It was at a friend’s birthday celebration over a month ago. At the kind of party that reminds you Brooklyn is smaller than you think, especially when it comes to the Black-Brown community. When my girlfriend and I arrived I discovered an estranged childhood friend was also at the bar. He happened to be the person I secretly crushed on for eight years up until junior high school. (Even as a kid I had a thing for long-term commitment.) We finally bumped into each other, and after giving him a brief update on the past 12 years of my life, he genuinely congratulated me. “Look at you,” he said. He referenced my job, my international travels, my not-having kids, my independent living, and my “getting a white girl.”
Coolly, I corrected him on his last remark, which lingered with me for the rest of the night and weeks later. Everything else in my life I had consciously worked to accomplish; the last, not the way he saw it. In that moment, his words irked me out of my happy place, and my initial instinct was to explain—defend—myself; to clarify any notion that I wasn’t some self-loathing sellout who moved out and up. It was like patting myself for something I expected to be on me. "Oh, my conscious card? Yeah, I have it. It's riiight...here...somewhere...."
Unasked and unanswered questions loomed: Was this how others perceived me? As the well-to-do black girl who according to cliché ended up with a "white" girl? And what response did my girlfriend get when she showed new acquaintances a photo of us? Had someone ever said, “Ooo, good for you—you got a black girl” in a non-fetishistic and flattering way? Was this ridiculous and un-queer-black-feminist of me to even care?
For the first time, I asked myself, "Am I a stereotype?" Images of couples I admired came to mind, and there was a trend. Smart, ambitious, and beautiful black women appeared and they were with white women. Then I did something I hadn't ever previously done: I checked myself. There was no point in checking Marcus from the old block because I understood his purview and held him to no fault. I could, however, check myself. For what exactly? Well, to start, for any prescriptions to white supremacist capitalist patriarchy ideologies as a yardstick of success. I knew I didn't choose my partner based on some superficial (and creepy) symbol of social promotion. Thus I found the answer to my question was maybe—it depended on who was looking. It just mattered most what I believed when I was looking.
Since that party in Brooklyn, I pay closer attention to my leanings. I reconsider the narratives I hear, the images I see and how they impact me consciously and unconsciously. I evaluate the authenticity of my thoughts, actions and sense of agency. Like what I compliment as beautiful or who I go out of my way to meet and whether any of that comes from a genuine place or from innumerable instances of social conditioning. Essentially, I check for anything that I might have internalized and buried over the years, months or days because doing so makes me feel like a fuller, self-aware human being. Sure, it's work, work I don't even have to do. It’s work I choose to do because it's worthwhile, and at the end of each day it shapes me into the person I want to be.