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Racial intimacy and the Rainbow: Is love just love?

In African American, Hispanic, Latina/o and race, Latino; Latina, New York City, race and Latinos, race and love, race work, race, love, Uncategorized on November 30, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Racial intimacy. Intimacy in general is such a scary word. Deep knowledge about race. Familiarity. A knowing glance. A look of affirmation. A deep understanding that there is a common and shared experience occurring. How does racial intimacy affect who we choose to love? Is it necessary?

Racial intimacy, I think, can often cloud the emotional lives (and loves) of women of color. A friend of mine and I were talking about dating not so long ago. We wondered why it seemed so much easier for men of color to date outside of their race than it felt like for women of color. As women of color we are simultaneously accused of being silly and lauded for historical racial understanding because we tend to be more loyal to men of color than men of color seem to be toward us. The feelings come up as a metaphorical slap in the face, punch in the stomach, or strike in the heart when we see men of color date outside of our particular race. At least, for some of us this is our initial reaction.

Some men of color report that love is love. But how can love just be love when we inherit very real trends in cross-racial desire? Policymaking prohibiting cross racial love, at one point made these decisions a very conscious one – sometimes actions that have cost the lives of Black and Latino men. Did they forget? Do they not know? Today, these actions seem to be more unconscious, aside from the stares or maybe even questions from our friends or families – there are fewer consequences to dating and loving across race. Hence today’s “love is love” theory.

Perhaps for these reasons, women of color feel that love cannot just be love. For women of color, we understand that we are the carriers of racial truth, of our cultures, of our histories. We desire love but, for some of us, our love has a racial dimension. Through our race, through our culture, we carry the stories of our mothers, our fathers, our ancestors, their languages, their sadness, their marks on their backs, their desires in their hearts. We inherit the stories of triumph, our very own cultural wealth, that remind us that we are the survivors of conquest and slavery. We bear a lot before we even have our own physical children.

Some of us seek racial intimacy. We seek that understanding, that racial/cultural specificity, that knowing glance, that sigh on the other end of the phone line when we describe the racist encounters at school, at work, on the train ride home. We seek that strength to be passed on to our children when they come to us and ask “Why did (insert racist encounter here) happen?” We hope that we won’t have to be alone to answer this question. But some of my sisters are.

In an article written by Jill Scott, she explains why there is an initial reaction when we see men of color dating white women. She describes that inner gut reaction that makes us wonder why? She got a backlash for describing this feeling – but it is so much more than a feeling. It is a tradition we see replayed over and over again in a world that is not racially conscious, where we have to live under the love is love credo because otherwise we all go crazy wondering, is he only dating me because of my skin color? Are we only dating men of color because of theirs?

Nothing is ever that simple. Especially love.

Being a race-conscious Latina, means that I am also race-conscious about dating and loving. Although I identify as a woman of color, I also am looked at oddly if I date outside my race-specific culture. But my race-consciousness is not just skin-deep. It is the race-connection, race-love, race-work that sometimes comes along with the skin color that I consciously choose. Can we engage in a conversation about race? Do you get just as hyped as I do when we see movies with racist themes, overt or subtle? Can we share that knowing glance, the shared sigh over coffee, or a joking nudge about race? Can we be racially intimate?

Some of us seek racial intimacy in our friendships, too. Being racially intimate with White allies begins with their understanding. They listen and learn and don’t say things like “It’s all in your head”. Perhaps the working on racial trust is a way to build racial intimacy.

Racial trust can be tricky. Even for race-workers. During a time I was dating an African American man, a colleague asked “How do you deal with the language issue?” The assumption here was that since I was raised by immigrant parents from a Spanish speaking country, that I also needed for my partner to be of the same linguistic background. I replied to her that while language was important to me, I did not feel it necessary for my partner to speak Spanish. As long as my partner was ok with me being who I am and he was willing to take the time to also learn some words in the language I grew up speaking, I was just fine with “the language issue”.

I thought this was a pretty healthy response. Until I told my partner about it.

My partner (at that time) was offended by the question and was even more confused by my answer. He could not understand why language was important to me. He explained that he had no idea that this was a value that I held. All I thought was, how could he not? I spoke in Spanish around him sometimes because that is the culture in which I live in. Going back and forth between Spanish and English was just the kind of world Latino New Yorkers grow up in. I thought he was fine with it until we had to be more specific and open about it. Racial trust wasn’t fully developed within this Black-Latina binary.

So racial intimacy is multi-dimensional. Skin-deep is just surface level conversations. Language, immigration status and other factors come into the mix. How do these factors shape our value for racial intimacy?

I wish love could just be love. But for some of us, specifically race-workers, we are very conscious of the history behind race-love, the consequences to our families, the conquest written all over our faces and skin color sometimes…all of this gets translated into the knowing glances, that nod of affirmation, that familiar sigh on the other end of the phone line when we describe the racist encounters at school, at work, on the train ride home…but is this enough? Or even necessary? Within our conversations, between women of color, we encourage each other to not stop ourselves from loving because the person who wants to love us happens to be outside of our particular race. But can we do this without that racial intimacy? Could these individuals be carriers of racial intimacy too?

Lady in purple: My love is too sanctified to have it thrown back on my face.
Lady in blue: My love is too magic to have it thrown back on my face.
Lady in orange: My love is too “Saturday Night” to have it thrown back on my face.
Lady in red: My love is too complicated to have it thrown back on my face.
Lady in green: My love is too music to have it thrown back on my face.

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf — Ntozake Shange

That is race-love. Some of us wish love could just be love. My hope is, like my friend Elizabeth Bella Tarpley reminds me, that my rainbow is enuf.

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