Not Black Enough for Me
T/W mention of paedophilia/ child exploitation
“I’m really sorry Rico, this just isn’t working out. I like Black men – real Black men with dreadlocks and tattoos, so I don’t think you’re my type.”
I raise an eyebrow.
Okay, stop. No seriously, I’m good. You can put that small violin anyway now. This happened to me years ago, but I’m bringing it up to make a point so just hear me out. I just want you to reread exactly what she said. A ‘real’ Black man had dreadlocks and tattoos… seriously. And I know what you’re thinking, maybe the trans is a bit too much, and she’s just. Putting. It. Nicely. If that were the case then that comment, phrased correctly, would be fine. I’m not everyone’s cup of tea and there is nothing wrong with that and this wasn’t my first rodeo. Believe it or not, my dating pool isn’t so small that I’m parched for affection or ‘thirsty af’ as we say. This comment, however, struck my curiosity a little differently than your average remark because this is an educated woman that I was talking to, who just so happens to spend a lot of time in queer spaces. I mention that for readers who are new to trans folk and may still reduce intimate relationships purely to mechanics such as the incredibly naive and cringe-worthy ‘plug and socket’ analogy. The individual in question had enough experience with womxn and trans mxn for this not to be a concern. So now we’ve addressed some stereotypes, let’s begin to look at this differently.
So effectively what she’s implying is for me, he, or any male to be considered truly ‘Black’, they would need dreadlocks and tattoos which, if you haven’t caught it yet, is kinda racist. Effectively she’s implying her perception of Black men is so heavily skewed towards ‘gangsters’ and your bog-standard rapper with a face covered in doodles, that someone who is as well-spoken and clean-cut as Obama doesn’t even come to mind. The ‘nice guys always finish last’ phrase isn’t just a catchy Marmar Oso song, as it seems to play out in real life across all genders and sexualities. People tend to remark that I’m quite traditional in my outlook of relationships and life. A little bubble of the unconventional convention. I’m an English gentleman – I like to open doors for people and I do enjoy walking to the station in the morning tipping my head to greet passers-by, so I find it hard to understand why someone would choose to date a ‘player’ with misogynistic tendencies in the long term. Emphasis on ‘long term’ because I think most people would like a free pass for those early adolescent years. I know I would, for more reasons than one, that embarrassing straight phase.
My ex-girlfriend was White if you want to add some colour to the exchange. Now, it’s worth interjecting here that this isn’t the first time I’ve personally encountered this perceptual barrier, and it’s not only remarked on by White people. I’ve frequently been told ‘I’m incredibly well-spoken for a Black person’ and ‘sometimes I even forget you’re Black’. From POC I’ve been told by listening to classical or rock music, enjoying the theatre, and having a weakness for cheese boards that I’ve somehow forgotten my cultural heritage and should be somewhat ashamed of myself. Beethoven was Black, my friends, Rosetta Tharpe was the Black woman who created Rock ’n’ Roll and White people don’t own cheese. In the same way, our history in Africa has been erased and colonialism brushed under the carpet, the positive aspects of our culture have been absorbed into the perception of White culture. As an example, the Ancient Egyptians were Black so have some pride in their culture and inventions, they still can’t work out how we built the pyramids. The British Museum is full of the historical achievements of other cultures that were stolen during punitive expeditions of the 1900s. As an example, African artefacts such as the Benin bronzes were requested back by Senegal in 2019, a request that was publicly denied by the museum and the story is the same for other cultures. History has been written by the victors at a time when it was punishable by death if a Black person in slavery educated themselves, so please don’t expect your understanding of your own culture from the UK curriculum to be accurate, if mentioned at all. The criminally insane can write also. It seems racism is incredibly ingrained into our society to the extent people don’t even know that they are doing it, and occasionally neither do we.
If you look at photos of Black communities a few years after slavery, now that’s something to be proud of. Having started without land, assets, jobs, and the majority illiterate as writing was punishable by death on a plantation; these survivors were wearing suits. Proud faces with heads held high outside new shops fronts. Young boys modelled themselves on their fathers, suited and booted. Some argue that we lost this due to the post-slavery systemic oppression, and I’d have to agree. Black Wall Street – which even had its own hospital and a public library – was burned down in 1921, and another thriving community – Rosewood – faced the same fate in 1923, and Seneca Village was uprooted in 1857 for the arrival of Central Park. A young father in jail with life sentences due to false testimony or minor offences. Single mother’s forced to raise children without two incomes, facing poor job prospects, poor educational opportunities for their children and in crime-ridden areas. Again and again, any attempt to carve out a future for our own has been thwarted. Generation after generation of ambitious Black families suppressed by an inherently racism system, the remanence of which we can see today. Fatherless boys raised in organised crime as the only way to earn a buck, rapping about guns and womanising. I empathise with them but it’s important to remember they are the product of a failed system and don’t encompass the Black identity in its entirety. A step further would be to ask yourself why the record labels owned by White people are so keen to reward and therefore perpetuate this negative perception of our community? As Akala Music mentioned in an interview, when Dead Prez album ‘Let’s Get Free’ was advertised in stores they put stickers over the album cover because they didn’t want to depict Black people with guns rising against Apartheid. Mos Def’s song ‘The Rapes Over’ about the corporate control of Hip-Hop, was removed from his album without his knowledge. Akala asks us to reflect on why negative stereotypes are being promoted over and above others? Racism.
So we have healed, but healed a little crooked. To the extent that this hyper-masculinity has transferred into the LGBTQIA+ community. For those of you are unfamiliar with our world, here is an anthropological update. Gay men tend to present in a variety of ways and date each other to the full spectrum, it’s an incredibly liberal way of relationship presentation. In stark contrast, however, the lesbian community seems to still adopt binaries of a male-presenting woman (studs) and female-presenting woman (fems). There are those that are in the middle (stems), who are wholeheartedly confused by this archaic gender presentation and refuse to conform. That in itself is an ongoing movement to remove gender roles from the lesbian community. I only mention it because unfortunately a handful of studs have moulded themselves on this toxic male presentation packaged up and sold by the music industry. This is an even bigger problem, I’ve noticed, in the Black queer community, Black trans men included. In some extreme cases, you hear about emotional abuse and in some cases domestic assault of partners, the second class citizenship of women (fems) has filtered through also.
Which brings us nicely back to my ex. Why are young women seeking partners that have these mannerisms? Could the lady in question be misguided and living through her wild years? No, is the short answer. Let me briefly tell her story and I have to say it’s a harsh one. This woman was introduced into a paedophile ring from the age of 13. I’m not sure what was more painful, to hear the story from her over a bowl of Carbonara in an Italian restaurant where I was unable to embrace her, or how candidly and emotionless her delivery was. We grow so accustomed to our own traumas in order to push through that we desensitise. A friend of the family took advantage of the hard-working absentee parents and that was that. She said she could mentally detach herself from the abuse whilst she was a talented young ballet star but after an accident rendered that impossible, she snapped. Her personality split to protect herself and she developed a case of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Now, I’ve encountered mental health issues before, most people in the queer community have them if I’m honest, but this was a new level of protection initiated by her body in response to her distress. Society has parcelled up daily trauma of disregarding the value of human life with a pretty red ribbon and wonders why we have scars. My ex and I would have text conversations that would be completely forgotten, but I just accredited it to poor memory. It was only a few days later that I realised that the personalities couldn’t transfer memories and I was speaking to different people. It’s too cold outside for angels to fly. So I can say with almost complete certainty that she definitely isn’t searching for toxic masculinity, she had no time for it.
Could it be a protection instinct? Maybe men who threaten to write strongly worded letters are only effective in a society that upholds basic etiquette rules and as women, they are starkly aware that the real world isn’t like that. The #MeToo campaign is evidence enough of that. It could be said, despite the queer community emphasising the spectral nature of gender and sexuality, there are still some things that will always be attractive. A protector being one of them. Maybe dreadlocks and tattoos aren’t the marks of a misogynistic man but the marks of a weathered fighter and I could be considered classist for thinking otherwise?
At the time we were dating I was experiencing severe amounts of homophobia at work, which I was enduring. Note I said homophobia and not transphobia, as I wasn’t even at the stage of my life yet. Somehow I was accepting the daily abuse as the justifiable price to pay for my existence, in hindsight, my internalised perception of my self-worth was so eroded by being queer that I considered myself burdensome to others. One of the last things that my ex said to me was to have enough pride to know when to walk away, don’t let people treat you any less than you deserve.
“Rico, I’m just a blip in your life and you’ll barely remember my name in a few years.”
See she was wrong there. I do think about her fairly often, and not about our relationship but more so her story and her survival. Despite everything she had been through and all the scars she bore, she had this self-belief which I’d like to share with the reader. In all relationships, it’s important not to tolerate anything less than how the barrister at Starbucks addresses you. Toni Braxton was searching for the person who was good enough for her because she had the self-respect to stand up against all odds and fight for what she deserved. I’m glad to say I left that office shortly after our relationship ended. But I’ve shared her resilience, so now it’s not just me who will think about her. Often.
– Rico Jacob Chace
- Name: Rico Jacob Chace
- Age: 28
- Location: London, UK
- Industry: Producer, Videography & Activism
- Heritage: Black British Caribbean
- What does being Black mean to you? To be black is to be a born fighter and not having a choice in the matter. I’m proud of the strength of my ancestors and how they endured because it means whatever I encounter I can survive. But the time for merely surviving has ended, now is our time to thrive.