I have this awful habit of reading YouTube comments. It’s a dependency that can only be described in totality by R. Kelly’s intro to “Bump N’ Grind” when he yells, “my mind is telling me no, but my body, my body is telling me yes!” Oddly enough, we will get back to R. Kelly later.
With that said, I’m obsessed with a song called Coming Home by Leon Bridges (check the song out here). A couple of months ago, while watching the video in my 1950s-style soul and R&B euphoria, one fact kept dragging me back down to Earth: Leon is black and his love interest is white. Who cares, right? In an ideal, and impossible, post-racial world, maybe that sentiment carries weight. But, knowing the actual world in which we live, I was worried that there might be some backlash for his decision to cast her.
I felt the familiar urge to scroll down and see if thousands of viewers protected by the veil of anonymity would voice their harsh opinions on the matter. The first few comments focused mainly on the music, many commending him on such a thoughtful, heartfelt song. Whew, Leon lives another day. But, like most good things in this world…they must be ruined. A love song turned into a no-holds-barred discussion on black feminine beauty.
The most diluted of the negative feedback concluded with passive disappointment in Leon for acknowledging an ongoing trend of exclusive white beauty. The most jarring comment highlighted the irony that if Leon were actually with a white girl in the time period his music emulates, he would have been strung up. We’re obviously dealing with a wide spectrum of criticism here, but the unifying discovery was that almost all of the disapproval in this range came from black women.
They’re just angry black women right?
I won’t sugarcoat my initial reaction—I felt that in this case, black women were among the most racist demographics in the country. As much as I hate to mention that, it was painfully obvious that many of the other commenters agreed with me. However, I found it increasingly difficult to deny the one-sided nature of the discourse.
Even if I didn’t originally agree with the logic behind their caustic remarks, the argument was clearly black women against the world. Perhaps it was because of this observation that before long, my sentiments shifted. I started to ask myself why they felt the need to speak out in the first place? Even if the criticism is misguided in where it’s directed (Leon Bridges), the motivation behind mustering up the courage to speak up carries weight. Think about anything from Yelp reviews to Comcast surveys—for the most part, the only people participating are people who feel strongly either one way or the other.
You’re more than welcome to disagree, but I don’t think that only anger, intimidation, and jealousy are what fueled the negative responses—it’s deeper than that. Either way, if the discussion is all against one, no one will take the one seriously. It’s like being a liberal anywhere in Indiana that isn’t Indianapolis.
So how do we get into the heads of black women? Simple: ask them.
I interviewed a group of 5 women based on age and race (in this case, black and white). The initial goal of the interviews was to gather perspective on interracial dating. Over the course of the interviews, however, the shear volume and potency of the stances presented would force me to split my focus into two separate parts. Hence, you’re reading part one, which will serve as more of an overview of the perceived opinion of black beauty. Don’t worry though, part two focuses all of it’s energy on interracial dating, so be patient. It’s worth noting that I promised those who participated in the interviews full anonymity. Let’s dive in.
Everyone thinks white women are attractive.
This simple affirmation was a universal topic of agreement amongst my interviewees. “Adorned” was the word that one of them in particular used to get the point across. For many black women, the idolization of the white woman is a constant reminder that they are overlooked. After all, everyone can relate to the unintentional backhanded compliment that serves to remind us of our shortcomings. In this case, “you’re pretty attractive for a [insert race here] girl” could inherently lead one to believe that her race is a detriment to her attractiveness. The follow up question would be: is that true? Now I’m all for unwavering female confidence, but I’m sure that you’ll find a similar answer to that question as when you ask minority women if they’re fed up with hearing “that’s just how the world works.”
Let me be clear that I have no intention of shaming white women, I’m only stating a perceived fact of life. In fact, none of my interviewees placed blame on white women at all, but rather the society that perpetuates stereotypes of black women and their beauty as compared to the norm. When asked about what it feels like to see a black man with a white woman, one of my interviewees said she would assume that black man has decided to buy into what society has told him is beautiful.
“Black men don’t fall into the same society that stereotypes black women”
Simply put, black men have more choices. I’m not afraid to admit that and it comes with a fair amount of guilt that I’m not sure is within my control. One of my interviewees asserted that black women don’t feel like other races find them attractive. The basis for this claim won’t come from looking at other races of men, but rather the men within the race—black men. I’ve seen first hand (as have any black men who have been on a date with a white woman) the hostile looks that coincide with the comments on Leon Bridges’ music video. What if these presumptuous, virtual outbursts aren’t based in racism or full on jealousy, but abandonment? If Beyoncé’s Formation video were solely about feminism, and not black feminism, would there have been as much of a fuss? In a time when gender equality has become an important symbol for unification, black women still find themselves at the bottom of the spectrum.
I’ll return to R. Kelly via a point that one of the interviewees made (obviously before knowing I would use R. Kelly as an anecdote). She claimed (and I’m paraphrasing) that had R. Kelly’s past allegations involved a young white girl, his career would look vastly different than it does now—and that’s if it would exist at all. Admittedly, I hadn’t even thought about that. The discrepancy between a young white girl victim versus a young minority girl victim is a fair debate. Perhaps it’s denying that the discrepancy exists in the first place that secures its truthfulness.
We are taught that white female beauty should be adorned from day one. It’s depicted in just about every medium that exists. How many times have you watched a sporting event on TV where the cameras go out of their way to show a player’s particularly good looking girlfriend in the crowd? How many times is that woman white? The idea becomes lodged in our subconscious mind. So, when faced with the discrepancy between victims, it almost seems illogical to think that anything outside of white beauty would have the same gravitas. Even by definition white is innocence.
We all carry the same cynicism in our head. In fact, I would argue that cynicism is the voice of our generation and I can’t help but find myself increasingly apathetic to the idea. It’s too easy. I’ve encountered indifference from black women for not being “black enough” and, in theory, that sentiment would make it easy to dismiss their complaints, especially when targeted at black men. But, isn’t that type of approach the same as ignoring that a problem exists in the first place? Are there hypocrisies in that problem? Yes, but that’s human. Part two of this examination will discuss some of that hypocrisy in more detail, but the resounding conclusion is always acknowledging that the emotions are founded in truth.
So, for anyone else scouring the comments section of the Coming Home video, stop yourself for a second before you judge the bitter black female giving Leon an earful (eyeful? I don’t know, it’s YouTube). And please, try to remember that at the end of the day, the marginalization of black women in this country is a matter of perception. A perception that seemingly consists of everyone’s opinions but black women themselves.