I came across an episode of the latest season of “The Real World” last week. Although I’m no longer a regular viewer, I watched 10 minutes of it to find the answers to the same six questions that pretty much every black male casual viewer has when learning there’s a new cast
1. Are there any black people?
(If that answer is “Yes” and there’s at least one black female)
2. Are they good-looking?
3. Do they date brothas? (I know you shouldn’t be able to watch a black person on screen for 10 minutes and immediately be able to tell their racial dating preference, but I can and I’m pretty sure that most of you reading this can as well. Also, how much you care about the answer to this question usually directly correlates to how good looking they might be. Basically, we only care whether she dates brothas or not if she’s attractive.)
(If that answer is “Yes, there are black people on the show” and there’s at least one black male)
4. Does he represent? (In this sense “represent” basically just means “Is this a dude I could be cool with in real life?“)
(If there are no black people on the show)
5. Any cute white girls?
(If that answer is “Yes”)
6. Do they date brothas? (Re-read aside #2)
I didn’t watch long enough to find the answers to my questions. (A bit of Google recon did prove that there actually is a black woman on the show — Alexandra, a Zimbabwean-American with an awesome Wiki page.) But, I did watch long enough to hear one of the cast members — a white dude (Nate) so consciously and stereotypically “white dude” that his white friends probably call him “White Nate” — offhandedly describe what he’s looking for in a woman.
“You know, blond, blue eyes, big boobs, straight teeth, the usual”
I don’t recall if Nate said this in a confessional or to another roommate, but I do remember thinking the following thoughts when hearing it.
A) Generally speaking, blondes are at the top of the average American white man’s pyramid of attractiveness.
B) Natural blondes comprise a very small percentage of the population.
C) Nate is not blonde.
D) Nate will probably never be asked to defend, apologize for, or even explain the connection between #A, #B, and #C.
Now, you’re probably thinking that I’m going to examine why Nate’s preference stays a preference while a person of color expressing a similar preference for a rare and highly sought-after look usually becomes a complex. I’ll eventually get there, but what stood out in particular was how Nate’s statement was actually more of a mental muscle memory exercise than a fully thought out sentence.
I’m not saying that he doesn’t like blond, blue eyed, big tittied women, but the way he responded let me know that I’m sure he knows that’s a “safe” answer — the one that a person with his resume is supposed to give — so he repeats it without giving it much thought.
This isn’t uncommon. We generally know who and what we’re supposed to be attracted to, so instead of making waves, many of us (myself included) will just spout what we think people are expecting to hear. It’s really no different than the “How was your day?” dance we all love to do. The person asking usually doesn’t really want the answer, and the person answering usually doesn’t really want to answer.
This dance — where the steps vary depending on who you’re talking to and why you’re talking to them — is the reason why Isaiah Mustafa (better known as the Old Spice guy) is currently on a “Hey, I came out of a black woman’s vagina! I love black women and shit!” apology tour. Background: During an “E! News” interview a couple weeks ago, Mustafa was asked what he was looking for in a woman. His replies seemed innocent enough, until he mentioned that because of his natural naps, a woman he’d procreate with would need to have “good” hair to balance things out.
Now, aside from his Old Spice work and the fact that he might have the single blackest name I’ve ever seen in print, I don’t know anything about Isaiah Mustafa. But, although I’m a bit surprised that he wasn’t savvy enough to realize how charged and pejorative any mention of “good hair” could be, I don’t see anything particularly harmful or egregious with what he said.
Actually, let me rephrase that. His mistake wasn’t that he misspoke. He misstepped. He just made a wrong dance move.
Consider the context.
A) He’s an attractive actor known for his sense of humor and deadpan delivery.
B) He’s doing a very short and very light news spot for a very light network (E!) about a very light show (Charlie’s Angels) he’s currently on.
C) He was interviewed by an intentionally attractive woman (Giuliana Rancic)
With these factors in place, it’s easy to see what happened. He wasn’t trying to diss black women (or any woman who doesn’t have “good hair”). Instead, he was just attempting to play on that “I’m a handsome black guy, but I don’t take myself that seriously” persona he’s cultivated by talking shit about his own looks. Basically, he was flirting, and he made a self-depreciating funny — a funny no different than a short person joking that they need a tall mate to balance out their genes — that went too far
His mistake was failing to realize that a black man making certain jokes about himself can very easily touch on an extremely sensitive nerve — a phenomenon further exacerbated by the fact that when a person in what’s thought to be a somewhat privileged social position even jokingly implies that people at the opposite end of the spectrum aren’t mate worthy, a preference has a funny way of turning into a complex.
Now, Isaiah Mustafa may in fact have a complex and may in fact hate everything about his black skin. I don’t know, and I doubt anyone reading this knows either. But, you just can’t make that determination from his statement. A surprising lack of social savvy? Definitely. But not a damning example of self and sista hate.
Anyway, people of VSB, I’m curious: What are your thoughts about this situation? Do you think he’s guilty of serious self-hate, damned with a dumb dance move, or somewhere inbetween?
Also, so we can finally settle this once and for all, what the hell is the difference between a preference and a complex?