Brother Pain

How a black woman came to terms with interracial love


| November-December 1996



“How could he?” one student said. 

“It hurts,” said another. . . “When I see a black man with a white woman, I think that I have not measured up. That something is lacking in me.” 

“We grow up feeling not pretty, not good enough, not wanted,” a third student said. “Feeling invisible, feeling the need to change ourselves in order to be accepted. Acceptable. And it’s more than just about cosmetics. We feel pain at the deepest level.”

I understand the pain and anger of these young black women because their pain and anger had once been mine. The passing of decades has not removed the abandonment I once felt when my newest heartthrob on screen, record, or the playing field married a white woman. The news would flash, and my friends and I would go into mourning, grieving our own deaths. That was how we felt: nonexistent in the eyes of those men who gave us visibility and voice in a world that denied us both.

I remember in my high school and college years being proud of the black man in Mod Squad. He was so very hip, so very visible, so very much an equal in the trio that fought crime. “Day-O. Day-O. Daylight come and me wanna’ go home.” I would Calypso dance in front of the mirror to Belafonte’s scratchy voice singing melodiously. And like other black women, I was proud of Sidney Poitier, that ebony brother of tight smoothness, who was the first of the big stars. There was something in the way he walked, leaning down in his hips, in the way he read a script through his eyes, in the way his deep blackness spoke of a power that was mine to claim. I remember wanting the mellifluous voice that made James Earl Jones brilliant in any role—from “street” to Shakespearean. All married white women.

The pain we experience as black teenagers follows many of us into adulthood, and if we are professional black women, it follows with a vengeance. As a colleague in an eastern school explained our situation, “Black men don’t want us as mates because we are independent; white men, because we are black.” We have to organize our own venting sessions. The only difference between us and black teenagers is the language we use, our attempt at some kind of analysis, and our refusal to mourn. Teenagers see an individual heartthrob; we see an entire championship basketball team. Teenagers know about athletes and entertainers; we know about politicians and scholars. Teenagers see faces; we see symbols that, in our opinion, spin the image of white women to the rhythm of symphonic chords.