Trying to examine my own internalized racism and how it relates to my current relationship is complicated, because I am afraid to confront my truth sometimes. Being a formerly closeted gay athlete, I learned how to lie. To be a convincing liar, one must vehemently believe in one’s own lies. And although I’ve dated a black man, I had to finally own the fact that I prefer white men. I can’t explain it, but I own it. I don’t apologize for it. Many people ask me about the one black man I dated, in an attempt to formulate reasons why I became interested in him. Well, he was a Harvard graduate and a medical student. Maybe subconsciously, this particular black man, with his impressive résumé, attracted me because I thought that he would allow me the same access as a white suitor.
Growing up poor in Louisiana, access and privilege seemed to be mutually inclusive. I had neither. But when you’re a child, you don’t have the language or the understanding to comprehend what you do and don’t have, and you definitely don’t understand why. As I went through the stages of adolescence, I began to understand the world around me and how to move within the world in order to gain privilege and access. So I formulated my “cool pose,” which, for me, was a learned habit of crafting a persona and image to dictate how people perceived me. My performance, including my dress, speech, and attitude, was geared toward gaining access to a world I believed would be denied to me if I didn’t conform.
Truthfully, I never really analyzed my “performance,” because I didn’t have to, and I probably didn’t want to. And why would I? I was enjoying my place in the world. I’d never had any issues with the police. I could never fully empathize when a friend of mine got “profiled” or complained about issues that were associated with race, because I assumed that those issues were not mine. I wouldn’t dare to look at my true self in the mirror, because I knew I wouldn’t recognize the face, a clearly crafted face and form that made others feel safe.
Sure, I’d been asked numerous times while shopping if I worked there, and sometimes it annoyed me, but that had happened even to my white partner on occasion. So it had nothing to do with my blackness. And yes, when I first moved to the Upper East Side of New York City, people looked at me strangely, but I thought that it had something to do with me being new to the neighborhood. I never took the time to analyze how it truly affected me; I was too busy fitting in and enjoying my access and privilege.
Then it happened: I started working with young black and brown youth. The mirror that I had avoided so often was now everywhere. I started reading books by Audre Lorde and James Baldwin, and I started to not only see but understand myself. I understood that my self-hatred was learned. I had been socialized to see blackness as a deterrent and whiteness as an opportunity. I hadn’t taken the time to understand “Sankofa” (the idea that we must go back and reclaim our past so that we can understand why and how we came to be who we are today, and thus move forward) or analyze the greatness of black gay men like Bayard Rustin. My privileged life, though tightly packaged, began to unravel the more I read and learned.
So, here I am. I’m still the same black man who’s in love with a wonderful white man, and I’m trying to understand myself and how to exist in this world without hating myself. Yet there’s nothing scarier than waking up every day seeing yourself clearly for the first time while everyone around fails to recognize you. My grandmother always said, “One donkey don’t stop no show.” Well, I think I’ve made an ass out of myself long enough. So world, get ready for the real me.