The sun had just come up, its rays filtering through the latticework of our bedroom window, settling on the face of the man I’ve been married to for eleven years now. I watched him through eyes slit just a hair, steadying my breathing as I feigned sleep. He was watching me and I didn’t want to interrupt the moment with conversation. Finally the absurdity of my pretense struck me and I let out a soft, undignified giggle.
“Good morning,” he whispered.
I whispered back. “Morning, babe.”
“I was just watching you in the sunlight. Your skin looks amazing. I’m so lucky to be married to such a beautiful BLACK woman.”
I smiled at the compliment, and then I paused, startled by a sudden thought. Eventually, I sat up straight and looked at him quizzically.
“Do you suppose other Black men lie in bed next to their white wives and profess how lucky they are to be married to beautiful white women?”
His confusion was understandable. What did white women have to do with the tender moment being shared between us? Still, I wondered. Why was it necessary to extricate the fact that I was Black while telling me that I was beautiful? Of course I knew why, but I wanted to hear it from my husband’s own lips. I repeated the question. He thought for a fraction of a moment before he answered.
“I don’t know what other men say when they’re in bed with a white woman. I didn’t marry one. I married you.”
Not the answer I was anticipating, but it was a perfectly acceptable. one. I snuggled closer and gave our discussion more thought but ended the conversation. It was the weekend, and on weekends we as a family allow ourselves the space to take a break from wokeness. That’s why we have Adventures!
Black beauty is a peculiar thing, because it only exists as an abstract construct in certain spaces. When I lived and was being raised in Ghana, where I experienced my first tastes of amorousness, desire and eventually sexual awakening, I was never pegged by a suitor (or a random passerby intent on paying me a compliment) as a “beautiful Black woman”. In Africa – and certain parts of the diaspora, I would assume – Black women have the benefit of being what Yaba Blay has termed ‘pretty. period.’ It was only in America where I encountered the phrase “pretty for a Black girl” and the only place where I have had paramours express their delight/awe/appreciation of my strength and beauty as a Black woman, rather than as a woman. My African-American husband joins those ranks.
But why? Why is the color of my skin such a factor in the act of making and showing love? It’s because historically, (or at least since the advent of the trans-Atlantic slave trade) femininity, virtue and beauty have been packaged and wrapped in whiteness. Until recently, we at least on the Continent were spared this indignity and the myriad injustices that stem from it and so it was not at all a radical act to love a woman whose skin was the color of burnt almond or the purest ebony. Systematic indoctrination now leads people to make all kinds of assumptions – generally the worse ones – about dark skinned/Black women. And we take these messages in, internalizing and battling against them wherever we find ourselves in this world.
Subconsciously, my husband and any other person who has made the choice to love and receive love from a Black woman knows that it is a radical act…because we are portrayed as unlovable. Our expressions of self-love…Black Girls Glows, Black Girl Magic, et al…are regarded as militant and extremist. All women glow and are the carriers of magic, says the dominant culture; and this is true. However All Women (TM) have not been programmed to believe that their hair is problematic, the verbosity of their laughter is threatening, or that their skin is a dirty thing that would benefit from an occasional bleaching. Who could love such a thing? A person who is not fucked in the head, that’s who.
And that is precisely why loving a Black woman is a radical act.