Single Lady Books: Swirling – How to Date, Mate and Relate Mixing Race, Culture and Creed

 

Yikes. I have to start with a disclaimer.

I do my best to support other black women writers because I love reading work that mirrors my life and experiences.

My sense, though, is that constructive criticism is quite rare in general, but specifically in the black community. Reactions to media about or for black people are viewed as either love (whether that love is merited or not) or hate (even when there may be constructive criticism embedded in that hate).

When it comes to popular culture analyses, I’d like to think I operate in the gray zone. Pretty much everything that comes out of the black community about dating these days, though, makes me feel like a hater. Not because the books we produce are not valid, but more because they don’t tend to make a lot of room for people to be who they are and bring that to relationships. The message echoes that most singles are faced with in popular culture: If you change X about yourself, you will find your soul mate.

I very rarely hate or loathe anything. It’s not in my nature. I can usually see how something could have been better or more edifying while I’m digging through it, and that generally leads to irritation. When most responses to creators/creatives who produce things are wide acclaim, praise and cute blurbs, then saying anything negative at all usually gets reduced to haterade.

Anyway, one more thing before I dig in: just because the book doesn’t resonate with me doesn’t mean that someone won’t find it useful. I operate on the principle that you should take what is useful from anything and everything and leave the rest. I’m planning to give my copy away to someone who thinks they might get something from it (That means you, actually, if you want a copy.)

I didn’t find a lot that was useful in Swirling. Christelyn Karazin and Janice Littlejohn wrote truthfully and candidly about their relationship experiences. Karazin spearheaded a 2010 initiative called No Wedding, No Womb as a “declaration and acknowledgement that the out-of-wedlock situation in the black community has reached a critical mass.”  Littlejohn, a journalist and filmmaker, and Karazin attended the same college and became friends.

The book feels like 70 percent Karazin and 30 percent Littlejohn, but the percentage should be flipped. Much of what we know from the legal stories to the Hollywood stories about interracial dating was rehashed by Karazin, who writes like she has a point to make to the reader. She is down, she is sassy, and she found her prince who happened to be a white man, despite the haters in her family and in her community. Here’s one example of what I mean:

My husband and I jumped the broom the day we married. My mother insisted on it, perhaps as a not so subtle reminder to me from where I’ve come. So with clenched teeth and sweaty palms, I took the leap with my white husband, and into a world that was neither black nor white, but brushed with wisps of gray. An interracial marriage is truly risky. You join the ranks of odd couples who abdicate their anonymity and risk ridicule…Someone stares a millisecond longer than what is comfortable and then you wonder. A salesman snubs you and then you speculate. You weren’t invited to a party and you can’t help but think, Is it because my husband is white?

Is it because I’m black?

 

I think I understand why she writes this way – a lot of popular culture narratives suggest that black women are undesirable, not only to black men, but definitely to men of other races. But it made reading the book painful, frankly. I still appreciate Karazin and Littlejohn for working against that myth. But I felt like their game needed less defense all around.

In Swirling, they also aim to empower black women who limit their options to black men to care enough about themselves to try interracial dating. There are some great tips in here about learning how to be your own great partner with a list of cities where interracial dating is more widely accepted.Littlejohn saves the book from being a little narcissistic and overly haughty, while Karazin clearly is the originator of words like “rainbeau” the term the authors use for men who are not black in the book. There are a few interviews in the book with racial and culture experts, but the main source of information comes from Karazin’s blog.

The language is a little girlfriendy/condescending. I like ice cream, also, so I wanted to really enjoy the swirling metaphor, but after a while, it really, truly annoyed me so much that I’m surprised that I finished the book.

I kept wondering while I was reading Swirling if the people who really need it — black women who are so scared of what other people will think that they need a handbook to empower them to date someone of another race — would actually buy it and its message.

The takeaway is that there are men of all colors who will date straight black women if only they will have the courage to pursue men of all ethnicities. If you think you know that already (and I think I’m pretty good on that, thanks) then you don’t need to read this book. I hear it may become a movie, so you could just watch that. Maybe it’ll come out around the same time as the sequel to Think Like A Man.

When they only date white girls & other musings on interracial dating

The drawback of being a creative person is that sometimes you have a thought & it just will not leave your skull.

I have a good spidey sense, so I can usually tell when I meet a man who has been believing that Psychology Today hype about black women being mannish or whatever. Still, it’d be nice to have some kind of hand sign, T-shirt, or whatever that would separate the WODAWGS — Will Only Date A White Girl — from other potential suitors.

Taye Diggs. Still fine.

I’m about to start reading  Swirling: How to Date, Mate and Relate Mixing Race, Culture and Creed by Christelyn D. Karazin and Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn, so the question of interracial dating has been on my mind. The book seems to be a guidebook for black women who date interracially, which has been a hot topic in most media focused on single black women.

Specifically, I noted that Ralph Richard Banks’ book, Is Marriage for White People? was the most recent work to remind black women to broaden their dating options:

Banks writes with acuity and directness about the costs of that loyalty to black women who are most negatively affected by man-sharing and its consequences. He also mentions the skewed online dating market, where white men basically exclude black women outright (through silence or an explicit preference not to date us). He also offers a more balanced, objective viewpoint of how black women basically keep themselves from finding happiness in interracial relationships. Banks’ central thesis is that by dating outside of the race and marrying outside of the race more often, black women may save black love.

The reason it would be helpful to know if people only date within their race, though, is because you can’t ever take for granted that you’re not being fetishized as a black woman. And all of this talk about black women trying to get chosen because they’re so desperate, unfortunately, builds the mythical case that if a single black man is within a 50 mile radius, the nearest single black woman will hunt him down & trap him, Black Widow style.

As if you can make someone who doesn’t want you or anyone who looks like you in the first place want to date you with the stench of desperation alone.

When I was younger, I had a very simplistic glare reserved for black men who only dated white women — as if it were a personal assault against my very existence. I think my internal rationale was: One less date for me and what is wrong with me, anyway?  instead of Um, you can have that one, I’m good.

I believed that the person you chose to be with was a reflection of what you desired in yourself. And I desired (and still desire) black men. But at some point, particularly when I lived on the West Coast, I was surrounded by so many black men who were dating outside of the race that I became immune to it and finally just accepted that grown folk are allowed to choose their own mates. Eventually,  the presence of black men who only dated white women to the exclusion of other races (particularly black women) stopped hopping on my last nerve.

That only happened, though, once realized that I had limited my options based on what they were when I was younger. I didn’t date white guys until I was out of college, and even then, only sporadically. When I ventured into interracial territory, let’s just say it wasn’t as smooth as Something New made it seem.

I thought a lot of white men in popular culture were hot (looking at you Richard Gere) but because I never saw images of them with black women (there were rare exceptions…Iman and David Bowie, for starters) somehow the concept of white men who found black women attractive  seemed…distant. The kicker? I was shocked to discover that random black men (usually the ones who didn’t date black women!) felt some kind of way about that. Apparently, they, too, had a gaze reserved for black women who dated outside the race.

News reports say that the number of people dating and marrying interracially is creeping up as the taboo associated with dating outside the race starts to fade:

About 24% of African-American males married outside their race in 2010, compared to 9% of African-American females. However, the reverse is true for Asians, where about 36% of females married outside their race compared to 17% of male newlyweds. And intermarriages for white and Hispanic people do not vary by gender, researchers found. Intermarriages also vary by region. In Western states, about one in five people, or 22%, married someone of a different race or ethnicity between 2008 and 2010. That drops to 14% in the South, 13% in the Northeast and 11% in the Midwest. Interracial dating services have also cropped up online, offering those looking for love an opportunity to find their preferred matches.

I only have anecdotal evidence. Among my friends, I would say four out of 5 of the married black women I know have partners who are not black. Most of my friends are a little on the maverick side, granted, but still. Those are pretty interesting statistics. I’m interested in hearing from y’all about your interracial dating experiences. If you only date a particular race, why is that? And if you date interracially, have you noticed that society has become more accepting? I’ll be back with a review of Swirling shortly.

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