Cynical and Southern: Why am I not attracted to black men?

I moved to Tampa, Florida in 1998. Monday nights were especially fun. My roommate Jenny and I would dance to old wave ’80s at The Castle. We tuned into “Love Line” driving to the club. We bought turkey subs and deep-fried mushrooms on the way home. I was quite unaware of another weekly tradition until Jenny brought it to my attention. Every time I saw someone with darker skin than mine I would lock the car door.

“Jeremy, what are you doing?” asked Jenny.

“Locking the car door, this area is scary,” I replied.

Repeatedly Jenny called me out on this until one week she became so irritated she stopped her car in the middle of an intersection. Jenny unlocked the car doors. She then preceded to roll down the windows.  At the top of her lungs Jenny yelled, “Hey look at this car!! The windows are down and the doors are unlocked. Look at us!!” I was cowering on the car floor riddled with anxiety. Jenny shook her head and told me I was being racist. I didn’t realize it at the time, but she was absolutely correct.

I have known many Northerners who write the South off as a bumbling wasteland of uneducated bigots. To the contrary, it was not until I moved to the South that I was able to witness cultures co-existing somewhat harmoniously. Make fun of Tampa all you want, but in this city there are no boxes separating different ethnicities. There are no politically correct white scenesters touting their “openmindedness” while exclusively befriending only other whites. The melting pot in Tampa is real and it's alive. The last ten years have been an eye-opening pleasure.

Earlier this year I once again pondered the effects of my upbringing. After writing a piece detailing racism on gay dating sites, I heard from many commenters stating that they didn‘t find “black” men attractive and that “we just can’t help who we are attracted to." Perhaps it is true that we can’t help who we are attracted to. But what if one digs a bit under the surface to examine the root of our attractions? How much did the messages we received at 5 determine who we want to sleep with when we are 35? When grandma locked her door every time she saw a black person, how much of a role did that play when my body compass began to form?

I have friends of many cultures and ethnicities. I find every one of these friends to be valuable, gorgeous, intelligent and beautiful. Yet no matter how non-judgmental my friendships and words may be, until I am able to feel the physical beauty of a soul encased in dark skin my so-called liberation is a failure.  My heart knows with certainty that everyone is sexy in their own way. My penis is far less enlightened.

I envy cats. In their universe their they could give two fucks about the shade of their fur.  We have a lot to learn from them.

I have two cats. One has light fur and the other dark.  I love both cats equally. A slur has never unwittingly crossed my mind inferring that the cat with dark fur is any better or worse than the cat with light fur. And so I ask myself this — if cats can just be cats, why the hell can’t people just be people?

It took a move to the South to become enlightened to the subtle racist programming of my Northern upbringing. My family taught me the “n” word was bad while locking the car door as we sped through the “bad parts of town.” To this day I am not aware of any horrible crimes taking place on 2nd Street in Dunkirk, New York. Thinking back on my youth I do remember that the people standing on the street corners had darker skin than mine.

When I was 13 it had to be explained to me there was a difference between “blacks” and “Puerto Ricans." At that young age I knew the world only as “white” and everything else was “not white." I embarrassingly asked one of my classmates to explain the difference. I knew my grandma hated those “fucking Puerto Ricans for taking all the jobs” and that my uncle called Prince the “n” word when one of his videos was on MTV. I cringed when my family used the “n” word, so essentially I felt quite sure I was not racist.

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