It was never my intent to eavesdrop. But cramped-up bus rides can draw you into conversations you never intended to be a part of. I had offered her my seat and another gentleman had offered up his for her friend. They showed their gratitude with a quick “Thank you,” and as the bus began to move, they seemed to dive right back into a conversation they must have been having before they had come on board.
She said, “Past experiences have made me not want to date black men. When I do, I’m always met with disappointment. So if you’re not Caucasian, I’m not interested.”
Those within earshot turned in her direction halfway through her sentence. But unaware, or perhaps undeterred by the sudden, unsolicited attention, she continued, “They are controlling, lazy, unfaithful, disrespectful and manipulative. They don’t know how to treat a woman well. White men, on the other hand, are romantic, loving and caring.”
As she continued her rant, people’s eyes began to refocus their attention on me, as if expecting a response or reaction. Could you blame them? Apart from the two black women who seemed to be engaged in this public takedown and denigration of black men, I was the only person—a black male—who could perhaps offer some objection, rebuttal or contrast to her views and assertions.
I thought about it for a moment. Weighed the pros and cons of interjecting and decided to throw my hat into the ring instead of being a silent and passive victim of her assault: an assault that had left me feeling offended, embarrassed and hurt, not just as a black man, but as a black man who was being subjected to a public flogging and character assassination.
“Excuse me. Let me start by saying, it’s not my intent to change your mind or opinions on black men. Your observations and experiences are your own and no one can try to tell you otherwise. And it’s okay to not be attracted to black men. You’re not obligated to be. My only qualm with you is the simple fact that you generalize all black men and you give them negative characteristics that are in fact not exclusive to just them. Are you saying men from other races don’t cheat or lie? Are you saying they aren’t controlling or abusive? Because there is a bad apple in every bunch!”
She seemed startled for a moment, almost as if she hadn’t noticed that there was a black man standing in front of her the whole time. She stuttered, as if the thoughts she was trying to gather were stumbling over themselves.
“Well, all the black men I’ve dated were liars and cheaters.”
“How many did you date?”
I stood there flustered, and when I’m annoyed I start asking rhetorical questions. “So you’re telling me that your whole rant and perception of black men is solely anchored in your experiences with three? Could you taste in men be part of the issue? So those three men represent all black men to you? So if I have a bad relationship with a black woman or any other race, should I assume all women from that race are bad?
I know a lot of good black men: men who are chivalrous and respectful, hardworking and accomplished, caring and selfless, but you’re telling me and everyone on this bus who was subjected to your speech that they don’t exist?”
She snapped at me, “You can’t force me to be attracted to black men! I like what I like.”
“And that’s okay,” I said as I turned towards the exit, my stop fast approaching. “It’s okay to not be attracted to black men. We all have our preferences. Some black women/men prefer white women/men. Some white women/men prefer black women/men. Some black women/men prefer Asian women/men and so on. My issue is not your preference. My issue is the nonsensical reason behind your preference. My issue is how you insult and generalize a whole race of men. It just bothers me when people assume or imply that skin color is somehow related to or influences content of character. Those two have absolutely nothing to do with each other. And whatever happened to just wanting to be with someone who was good to you regardless of what race, religion, gender, sexuality, or culture they were?”
At this point she had just stopped listening to me and was navigating through her phone. I know the silent treatment when I see it and so I stood quietly for another minute as I waited for my stop. The bus screeched to a halt, the doors opened and as I disembarked I said, “Good luck with love.”
Sincerely, Kwapi Vengesayi
From Kwapi Vengesayi‘s book, Men Cheat More, Women Cheat Better: Stories and Conversations About Love, Life and Everything in Between (2017) Available on Amazon