Why I'm Tired of Being a Black Activist: The Interracial Question
When I say I'm a black activist, I don't mean I have started a revolution or that I'm even part of a revolution.
I take the literal definition of an activist meaning 'a person who campaigns to bring about political and social change.' This can be as large scale as a public protest or as minor as an Instagram post in solidarity. Since I was 17 years old, this is the label I have assigned to myself as I became deeply concerned with the blatant but also hidden racism black people face.
Since then I have become progressively more and more tired. It's no surprise that when Martin Luther King Jr died he had the heart of a 60-year-old man, despite being in his 30s. This is not to suggest that my life situation is in any sense similar to his, however, it makes brutally clear the effect being an activist has on every fibre of your being. Especially here in the UK, where the social response is to ignore and forget things related to race, so that most of the awareness being raised is in relation to things that cannot be seen - the institutional and systematic.
I remember how exhausting it was trying to explain to a dark-skinned African boy, with a tribal first and second name, how he would experience discrimination in the future in the UK workforce, and his response that I was wrong. Or trying to express to my white classmates that growing up my parents explained that I would have to work twice as hard as my white counterparts to succeed. Answering yes when they asked me 'so you're saying even though you're smarter than me, I would do better than you in life because I was a white man.' If I could go back, I would add that it’s also because he's middle class.
The fight for equality is frustrating enough without the onerous requirements society seems to place on you if you want to be involved in the fight. From a psychological perspective, the social pressures make me doubt if I can be pro-black and date outside of my race.
Can you be a black activist and have a white boyfriend?
When I was in the sixth form, some of the black people in my year were discussing the way black men treat black women in relationships. I began to voice my opinion, and was quickly asked by one of the boys ‘isn't your boyfriend Asian?’ You see, I wasn't allowed to have an opinion on how my race interacts with each other romantically because I was in an interracial relationship.
It doesn't end there, on my social media as I became more publicly engaged in the promotion of minority equality and against racial injustice, the questions became more frequent. With my now white partner, I sometimes feel I should be ashamed- as if I'm somehow letting the ~ cause ~ down. When many black strangers see us in public, they shake their head disapprovingly at me, and that's without knowing what I stand for. I confidently make coloniser jokes, reference white supremacy and really do see race in every structure in society. So how do I reconcile this when I am, as some would say, 'dating my oppressor?'
I begin to question how much the indoctrination of the dominant culture plays into my mindset. Shonda Rhimes is a trailblazer, and I will always stand for her promoting black and minority leads. Scandal will always be one of my favourite television shows because it was the first time I saw a strong, black independent woman being a leading boss in POLITICS, not scary but owning her sexuality and being open with her feelings. It was inspiring. So I have to ask myself when I said I wanted to be like Olivia Pope did that mean having a white love interest? In seeing the consistent promotion of this euro-centric ideal did I in-fact subconsciously internalise a belief that this is what attractive looks like?
In Step Sisters, though not a particularly memorable film, there was a thought-provoking side story. The movie lead was biracial, and she had a white boyfriend who was very over the top politically correct, racially 'woke' in a laughable way. When the biracial lead somehow became comfortable in her black identity she ended up with a black man. Here the film presents us with the two racial 'ideals': a white man who recognises his racial advantage and supports you, juxtaposed by a black man who lives the racial disadvantage and wants to teach you. As a second generation Nigerian girl who grew up in Essex with a majority of white people, I had to wonder if my identity would one day shift and I would end up with a black guy.
This is a dilemma that Sam, the lead, faces in Dear White People where she hides her white partner from the people in her life and wonders how the relationship will affect how people see her. Coincidentally, the black love interest in Dear White People is the same as in Step Sisters (not relevant to my point, but still a fun fact.)
It might seem silly to some to question my life because of the TV and films I see, but art truly does imitate life. Art is an expression of thought and when you see race in everything, nothing is ever straightforward. We live in a racially structured society and that means it influences your mindset in everything you do. Part of being aware of this means accepting that it can negatively affect you too.
My utopian future does not involve the erasure of interracial relationships and maybe that's where I differ from some. The race of my partner doesn't affect any of the issues I complain about, nor does it diminish my arguments. Moreover, my partner is one of the best people I know, he understands my beliefs, respects my values and promotes the same viewpoint. I guess at this point I'm more tired of the question itself.
Ultimately it's up to me, how much I let societal pressure create insecurity in my decisions. I can believe that westernised society has somewhat indoctrinated what I perceive as attractive, however, a relationship is deeper than that, and if the only reason you're with someone is because of their looks or if they have problematic ideas, then you've got bigger fish to fry.
I know that's not a problem for me.