Review: Don’t Bring Home a White Boy: And Other Notions that Keep Black Women From Dating Out
Much has been written about African-American women being one of the demographic groups in the US who are least likely to be married. However, little of it has explored why so many African-American women are hesitant to increase their odds of finding a suitable husband by dating and marrying interracially. In Don’t Bring Home a White Boy: And Other Notions that Keep Black Women From Dating Out, writer Karyn Langhorne Folan offers a penetrating look at the various misguided “notions” that prevent African-American women from expanding their dating and marriage pool to include quality White men as potential husbands.
In a book that is beautifully written and meticulously researched, Karyn Folan refutes each self-defeating taboo about interracial dating and marriage that serves to keep many African-American women unhappily single. Along the way, Ms. Folan paints unforgettable portraits of little-known persons and incidents from African-American history, including:
(1) The dark-skinned, 15-year old Black girl who refused to give up her seat to a White passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama city bus nine months before Rosa Parks did the same thing. This brave teenager was deemed “too dark,”"too feisty,” and too poor to be the representative plaintiff for the civil rights movement.
(2) The 1959 Tallahassee, Florida case where an all-White jury convicted four White men of gang-raping a young Black woman named Betty Jean Owens. This is especially significant when viewed in comparison to the current “stop snitching” culture among many African-Americans that allows sexual violence against Black women and girls to go unpunished.
(3) The esteemed 19th century White geologist who pretended to be a light-skinned Black man in order to marry a Black woman.
In her clear and elegant prose, Ms. Folan addresses the fear that underlies many African-American women’s reluctance to expand their dating and marriage horizons. Fear of how Black men will react. Fear of being socially ostracized from the African-American community. Fear of exploring the previously unknown social experiences and settings that interracial relationships can bring. She also poses an important, potentially life-altering series of questions to readers that every African-American woman needs to consider:
“Who is living in your skin: you or the brothas? You or the entire Black community? You or the fears of the resentment of others?”
In short, Ms. Folan’s book is a refreshing and long overdue examination of the misguided taboos that hinder African-American women from exploring all of their dating and marriage options. A world of expanded options for happiness awaits those Black women who read this book and take inspiration from it.
THEME FOR DISCUSSION: THE DANGERS OF BELIEVING HISTORICAL FAIRY TALES
During my vacation last December, I listened to a lecture by an American professor who had been sent by the US Army to serve as an exchange officer in the French Foreign Legion. [Among other topics, I enjoy military history and I’ve always been fascinated by the French Foreign Legion.] This happened near the end of the Vietnam War. I was horrified by one of the points that he made. He said that most Americans learn their history from historical novels (many of which are made into television miniseries). This is why he wrote a historical novel (instead of a straight history book) about the Vietnam War.
I was horrified because he’s right. And even worse, the same observation applies to how most Americans learn about current events.
People hear sound bites from blow-dried television news anchors, bits of dialogue from a miniseries, and then become emotionally invested in believing that this is an accurate representation of historical and current events. This often skewed material becomes the basis for cherished historical fairy tales.
Every culture and subculture has its own set of cherished historical fairy tales. I’ve had the experience of watching White Americans become enraged when it’s mentioned that their beloved “Founding Fathers” were slaveowners, and most likely slave-rapists. I’ve watched African-American men become enraged when anyone mentions the many Black male civil rights activists and Pan-Africanists who were preoccupied with (and married to) White women. I’ve watched the disappointment and disgust that many African-American women feel when they learn that Dr. King repeatedly cheated on Coretta Scott King. Like real life, real history is filled with nuances and shades of gray. Historical fairy tales like the ones that form most African-Americans’ understanding of their history are sufficient for small children who are too young to understand nuances. However, historical fairy tales are not sufficient for adults. And they’re not a sufficient basis for making important life decisions.
African-American women have bought into a series of historical fairy tales. Unfortunately, too many Black women use these historical fairy tales as justifications for making self-defeating, life-damaging decisions. Meanwhile, Black men have never let their history of being lynched because of White women slow them down from marrying White women, and leaving the Black community to live in White areas.
One of the main historical fairy tales that many African-American women believe to their detriment can be summarized as “I must limit myself to dating African-American men because Black men and Black women are all in it together.”
Well . . . umm, no. When you take the time to read a range of history books and memoirs, you see that Black men and women were never consistently “all in it together.” That’s a fairy tale that most Black women believe to their detriment.
Ms. Folan’s book mentions several incidents that challenge the mass fairy tale of “Black men and women were all in it together.” I referred to one in the book review (the dark-skinned teenage girl who was pushed aside in favor of Rosa Parks as the civil rights movement’s model plaintiff). Ms. Folan’s book also mentions the sordid and grotesque episode regarding Rev. James Bevel.
I can think of some other incidents. Let’s see: There were the complaints from Black women that W.E.B. DuBois only used light-skinned women with naturally wavy hair as cover models for Crisis magazine. There was Walter White of the NAACP abandoning his Black wife of over twenty years in favor of a White South African woman. There was Elijah Muhammad cheating on Sis. Clara Muhammad with dozens (if not hundreds) of light-skinned women (and allegedly, some underage girls). Min. Ishmael Muhammad, who is Elijah Muhammad’s illegitimate son by one of these light-skinned secretaries, is married to a Mexican woman.
[Some readers may wonder why I often cite Elijah Muhammad’s statements. I do so because I can appreciate the many things that he was correct about, without hero-worshipping him. He was a vile and corrupt individual who was also brave. He personally went to prison over his refusal to register for the draft or fight in the US Army. He was also wise about many things. Especially about the peculiar psychology of most African-Americans. Again, adult ways of understanding have to consider nuances.]
Oh, there was the Black Panthers’ focus on having sex with non-Black women, as well as their extreme misogyny. (See Bobby Seale’s autobiography A Lonely Rage for the details of the Panther leadership’s exploits while chasing non-Black women. ) There’s Rev. “Baby Daddy” Jesse Jackson who cheated on his wife. There was Ben Chavis paying out NAACP money to settle a sexual harassment suit from a female employee. There was Kweisi Mfume’s scandal at the NAACP involving his womanizing.
When you know the personal histories of the NAACP’s Black male leaders, and the silly Black women who have worked for the NAACP (like the ones who physically fought over Kweisi Mfume’s affections), then you’re not surprised by anything that organization does. This includes the annual madness of the NAACP Image Awards. This includes the West Palm Beach, Florida NAACP chapter’s original support of some of the now-convicted Dunbar Village gang-rapists. [For those who don’t know, the Dunbar Village gang-rapists were a group of Black youth who gang-raped a Black woman and forced her at gunpoint to perform oral sex on her 12-year old son. The mother told police that, before leaving, the assailants looked for a lighter to set the two on fire but couldn't find one. Most of the approximately ten assailants involved in this crime against humanity are still roaming free. Yet another bitter fruit of the "stop snitching" culture among African-Americans.]
From the beginning, most African-American organizations have been rotten to the core when it comes to Black women’s interests. Meanwhile, many Black women blindly support these organizations because we believe in the historical fairy tales that have been woven around them and their past leaders.
The modern list of episodes showing that Black men and women are not all in it together is nearly endless. But this pattern of Black men not “being in it together” with Black women didn’t start with the modern era. There’s an episode I came across while reading a biography of 19th century Black Nationalist, Martin Delany. The author mentions some quotes from Mr. Delany’s letters about Liberia:
“While he hailed the Liberian Declaration of Independence a week later, Delany declared that he regarded, ‘Liberia in its present state as having thwarted the design of the original schemers, the slaveholding founders, which evidently was intended, as they frequently proclaimed it, as a receptacle for the freed colored people and superannuated slaves of America; but we view it in the light of a source of subsequent enterprise, which no colored American should permit himself to lose sight of.’
The reverse of the coin? The head of the judicial system in independent Liberia was a Judge Benedict who was ‘a person of no force of character or fixed moral principles.’ It seems he had bought his wife out of slavery, and when she objected to his taking some mistresses, tried to sell her back into slavery.” Martin R. Delany: The Beginnings of Black Nationalism, pgs. 100-101 (emphasis added).
THE PERSONAL IS POLITICAL WHEN IT’S HYPOCRITICAL AND EXPLOITATIVE
When these sorts of things are mentioned, there are many African-American men who will enter the conversation to proclaim that “the personal is not political.” I’ve noticed some patterns to how many Black men use this slogan. Their use of this slogan is selective. The personal is not political as long as the “personal” activity is: (1) something that many Black men have done or are doing; (2) something that many Black men want to do; or (3) something the individual Black man using the “personal is not political” slogan can envision himself doing.
It’s amusing to see how quickly the personal becomes political for many African-American men when the “personal” activity doesn’t fit within these parameters. The primary example of this is anything involving gay men. A textbook example of this was what happened to Bayard Rustin. From what I recall, other Black male leaders drummed Bayard Rustin out of the SCLC because he was gay. Bayard Rustin’s personal life became extremely political for these other Black men at the time. Womanizers such as Adam Clayton Powell did not allow Bayard Rustin’s personal life to remain apolitical. Other Black male civil rights leaders, many of whom were serial adulterers, gave Bayard Rustin the bum’s rush out of the mainstream civil rights movement. Even though Mr. Rustin had a lot to do with organizing Dr. King’s March on Washington. And the excuse of “he was setting up the movement for blackmail” doesn’t apply because so did these other Black male leaders with their extramarital affairs!
It’s obvious that this common Black male activist behavior was hypocritical. Here’s why it was also exploitative. African-American women were encouraged to support Black male activists for the goal of advancing the African-American collective (which includes Black women and Black children). Not for the goal of supporting womanizing Black male activists so they can sexually exploit Black women. Not for the goal of supporting Black male activists so these men can take the resources gathered with Black women’s help to the non-Black women that many of them chased and married. These particular scenarios do not advance Black women’s interests. Nor do they reflect reciprocity.
PUT AWAY HISTORICAL FAIRY TALES AND OTHER CHILDISH THINGS
Some fairy tales are harmless. Others can have extremely destructive effects on the lives of those who believe them. African-American women are facing unprecedented circumstances and can’t afford to believe in historical fairy tales. Black women especially can’t afford to limit their marriage options based on fairy tales. And there’s no excuse for believing in fairy tales considering the information that’s available if you look for it. Let go of the historical fairy tales. Stop learning our people’s history from historical novels and television miniseries. Take the time to read the historical research that has already been done. You might feel differently about some issues after doing so.
COMING NEXT IN BOOK REVIEWS
The next book review will feature the memoir Perfection Is Not a Sitcom Mom by Janet Hubert, an actress who starred on the 1990s television show The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. You can also buy the book directly from Ms. Hubert’s website.
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