Will Kah | The Clarion
One of the most memorable conversations of my life took place while sitting on the toilet seat in my grandma’s upstairs bathroom with the lights off talking to uncle Marley on a T-Mobile flip phone. I locked myself in the bathroom because I didn’t want anyone to interrupt and Marley didn’t have much time to talk.
I never understood why prisons were so strict about the amount of time allowed for an inmate to use the phone. I also didn’t understand why uncle Marley went to prison in the first place.
Maybe Uncle Marley went to prison for having long dreads, wearing 4 XL T-Shirts when he fit a large, or being loquacious in communication with everyone he saw. Word around my house was that police officers caught him vandalizing a home. I denied the possibility of Marley being a criminal. No one else’s words mattered to me but Marley’s, so I chose to ask him why he got sent off to prison.
“Uncle Marley, why are you in jail?”
“Nephew, leave these white girls alone.”
Marley repeated his response a few times in his broken Liberian English to ensure I heard him loud and clear. I became slightly angry at him for being what I thought was racist at the time. As a 13-year-old, I did not understand the full reality of being a black man in America. I didn’t want to be prejudiced. I didn’t want to avoid white girls based on their skin color. I wanted to love whomever I desired. Living in New Brighton, a predominately white community and trying to live by Uncle Marley’s advice seemed damn near impossible. How could the man who taught me how to ride a bike, tie my shoes, understand Hip-Hop and be a gentleman toward girls, tell me to stay away from white girls? The paradox didn’t make sense at 13 but when I turned 16 with Marley still in prison, I began to understand his warning.
Tiffany sat quietly in Ms. Tina’s science class twirling a No. 2 pencil through her fingers while covering her pale white face with the thin brown hair that bathed her from head to shoulder. Being a loudmouth eighth grader, I made my way toward Nicole and hit her with the infamous middle school male line:
“Hey, what’s up?”
“Hi,” she responded. Not the response I wanted.
“Where are you from?”
“Where the hell is that?” I responded.
The conversation went on, and I eventually got to know Nicole, so much that we continued liking each and dating on and off till junior year of high school. I began dating Nicole once again, during both of our sophomore years after she transferred to Irondale High School from Mounds View. Nicole started wearing makeup in highschool and put her hair up, and I learned to master the art of speaking in turn. We both grew up a lot in two years. With growing up came realities I wish I had avoided. My uncle’s vicious words about white girls would go ringing off in my head one morning during weight lifting class after talking to Charlie, a white 300 hundred-pound senior right guard.
Water breaks for football players are like bathroom breaks for girls. I’m not sure what girls talk about when they go to the bathroom, but for guys, girls were always the first topic. Charlie, Justice, Sam and I stood around a power rack talking about the beautiful women God placed in our school. Justice was the star quarterback of our football team, and Sam was the pretty-smile stud receiver Justice always passed to. Justice started the conversation on what I thought was a great path,
“Bro, I like girls who are athletes,”
and Sam responded
“I don’t know about y’all, but tall girls are so damn fine!” and I followed by saying this:
“Look, I love Nicole, so she’s the type that I like!” afraid that she might pop up.
Sam, Justice, and I laughed till we realized Charlie wasn’t laughing with us. Charlie could be counted on to enhance a laugh but all that came out of his mouth when he turned toward me was,
“Why can’t you date a black girl. Aren’t there black girls in school?”
I tried to answer as calmly as I could,
“Because I like Nicole and I’m dating her.”
The moment of awkwardness and silence ended when Mr. Red puffed out a loud cry from his beer belly for us to get back to work. Uncle Marley’s words sang falsetto and sharp harmonies in my ears, reminding me of the dangers of being in relationship with a white woman. After my encounter with Charlie, I began to see that some people really didn’t want me dating a white girl. I thought the situation only happened on TV or down south where folks are “just racist”. Charlie shot a million bolts of electricity in my heart waking me up to the reality of racism and intimacy, almost as if Marley hired him to confront me.
What exactly were Uncle Marley and Charlie trying to say to me? That I was less than? That white women represent the devil? After Nicole and I broke up junior year of high school, I continued to date white women, and I continued to hear warnings about dating someone of another race. My grandmother would constantly tell me:
“Be careful with them white girls, you know how they be.”
And my mother would say to me:
“Date someone of your own race, them other people don’t know you like that.”
My homeboys would say to me:
“Ain’t nothing like a black woman though, cause the white girls won’t hold you down.”
My girlfriends often told me:
“I don’t know why niggas be trying to date white girls like they special.”
Messages started to flood through my mind like spilled ink on paper, and I just couldn’t remove the thoughts from my head.
Issues on interracial dating stems from multiple issues, which has left me asking multiple questions.
“What makes people stick to dating others who look like them?”
“Is it because they are just attracted to certain types of people?”
“Do the views of family and friends play a role in how someone goes about finding a spouse? “
“Or is our love life, like every other aspect of the United States, ran by racism and the construct of white supremacy?”
Running away from social issues has never worked in the history of the world and North American society. We as college students must be willing to think critically about intense subject matters that alter the lives of millions every day. My English Harlem Renaissance professor, Thomas Becknell once told me,
“If you have come here to get an A, you’re wasting your time”.
Being a college student must be centered around critical thinking and building a better society for generations to come. Grades will not be remembered, but jobs will continue.
Will Bethel students be known for their ability to think and their efforts to change the society around them? Will we be the generation that doesn’t have to warn their kids about who to date according to race? Or will we continue to live as though race issues don’t exist? When my children come to me about dating advice, I do not want to tell them to stay away from a certain race of people. I do not want my brothers and sisters to feel isolated from their significant other due to the racist opinions someone has of their relationship. Do you ask yourselves the same questions I’ve asked? Do you care if someone in your life dates someone of a different race? If so decide to think critically, and dive into the discomfort. I am not the only person who desires to date whomever I please without thinking about race.
We must chose to break the mold of racism in relation to race if we ourselves to fall in love with someone without judging them based on the color of their skin?