I’m not an object or a toy for your white gaze – don’t fetishise me as a black man

(Picture: Archie Mustow)

What I should say is that, dating as a black man often feels like you’re playing up to a version of yourself. However, that would only be partly true, as creating any new relationship in a mostly white or non-black space feels like this.

There exists this standard of black masculinity that is idolised and fetishised by non-black people, where our blackness (or their perception of our blackness) takes priority over the substantial parts of our character. We black men are left to navigate around this standard and fit in when where we can.

I was unfortunately reminded of this quite recently while listening to an American podcast clip of two white women discussing the men they have f***ed in the past.

One of them bravely and unapologetically described the nature of a ‘real black guy’, using terms such as ‘basketball player height’ and a ‘deep voice’, and then went on to complain about how he ‘didn’t act black enough’.

It was probably one of the most uncomfortable 1 minute and 7 seconds I have experienced in a while, yet I found myself watching it again and again.

When I hear it from white people, I think ‘what the hell do you know about blackness?!’

Something about the sheer audacity and blatant dehumanisation was enticing, and almost too horrific to be true.

I couldn’t help but imagine this clip, exactly in its current state, worked into a sequel of the mystery/thriller movie, Get Out.

If you’re unfamiliar with the movie (spoiler alert!), the plot follows a black man who innocently and unassumingly meets his white girlfriend’s family.

It becomes apparent that his girlfriend was actually targeting him (as she had done to at least 15 other black men), and that he was at the centre of a cult that collected, auctioned and took apart black bodies to be used by white people who wanted the ‘more advantageous’ black characteristics.

The movie’s success came from its creation of a dramatic and theatrical storyline based on the real life experience of many black men.

It plays off this theme that the white people involved are doing the black people a favour by indoctrinating them into something bigger and better than them.

You would think this is far too much of an exaggeration, but when you’ve had conversations with a white person, who rattles off a list of all the things they love about black people, you feel like they’re trying to validate your blackness and you get it.

It’s almost as if white people feel guilty that they get to be white and I have to be black, so they take on the noble role of reminding me that there are some benefits to my negroness by being my mate or wanting to have sex with me.

People often use the difference between racial tensions in the US and the UK as a way to belittle the experiences of black men in the UK or regard them as non-existent.

However, as a black man who grew up in an all-white area, I am all too familiar with being told that I don’t act ‘black enough’, which is why hearing two white women talk about how they ‘hate’ black men who ‘try to act like white people’ hits home a little too hard.

Often, the standard for black behaviours in the UK is one that imitates London black culture. When you don’t fit into that category, your blackness is questioned and sometimes dismissed, as if it’s something that you can pick and choose when you want to be associated with.

I’ve been called an ‘oreo’, which is supposed to describe how I’m black on the outside and white on the inside. I’ve been called ‘the whitest black man I’ve ever met’. The list goes on.

It’s annoying enough to get that from black people who exclude other black people in an attempt to create a standard of blackness for themselves (another argument for another time), but when I hear it from white people, I think ‘what the hell do you know about blackness?!’

Those phrases remind me of how white people see my blackness and it makes me sick. I’m not an object or a toy for your white gaze, so don’t play with me.

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