vagina does not make me more of a woman. My tits eliminate the questioning of my gender and I show as much or as little of them as I want. I’m educated but not elitist. I’m fat, sexy, beautiful, and ugly. I listen to whatever fucking music I want. I’m visibly unseen. I wear my hair curly, wavy, straight, blond, blue, orange and it doesn’t make me unprofessional, ghetto, anti-Black, an oreo, or whatever other derogatory thing people want to call Black women with non-traditional hair styles and colors. I work for “the man” and I’m married to “the man” neither of which make me any less invested in the fight against oppression.
We live in a racist, patriarchal society so the fight is always there. If you are a heterosexual woman, it is impossible to avoid dating and marrying sexists. It’s a little easier to avoid marrying racists - don’t marry a white person. It’s almost impossible to avoid anti-Blackness though. That’s as prevalent as sexism and everyone learns that shit in America, regardless of color.
My husband is sexist and racist because he was born into it. He fights it now and sees it’s unjust. He didn’t always think this way and his change is one of the things I love about him. As hard as it is, he now owns his racism and sexism. We no longer call it unconscious because it wasn’t. It was unacknowledged.
And as much as white people hate hearing this, you are all racist. There is no opting-out of it. It’s part of the society that’s been built, a society where white people control the resources and the access to those resources. One where the laws are written to deny access to those resources for people of color. All the information given to us in school, media, and law serves to solidify the message that white equals normal and brown is less than that. Until the way this system operates is torn apart, white people are born racist.
Throughout your life, you learn bias, prejudice and how to support and enforce racist policies and ideologies. You learn how to oppress. You learn the rules – who is “good” who is “bad” and how to treat people based on the color of their skin. You learn the unwritten rules of racism – how to undermine, discredit or ignore Black people. You learn how to cater to and promote whiteness. You learn how to view Black people as less, and then you teach it to your children. Racism means you accept the system and promote is as just. Racism is assuming that Black people have criminal records or are inherently violent -or, even better, inherently more violent than white people. Racism is talking about the health problems of Black people without discussing the structural and legal inequities that create these conditions. Racism is feeling comfortable with the status quo because it doesn’t affect people who look like you. Racism is choosing not to change it.
The only way to be less racist is to actively fight it. As long as you deny your racism, you aren’t fighting it; you are protecting your feelings. Are your feelings more important than human lives? If you can’t admit your racism, then that’s exactly what you are saying. It’s the same with men and sexism. It’s the same with able-bodied people and ableism. We are the problem and have to keep owning that we are the problem in order to move forward in solving the problem.
Please note, Black people and people of color learn bias, prejudice, and how to enact and enforce racist policies, too. It’s a survival technique that we are taught young and rewarded for as we get older. I’ve had to own the anti-Blackness, anti-womanism, and anti-feminism I’ve enacted. Now I work to recognize it and try to be better. I am able bodied person who struggle to overcome her ableism. I am a fat person who works to overcome her sizeism. These things are pervasive and constantly reinforced by everything around us. I continuously inhale the poison of America and exhale its tyranny. None of us is exempt and it is an ongoing struggle to push back against it.
And we need to push back against it. Our world will not improve if we continue to say that oppression and the violence it wreaks is acceptable. It was never acceptable; American history is a centuries long spin-doctoring designed to convince future generations that they aren’t the descendants of monsters. Happy to break it to you, but you are. Modern day Americans are descended from some of the most brutal and savage people in history.
We are the offspring of violent tyrants, but we don’t have to stay that way. Break the norm. Fight the power. Walk the path of liberation.
Oppression has too long been the song of American patriotism and it’s time for that song to be unsung.