Letters

"To all the men out there, I say: You Want Me to Want You. To Ms. Dickerson, I say: If you want to be desirable, check the hurt and the drama at the door." Readers respond to Debra Dickerson's essay on the missing black women of "Wedding Crashers."


Salon Staff
August 3, 2005 1:40AM (UTC)

Read "I Want You to Want Me," by Debra Dickerson.

Ah, just what we need; yet another article about how "undesirable" black women supposedly are. I suppose the constant media attention to women like Beyoncé, Halle Berry and Tyra Banks means nothing when you've been ignored by an office full of clueless white men. I'm truly sorry that Ms. Dickerson did not receive the sexual attention she so desired. However, her personal experience does not necessarily encapsulate the experience of every black woman in America.

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I'm a 34-year-old black woman who has been pursued by every race imaginable and married to a handsome white man for 10 years; I've never, even in my single days, been ignored by men in queues, gone unassisted when I needed help with packages, or gone without at least one man, white or not, nursing a crush on me in some capacity. I suppose, reflecting on my own experiences, I could just as easily write an article about how white men absolutely love black women, and how odd it is that this isn't reflected in modern cinema. In other words, personal experience counts for nothing unless it conforms to a liberal bias in which black women are to be pitied as opposed to embraced as equals.

Yes, racism exists, and perhaps black women as a whole suffer from an excess of low self-esteem, but I somehow doubt many of us are losing sleep over whether Vince and Owen are lusting for us. If Ms. Dickerson could remove the chip from her shoulder, she may discover that there are more pressing issues at hand than whether movie stars want to nail her or not.

-- Marie Flatow

Dickerson both raises a valid point about the short shrift given to the sexuality of black women and undermines it in the same piece. It amazes me that in the same paragraph she can lament how her white male co-workers didn't notice her, and admit that she delayed marriage because she was "holding out for a brother." You can't have it both ways, Ms. Dickerson.

I was born and raised in a very religious, monocultural Midwestern area with no nonwhite residents. When I went to college I first heard that white men aren't supposed to ask out black women from the women themselves. I found my fellow black female students as sexy as any women around. But they were only interested in the few black men on campus, while those men were interested in pretty much any woman. It seems to me that if black women want to be appreciated for what they are, they need to stop limiting themselves. Maybe white society has not given black women their due, but they facilitate the process by doing just what Ms. Dickerson did: Holding out for a brother. Believe me, the white boys can tell.

-- Chris Pollock

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I think there's a much smaller, more obvious reason there are no black weddings in "Wedding Crashers."

Ready? In order to crash a wedding, the characters pretend to be relatives of the family. And Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson are, with the possible exception of Topher Grace, two of the whitest actors in the country.

The absence of ethnicity from the film's montages has everything to do with common sense and nothing to do with Hollywood's black-culture opacity.

-- Marci Kiser

Yes, black women get short shrift when it comes to Hollywood movies, and we're over-portrayed as harpies; fat, sexless grandmas; and shrill ghetto mamas. But black women cast as the sexy love interest have been gaining ground: Halle Berry in "Monster's Ball" and the last James Bond movie; Thandie Newton in "ER," "Mission Impossible II," and "Charade"; Angela Bassett opposite De Niro in "The Score"; Nia Long in "Alfie" and "The Boiler Room." Just to name a few.

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As a black woman who dated white, Asian and black men before getting married three years ago at age 38 to a wonderful white man (eight years my junior) I can identify with a lot of what Ms. Dickerson said. However, as a dark-skinned woman with very "black" hair, I didn't find it especially difficult to snag boyfriends (usually white) in Boston during the late '80s, despite getting "erased" a few times. I usually made the most of being the only black woman in a situation. Since I already stood out, why not turn things to my advantage? My flirtations were usually well received.

I've been to several great weddings of black women marrying white and Asian men. I have to say the glass may actually be half full and rising.

-- Deeanna Franklin-Campbell

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I am 51, white and male. I can assure you that I often feel invisible in line when the associate behind the register is young, black and female. The enthusiastic greetings and simple thank yous that are given out to others (including young whites and white women) are notably absent as they move me, and others like me, through the line with a sneer.

I do not begrudge Ms. Dickerson her pain. Nor do I wish to denigrate her experience. But I suspect that those days are at the beginning of their end in this country. I have noticed that the best romantic comedies are now starring black men. The hot chick that delivers humanity to Alfie is black. But perhaps the most telling media image that I have seen was local. I am from rural Tennessee. I live in ... yes, it's true ... White County. The local newspaper ran a pictorial some months ago showing a classic old Southern white man with his beloved granddaughter at a civic event. That pretty girl was the color of Ms. Dickerson. Woe betide the person who crossed that baby in front of her besotted grandpa.

This is the future in black and white for America. The past lives within Ms. Dickerson and I. But hopefully will not survive us.

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-- John S Poteet

I am a white man who has never dated anyone who was not a black woman.

It's not an easy thing to do. I often wish I could not be so damned attracted to black women, because very few of them even glance at a white guy trying to make eye contact or respond favorably to being approached by a respectful white guy (especially if they are with their friends).

Maybe I should walk around with a T-shirt that says "I like black women" so that women like yourself, who might be interested in a friendly, polite nice-looking young white man, could know that at least one guy is looking for them too.

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-- Daniel Palmer

I don't know who told Ms. Dickerson she has a "ghetto pass." She doesn't. Most blacks would see her in the same light as a Ward Connerly, Shelby Steele or Clarence Thomas -- who all, by the way, have white significant others.

Why is she so preoccupied with white men desiring black women? Does she think that will change the basic conditions that black people face in this society? I mean, white men have proven throughout history that they will fuck just about anything, including farm animals. Has that changed their attitude about people of color in general? It sure didn't keep colonialism or imperialism from taking hold. Women were and are seen as the spoils of war, and as a black woman I don't give a damn whether white men desire me. What I do care about is that I, as a human being, am afforded the same respect that anyone else on this planet is given. From the incidents she describes both at work and out and about, Debra Dickerson seems to have accepted that she isn't worthy of white men's respect or even acknowledgment -- and that more than anything is probably why black women have this reputation for being loud and difficult. We are so used to being ignored and mistreated, we've come to a point where we are hypersensitive to slights and perceived discrimination.

I think Ms. Dickerson is in the definite minority in the black female population -- we are the least likely of any racial group to date and marry outside of our race. Most of us prefer and love black men and, if anything, are happy the times when white men were desiring and raping us (that is, during slavery, Jim Crow, segregation) are over!

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-- Devonah Blackwell

The type of racism you describe is not gender specific. Spend some time cruising Internet dating sites like those managed by Spring Street Networks, the company that provides Salon with its dating Web presence.

While the sites that are linked to Spring Street have a rep as being peopled by those folks of all races who are a little more enlightened and a little more literate, my very unscientific study has shown that many women -- whether black, white or other -- check off everything in their "race preference" box except "Black." Even "Pacific Islanders" show up as acceptable. Exactly how many Pacific Islanders are there in these United States anyway, and how do they merit a category all their own? That question aside, we black men rate as somehow equally unattractive as you black women.

Perhaps we should get together and talk about this? Laugh, cry, commiserate ... over a drink, maybe some dinner. How about a movie? Hmmm, that sounds like a date. If it works out and we were to have some sort of relationship, we would have a lot less to complain about. We would be so in love, there would be not enough time to notice how unloved we thought we were.

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-- Jeremy A. Rogers

I am white (and gay, which changes the situation if only slightly) and have had some experience in navigating situations similar to what Ms. Dickerson describes. In particular, I was acquainted with two black girls, one of whom was friendly to me, one of whom was hard-edged and mean. It is not a surprise which one I found easier to get along with.

What I am wondering is: Did my response to what I perceived from the very beginning as unfriendliness lead her, in the future, to regard me as a racist? I certainly hope not. I'm all about meeting people halfway and even further, but I'm not keen on cold stares and a reflexively accusatory demeanor. Is anyone?

Debra, I feel for you. We all want to be seen as desirable. I will add, though, that a lot of white guys I know who have openly indicated an interest in black girls are, at the same time, intimidated by them. There is no excuse for the white men at Dunkin Donuts who rudely rendered you invisible; that's appalling. But while my straight white friends may be somewhat cowardly in not pursuing black girls romantically, I don't think that's racist, and it's sure as shit a two-way street.

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-- Colin

I'm confused by your comments. It sounds like you resent the fact that this movie did not allow any black women to be "fucked" by the two white lead characters. That omission, somehow, causes you to suspect that "black culture, however subconsciously, is deemed unworthy?

You discuss your difficulties in getting your white male co-workers to notice you (although you apparently made every effort to appear "hot"). Your description of how you cried when disrespected/ignored by a white man while waiting to be served in the Logan Airport Dunkin Donuts was distressing. I was puzzled by your apparent expectation that a compulsive white male sex drive should have trumped white racism to make you "visible" and possibly advance you, rather than the white male behind you, in the queue. Despite all this, you managed to find a white man, who respected you enough, to marry. This was apparently after "career choice" and "life choice" circumstances caused you to realize, at age 40, that holding out for "a brother" was not likely to pay off. As a black man who spent several years working and living in Massachusetts in the '80s and early '90s, I find myself wondering about your choice of social venues.

I don't understand how your reactions to what you've observed about the treatment of black women (and their "unfuckable" appeal to whites) square with the reality of the interracial sexual history of this country. Black women, as you noted, have obviously been raped and fucked by white men before, more often for pure lust or power than for love or emotional attachment. The underlying justification when white males rape black women has long been that black women are sexual addicts and really hot bed partners. Most black men know that they also carry this burden of expectation and accusation where interracial sex is involved. That nature of interracial sex in this country has been one that most black people find distasteful, disrespectful and sad. And now, you're upset because black women are not being shown as willing partners to interracial sex without emotional involvement? That is your measure of social progress in this country?

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Perhaps while you were sipping your martini and reflecting on your personal experiences while seeking validation of your worth and interracial sexual appeal, you should have remembered: It's just a movie, and obviously not intended to deliver a dubious statement about equal opportunity for black "sluts." I suspect that, had the movie undertaken that cause, aside from a couple of insignificant casting opportunities for blacks, its socially redemptive value would hardly have been enhanced.

-- C. Mosby

You want us to want you? Christ, the feeling is mutual.

I haven't seen "Wedding Crashers" and I probably won't unless my girlfriend insists on renting it when it hits DVD. Still, I read Ms. Dickerson's article with a high level of interest.

I'm white, and I live in Detroit, and I don't have any answers to the questions Ms. Dickerson raises, but taking my own social circle as a highly informal test sample, I do know that my friends and I are all in love with black women, and that none of us have ever had a black wife or girlfriend.

It's not because we think black women are unworthy, or unladylike, or anything like that. Rightly or wrongly we all suffer the same implacable sense that black women would never go for us. There's definitely the perception of an impenetrability there, a line that any one of us would happily cross if we had any idea freakin' how or where to start.

I'm sure there are plenty of different factors at play (not the least of which is that my friends and I are a bunch of idiots), but I'll bet our relentlessly divisive media hasn't helped much. At any rate, I can assure Ms. Dickerson that when it comes to this kind of separatism, we white guys very much share her disappointment.

-- J.B.T.

Debra J. Dickerson's recent column, "I Want You to Want Me" could not have been more off the mark. As a young black woman, I found Dickerson's ranting about how "unlovable" black women are to be irresponsible, presumptuous and ridiculously narrow-minded. I'm not a "gender crasher." I'm not "an imposter fronting as a real woman." I'm not a "bitch," as Dickerson suggests many black women are. Her weak-willed way of thinking only supports the racism she so vehemently protests.

Wake up! There are so many strong-willed, sexy, intelligent black females out there that men of all races cannot keep their eyes off of, and I'm one of them. I'm not sitting at home, alone, watching old episodes of "Soul Food." I'm out there among the rest of the world, strutting my stuff with grace and confidence, laughing all the way through "Wedding Crashers," "Shout" montage and all.

To all the men out there, I say: You Want Me to Want You. To Debra J. Dickerson, I say: If you want to be fuckable, check the hurt and the drama at the door. Life's too short. And if that's not a turnoff, I don't know what is.

-- R.J.

When I saw "Wedding Crashers," I didn't want to be one of the wooed and bedded young girls. I thought if Vince and Owen tried those tired lines on a sister, they would have been laughed off in an instant.

I didn't envy them. Instead I enjoyed the plot, the jokes, the romances and Owen Wilson despite the distracting nose. The movie was that entertaining.

When I buy my movie ticket, I expect diversion and escape, not diversity.

-- Catherine Mims Yamaguchi

Like Mrs. Dickerson I am an African-American who at times feels there is not a place for me within this society. Just as she feels that African-American women must overcome being seen as un-sexy mules, I, as an African-American man, deal with the stereotypes that peg me as lazy, oversexed and prone to violence. I deal with these attitudes not only from society at large, but also from within my own community.

As a shy, computer-loving intellectual who lived in a small mountain town until early adolescence, I do not fit the description of the ideal man for most African-American women in my city. As a consequence my two most recent relationships, including my present marriage to a wonderful Latin woman, have been outside of my race. Despite being happily married, I still sometimes wonder what could be so wrong with me that I did not settle down with an African-American woman. It is an issue that I know that I need to make peace with, but it is difficult to let it go when even those who know me best give some credence to it.

Recently I was talking about women with one of my oldest and dearest friends and in the course of discussing a hypothetical situation, I mentioned having a relationship with an African-American woman. My friend's response cut me like a knife. He told me that he could not see me being with an African-American woman because he did not think that they were "my type."

As you can see, the struggle to fit in and find one's place is universal. Every person has dealt with it at one point or another. African-Americans facing this struggle must not only contend with their own personal questions of identity, but must also combat additional forces that were created by old attitudes -- attitudes that started long before Mrs. Dickerson and I were born and will sadly continue long after we leave this world.

The fight against being marginalized is a struggle for all African-Americans, male and female alike. I would like to stand up for sisters like Mrs. Dickerson and to help them realize that when many African-American men see an African-American woman raising two kids on her own or struggling to make her mark in corporate America we don't see a mule, but instead see someone who is like our mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins and grandmothers -- a beautiful black woman.

-- Jackie R. Williams


Salon Staff

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