My earliest sexual relationships were characterised by my internalized-anti-blackness. As many bullied, young black girls in predominantly white schools, upon hitting puberty my hormones led me to have crushes. Who were the eligible bachelors around me? White boys. But as many can guess, they seldom liked me back. This series of unrequited love interests left me with a bit of a complex later on in life. It seemed to mean more to me when white people were sexually attracted to me than those of another race, since they never were when I was younger. So for a long time, I found myself dating and sleeping with white people almost exclusively.
Those early white boyfriends fit into three categories which I will describe. These are three easy traps for interracial sexual relationships to fall into. For white readers, these are tropes you should learn about so you can avoid becoming them. For BIPOC readers, your sexual pleasure can be your gateway to liberation, a relief of the minority stress that plagues us and a way of connecting to our nature which was stolen from us, but racism comes into play during these intimate, private moments just as it does the public ones. Coming to that realisation sooner rather than later can save you from a lot of disappointing sexual partners.
“I’m attracted to everything about you BESIDES your blackness”
On brand with the increase in cultural appropriation we’ve seen in recent years, people love black traits so long as they’re not ON black people. Thick thighs, big butts, full lips, exoticism, the list goes on. And since so many of us have these highly sexualised traits naturally, people who think that they would never be attracted to black women find themselves staring, in awe. “I’m attracted to everything about you BESIDES your blackness.”
Or something specific about your blackness turns them off, like hyperpigmentation around your bikini line or darker genitals or nipples. Or, you know? The fact that you're socially aware about the state of black people in America, the fact that you talk about it in casual conversation. This makes them uncomfortable.
This piecing of the black body is a form of dehumanisation. We’re not just a set of plump lips, or a body without a mind, we’re full people. The idea of sex without acknowledgment of our humanness, our emotions and the associations we each make around sex, even in “casual hook ups” or “one night stands” is a lie. The people we each fuck are still people, who are effected not only by having interacted with us, but potentially by having that interaction be one of great intimacy.
In the US, there is an extensive history of white male shame around being sexually attracted to enslaved women. Black femininity being “sexual” and “devious” was defined in contrast to white women’s “purity”- we received the blame for enslavers sexually abusing us. This is the extension of that shame, and can feel painfully familiar for the black women today.
“I only fuck black girls”
The term fetish means that some non-living object or non-genital body part is needed to become sexually aroused. A racial fetish relies on race or racialized features as a primary source of arousal. We often hear people call their racial fetishes simply their “preference”, but this is no longer an acceptable defence. What someone’s “preference” tells me is that they’re relying on the concept of minimal race: they think that they don’t make any associations between race and one’s morality, intelligence, character, to them race is just one’s phenotypic appearance and their geographical ancestry. They’re referring to race as something neutral like hair length or height, rather than a social construct that results in deeply ingrained biases for everyone who is taught it. They are pleading a case of colourblindness, and I’m no longer buying it.
Regardless of the context one’s having sex in, a long term relationship or after a good first date, universally people want to feel chosen. Doubt, insecurity, replaceability, and objectification all become the burden of the fetishised person.
“You’re the only black girl I’d have sex with, way prettier than the others”
“When I look at you, I don’t see colour”, “You’re just as hot as a white girl”, the use of AAVE in bed, and other microaggressions can really dampen the mood when you’re trying to get it on. Having to pause in the middle of riding to request that your partner stop acting like a sexual equal opportunity employer and educate themselves is just another weight on our shoulders.
To an extent, microaggressions may be a bit of an unfortunate inevitability. Anti-racism for white people requires a constant state of learning, progress over perfection. But the hurt caused by well intended words falls on us, and is not only something we’ll take home after the sexual interaction, but can also be a sexual inhibitor. Arousal systems range from highly sensitive to inhibitors to less so, but for some even a messy room or an unmade bed is enough to turn you off, let alone a statement like one of these.
This isn’t to say that interracial sexual relationships are destined for failure, it means that they require some level of effort and thought. To act as though the topic of race does not arise before, during and after sex with someone who looks different from you is a disservice to your partner and yourself. The key to healthy expressions of sexuality in a space that feels safe for all parties IS actually this acknowledgement. Coming to terms with your biases and doing what you can to reverse them, calling your fetish what it is, treating your partner like a person, learning what offends members of other cultures and avoiding those phrases are key.
Tara Michaela (she/her) is a black, queer, sex educator and student based in New York. Her work focuses on how injustice manifests in sexual interactions, specifically racism. She also explores how stigma keeps us all from being our best selves, pleasure as a form of liberation, and how we can close the orgasm gap. She uses her social media platforms and written pieces to connect with her community on these issues. You can find more of her work on her website www.taramichaela.com, Patreon or her Instagram.