Recently I met a successful, Harvard Law educated black woman in her mid-40s. Now fill in the blank. She's also ___ and ___. Did you guess single and lonely? Unfortunately, you may think that's the answer judging by all of the news coverage on black women's love lives. But author Karyn Langhorne Folan is happy and married. Her husband is white. In what some women feel is a black-male shortage (black women outnumber black men by 1.8 million), Folan encourages other black women to explore a new flavor of love in her book Don't Bring Home a White Boy: And Other Notions that Keep Black Women from Dating Out.
"Don't bring home a white boy" is a warning some black women hear once they reach a dating age (I was warned "don't bring home a baby" when I started dating). It's also an idea many black women are strongly sticking to. But black men, who were told growing up to "stay away from white girls," are down with the swirl in higher numbers. U.S. Census data from 2006 reveals 3.7 percent of married black women compared to 8.4 percent of married black men have non-black spouses.
Folan is adding her voice to a fiery debate that ignited a few years ago with black-female bloggers advocating black women date out. Her book attempts to disprove common beliefs black women have of interracial dating. She uses engaging interviews with everyday black female/white male couples, cites feminist scholars and gives her own cultural analysis. The book tackles false notions like interracial dating makes you a sellout and white men are only attracted to fair-skin black women who look like Beyonce. (I bet George Lucas and Roger Ebert would probably contest the latter.) Folan also digs deeper. She addresses stereotypes of black women in the media. And she looks at the abuse black women have suffered during slavery and within the black community today. Folan argues these issues and more play a role in how black women view interracial dating and themselves.
I recently caught up with Folan to discuss her book.
From your research, what have you found to be the main reason why black women are resistant to dating outside of their race?
KLF: One of the top three is the slavery argument. After the way that white men could treat black women 150 years ago and even as recently as 50 years ago during the Jim Crow era, "they'll never get this." I hear that one a lot. Even though that sort of victimization happens on large scale levels in the black community and with black on black violence right now. When you point that out, I think most women are able to hear it. But it still doesn't change that visceral reaction. The other two [reasons] are, "They're not into us and I'm not into them."
Usually when the interracial debate gets heated, it's about black and white. Why not write Don't Bring Home an Asian Boy or Don't Bring Home a Latino Boy?
The reason I focus on it is because I was hoping to address this idea of the numbers, you know, 42 percent of black women have never been married. White men are still the largest group in America for now. And they're also the group that we have the most trouble with as a culture. So let's see if we can address our problems with that group and begin to reach a place of healing in dealing with them. In the process it makes it easier to accept and open ourselves up to receiving the attention from men of other groups.
Some black women and men criticize you and black interracial bloggers for promoting this idea that white men are the answer. Are you?
I'm not saying white men are the answer to anything. If you think that just a man's skin tone changes anything about the basic problems between men and women... that is not the case. My argument is that men are men. If you want a man, look for a man who meets you in values and who is of a good character and who intellectually and mentally can support you. Does he have to be white? No, absolutely not. White men are only the solution in the sense that they're a broader pool of men to look at.
You say men are men. You've been married to a black man and a white man. From your experience, is there a difference?
I would say that the difference between my two marriages is me. I wanted different things and I got different things in the two relationships. And the difference is my understanding of myself and what I wanted better. That enabled me to make a more informed choice the second time. My first husband is a great guy. Is he the right guy for me? No.
I know myself better and I know what I want better. What kind of car he drives and how hot he is... as you get older, you realize that's not important. What kind of man he is and what he values is really the stuff that makes relationships work.
You met your current husband in 2004. This was before the emergence of black female interracial bloggers and the groundbreaking film Something New. What made you date out?
I dated men of all races before so it wasn't that big of a deal. If you were born between 1960 and 1975, you're in that first generation to really integrate schools and live in white neighborhoods. We're the generation that really got told, "Don't bring home a white boy." It's okay to go to their schools and work with them, but at romance there's a line.
In your book you mention how your mother was a bit surprised when you brought your husband, then boyfriend, home. Were there issues with him being white?
She says that wasn't it. I certainly go that vibe when they first met.
Has she warmed up to him?
Oh yes. My mother loves him. Now she feels comfortable enough to tell him stories about what it was like for her growing up in segregation. I think that means a lot for her to go there, about race, in his presence.
Have you received feedback from any reader that made you say to yourself, "That's why I wrote this book"?
There have been a lot of them. Some of the ones I've enjoyed have been much closer to home. My mother is in her 70s. One of her widowed friends said, "Oooh, I'm going to get your daughter's book because, you know, I'm about ready to get me a taste of vanilla and see what it's like." [Laughter] I thought that was hilarious. That's good that women from that generation who really grew up in segregation are picking up the book and saying, "Sure, why not."
To read more of this interview visit the blog http://cocoafly.blogspot.com/2010/04/part-2-of-karyn-langhorne-folan.html Cocoa Fly.