Do Black People Tan?
Believe it or not, a young lady whom I am very fond of allowed these insipid words to come out of her mouth. In an attempt to establish some semblance of cordiality I simply responded with an annoyed hiss of disgust. I often cringe when one of my white counterparts approaches me with questions such as this. Being one of four black students in an overwhelmingly white graduating class, I left high school with the realization that a large part of black culture goes mostly unnoticed within the white community; hence the term "white solipsism" coined by poet and theorist Adrienne Rich.
This solipsistic viewpoint involves, "Thinking, imagining, and speaking as if whiteness described the world? A tunnel-vision, which simply does not see non-white experience or existence as precious or significant?" Quite prevalent within student-produced writings here at Duke, "white solipsism" surfaces particularly when addressing the topic of dating on campus.
"Woe is me," echoes in the banter of complaining white females referring to the non-existent dating scene on Duke's campus. The usual complaint is that the feeble replacement for dating is the act of "hooking up", usually with some drunken guy whom you vaguely remember from Math 26L. We are all in agreement (black, white, Asian, etc.) that for the most part, Duke's campus is not conducive to forming strong romantic relationships.
Yet, an aspect that always seems to be overlooked is the particularly limited option open to black females. Among the undergraduate class of about 6,300 students at this University, only 11 percent are African-American. So, out of about 700 African-American students, one could justifiably not expect a healthy dating scene. Our community is already small, and within this microcosm of blackness, it is quite apparent that for black women, the options are limited.
Many of the already disproportionate number of black males are athletes who create a laissez-faire attitude, implying that a black male should not have any obligation to link himself to only one female-whatever race she is. Innumerable problems arise as a result of this unhealthy ratio of available black males to black females. Black women become like ravenous beasts in search of meat. Broad smiles of feigned cordiality are painted on black women's faces as they pass one another, yet a cloud of suspicion lingers in the atmosphere. We misdirect our energies and actually begin to wage wars over these black men and against one another, claiming up and down that in fact "she" is the problem, not "him!"
So, one may ask the question, why should black women limit themselves only to black men when these same black men clearly delight in stepping outside of the stifling confines of race? Why should these black women not do the same? This will provide alternatives to the steadfast rule that black women should only date black men.
Another question is how would non-black males feel about crossing the color barrier on such a racially divided campus? I will hesitate to say, for instance, that white males will be receptive to such 'mingling'. This uncomfortable issue has followed me from high school; the seemingly furtive glance from white males. It is almost as though I have convinced myself that there could not possibly be any sexual attraction between a white man and a black woman. I always convince myself that such a momentary look from a white man could not be the blatantly sexually charged stare that I perceive with my own eyes. I find myself creating alternative explanations for lingering touches and coy smiles; surely, this white man could not be flirting with me. This mode of thinking is so prevalent but overlooked. White males and black females seem to the public to be as contrary as oil and water; so impossible it seems, 'never the twain shall meet.'
So, what is a black female at Duke University to do in such a complex situation? Her struggle is often overlooked on this campus. Black male students are not the only males here, I agree, but neither do we live in an ideal world where color is invisible. The majority of whites prefer to date only whites, Asians only Asians, and yes, blacks only blacks. The answer to my white friend's question of "Do black people tan?" is duh.
And as we go about the business of garnering an education within these hallowed halls of Duke University, we, like our white counterparts, have the same yearnings tightly clutched within our bosom--to walk arm-in-arm with a lover. To love and be loved. After all, we are human.
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