White Guilt: Reconciling The Colonization Of My Desire

On white boys, the bane of my existence and the primary object of my desire.

This article is part of Thirst Week, a series that approaches the idea of “thirst” from various angles—some straightforward, others more challenging. A new Thirst Week piece will be released every day this week. Check them out here.

I went to school with a group of kids my friends and I called The Preps—they wore L.L. Bean, were ostensibly wealthy, and almost exclusively white. The Boy Preps would casually torment me, particularly their ringleader, S.D. He was tall, handsome, funny, athletic, popular, smarter than he needed to be, but lazy from entitlement. And I was in love with him. Or what passed for love as a lonely teenager desperate for affection. I fondly remember one of my girl friends relating the image of his testicle precariously encased in his basketball shorts; an image that appears to me to this day. If I can trace my complicated feelings toward white boys to any one person, it would be S.D. My tempter and tormentor.

For most of my life, white boys have been both the bane of my existence and the primary object of my desire. And I’ve resented them—and myself—for it. My attraction to white men always felt like a betrayal of my race, as if I’d bought into what media, fashion, and society have been drilling into me ever since I was aware enough to understand: White is right. That to be white is to be desirable, to be beautiful, to be better. Though the world taught me I should desire whiteness, it didn’t teach me to deal with the rejection whiteness reserves for blackness.

After my mother died, which coincided with the onset of high school, the differences between The Preps and me became even more marked—not just in race but in class. As I struggled to afford lunch each day, they were the first kids to get cars. And so I desperately wanted to be part of their world—to achieve the American dream of being an upper-middle-class white person. Add to all that my burgeoning sexuality and I hardly stood a chance.

Jesus is a white man. Despite no firsthand physical accounts and his Middle Eastern roots, Jesus looks like any and every random hipster bae in Brooklyn. And for centuries, black people were tricked, en masse, into worshipping him as their lord and savior. One yearned to be filled with the ecstasy of white Jesus, to be enveloped in his love. To be saved!

I believed a white man could save me. Both from myself and from the world. I justified my “preference” as an embodiment of the rule posited by that sage songstress, Paula Abdul, that “Opposites Attract.” Were I a white man, I reasoned with myself, I’d probably be primarily attracted to black men. A convenient theory. Still, unsurprisingly, I developed―some would say earned―a reputation for only liking white boys.

As much as I pursued white boys, they pursued me. Though it was always a specific type of white boy: Ones down with the proverbial swirl. I was grateful for this type of boy, but at the same time, wary of, and deeply annoyed by him. If he mentioned “chocolate” before even asking my name—cue the credits, turn on the house lights, everybody get the fuck out. It’s a wrap. These types of boys would be the ones to unfailingly make a point of my blackness. That is to say, they would refer to my blackness—or my black dick—as if it were another entity, unto itself, in the room. Or they would hold me up to some ideal of black masculinity that I could never hope to achieve, but only passably resemble, before they passed me on entirely.

But, I pursued these boys. In theory, I find men of all races attractive, but in practice, I’ve always given preference, like the rest of society does, to white men. If I’m being witheringly, unfailingly honest with myself, whenever I think of the man I will end up dragging to hell with me on my deathbed, he’s white. Because as much as I’ve pursued white boys and they’ve pursued me—as much as white boys have fetishized me, I have fetishized them.

There’s nothing more attractive about a white man than there is about a black man, or an Asian man, or a Latino man, but, for me, there’s an exoticism and a comfort in the averageness of being white. I am The Other. Black, gay, immigrant. If I were Muslim I’m pretty sure I would’ve been chased out of the country by Inauguration Day.

As I progressed from eccentric child to even more eccentric adult, and lived further apart from the life I had been groomed to expect, stability became a white man: something like an ordinary life. My American dream is a white boy to call my own.

I’ve delighted in running my fingers through the smooth, uncomplicated white boy hair that feels like straw to the touch; getting lost in the colors of their eyes, like bursts of tiny stars long dead. I feverishly devoured their white flesh to feed my insatiable lust-hunger, only to collapse exhaustingly within him, our contrasting, intertwining bodies cradling the ills of the world.

Their noses, their lips, their nipples, their hands and feet—all so similar yet so different than mine. I’ve lived in this black skin, beautiful but heavy with implications. I’m all too familiar with the world as viewed through my eyes, as experienced in my body. Lying naked and vulnerable next to a white boy, my fingers in his hair, his fingers in mine, I wonder what the world must be like for him.

The process of writing this has forced me to relive and re-evaluate the myriad of unpleasant experiences I’ve had with white boys: There’s E.W., the erstwhile Baltimore showboy who desired me as a girlfriend because I lacked the masculinity of a boyfriend; there’s C.K., the Louisiana hairstylist who worried that his dick was too small in comparison to mine, and all the other black boys he’d had before (and I’m assuming since); there’s D.M., the Russian singer who frequented my bed every night for two weeks only to abruptly, and without reason, disappear; there’s L.M., the Hungarian ballet dancer who thought I looked in his eyes too much when we had sex and admitted that he lost interest in men after sleeping with them; and there’s G.L., the Macedonian grad student whose idea of a first date was a drug-fueled sexcapade through after-hours New York culminating in a sex party wherein I watched him fuck and get fucked by a string of other men.

I had turned to Europeans not only because I dig an accent, but because I hoped they would be unmarred by America’s rich, toxic, systemic brand of racism. But European racism is still racism, albeit different—not rooted in America’s ugly history, but rather in a childlike curiosity that can still brutally offend. At one point during our “date,” I overhear G.L.’s joy at being fawned over by so many beautiful black men. At that moment, I should’ve had the self-respect to leave the date, leave the party and cut my losses. I didn’t―why didn’t I?

Those instances, along with countless others, weaved their way into my being, poisoning me against other gay men, particularly gay white men. For the last few years, white kweens have been sources of deep distrust, each one another potential emotional scar to carry for (what I hope won’t be) the rest of my life. My tempters and tormentors.

Now this is usually the point when a Well-Meaning White Person chimes in with a “We’re not all terrible!” (The last white boy who told me that later came out as a raging alt-right conservative.) I will concede that as unfair as it is for white men to make preconceived assumptions about me based on my race, it is unfair for me to turn around and do the same. But I wasn’t concerned about fairness. At least not until I met someone who made all the other boys I’d known—and I say this with all the love I can muster—look like steaming piles of garbage: P.D.

Brilliant, handsome, funny, silly, fit, woke, so-perfect-for-me-it-hurts P.D.

We met through a mutual friend, and not, like most of the boys I’ve known, on an app or website. That was important—it made our connection more organic. It was also important, frustratingly so, that we met three months before he had to move back to his native Ireland. The hopes I had for our relationship vanished with him, three thousand miles away, yet he is a constant in my life, still. Even with a five-hour time difference, we chat all the time about anything and everything.

I knew he was truly something special when he texted me at 2am (his time) about how much he missed Whitney Houston. Our love of Whitney is one of many topics that bind us, along with social justice, intersectionality, queer rights, working out, what we think Oprah’s doing right now, and just what it will take to get Michelle Obama to run for office. It’s not the relationship I was waiting and hoping for since my daydreams of S.D. and his dangling testicle, but P.D., in his small way, helped me rediscover faith in white boys.

The guilt I feel for my attraction to white men is a reflection of my own inner machinations, as well as of the current climate in America. What kind of black man am I—the militant voice of my conscience asks—to seek intimacy with my oppressor? The resolution isn’t easy, but comprehensive: decolonize my desire. Stop asking white men to love me and thus I free myself from oppression. My only problem is, I don’t feel like I should fucking have to.

Do white boys feel guilty about being attracted to black boys? Do they feel guilty about anything, at least when it comes to fulfilling their desires? So why, then, should I? Why should I have to modulate how I feel and to whom I’m attracted? Because I’m worried about what other people will think, or that I’m worried about betraying my race? When I’ve actively sought to feel not only proud but empowered by my blackness, who is this hurting?

The only person that’s been hurt through all this is me—through my complicated relationship with whiteness, from the lack of respect I had for myself, and frankly, from my poor taste in men and poorer calls in judgment. That’s a part of growing up and that’s something we all can relate to, regardless of race. And honestly, it’s exhausting always having to consider, dissect, and accommodate race when all I want to do is…feel.

So when simply being a carefree, happy black boy in America seems like an act of righteous rebellion, I refuse to deny myself the pleasure of plowing a white boy like a street of freshly fallen snow.

But if it makes me feel better, I’ll just call it reparations.

Les Fabian Brathwaite is a Brooklyn-based writer equally inspired by James Baldwin, Maya Angelou and Nicki Minaj, otherwise known as The Other Holy Trinity. Follow him on Instagram/Twitter @lefabrat.