By 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.