I’m Afraid of Black Men

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Growing up in cosmopolitan Trinidad and Tobago, for me, the benefit of such a society was the ability to overlook race, creed, ethnicity, and, especially, colour.
Like some families, mine is mixed – with black, Indian and Spanish blood running through our veins. My father was the visual representation of a ‘coco payol’ – a latte of sorts – his skin tone the darkest of all his siblings. None of this mattered to me, as a young child, for a long time. Who noticed that there was a difference in our skin?
I remember sitting on my father’s lap when I was about eight years old, and he told me he had something important to teach me. He wanted to teach me a nursery rhyme – one unlike any other I had ever heard, and one that bears a distant echo in my mind today. It goes like this:
If you’re white, you’re alright
If you’re yellow, you’re mellow
If you’re brown, stick around
But
If you’re black, stay back.
I remember laughing and asking my father where he came up with these silly expressions, and paid it no mind. However, these words found a place in my subconscious mind, and remained deeply planted into my adulthood. By the time I was 16, and was allowed to date high-school boys, I noticed a pattern in the men I chose. None of them were darker than my complexion. In fact, the closer they looked to black, the less I was interested.
Despite the undeniable mix of people in our society, who provided a cultured blend of Black, Caucasian, Asian, Indian, Spanish, French, Dutch and English, I was given eyes to identify differences. I began to notice shades of brown and white – further sub-categories of ‘red’ (yellow), light brown, dark brown, and light skinned (white looking, but not Caucasian) – a kaleidoscope of colour parading before my eyes.
I used to convince myself that I was simply more attracted to men who were lighter skinned, and that I wasn’t making a conscious effort to eliminate darker-skinned men. Black was okay, as long as it wasn’t dark chocolate.
When I was 19, I moved to the US, and this world of shades and grades took on a new meaning. It went from being a superficial visual stimulation to a visual representation of dislike and distrust. I was a foreigner in the United States, and it was ‘us’ against ‘them’ – Trinidadian versus African American. I didn’t identify with the African American culture, but because I, too, was black, it was my assigned “box”. Suddenly, I forgot the shades of black or white in favour of being a Trini.
In 1995, someone close to me, and not unlike me was raped. Date rape. My friend’s perpetrator was not a stranger, and he was not a man with ‘obvious’ problems. He was an African American male, five foot seven, educated, aggressive, and dark skinned. This was my first, negative reality in America, and here was the reality. It could have been me. I could have been violated by “a brotha”, the same identification of that box I was forced to tick. I could have been violated by the universal bond of black, violated by the very people who are encouraged to love and respect their Nubian queens.
So, he was one bad apple. Does it mean he has to affect the whole bunch?
For many years following my friend’s incident, the mere thought of a black man close to me made me nervous. I didn’t trust ‘them’. I became one of those old, white ladies who would clutch their pocket books when a black man was within two feet. I wouldn’t go to clubs that were predominantly black for fear of being stabbed, shot or God forbid – spoken to. I wouldn’t listen to Rap and Hip Hop music because that potentially made the wrong statement.
I refused to buy anything Tommy Hilfiger, Enyce, or Baby Phat because that was what the black girls wore. I wouldn’t dare think of putting extensions in my ‘good’ hair nor would I speak loudly since that was a ‘black’ thing to do. I avoided any black vernacular, and alienated any possibility of encouraging relationships with black men or women.
As a result, I had many Hispanic and Caucasian friends. I was heavily criticized for the company I kept, but I rationalized that those who had the most to say were jealous because I was capable of diversity within my so-called inner circle. I kept telling myself that I didn’t see colour in people. I was attracted to good karma and genuine personalities. I was open-minded, and if I chose to, I could have black friends. And I do.
Of course, I was mentally tangled and soon to be tortured in my own web of deceit. I couldn’t see a black man without wondering what our children would look like together. I’d look at his hair and skin tone, consider his intellect, and begin some fantasy of a genetic creation, but no matter how good looking he was, something would come up short. It had to. There was no black man good enough for me (was there?). There was no black man who could treat this woman right. What I was saying to myself in the unhealthiest mantra was that I was too good for any black man, and he couldn’t ever be worth my time.
Without any consciousness of how I was programming my subconscious mind, I was a hater of my own race, but still I didn’t see us as one race. There were West Indian, black men, and then there were African American, black men. Admittedly, there is a difference in the value system in terms of the way both are raised and what values ultimately become important. They are taught different ways to demonstrate love and respect.
Historically, African American men have grown up in more hostile environments because of the high influence of race discrimination in the United States. For me, that translated to anger, insecurity and being judgmental. They were used to being victimized, and were often on guard for retaliation against masked, white supremacists.
I was on guard against them. I noticed that I became highly critical of black men almost to the point of absurdity. If a black man sat next to me with dreadlocks, I immediately turned my head away because I felt they were ‘inappropriate’, and that such a person could not be gainfully employed since he didn’t fit the mould for corporate America.
A black man who stared at my breasts was likely to receive a harsh reprimand, while the same act would be received as flirtatious and appreciative from an attractive non-black man. A black man who ordered Scotch was trying to score, while a non-black man was cultured with refined taste. My biggest discrimination was probably against those who never travelled outside of the USA. I thought they were narrow-minded simpletons who had nothing to offer me, and having travelled to Europe, the Caribbean, and Africa, I believed that new cultures expanded one’s thinking.
So why did I only see these faults in predominantly black men?
The fault wasn’t the men I saw. The fault was the unhealthy programming I responded to. Maybe I was so hung up on what was wrong with these men that I never saw the ones who demonstrated all the right things.
There are brothas who treat their black sistas with the kindness and respect they deserve. I have an older brother who, despite his bravado, is quite chivalrous and although he chooses to live a more humble lifestyle, it doesn’t make him less ambitious.
Perhaps it was because of my own perception of race and colour, tainted by media presentations, and my own experience of cultural clashes that I had a hard time seeing anyone for who they are regardless of the skin they lived in.
In my travels, I have seen such variety, and such pride in tradition, heritage and culture, that skin tones now cease to exist to me. I have gained an appreciation for difference, and a general acceptance of idiosyncratic behaviour. I am neither judge, nor am I jury. The observation of difference has led me release my ethnic burdens to see that, at heart, most of us are very much the same. We are all human beings seeking to express love for the duration of our assigned lifetime. Everything else is an illusion.

blackmanGrowing up in cosmopolitan Trinidad and Tobago, for me, the benefit of such a society was the ability to overlook race, creed, ethnicity, and, especially, colour. 

Like some families, mine is mixed – with black, Indian and Spanish blood running through our veins. My father was the visual representation of a ‘coco payol’ – a latte of sorts – his skin tone the darkest of all his siblings. None of this mattered to me, as a young child, for a long time. Who noticed that there was a difference in our skin?

I remember sitting on my father’s lap when I was about eight years old, and he told me he had something important to teach me. He wanted to teach me a nursery rhyme – one unlike any other I had ever heard, and one that bears a distant echo in my mind today. It goes like this:

If you’re white, you’re alright

If you’re yellow, you’re mellow

If you’re brown, stick around

But

If you’re black, stay back.

I remember laughing and asking my father where he came up with these silly expressions, and paid it no mind. However, these words found a place in my subconscious mind, and remained deeply planted into my adulthood. By the time I was 16, and was allowed to date high-school boys, I noticed a pattern in the men I chose. None of them were darker than my complexion. In fact, the closer they looked to black, the less I was interested.

 

I was given eyes to identify differences.

Despite the undeniable mix of people in our society, who provided a cultured blend of Black, Caucasian, Asian, Indian, Spanish, French, Dutch and English, I was given eyes to identify differences. I began to notice shades of brown and white – further sub-categories of ‘red’ (yellow), light brown, dark brown, and light skinned (white looking, but not Caucasian) – a kaleidoscope of colour parading before my eyes.

I used to convince myself that I was simply more attracted to men who were lighter skinned, and that I wasn’t making a conscious effort to eliminate darker-skinned men. Black was okay, as long as it wasn’t dark chocolate.

When I was 19, I moved to the US, and this world of shades and grades took on a new meaning. It went from being a superficial visual stimulation to a visual representation of dislike and distrust. I was a foreigner in the United States, and it was ‘us’ against ‘them’ – Trinidadian versus African American. I didn’t identify with the African American culture, but because I, too, was black, it was my assigned “box”. Suddenly, I forgot the shades of black or white in favour of being a Trini.

In 1995, someone close to me, and not unlike me was raped. Date rape. My friend’s perpetrator was not a stranger, and he was not a man with ‘obvious’ problems. He was an African American male, five foot seven, educated, aggressive, and dark skinned. This was my first, negative reality in America, and here was the reality. It could have been me. I could have been violated by “a brotha”, the same identification of that box I was forced to tick. I could have been violated by the universal bond of black, violated by the very people who are encouraged to love and respect their Nubian queens. 

So, he was one bad apple. Does it mean he has to affect the whole bunch? 

For many years following my friend’s incident, the mere thought of a black man close to me made me nervous. I didn’t trust ‘them’. I became one of those old, white ladies who would clutch their pocket books when a black man was within two feet. I wouldn’t go to clubs that were predominantly black for fear of being stabbed, shot or God forbid – spoken to. I wouldn’t listen to Rap and Hip Hop music because that potentially made the wrong statement. 

 

“… the mere thought of a black man close to me made me nervous.

I refused to buy anything Tommy Hilfiger, Enyce, or Baby Phat because that was what the black girls wore. I wouldn’t dare think of putting extensions in my ‘good’ hair nor would I speak loudly since that was a ‘black’ thing to do. I avoided any black vernacular, and alienated any possibility of encouraging relationships with black men or women. 

As a result, I had many Hispanic and Caucasian friends. I was heavily criticized for the company I kept, but I rationalized that those who had the most to say were jealous because I was capable of diversity within my so-called inner circle. I kept telling myself that I didn’t see colour in people. I was attracted to good karma and genuine personalities. I was open-minded, and if I chose to, I could have black friends. And I do.

Of course, I was mentally tangled and soon to be tortured in my own web of deceit. I couldn’t see a black man without wondering what our children would look like together. I’d look at his hair and skin tone, consider his intellect, and begin some fantasy of a genetic creation, but no matter how good looking he was, something would come up short. It had to. There was no black man good enough for me (was there?). There was no black man who could treat this woman right. What I was saying to myself in the unhealthiest mantra was that I was too good for any black man, and he couldn’t ever be worth my time. 

 

There were West Indian, black men, and then there were African American, black men.

Without any consciousness of how I was programming my subconscious mind, I was a hater of my own race, but still I didn’t see us as one race. There were West Indian, black men, and then there were African American, black men. Admittedly, there is a difference in the value system in terms of the way both are raised and what values ultimately become important. They are taught different ways to demonstrate love and respect. 

Historically, African American men have grown up in more hostile environments because of the high influence of race discrimination in the United States. For me, that translated to anger, insecurity and being judgmental. They were used to being victimized, and were often on guard for retaliation against masked, white supremacists. 

I was on guard against them. I noticed that I became highly critical of black men almost to the point of absurdity. If a black man sat next to me with dreadlocks, I immediately turned my head away because I felt they were ‘inappropriate’, and that such a person could not be gainfully employed since he didn’t fit the mould for corporate America. 

A black man who stared at my breasts was likely to receive a harsh reprimand, while the same act would be received as flirtatious and appreciative from an attractive non-black man. A black man who ordered Scotch was trying to score, while a non-black man was cultured with refined taste. My biggest discrimination was probably against those who never travelled outside of the USA. I thought they were narrow-minded simpletons who had nothing to offer me, and having travelled to Europe, the Caribbean, and Africa, I believed that new cultures expanded one’s thinking. 

So why did I only see these faults in predominantly black men? 

The fault wasn’t the men I saw. The fault was the unhealthy programming I responded to. Maybe I was so hung up on what was wrong with these men that I never saw the ones who demonstrated all the right things.

There are brothas who treat their black sistas with the kindness and respect they deserve. I have an older brother who, despite his bravado, is quite chivalrous and although he chooses to live a more humble lifestyle, it doesn’t make him less ambitious. 

Perhaps it was because of my own perception of race and colour, tainted by media presentations, and my own experience of cultural clashes that I had a hard time seeing anyone for who they are regardless of the skin they lived in.  

In my travels, I have seen such variety, and such pride in tradition, heritage and culture, that skin tones now cease to exist to me. I have gained an appreciation for difference, and a general acceptance of idiosyncratic behaviour. I am neither judge, nor am I jury. The observation of difference has led me release my ethnic burdens to see that, at heart, most of us are very much the same. We are all human beings seeking to express love for the duration of our assigned lifetime. Everything else is an illusion.

 

Related article: African Identity and the Man in the Mirror

 

Check out the rest of this week’s issue (23/05/11; Issue 58):

Look out for a new issue of Outlish.com every Monday!

Anje Woodruffe

Former 98.9 FM V-Jay, Anje Woodruffe is a talent manager and HR consultant, specializing in entertainment and media. She holds a BA in Communications from Hofstra University, and is currently pursuing her MBA.

9 Comments

  1. Code Red

    May 23, 2011 at 12:25 am

    Why is it OK to stereotype black men as unemployable, hyper-sexual criminals? Even as the article is one woman’s opinion it draws on historical discourses about black male hypersexuality and criminality. Some acknowledgement of the larger context within which these racist, sexist tropes about black masculinity originate and circulate is therefore necessary. Some acknowledgement of the material consequences for black masculinity of the intersection of anti-black racism and sexism is also necessary (i.e the black men like Emmett Till who paid for anti-black racism and sexism with their lives).

    Yes, black people from the Caribbean often wish to draw an analytical separation between themselves and African-Americans but rather than repeat the stereotypes (with which we are all already quite familiar) why not produce a more reflexive, insightful analysis? Perhaps because the writer’s sheer elitism and ignorance won’t let her.

    The kumbaya moment at the end really does nothing to resolve the anti-black and anti-male drivel that is the majority of the article.

    I applaud OUTLISH magazine for usually keeping it fun and fresh with its awesome team that delivers on time week after week! Thankfully this article is not representative of the majority of your content.

  2. Fred

    May 23, 2011 at 1:14 am

    This is racism pure and simple. Not all racism is overt and blatent. In fact a lot is quite the reverse, subtle, implicit and personal. Its sad to see a beautiful darkie like yourself stuck in the race trap, even if she gives some lip service at the end to why she thinks how she does. Ever read ‘black skin, white masks’? You should beauce your story sounds just like the psychology Fanon was writing about. You have been trained to dislike a stereotype. Time for you to take back some power. Its 2011, if we still cant move beyond these basic forms of racism the author describes for ourselves then we are really not thinking for ourselves.

  3. kelly

    May 23, 2011 at 1:32 am

    I just call it a prference, honestly without being racist/prejudiced…you can just have a preference for lighter men…no one complains when men say tey like only dark girls.

  4. sweetjamaican

    May 23, 2011 at 3:01 am

    I get the impression that the title is incorrect (based on the fact that the article is written in the past tense and that she says at the end that skin tones have ceased to exist to her and she’s released her ethnic burdens) and that it should be “I Used to be Afraid of Black Men”.

    I think she’s allowed to tell her story, and if her story includes stereotypes, then so be it. Are people only allowed to tell their stories if they fit a certain format? Not everyone is an academic.

    Of course it would have been nice if she could have spent more time dissecting the root of her stereotypical beliefs (and possible self-hate issues), but I do think she made an effort, citing the rhyme at the beginning, and then later talking about “unhealthy programming” and “media presentations”. Also she seems pretty young still, so I’m sure she has a lot more to discover about herself and her worldview.

  5. Trini_mitz

    May 23, 2011 at 3:01 am

    Wow. Takes a lot to recognise your own flaws and write so openly about it. Good job, might allow others the bgein similar self-examination

  6. french_vanilla

    May 23, 2011 at 7:26 am

    There are several themes that come out of this article, the most important to me being stereotypes we inculcate within ourselves because of the environment and stimuli we have been exposed to. Growing up in Central/South Trinidad as what appears to be a “local white” (although no one in my immediate nor extended family is actually Caucasian…some very far off ancestor was so it’s really just my complexion more than anything), I was a minority and subject to a lot of classroom teasing and such. This got to a point where I apparently came home one day, when I was less than 10, and told my mom I wanted to “scrub my colour off” because I wanted to be like everyone else. People often comment about racism from the black context, but I’m not sure they realize it also happens in the reverse. It’s really unfortunate that adults and children, unknowingly or otherwise, perpetuate these stereotypes in our growing minds. I think as a society we need to be more mindful of this, especially in one as cosmopolitan as Trinidad. We each need to start realizing that we are all just people, different packages but all going through similar life experiences, and that we should embrace the things that make each of us unique instead of shooting it down with ignorance.

    Because of these experiences, in my younger years I have deliberately tried to disassociate myself with appearing white, from the groups of friends I had to the boyfriends I chose. As a teenager, while I became more aware of the larger trini culture, I was proud that my then “ill informed choices” resulted in me not being a part of the typical trini white cliques as I felt is gave me more exposure to the true nature of Trini-ness. I really identified with being Trini, at home and abroad and my “white” complexion was something that I was just completely unaware of. Now that I’m older and have some wisdom to counter my experiences, these things don’t matter to me anymore. I am now much more accepting of myself and of others, complexion and everything in between…

    Another aspect that impressed itself on me is the categorizing of races per American culture…the writer having to fit into that “box” of black once she went to the US. It depresses me to see Trinidadians following suit, as in my mind we are such a melting pot that I see no race in the traditional sense when I look at someone from this island. I do know that others experience racial tensions in their day to day lives, particularly when dealing with people living internationally, and perhaps that may be part of the reason why some of us really identify ourselves as our complexion/race, Afro-Trini and Indo-Trini, while others do not.

    I can also relate to the experience of violence and subsequent fear of a particular race. I have never been one to feel afraid of being around people, of any race, until a point in time where I was held up at gunpoint by two dark skin young men at my home. After that experience, and even up to today, some 5 years later, I still feel very apprehensive when strange men of a darker hue approachs me, whether it’s on the street, or in a more social setting. The only time I really feel safe is when I have other friends around. Yes I know that dark skin does not equate to being a criminal, but the fact of the matter is that my conscious and not so conscious mind has been negatively affected by the ordeal I went though and I think this is something one can only undo with time and deliberate effort.

  7. yagtap

    June 5, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    Negative words are worse than the plague… once spoken, they spread throughout the generations…far beyond our communities and are taken with us abroad, but more importantly, they are taught in our own homes, and these seeds have poisoned the minds of the children. Negative cycles such as what was passed down here from father to daughter, are seeds of a slave mentality, and are merely symptoms of the disease, which, if left to run its course, will result in a brilliant end game – psychological holocaust of weak minded people. This is about the deeper problem of what has influenced our fractured identity, and the engine behind our peril with self mis-identification.

    Comparing degrees of skin color to predict behaviour… in this day and age? separating people in your mind by degree of hue is just another form of segregation. And it was used as a means of control by slave masters. But its a lie I tell you, a lie that says, if you have this or that and if you’re light skinned, mixed, have curly or long hair, you have arrived. As if accomplishments, corporate gain, position, or education, can wash off the stain and shame associated with that “Scarlet Letter -A” (of AFRICAN decent) and somehow earn you integrity, honor, respect and distance! US president Obama (who’s own mother was white) is seen as a black man. Regardless of his racial make up, is still dealing with racial stereotypes.

    As evident by this piece, many of these mentally wounded adults have grown up and now share these feelings infecting the world with low self esteem and self hatred, its too late for some of them, but for me, its always about what we are teaching/communicating to the children. Lets do better to teach them the importance of right thinking. “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can FREE OUR MIND” ~Bob Marley

    Together we aspire, together we achieve…more!

  8. Bill

    December 5, 2011 at 8:12 am

    May God give us all the wisdom to see where we’re wrong, the courage to correct it, and the heart to forgive ourselves for our mistakes.

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