American Culture

What happened when I had a black boyfriend

CATEGORY: RaceGenderBy Kailyn Jennings

I’m a skinny, knock-kneed, white girl from a small farm town in upstate New York. I have blue eyes, pale skin, brown hair. I’m quiet and usually buried in a book. I’m average.

Imagine people’s surprise when I began dating the 6-foot-7-inch Division I basketball player. The black one.

I can’t count the number of times people asked me what it’s like to date a black man. The only thing different about dating a black man is people asking me what it’s like to date a black man.

Those same people usually asked if I was okay, too. Am I okay? Not with people being blind to their own ignorance.

They may have been blind, but they certainly still saw color.

During a visit to my hometown, my boyfriend and I went to pick a friend up from a party. There, I hugged other friends I hadn’t seen in months, excited to finally introduce them to my boyfriend.

Then I heard it. The n-word. From a friend’s mouth.

At first, I couldn’t speak. What do you say when your so-called friends deliberately offend your boyfriend? Then, I cried. People I once considered friends used my boyfriend’s skin color to justify hating him. His skin color.

That same week, a cashier asked to check my boyfriend’s bag before we left the store. That store has a no-stop policy, meaning employees cannot apprehend a customer even if they believe the customer may be stealing.

So could someone please explain why my boyfriend – the only 6-foot-7-inch black man in my town – got stopped in the grocery store?

Someone actually told me it’s because he’s the only 6-foot-7-inch black man in my town. I say it’s because the cashier thought the color of my boyfriend’s skin presumed him a criminal. Because the cashier thought her own skin color legitimized her authority, her entitlement, her righteousness.

I didn’t see righteousness at all, though – only unwarranted discomfort with the other, fear of the unknown and hate.

And all because of skin color, for god’s sake.

Now imagine how my boyfriend felt when that son of a bitch spit the n-word in his face. When the cashier who nervously watched him cash out then asked him to open his bag. To know that each time he held my hand, someone thought he held it against my will.

Do you think he felt discomfort and fear? Because those would’ve been legitimized. I wouldn’t have blamed him for packing up and never coming back. Hell, I wouldn’t have blamed him for hating me because I invited him in the first place.

But he came back to my town repeatedly. Somehow he didn’t hate me for continuing to invite him. He loved me – even when people made sure he knew they didn’t love him.

He loved me, and I loved him back. Skin color and all.

Kailyn Jennings is a senior journalism and mass communication major at St. Bonaventure University.

25 replies »

  1. I hope you’re still together Kailynn, I love love love a love story. My sister dated a black guy for quite awhile in college. Almost married him. I hate to say it but I think I was more torn up than her when they broke up. I really liked that cat!

    Be yourself, Wuck the Forld.

  2. This is very strong, Kailyn. Makes me sad I retired before you got to my classroom. I’ve often said that the South has nothing on upstate New York when it comes to ignorance and prejudice. It is just that though – ignorance. That does not excuse the perpetrators; it just makes it easier for me to live among them. Keep on writing!

    Dan Moriarty

  3. Beautifully written by a great lady. I am happy she was in my class, and more than once.

  4. Wow Kailyn, Some people can be so small-minded!! I see you two walking past our house holding hands and you both look SO HAPPY together!! I am going show this to Robert to read. Unfortunately there is a lot of much
    hatred in the whole.

  5. No offense but the thing is, I’m not really at all interested in what a white girl has to say about how traumatized she was by racism dating a black guy. I’d much rather hear his unique perspective, or at the least how you realized your own place of privilege in society and how you participated in racism in society directly/indirectly, taking a radical stance in deconstructing it rather than trying to dissociate yourself from the problem that you inevitably take part in. This isn’t really brave or admirable or anything, it’s just reality and you realizing it because it started to be relevant to your life when you dated a black guy. This isn’t even incredibly radical either, it’s pretty safe in taking a stance against racism. Maybe to white people just as unexposed as yourself, but to someone else who is black this is like saying water is wet and you all of sudden noticed because you got splashed a little. And to love him “skin color and all” sounds… girl what? I know you didn’t mean for it to come off as it did, but it did. Please take these comments as productively as you can.

    • This comment is self-involved less-privileged-than-thou wankery of the first order. The editors apologize for our failure to provide you with someone worthy of your sense of entitlement.

      Thanks for stopping by to try and turn allies into enemies. Unfortunately, our quest for understanding and enlightenment is resilient enough to withstand a righteous flame even as pure as yours.

      • If you truly think you know more than me about my people’s oppression, you are not on a quest for understanding and enlightenment. You are on a quest to be another white liberal who wants to pretend just by saying “racism exists” that you no longer take any part in the problem and are a savior. If you truly think that I have no right to involve myself in my own issues and the issues of my friends and family and people, you are not an ally and you aren’t concerned enough with deconstructing this problem as you are with getting a pat on the back and no critique. Allies speak with the oppressed, not over them or belittling their sentiments to “self involved, less-privileged-than-thou wankery,” and to do anything else is backwards and very much part of the issue at hand. There’s a difference between writing for other white liberals with a guilt complex, and writing for black folks/to stand besides black folks and PoC. And Audre Lorde, that womanist you have in your honors, would be taking a similar stance as I am.

        • Actually, no. I’ve been in the room when Lorde addressed this very dynamic. She begins, as that article makes clear, with accepting who you are and proceeding from there. You’re suggesting that only those born with a certain lack of privilege have the right to speak. I watched Lorde dismiss that one before the young woman had a chance to even finish the question.

    • Saying “I’m not really at all interested in what a white girl has to say about how traumatized she was by dating a black guy” is unfair. First off, traumatized in not the right word and you are being very disrespectful to the author. Secondly, just because she is white, it doesn’t mean she can’t offer a perspective that everyone can appreciate and learn from. If you believe she can’t offer a worthy perspective, you are just as uninformed as the people who made her boyfriend feel the way they did. I can’t put words in the author’s mouth, but a big lesson from this story is cruelty, how can people be so cruel to each other, etc. It’s not only about race, it’s about treating people like people. You should be ashamed of your post. Just because it wasn’t the article you had hoped for, it doesn’t mean that you can’t appreciate the author and her way of presenting the story.

  6. I’m suggesting that on issues of oppression you should listen to the oppressed in order to further your activism, and only your own stubbornness and ego is making it hard to see why that’s logical. On issues of feminism, do you think women should just coddle men and praise them for saying women are humans worthy of respect (common sense) if they can push it further esp in their place of privilege? Critique is necessary to progress, esp from the people needing a social movement in issues of social justice, no one gets anywhere with just bathing in compliments. Also, honestly knowing Lorde’s work and the work of the womanist movement in general from Walker and hooks, and the way you’ve prioritized your ego to silence me as a black womanist active in my on social media and real life DC; you likely misinterpreted the conversation or Lorde’s stance. “the cashier thought her own skin color legitimized her authority, her entitlement, her righteousness,” we can’t limit this understanding of power dynamics between white folks and PoC to violent acts and slurs when it comes in more subtle forms of microaggression that you clearly display here. Womanism isn’t an apologetic, polite, easy to swallow movement, as you are expecting me to be here. Neither is the civil rights work of MLK or Malcolm X, every leader in social movements pushes people for more rather than coddling them for small actions they do out of convenience.

    Back onto this article itself, all I’m asking is the author to push herself further than just telling an event very traumatic and focusing on herself as the white girlfriend of the black boy and how it effected her. Because these safe POVs don’t help me or my brothers or my people. If she really believes in her own potential and cares about these social movements and the societal oppression of black people, she will be able to decipher the point of what I said. It wasn’t to say she should shut up, it was to say she should speak louder.

    • One thing we have in common – I’d love to hear from the boyfriend.

      But I can’t tell his story and neither can Kailyn. S&R has a history, though, of being very open to guest perspectives and if he were interested in sharing the story we’d love to publish it. If you were to familiarize yourself with the site, you’d find that we’re pretty damned friendly to “the oppressed.” You’ve walked in here and offered some pretty passionate opinions after reading one post.

      The author is an undergrad, and I’m confident that she’s already “pushing herself” and will continue to do so – something I think I can probably say for every member of the staff. In fact, willingness to push oneself is sort of a core requirement for being here. I’m sorry that she isn’t as far down the road as you think she should be. If you were fully actualized on issues of social justice when you were 18, all I can say is that I’m proud to meet you.

      As for your last sentence, is it your experience that young people, perhaps face to face with real injustice for the first time, are more likely to “speak louder” when smacked down by this sort of self-righteous bullying, or is the exact opposite what’s more likely to happen?

      • I’m 17 and a senior in high school. So, yes I expect her to push harder. Age isn’t an excuse. And all I can offer in response is a counter question; do you expect someone to hold off all critique when a job can be done better because it’s someones first experience? Without that critique how will they know what to improve next time?

        • I do not expect people to hold off on critique. When I was your age I was aggressive in stating my opinions and sadly I had way too little respect for those who more experience (and basic intelligence) than I did. So my advice to you is to be true to your principles.

          Part two of my advice to you is to understand that sometimes those who have been around the block a time or two – say, people three decades older than you who earned their PhDs in exceptionally liberal Research 1 university cultural studies programs – might be worth listening to on occasion.

  7. “The question went something like this. She was appalled and overburdened by the injustice in the world, all of which was perpetrated by a white, racist, sexist, patriarchal system. She was disgusted by the fact that she was white, she said. How could she be a part of the solution when her very race made her part of the problem?

    Lorde cut her off. You cannot do this, she said. Whatever power you are ever to have in this world begins with accepting who and what you are and harnessing the power you have. You cannot have power if you deny your own identity.”

    I see where you misinterpreted now, and yes Lorde was in fact making a similar point as I was and the author was making a similar point as the girl in your story. The girl in your story was dissociating herself from the issue, and behaving as a victim to being white who couldn’t possibly participate in that same society she hates. That’s what my original point was, that you shouldn’t do that and you should push yourself to take a radical stance especially if you are in a place of privilege, rather than focus on yourself and how it hurts you to be in that society that you take part in and benefit from. A good example of a radical white ally who fully understands that dynamic is Jane Elliott, who shows clear hate of white supremacy but very much acknowledges she takes full part and radically tries to demolish it in ways that alienate her from safe white liberalism. Also, she doesn’t expect a pat on the back or to be called brave, and I wouldn’t do either of those because what she does is what should be done.

    • Your powers of interpretation are remarkable. Were you even born in 1989?

      Believe what you will. I’m at home in interpretation and complexity and ambiguity, and am pretty honest with myself when it comes to admitting spots I might be projecting. I’m also pretty adept at knowing when there’s no ambiguity at all.

      You weren’t there, but you know more about what was said than those who were. I originally accused you of self-involved wankery, and you’re doing little to prove me wrong.

      • Your powers of interpretation are also remarkable on an issue you have no personal experience in and a community you clearly don’t have much experience in either, because what I’m saying is something repeated time and time again on this same subject and what Lorde is saying herself. But once again, you prioritize your ego over your activism. I am going about this self-involved, and I see no problem in that as this is my community’s issue. Your stance will not further this young author to her potential, and only sets a poor example of how to handle this situation when faced with it on whether to be resistant or responsive. Anyway, I’m going in circles here and you seem to be just another stubborn white liberal with both a guilt complex and a superiority complex. You can choose to improve your activism by being responsive to radicalism, or keep it safe and physically/mentally convenient as you show you do now and be praised by other people taking safe, liberal stances. But in case you over time reflect and feel anything here resonates, first action I suggest you do is research more on racial microagressions. I, however, have made my point enough for anyone willing to look beyond their own pride to understand.

        • Right. Since I’m not a minority or a woman, I’m not allowed to speak. I have to listen to lectures from high schoolers.

          Thing is, while I’m not black, Latina, female, etc., that doesn’t mean I know nothing about being on the wrong end of power and privilege. But you don’t know this because you assume that you know all you need to know.

          Look, you seem like a bright kid. Truth is you’re probably well ahead of where I was in 1978 because at that point I was still in the throes of lots of bad political ideology and it took me a while to work my way to the light of day. I still don’t know nearly all I need to – it seems like everything I learn mainly points to two more things I need to learn, so some days I feel like I have both learned a lot and gotten dumber.

          So best of luck. Don’t lose your passion. Study hard.

          But don’t make your assumptions about what people have to contribute based on their skin color, their gender, their zip code, etc. That’s how racist patriarchs work, and they’re wrong, too.

  8. “that doesn’t mean I know nothing about being on the wrong end of power and privilege. But you don’t know this because you assume that you know all you need to know.” But i never said that either. And I never said I’ve never benefited from any privilege either. But, when someone says I should push myself harder against something such as transmisogyny or colorism, then I’m going to let go of pride to say “but I am working hard already!” and just listen to them and take their advice because thats how activism progresses and I trust, no matter how much I research, that their experience will always have more validity than my studies. Historically, we’re not looking at privileged folks with degrees and what they have to say about social movements, are we? With civil rights, how many big names in history books are white guys with degrees who felt they knew more than black folks experiencing segregation? I mean straight up, they’re not there and looking back we wouldn’t look on them favorably. And how many were youth, my age range to 30s, who took a radical stance and didn’t let those guys silence them? Age isn’t an excuse to shelter someone from critique as you suggest I do for the author, and it also doesn’t automatically mean more experience on issues as you suggest for yourself.

    • Civil rights movements don’t succeed without the aid of those white guys (and white women) with degrees (and without degrees), either. MLK was a remarkable leader, but without the help of progressive whites he’d have been doomed. This isn’t paternalistic, it’s math.

      As I say, I wish you the best. But I have a rule that I should have been reminding myself of all along, and that’s never to argue with people who aren’t interested in anything you have to say.

      Have a good evening.

  9. Many people don’t understand how much trouble others put us through. The color of our skin somehow opens way for people to make silly assumptions. White people steal, too. No offense. But it only makes a scene if the individual is black. My god. You are a strong girl, Kailyn! Not to many people understand what it’s like to be put in such situations. I hope things worked out.

  10. Things are finally beginning to change for the better, if we judge by American advertising. Ever since the biracial family appeared in that oh so brave, risky, pioneering Cheerios spot a few years ago (20-freakin’-13) and the heavens didn’t come crashing down and millions of berserk Caucasians didn’t revolt in the streets, mixed-race couples have been all over the place in Commercial Land—seriously, they’re everywhere and in various pairings, like someone’s making up for lost time and sales. Since our captains of industry have deemed interracial relationships safe at last, we can all rejoice and finally fall in love and raise a family with whomever the hell we want.

    Er, unless you’re gay. May the business world see fit to one day depict a loving same-sex couple in some Super Bowl ad so we can all finally be free!

    Er, unless you’re…