I’m embarrassed to admit that at one point in my life, Save The Last Dance was one of my favorite “teen” movies. I know, I’d hate me too. For those who don’t know what STLD, (which I’ll abbreviate the title as for most of the post) is about, I’ll give you the SparkNotes version.
Save The Last Dance follows a White girl named Sara, who’s snatched from middle class “civility” after her mother’s untimely death to move in with her poor, lowkey deadbeat White father who, plays Black music co-opted by White Folk, (I’m referring to Jazz in case you didn’t know which genre I was talking about) and lives in *gasp* the Ghetto of Chicago. She goes to a predominantly Black school where she finds Hip-Hop and love with a Black student, Derek. It’s quite scandalous and includes one of my favorite Kerry Washington performances.
And I’ll admit, when I first saw it, I found the movie astute. I felt like it had some self-awareness and spoke to the perils of interracial dating, but as I’ve aged and watched the movie through a Blacker lens if you will, I realize the movie falls short on the real issue- Black men seek divination in non-Black women. And once one comes to that conclusion, questions come up that need answers.
Why do Black men seem to drift towards non-Black women?
Is this trend indicative of a broader theme that the world is beginning to confront?
I’d argue that there is a direct correlation between people’s hunger to be whole and the desire to find that fulfillment in other people, in this case, people who don’t look like you. I want to preface this by saying I’m a romantic who believes in love and everyone is entitled to partners that overwhelm them with acceptance and satisfy their needs regardless of race. However, there is some discourse to be had about Black men’s relationship to their Blackness as it relates to romantic partners.
Anti-Miscegenation Laws are younger than my parents, which is to say legal interracial marriage is in its infancy; and it’s apparent that the right to marry as you see fit is being utilized more frequently in all communities at varying rates. But there’s something to be said about the Black community’s relationship with Whiteness.
I always sought Black men for love. Since my first “real” crush on Troy, an athletic hazelnut shaded guy who lived in a cul-de-sac a block away rode me on the pegs of his bike, I saw myself giving and receiving affection and validation from the boys I grew up in proximity to. It was a shock to me when the reverence I had for Black men was rarely reciprocated which made me curious about the numbers.
It turns out that Black men marry twice as often outside of their race as Black women. And if you think I’m talking out of my ass, there’s research to support the claim, the infographic I’ve attached makes the numbers plain.
So if data suggest that Black men are entering twice as many interracial marriages as their counterparts then one can imply that Black men are seeking love outside of the reflections of themselves more often. And I’m not a fan of speaking in binaries, but all of the data collected regarding interracial marriages are from a heteronormative standpoint as they’ve always been able to marry freely thus I can only speak to these experiences though I’m equally curious what data collected within the LGBTQIA+ community would be.
This phenomenon of pining for boys then men who aren’t checking for you isn’t uniquely Black, but it sure can feel that way. We hear it all the time in conversations between adolescent Black girls crowded in the corner of a bustling hallway at school when the second question after “Is he single?” is “Does he like Black girls?” I can’t say that other races begin to examine their male counterparts through this lens so quickly or will ever have to.
Black girls have to be so aware. We are trained to be in order to survive because our Black mothers were trained to see White Supremacy but only speak on it in safe spaces, acknowledge misogyny and the Patriarchy but put on blinders to avoid how we enable and enact it against each other especially within immediate family structures. The violence of multiple oppressions include being taught to push past the voice in your head that can explain why you always feel the weight of the universe on shoulders more delicate than the world gives you credit for. Rejection hurts, figuring out that rejection is because you don’t pass the paper bag test feels like mutiny.
And though race is a social construct, (a pseudo science implemented to justify chattel slavery/exploited Black bodies), we live in a world intent on maintaining the social, economic and political order that White Supremacy affords the majority so when I speak to race, I’m only referencing its social impact not the false rhetoric that ties it to Biology.
One of the consequences most felt by Black women is the misogynoir enacted by their peers when dating. That violence isn’t always overt, but it is felt deeply and accompanied by confusion, shame and anger. Anger that we’re good enough to f*ck, to be the “down chick”, to struggle with but not to be romanced or make it down the aisle with. Often times, it feels like Black men get their ones up with Black women to share with lighter or non Black women. I don’t need to name the Black male celebrities whose partner gets lighter as his tax bracket gets higher, there’s certainly a few. It reminds me of the simulators medical students practice on before they perform on real patients. A safe space for making mistakes.
And could you imagine that? How violent it is to denigrate Black women as coal mines, a dark place to plow, chip, and dig at until you find beauty in the clear, shiny matter you’ve pillaged her to get to. How ironic that Black women protect White women without the knowledge of it or active participation, make space for the “Newly Made Black Man” who’s sowed his oats before finding his White Princess, the prize for his efforts to assuage his previously dark desires. And it’s evident in STLD, I’ve watched the film back more than a few times and still can’t see what made Sara a better match for him than Nicki, granted Nicki cheated but Sara’s willful ignorance of the world was worse to me. He was better off single if they were his only options.
The movie almost juxtaposes Sara and Nicki as the past and future of Derek, physical markers of what has happened and what’s to come. Nicki is aligned with STEPPS (the club), his gang banging friend Malakai and the hood they’re from whereas Sara gets access to his dreams, his Georgetown acceptance and aspirations of being a pediatrician. It reinforces Derek stepping out of the “dark” and into the “light” leaving behind everyone that reminds him his old life is a little more melanin rich than the one he’s entering. Was there no reality where a girl like Nicki wanted out of the hood? That she had hopes and dreams to share with a guy like Derek too? Could she have had humanity in that space?
So this wordy analysis is less about STLD and more about the parallels I see with the modern world. How Black people collectively are seeking freedom from under the boot that is White Supremacy but fall short by perpetuating what we’ve been internalized to believe. Since African people touched the shores of land worth little more than cattle over 400 years ago, Black bodies have been for consumption both literally and figuratively. (I’ll link an essay that speaks to White cannibalism at the bottom of the page, it’s an enlightening read) And during chattel slavery, the campaign to make Black folk as inhuman as possible also created the racializing of sexuality which stripped Black women of their femininity and put that sexual agency in the hands of men, White and Black. The softness and nuance of human sexuality became unavailable to Black women as we were made to be whatever suited the purpose of a man’s dick or land and that hasn’t changed.
I wish I could say interracial marriage has increased because the world is moving to a more conscious, equitable peace that has no use for race, that there’s been enough unlearning and relearning that people are coming into interracial relationships having started the work but that’s not the reality just yet. People are still erecting thrones of White Supremacy, enacted through capitalism, anti-blackness and misogynoir in their minds under the guise of freedom to justify the light/White women sitting on them which is to be expected. People who’ve convinced themselves that European colonialism doesn’t influence the way they view beauty, femininity, gender, class and “race” are not of my concern. My only hope is that they examine themselves more, ask more questions about the world as it came to be and who was affected by it.
To be honest, I believe in order for this world to truly progress, we need to be more honest about how miseducated we are as a collective. The way our minds have been shaped is steered to center Whiteness and European Conquest as pure, of good intentions and revolutionary while demeaning the advancements everyone else made in this world. All the Black and Brown people these ideas and practices were stolen from. So if you came to this article hoping to get something out of it other than my take on a teen dance flick that got too much runtime, I’ll leave you with some homework. Everyday for a week, I want you to think about your oldest beliefs, the things you can’t even remember becoming an opinion of yours and find out where those ideas came from, see how far you can trace it back historically and who made those ideas stick, who needed them too. You might surprise yourself.
And for the possible troll or “devil’s advocate” who wants to argue about their right to preferences I’d like to ask you something: Are your preferences about who you are organically attracted to or antithetical to who you think is undeserving of attraction?
One of my favorite lines in the movie is when Malakai tells Sara “They’re oil, you’re milk.” And until we can accept everyone for being oil or milk, treat them with kindness, respect and humanity, there won’t be holistic emulsification, just oil floating in milk, surrounded by white matter wondering why it can’t come together with the other suspended dark parts.
Keep it real, keep it kinky.
The History of Consumption… https://wearyourvoicemag.com/consumption-cannibalistic-nature-whiteness/