Privilege has become something of an obsession of mine for the past few weeks, because there’s something so wrong about it, but something right too.
One of my old friends is a trans woman, called the “privilege master” by one of my cis white male friends. This is because, over the course of her life, people have looked at her and seen everything from a half-white “cis” “straight” “man”, to a lesbian Latina trans woman. Her opinion has varied over the years, from something that was effectively “Shut the fuck up, white boy!” to an acknowledgement that accusations of privilege could be used as a type of mental laziness, an unwillingness to fully consider the point of view of someone unlike you.
However, she has always maintained she could only date a white woman who was fully willing to acknowledge her privilege. But, one night, as we were re-having this discussion, I retorted “If you’re a person of color who only dates white people, you’re not allowed to bitch at me about my privilege,” to which she responded “maybe” – and, acknowledged that some people of color do choose to date mainly white people.
So, on the one hand, my statement was wrong – but, there was a kernel of truth locked in there. There has always been an uncomfortable question for me – what do I do when I’m dating someone who admits their preference for dating white girls? MANY of the people I’ve dated have explicitly told me this, with varying degrees of crudeness. If it’s a white dude telling me this, I tend to assume they’re a little bit of a bigot, but (honestly) I’ll date slightly bigoted people. When it’s a not-white person though I don’t know what to think.
The stated reasons are usually varied, but often boil down to “I don’t think people of my own race will like me.” For instance, I once dated a 5’2″ Asian man who claimed “Asian women want to date tall men.” Maybe that was true, and maybe that was only true in his head, but I had a fair amount of sympathy for his reason. Even if it wasn’t quite right, I could also see a similar reason “It’s less painful to try to date white women, who may reject me for being Asian, than it is to try to date Asian women, who may reject me for being short,” being his motivation. Regardless, to him, there was nothing *wrong* with Asian women except their taste.
Still, not every person of color with a preference for white women has quite so solid an alibi, and it gnaws at me.
So, to make an obvious point – I have no idea how many people of color have a preference for dating white women, but a disproportionately large percentage of the people *I* date have a preference for white women because I am a white woman. People who like black men don’t come within 100 feet of me, unless it’s to ask for a sip of my mojito or something. Anyway, I can’t place this in a larger cultural context very easily – but, I know these types of discussions have come up before.
Like in Why Don’t You Date White Girls? and Butch and Femme Through a White Lens (I’ve been reading a lot of Black Girl Dangerous lately.)
There are a few choice quotes here:
Over the course of the last few years, I have learned a lot about the institutionalized desirability of white women and the misrepresentation of black women as unsuitable romantic partners.
It was only as my stepfather explained how I qualified as a suitor to white women that it became clear that he was speaking to me as he would another black man. Indeed, I thought, this must be how many black men speak to their sons. Fathers, brothers, and male community members often espouse the idea that a white woman is a black man’s trophy for excellence.
“White women are docile and loyal and they’ll take care of you…” he went on.
– Erika N. Turner, Why Don’t You Date White Girls?
Being feminine, aside from how triggering it is to feel forced to perform femininity as a MOC person, was hard – really hard – because femininity is viewed as intrinsic to valid womanhood; it is white and a reflection of female inferiority. I wasn’t a slim, straight, able bodied white girl and that overwhelming sense of inferiority is something I remember and resent when faced with anti-femme sentiment from white, MOC queers.
More poignantly, I watch Black butches and bois size up how white they can romantically and sexually aim for, how out of their league of Blackness they can strive. Because, like Frantz Fanon’s Black cishets, Black queers also want to feel worthy of white love.
– Arianne Diaz-Cebreiro, Butch and Femme Through a White Lens
So, as a supposed “trophy,” this is where I start to feel stifled on the discussion of privilege. On the one hand, I can’t deny I have regularly benefitted from being read as white, and having a white name, etc. On the other hand, these attitudes aren’t just coming from white people, and these attitudes don’t always help me.
I’ll acknowledge my privilege, but I also need space to discuss my experience of being a white woman – my experience of being objectified by *everyone*. Many people are interested in dating me, not because they care about who I am, but they are interested in what dating me says *about them*. Euro-centric beauty standards may have devastating effects on black people – adults and children. I don’t deny that, and, I don’t want to compare my experience in any way or say it’s “worse.” But, euro-centric beauty standards are bad for me too. Once, one of my romantic partners told me “you’re not the type of girl I usually go for,” (when referring to my physical appearance) and I took it as a compliment. I thought to myself, “wow, if he doesn’t like me for how I look, he must like something else about me.” That’s not an experience I usually get.
Most people who date me don’t really love me. They often aren’t even attracted to me physically. They’re just using my body the same way they’d use a fancy car, or a well tailored suit.
In fact, the experience of being a trophy is so painful I have reconciled myself to a life of being single if it comes to it. I’d rather be alone, but be seen as a person – the way my friends see me as a person – than I would live with someone who is using me as only an addition to their own identity.
Often, when we use the word “privilege” we use it to silence someone. Sometimes rightly so – if you are white, you should probably not talk about the experiences of people of color. What you *should* talk about, and what there’s not a lot of discussion on out there, is the experience of *being white*. The fact that we see the white experience as default, as so obvious it’s something not even worth discussing, is a sign of racial oppression. The white experience is *not* the default experience of living in our culture, and to talk about what it’s like to be *white* is less racist than not talking about it. Because, when we don’t talk about it, we assume everyone already knows it. However, everyone does not know it because not everyone is white.
To fully see race, we’re going to have to see all sides of it. The oppression of black women is intimately connected to the objectification of white women. The experiences of Latino immigrants must be contrasted with the experiences of European immigrants and Asian immigrants to fully see what racism is there. The problem isn’t that white people talk about being white, it’s that they don’t identify how crucial their whiteness is to their experience of everyday life.