Over the weekend, a video was posted of Syracuse University student-athlete Hannah Strong, who is white, shouting the double-barrel slur(s) “faggot-ass nigger” at someone off camera before telling them not to record her and calling them “nigger” once more. It’s a short, shaky clip that starts with her berating a black man who has his hands in the air for some reason, and it is no understatement to say it’s unclear from the video what was going on there, with the one exception that she definitely used two of our most hateful slurs.
The video made the rounds on social media, of course, and Syracuse University got Ms. Strong out of what we call The Paint with a swiftness, suspending her indefinitely from the women’s soccer team. I don’t even want to address the video itself further, but rather one element of the response to it.
I can’t ignore her use of the gay slur “faggot,” but for this conversation I’m going to focus on one of the racial components of this video’s aftermath. A number of black men spoke out on social media in Ms. Strong’s defense, notably some of Syracuse’s athletes from other teams.
This tweet, from Keon Lyn, who played cornerback for Syracuse’s football team, stood out among the rest:
Hannah herself didn’t say this, but the notion that she can’t be racist because she “mess with” a black man made me roll my eyes until I was seeing my skull from the inside.
White people, we have to retire the excuse that you can’t be racist if you’re dating/sleeping with/married to a black person. I hear it all the time and it just has to stop.
I think that in its ideal incarnation, being intimately involved with someone of another race or ethnicity can help you gain insight into their life and culture, and vice versa, until part of your love for them includes understanding, appreciation, and respect for their heritage in a way that would make prejudice or bigoted thoughts and feelings an impossibility. In its ideal incarnation.
The world I presently inhabit is far from ideal, and we humans can be flawed in ways that we may not even want to recognize or admit from time to time, particularly when it comes to thoughts about race. And also about love! Put those two together, and there’s huge potential for loads of complicated notions about the person you’re with.
Part of why this defense is so prevalent is that many people are stuck on racism being only extreme thoughts or behaviors, thinking of it as a completely black-and-white issue; pun intended. It is so much more, and you don’t need to be wearing a white hood to be racist. It’s easy for me to shut down the “I can’t be racist because I’m sleeping with a black person” claim by saying the same could apply to any number of slave owners. So, were they not racist? But owning slaves is not a prerequisite for having racist thoughts and attitudes.
This fantastic video from our own Elon James White gives an in-depth explanation of “gray racism,” and I hope that as more people learn about and accept that this is a thing, you can let go of the tired “But I’m dating a black person!” excuse.
Last year I wrote about dating a white man who told me he couldn’t tell his family about me because I’m black. He’s very close with his family, so it’s not like it would never come up. But he said he just couldn’t and so he wouldn’t and that was that. He had never treated me like I was less of a human than him or called me “girl” or made me sleep outside behind the shed or anything, but it turns out that he does have some complicated issues around race. Whether those issues are inherited and mostly lying dormant now, or whether the issue is that he doesn’t have an issue with it in the same way as his family does but doesn’t place enough importance on that to speak up, it’s an issue. Someone who aims to live their life with equality in mind who refuses to speak out against repeated inequality in their own home is making a choice to devalue equality and remain part of the problem.
Fetishization is also an issue in interracial unions, even at the most casual level. I remember once meeting a white man at a party who would not stop hitting on me with phrases like “Oh, you must be a wildcat in the sack” and “I bet you’re like a jungle cat when you get going.” Clearly this guy was gross for other reasons, but when he hit on white women he didn’t always equate them to animals or mention the jungle in his pervy pick-up lines.
If you’re a white woman dating a black man as a vaginal safari tour or to piss off Ma and Pa but would never even consider fully loving or marrying one, you might be a little bit racist. If you repeatedly call a black man “nigger,” even if out of anger and not an oral declaration of your specific White Supremacy in that moment, you might be a little bit racist. And if you throw in the word “faggot” for no discernible reason, you might be Hannah Strong.
No matter how into your fella you may be, the root of the reasons why are what need examining. Fetishization is not the same as truly loving someone’s ethnicity, of course. If you are a white person who celebrates and loves the blackness of your partner as it relates to their full humanity, that’s beautiful! And like any iteration of true love, it is rare. It’s common for some heterosexual men to remain misogynists after marrying women that they love, so why is it so hard to understand that you could be intimate with someone black and still be racist? Even just a little bit?
It’s not okay to be a little bit racist and just be cool with that, but it is okay to admit it in the interest of evolving past it. In fact, it is required to acknowledge it if we’re ever going to move forward as a society. So let’s retire that excuse and think carefully about our attitudes about race, so we find ourselves in fewer scenarios that require an excuse in the first place.