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It’s a pretty good way to pass the time from Brooklyn to midtown. I spent my childhood surrounded by black and brown kids, but when I got to high school, suddenly everyone around me was white.And on those rare occasions a white boy kissed me in the copy-machine room at our high school, or when a white boy told me over the phone he had a crush on me, the acknowledgement made me feel chosen. The white boys I grew up with were cool: They rode their skateboards on private property. White men have preoccupied me my whole life, from the schoolyard to the subway, but these days I’m seeing them differently.
Every white man I’ve dated has, sometimes consciously and sometimes not, asked me to explain to them some aspect of blackness.In the past, I’d have sought that comfort out in a white man, but that night I knew it wouldn’t be enough.It’s not that I don’t think white people are anxious; two months into Trump’s presidency, most of the white people in my life are activated.The other day, I was on the subway platform playing my usual game, and I caught the eye of a black guy.It felt different this time, like the flirtatious version of the “black nod” at work — an acknowledgement between two black employees who might not even know one another, but who have a shared experience.And too many times, those same white boyfriends decided to sit out being my partner.
I lost count of the times my boyfriend in my late 20s would tell me to “just leave” parties or social events when I complained of being the only person of color in his all-white friend group.
Whenever I’m standing on a subway platform, I play this game: I hover near a person I think is cute and try to slowly make my way over to him so we get in the same car. Like most of the girls in my class, I wanted attention from the boys.
When we do, I look his way every so often to see if he’s staring back, to see if we’ve got what my best friend and I call “the affinity,” a mutual acknowledgement that we one another. But while they chased after blondes and brunettes, I was ignored.
During a bathroom break or a trip to the bar, I’ll check my phone, and almost always there is a news alert telling me Donald Trump is attempting to curtail, or has just succeeded in curtailing, the rights of marginalized people in America.
It’s an odd thing to then go back to my date and continue the performance of “getting to know you.” I fantasize about walking up to him and saying, “Gotta go!
In those moments, I’ve wished to be sitting in front of someone who could relate.