We met on move-in day of my freshman year in college. It was like those stories you always heard: boy meets girl and then boy and girl move in together after a few days — the honeymoon stage.
But here we are today, three years later and in the beginning of a 10-day spring break trip in Central America as he purposes the end.
In my head I’m thinking how I had everything meticulously planned for his 21st birthday in a couple of days.
But let’s backtrack.
If you read the headline you’ve probably figured out that we came from completely different backgrounds. I came from a diverse upbringing in southern California with a family composed of civil rights activists, artists, lawyers and doctors who were all people of color. While he grew up white, Catholic and in a southern rural, segregated town where he was taught how to be a white southern boy by the books.
Despite this, I was convinced that the age old tale of opposites attracting was true. In truth, our youth and the rush of a new experience prevented us from experiencing each other as our true selves.
In the beginning, I was encouraged by his reaction to my involvement in LGBTQ advocacy. I eagerly told everyone about his small-town upbringing and his valiant rejection of the homophobia with which he was indoctrinated. He joined my women’s empowerment organization and boldly called himself a feminist while I called it revolutionary.
He ignored the whispers from his white family and friends, he assured me that he didn’t mind their disapproval.
But as my activism on campus heated up, his cooled down and our relationship along with it.
As I became more involved in organizing protests, spreading awareness, and speaking publicly about the murders of Victor White III, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner, the more we would argue. I didn’t really consider the occasional argument very problematic because I figured that it was normal for couples to disagree every now and then.
I couldn’t wrap my head around why he and his friends wouldn’t come to my protests or why he didn’t at least mention I was organizing rallies to his family and friends.
When I finally convinced him to come to the rallies I was organizing, he didn’t want to be tagged in the pictures on Facebook.
The true nature of our relationship became overwhelmingly clear during our trip to Central America. He admitted that he tolerated my activism because he considered it novel, interesting and contained within my friend and family groups.
He, his family, and his friends would continue to tolerate me so long as I didn’t directly involve them and their white privilege.
I dedicated my life to fighting systems of oppression while he was comfortable existing within and benefiting from those same systems.
I am deeply saddened yet grateful that I experienced this relationship because I am now committed to loving my authentic self. For so long I had ascribed to the narrative of respectability politics and white supremacy.
I attended a southern state university despite receiving a full scholarship to Howard University because I was convinced that a predominantly white institution was fundamentally superior to a world-renowned Historical Black college. I realize now that I was compromising who I was in the pursuit of appearing nonthreatening to white people.
Unfortunately, this included him. At the beginning of our relationship this also became apparent from the day I met his parents. I recall wanting to wear a bohemian style dress and instead having to “wear something more normal” like a college t-shirt and shorts. I recall wanting to wear my hair natural but feeling embarrassed about getting box braids because he didn’t like them. In fact, while he claimed to love my hair in its natural state he was disgusted by my possession of du-rags and headscarves. I was desperately ashamed and I threw them all away.
In a similar manner, I began to notice that my blackness was the source of offense for his friends and family. When I was at his family home there would be idle conversations about how my race was the reason his family would never accept me.
I was well spoken and simultaneously a person of color, thus earning me the designation of “not really black” to his family members. Yet, there was always the question of why I didn’t come home with him more often.
When interrogated by his family about my family’s background I revealed that father attended Harvard, and I recall feeling wounded when his mother asked me “Which Harvard?”
I did not know that I was working to change a society that is plagued by white supremacy while simultaneously dating someone who refused acknowledge the effects of it and to exist beyond it. I didn’t think that by being comfortable in my blackness and by standing up against injustices that I could upset someone who loved me. I was naïve. The forces of white privilege proved to be stronger than the forces of love in our case.
Days before I spoke about racial injustices at a Spring Break pool party with his peers. I was on thin ice. I had finally done too much when I expressed my outrage over yet another instance of racism in academia. He insisted that I chose to be consistently unhappy because I focus on the evil in the world and that I didn’t care about him.
So here we are at the day I previously described in Central America, sitting on opposite ends of the same bed Facebook messaging each other after tensions finally boiled over. Needless to say that Facebook conversations ended predictably — we broke up. But I am certainly looking forward.