Atlanta Journal Constitution article -
More black women are willing to face the challenges
that go along with dating outside their race
By JOHN BLAKE
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer
NICK ARROYO / Staff
Natasha Bailey, 23, and Jason Walker, 22, exemplify a growing trend -- black women dating white men.
The 23-year-old Bailey is an ebony-hued woman with dreads, a baby doll voice and a love of African culture so strong that she joined a West African rites of passage society.
But she's a traitor to some because she's dating Jason Walker, a 22-year-old white man. How could she, her friends ask, given how white men have treated black people.
"I'm the first one to say, OK, let's look at the history," the Atlanta resident says. "But to take that and put that on a person that's right here and now, I can't do that. That's unfair to that person. I judge them as they come."
Bailey represents a quiet revolution taking place among some black women. For years, they've complained about the shortage of eligible black men. Now they're no longer content to vent on "Oprah." If Mr. Right happens to be white, more are willing to cross the color line.
"I'm not going to sit on a porch in a rocking chair, all alone at 80 years old because of color," says Wanda Dunn, a 37-year-old Stone Mountain Web designer. "I don't see it as a turning away from black men but as expanding my options."
When it comes to interracial dating, people have traditionally focused on the taboo nature of black men dating white women. Yet statistics show that more black women are becoming involved with white men.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of black female/white male marriages remained relatively static between 1960 and 1980, increasing from 26,000 to 27,000. But by 2000, the number had jumped to 80,000.
Images of black women pairing with white men are now common in popular culture as well. Commercials and music videos are full of such couples. Halle Berry recently won an Oscar for her controversial role in "Monster's Ball," a film in which she plays a waitress who becomes involved with a white man. Berry also played the girlfriend of a white man in another film, "Swordfish." And Angela Basset played the girlfriend of Robert De Niro in "The Score."
Changing the script
The reasons driving black women to flip the dating script are varied. Some of it is simple exposure. Social divisions along color lines remain, but they aren't as rigid. Black women find themselves more in contact with white men in school, at the office and in social settings.
Janice Flowers is the Atlanta coordinator with Pre-Dating Events, a national company that schedules mixers for professionals. She says more black women are telling her that they're willing to date white men.
"Because we're so used to seeing them in social situations, it's becoming less of a taboo," she says.
The reason most often cited, though, for the change in dating attitudes is demographics. A disproportionate number of black men are in jail, or are murder victims. One in every 20 black men older than 18 is in prison, the 2000 Human Rights Watch report concluded. Black teenage males are seven times more likely to be murdered than white teenage males, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
The result is that black women face a marriage squeeze. According to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, the percentage of black women who are married declined from 62 percent in 1950 to 36 percent in 2000.
Melanie Robinson, 29, says many black men know the numbers favor them so they have less incentive to treat a black woman well.
"They have their options, so they can pick and choose," the Marietta resident says. "I've just found that there is a lack of appreciation of black women in Atlanta. We come a dime a dozen here."
Robinson, who has dated three white men, says they're more romantic and willing to go on dates like walking in the park or visiting a museum.
"I haven't found any black men trying to take me to the museum," she says. "I wish they would make an effort other than, 'Let's go and have a drink' or 'Let's go to the Red Lobster for all-you-can-eat crab legs on Monday.' "
Another complaint about black men involves insecurity. Black beauty-shop conversations ring with the same complaints from black women who say many black men can't handle an independent, professional black woman who often has more formal education than they do.
At least 60 percent of blacks who get awarded college degrees are women, according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.
Flowers, the Atlanta coordinator with Pre-Dating Events, says a black man backed out of a relationship with her after she purchased a home and he learned that she had a college degree, something he had not earned.
"He said I didn't need him," she says. "It blew me away. I never could get him to see that [his lack of a college degree] was not a hindrance to me."
Black men have traditionally shrugged off these criticisms from black women, saying they are too demanding or obsessed with status and money.
"Even though the numbers may be in Atlanta men's favor, that doesn't make black women in Atlanta any less choosy," says Keith Aikens, a 36-year-old single black man. "Men still have to do a lot to prove themselves worthy."
Aikens, of College Park, says he sympathizes with black women who complain black men don't take them on cultural outings, such as to a museum.
"On the other hand," he says, "how many women are suggesting a museum instead of simply giving in and moving on to the next guy?"
Not an easy road
Once black women begin dating white men, though, hurdles remain. Many of them are internal.
Some wonder if a white man can really understand them, and the effects of racism. Will they draw a blank stare at the first mention of P-funk, nappy hair and playing the dozens?
Bailey has sifted through those fears with Walker and concluded they're overrated. She's had in-depth discussions about slavery, the light skin vs. dark skin caste system among blacks -- all with Walker, a white man.
"I've dated a lot of black men and they don't understand me, either," says Bailey, who is a published writer and a temp worker. "It's all about what you've read, what you've studied. I've dated people who have no understanding of the Middle Passage, colorism, any sort of understanding of the black experience. And they were black."
Sometimes, Bailey added, the fact that a white man is an outsider can be an asset. Often black men succumb to European ideas of beauty, but not her boyfriend. Once, she says, Walker turned to her while she was reading and said, "Your hair looks so beautiful."
"He pierced through my fears and my issues that have to do with blackness," she says. "From my past dealings with brothers, Jason has been more willing and open to see that I am beautiful as is."
Despite the harassment they sometimes get, Bailey says most people don't give her a problem when she accompanies her boyfriend in public.
"We'll get an occasional nasty look, but for the next two looks we get like that, we get a lot of those, 'Oh, look, a happy couple,' " Bailey says.
Yet Robinson, the Marietta resident, voices a fear that black women often have with dating white men. They wonder if white men's interest in dating is driven by sexual curiosity.
"White guys find us exotic," she says. "They want to know how we [have sex], but they aren't going to take us home."
Bailey, however, doesn't worry about those sexual stereotypes driving her relationship with Walker.
"The gist of it is, if we remove sex, we still work," she says about their relationship.
Walker, a computer programmer, says that dating a black woman has made him more sensitive. He often attends reggae clubs with Bailey where he is the only white person in the room.
"It's different being the odd man out," he says. "Actually, what goes through my mind is, I wonder if that's what it's like for her being on the other side of the table."
Even after black women have taken the big step and married a white man, some still wrestle with a residue of guilt. Nicole Smith, a Los Angeles actress, has been married to a white man since 1999. She and her husband, Geoff Cunningham, made a movie about interracial dating, "Rocky Road."
Smith says her sister threatened to never speak to her again after she heard about the marriage. Now her sister has changed after seeing how well her marriage works.
"My sister said that she dreams of having a relationship like ours," Smith says. "That was huge."
Still, Smith sometimes questions if she's being true to her black identity. "I question how much of a conscious black woman I am," she says. "I always keep that dialogue going."
Bailey doesn't appear to have those questions now. She's in love. She says she's decided that compatibility, not color, is what's ultimately important in her relationship.
"I've always understood that you can love your heritage and live your heritage," she says. "But that doesn't mean you close off the rest of the world, especially when you're dealing with matters of love."
Onward and Upward!