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.