I was never shielded from anti-black racism, its overt ugliness, its subtle nastiness, its shared intention to make me feel small. Yet, I was cautioned to never allow someone else to define how I felt about myself. In essence, to the white people reading this, I was not raised to care all that much about what you thought of my black ass.
It is a lesson that has stayed with me for my entire life. It is a value instilled in me that has done wonders for my psyche as a black man living in a nation majorly shaped through the lens of white supremacy and governed largely in the practice of institutionalized racism. Knowing there is an ingrained prejudice in society does not make me feel inferior by default nor does it compel me to center whiteness. That is why when it comes to one lingering strain of critique related to “preference,” I find myself frustrated.
In recent months, I have read articles featuring black men complaining about white men on apps like Grindr and Tinder rejecting them. Articles of this nature have been in rotation for some time now. The same goes for white men who claim that their preference to not date black men does not make them racist by default. Moreover, like many minority gay men, I was told about the video in which gay men reacted to racist Grindr profiles.
I understand the frustration. I get that this is a longstanding issue. I know that people should make sure bigots know they cannot cower behind the false pretense of preference. I even accept that preference does not necessarily equate prejudice in some cases.
Nevertheless, I am so sick of reading and watching black men complain about white men not wanting them sexually.
When it comes to tackling the relationships between gay black men and gay white men, to only discuss in the context of sexual attraction is insulting to both and can often have damaging consequences in the narrative. Last fall, The Advocate published a piece titled “Is Gay Dating Racism Creating a Black HIV Crisis?” To his credit, author Daniel Reynolds did ultimately speak to someone from the CDC who denotes other factors play a larger role.
However, why even center the black male HIV crisis on the affections of white men? Especially when you factor in that in December 2013, the New York Times published a report, “Poor Black and Hispanic Men Are the Face of H.I.V.” which examined factors behind higher HIV rates among poorer Black and Latino men. In it, they detail how the failure of health organizations to reach both groups are largely responsible for our higher rates. We are less likely to take drugs before having sex and no more likely to engage in risky behavior, but we do have less access than our white counterparts
Working within a smaller pool can be problematic, but the issue of racism and how it burdens black men ought to be more focused on institutional issues (poverty, mass incarceration, lack of access to education, health services, etc.) than these hollowed conversations flooding my social media feeds every couple of months. Why be so focused on the “preferences” of an idiot? Why continue to make whiteness the center of world and perpetuate this notion that we have to belong?
If someone’s “preference” is that I am not good enough, oh well. It’s their loss. It doesn’t require that much of my energy. Someone who values you less will not be convinced by you publicly crying about wanting to belong. I am less interested in wanting to belong and more passionate about being equal.
It’s not a separatist stance, it’s, “I could be with you, but I don’t need you”. We have to stop giving other people’s preferences so much power. As black men, we need to value ourselves so much that no outside force, no prejudice – even one guised as preference – can make us feel second place. You cannot let that define you because it will only destroy you.
Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem, and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him @youngsinick.