When I was a junior in college, I was asked a question by a friend that shocked me and is seared into my memory. “So, are you only attracted to black guys?” The exclusive physical attraction to one race of men was such a foreign concept to me that I was confounded by such a question. Recently a co-worker’s comment brought back this memory. I told her I was arguing the acceptability of interracial relationships with my parents from a young age. Her reply was, “Oh, so you’ve always been attracted to black people.” Again this reaction surprised me. I always thought of pretty as pretty, independent of race. I can’t think of a single race for which I couldn’t come up with at least a few examples of physically attractive men. I wasn’t exclusively attracted to black men; I just refused to have an entire race of men off limits.
I have been trying to understand my own attraction and others’ concepts of racially dependent physical attraction. I know culture plays a part in physical attraction and different cultures value specific traits. In the fifties we liked a more full figured woman and in certain circles muscles upon muscles are the ultimate male physique. (Thank goodness, some people appreciate the pear shaped woman or I would be out of luck). However, scientific studies show universally we are physically attracted to symmetry and healthy bodies, so why do others question my attraction to symmetry and healthy bodies and add more parameters to the definition of beauty? Experience shapes the core of who we are, so perhaps the difference in experiences explains the difference in perception.
At eight years old, I moved to a new area for the summer and found a new friend, who was laidback, kind, and liked to play the same things I liked to play! Chauncey and I played basketball, shared outdoor adventures, and teased his younger brother. We mostly played outside, but sometimes his mom would be sitting on her porch and welcomed me as her son’s new playmate. I was enamored with my new bestie and in passing, mentioned to my parents that if I was 25 and he was 25, I would marry him (for some reason I believed 25 was when one married). Instead of laughing at the musings of a small child, as I would do if my eight year old girl made this comment, my parents argued I would do no such thing. I was told the domineering way black men treated white women and that I was to stay away from such a marriage. Being a largely obedient and loving child, I’m sure my parents were surprised that I continued to argue with them. Chauncey was a good friend and I refused to hear that he fit with their image of a black male.
Even though I grew up in the predominately white suburbs, I would have quite a few more positive interactions with young men of the black persuasion. In third grade, Rodrick always made me laugh and was the perfect mediator for our elementary problems. I cried when his family moved to the city. In high school, a classmate good-naturedly mocked my quietness and played the bass drum with style, but perhaps the most profound influence on my high school self was not a person, but a book. A Patch of Blue by Elizabeth Kata broke my heart and strengthened my resolve that black men should not be off limits. An unloved, blind girl finds someone to love her, but they can’t be together because of skin color? My teenage self was full of righteous anger for a society that would chase Selena’s love away! All these experiences left me wide open to view black males as beautiful.
So imagine the punch in the gut I felt when at lunch a co-worker was scrolling her way through Tinder and to herself said, “Nope, he’s black.” She looked at my horrified face and replied, “Sorry, I just don’t find black men attractive,” in a matter of fact tone. It brought back memories of the exact same conversation I had with my roommate my freshman year of college. I’ll allow you cultural affinities and individual experiences, but really, Taye Diggs is not handsome? Halle Berry is not gorgeous? My husband, who I think is the most beautiful man in the world, is unattractive? Now I don’t want to be the girl who cried racist, but I don’t understand how claiming every single member of a race is physically unattractive to you isn’t stereotyping and labeling that race as somehow lesser.