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Whisper of a Wince

By Delia Christina

First, the links:

Jill Scott says something.
And Ta-Nehisi Coates says this.
Then Racialicious said some other things.
And then Coates had a PS.
And then we wrap up the week with Kevin Powell writing all us black folk a letter.

And now, the stories (which aren't prescriptive, merely illustrative):

When my friend Prof. L- sent me the Coates link I wrote him back. 'When ppl open their mouths and tell me how they 'feel' when they see another person's relationship choice I want to tell them to keep their personal issues to themselves. If they aren't about to say 'I hope they're happy,' then folks need to STFU.'

And Prof. L- replied,'Is there much of a distance from discomfort to disapproval?' ...
Here's another story:
When I was in therapy, my therapist (a WOC) started to dig deeper into my family background when our sessions began to concentrate on intimacy and relationships and why I felt I was such crap at them.  She wanted to know about my relationship to my father; what it was like to grow up in my old Baptist church; how I felt growing up in such a patriarchal and religious environment; what I really needed in a relationship.

My relationship to my father: I love the man, and I'm his 'duffle bag' (don't ask) but he was/is also the only man to make me ramp up to rage in under 10 minutes when the subject is women, men, politics or women in the bible/church.

What it was like growing up in my old Baptist church: it was like being a visitor from the future and you landed in 1898. BC.

How I felt growing up in such an environment: I was angry at all the bloviating old black dudes who were traditional, controlling, bullying, manipulative, insecure, and completely transparent with their greed and ambition. I hated that I had to compete with them for my father's attention.  Because I was better than they were, I had contempt for them.

What I needed most in a relationship:  Safety; recognition; personal integrity; comfort; to be taken care of; trust; mutual, unconditional support. 

Dr. C- would ask, 'And you can't find this in black men?'

I'd say, 'I probably could, but I don't give them the chance to show me. I am so angry, I can't see straight. All I can think of is those men in that church or I'm anticipating how they are going to turn into those types of men.'

Dr. C- would ask, 'Those men in the church. What was your primary method of dealing with them?'

I'd say, 'Competition. I had to beat them. I had to be smarter than they were, than their children were. I had to be a better church person than they were. Understand the bible better than they were. Even if they didn't let me preach, I had to be better at preaching.'


'So my dad would tell me 'good job,' or something. They didn't think a woman could be a leader in anything and I had to show them I was better than they were.'

Dr. C- (who was married to a very nice black man) would say, 'What do you think about trying to date a black man?'

I'd say, 'Well....ok. If you think that will help.'

And she'd say, 'It always helps to challenge our fears.'

And I tried.  But every conversation I'd have with a black man would either remind me of a tired R&B song or fill me with such panic attack anxiety I took a break and fell back into a liaison with B-, which was even more unsatisfying because it was finally clear to me that he was utterly incapble of giving me the things I needed most.

But at least he didn't remind me of that old Baptist church.

Then, when I was at the point of letting my Match.com account expire, I met M-.  A white guy. Who didn't graduate college. Who worked blue collar most of his life. Who wouldn't know Foucault if Michel bit him on his ass. Who, when he drove me home on our first date, said he wanted to make me a mixed CD and cancel his Match account the next day.  And I never spoke to, or saw, B- again.  Because of a white guy.  The Other.

This month marks our 1-year anniversary. It is the most emotionally satisfying relationship I've had since grad school.
A third, and final, story (which long-time readers may have already heard):

When it was time for me to go off to grad school, my cracker barrel, deeply southern godfather pulled me aside after evening church services.  I was leaving for Michigan in a couple of days and I was excited. Scared, too, but excited. In my imagination, Ann Arbor looked like Boston. (Yes, I was completely inaccurate but the main point was it was 2000 miles away from my provincial church.)

It was clear my godfather was trying to do the avuncular thing and this was the sterling piece of advice that he gave me:

'Don't jump the fence.'

What kind of backwoods, country folk-ism was this? I was blank-faced for a few seconds until his fierce gaze and the eventual, firing synapses in my brain made me stiffen. Don't jump the fence.  Don't leave your side of the social divide. Don't get involved with a white guy. Don't sleep with a white guy. Don't have sex with a white guy. Don't betray your people.  I wanted to slap his southern face.

'My father 'jumped the fence,' James.'

'Well, now. That's a little different. You just be careful. Don't jump the fence. Stay where you belong.'

I stomped away and seethed for hours. That was the last time I spoke to him.

Just this past year, my father told me that old James had died and it was revealed that he had had an affair with a married woman in the church for years. My old anger at his goatish hypocrisy rushed back at me and all I could do was sputter over the phone about that 'fucking old man.'
The 'heart wants what the heart wants' and it's usually because of something pushed so way down deep, you can't even recognize it.  So I get Scott's wince.  I do.  (I'm a student of African American history and literature; I've read the same history books and wondered why everyone gets play but a black girl.)

But I've got a wince of my own and the whisper of it makes me almost ashamed; I almost want to hand in my own Black Card of Racial Solidarity because of it. Almost. This is not to say that my triggers are the fault of others. It's not all black men's fault that I have this whisper of a wince. But I have it.  It has caused me to close one type of door between me and black men.  Other doors (filial, platonic or professional ones) remain open; just not intimate ones. In this regard, the man who has given me what I need is a white man.

Not all white men. Not every white man. A white man.

When we are together, the looks or stares (or whether someone may or may not have a wince) people send us don't register with me.  He is more aware of it than I am. And he is now more aware of the complex ways that our being together works as a kind of social shorthand in different parts of the city.  (He'd never say it that way; he just tells me, 'My Mexican neighbors like me better now because of you.')  But shorthand or not, when he looks at me he tells me that he has been waiting his whole life for me and I know that because of him, my heart is bigger.

So wince away, you Scotts of the world.  You can't help it.  It's not your fault.


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