Why White? A Look Into the Pairing of Black Queer Characters in Media

Does dating a white person really make someone “less black”? This a loaded question. Half of us would say yes because of the system we live in, it would be like sleeping with the enemy. The other half would say no because we live by the ideals of diversity and inclusion, so why should that stop at love? Then there are the ones who aren’t really sure if it’s okay or not okay because there either battling their own personal beliefs and/or scrutiny from family and friends. Neither of these points of views are wrong. I admit I fall into the first category. Do not misconstrue my honesty as hate or dislike of interracial romance but I am not ashamed to admit that I’m still learning and unlearning certain behaviors to make me more understanding.

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I recently finished season two of Dear White People, a Netflix-original series created by Justin Simien. Dear White People is about a group of black students at Winchester University, a predominantly white Ivy League college as they navigate through the landscape of cultural bias, social injustice and slippery politics, and of course, I enjoyed it very much. The cast is fantastic and the writing is amazing. It definitely gives a much needed look into this “post-racial” society through the lens of brutal honesty and humor, and for that, I applaud it. But where it falls short, and left me disappointed, is the use of Lionel Higgins, one the main characters and very few of the openly gay, black characters. Don’t get me wrong, having Lionel as one of the main characters and as someone that moves the plot forward is refreshing and much needed. His journey with sexuality and identity was well-written and reflected what many queer black youth go through, and for that I’m appreciative. My grievances come with the chosen romantic interests for Lionel in this series. Initially, Lionel is infatuated with his very handsome and chiseled (but very straight) roommate Troy Fairbanks. I knew this man crush would go nowhere because, like Lionel, I’ve also crushed heavily on an unattainable straight guy with hopes that one day he would confess his love for me. That shit is for fairytales and sappy romantic comedies. Once he faced the hardcore reality of this, Lionel not only became more confident and secure in his sexuality, he garnered a new love interest, Silvio Romo. I actually don’t know if I can go so far as to call him a “love interest” as Silvio was just toying with Lionel’s feelings and as we soon find out, he was behind the hateful white supremacist social media account, @AltIvyW, that sent Sam White (Logan Browning) increasingly disturbing Twitter messages. Not only was Silvio trash, he was racist trash. After confronting Silvio about the status of their situationship, Lionel called it quits to whatever they had going on. Lionel then found himself a new romantic interest, Wesley Alvarez. The thing that Silvio and Wesley have in common in that they are both openly gay and non-black.

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In both television and film, the pairings of black gay men with white or non-black men are very frequent. So frequent that I’m starting to think that there is some unspoken rule about not having black gay love. I’m not against the idea of interracial romance but it’s worth talking about how the often the image of black queer characters are in love or chasing after non-black characters. Dear White People is only the most recent example of this. It offers a very honest and sometimes ugly truth about dating while being black and queer. The environment at Westchester is almost all white and there doesn’t seem to be many other openly black gay males on campus, at least they’re not shown except for a small cameo in one of the episodes of this current season. Is this written this way on purpose or is this truly the reality of dating while queer? Even in another episode, Lionel goes to a party with Silvio and seems to catch the eye of another familiar face. Lionel walks over and attempts to flirt and is immediately met with the “I’m not into other black guys” line. Ouch. As I watched the episode, I was unfazed because the sad thing about it is that this is many of our realities whether it be via gay dating apps or facing that brutal truth in person.

So does dating white make you “less black”? I don’t think so. How conscious and engaged you are in your own blackness is up to you. A white partner doesn’t change one’s lived experiences as a black person in the past, present or future. When it comes to human relationships, to romance and love and sex, nuance is everything. On the flip side, I do think there is an issue with the constant image of black queer people with other people who are non-black. It feels like a disservice and lazy to have someone black always with someone not black, as if it to meet some kind of imaginary diversity quota. Showing the beauty of these interracial couplings does not signify a better world as racism is alive and well. Dating white people or Hispanic may offer an opportunity to focus on the relationship without all the racial baggage. However, some gay black men might be victim of the pervading imagery in the gay communities. Whether it’s a flyer for a club or a new show, the public image of the gay community is almost always white. When it’s constantly there, you start to think that’s your only option. It feeds the idea of what relationships look like for black gay men romanticize the love interests in the movies. We have to be able to have honest conversations about this. We’ve internalized the feeling that we are not equally beautiful or deserving of the same rights as others in our community. So many of us have been Lionel and faced rejection because we are black. I know this is something we are working towards and something we have to push to creatives. No one wants to do the drudgery of breaking down barriers for proper representation. Interracial couplings essentially is safe. It pleases everyone without seemingly hurting anyone. I implore creators and writers to not be afraid to show black love of any kind.

Tell me your thoughts on seeing interracial couplings in television and film.

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