Me, Donald Glover & Black Trauma Lovers Who Date White Women
“Atlanta” 3rd season has me questioning whether I’m Black enough to hurt you with good art.
In 1992, I used to start my walk to school on Ocean Avenue. Funmi and her little sister met a group of us from the neighboring building at the corner of Ocean and Farragut. Funmi’s dark skin and silky sideburns whisked me off the sidewalk into the air. I officially had my first crush.
As long as I knew I loved skin, I loved dark, black skin. But the year after, I noticed another little girl in the class across the hall from mine. She had silky sideburns too, kept her hair in pigtail braids, but was lighter than any of my charcoal black Jamaican cousins or my reddish brown aunties and uncles. She was too light and temptingly light. T.V. sitcom and rap music video light. My friend Kareem asked her, on my behalf, if she liked me in a crumpled-up note with suspenseful check boxes. She added ‘maybe,’ a third option apart from my ‘yes’ and ‘no’ that was somehow more crushing than outright rejection.
That rejection was pivotal and addictive. When you know that the desired body—the light, fair, safe, valuable body—does not want you, obsession shadows the catharsis. But no one tells you about the politics of desire with grade school crushes. No one told me that, from the seed of dark-skin-light-skin choices and schoolyard songs about fat black mamas and crazy dark daddies I would begin to calibrate who it was right to want and wrong to lust after.
This equation was further complicated in two important areas of my life: prep school and entertainment. All the basketball players on the New York Knicks (and Michael Jordan) had light or white wives. Many of Hollywood’s Black leading men and their directors strutted the red carpet with fine light things, privilege phantoms, to offset the scary darkness of their being. Once I turned scholarship kid at a Manhattan private school, I saw this trend locally. The Black boys who wanted or had gained status showed up to their games with light girls or, if they dared, danced behind the White girls, grinding their taut trousers into stiffened, starchy partners.
Donald Glover is a race man. He uses his art to comment on the dynamics of American…