Dating outside my race was never something I thought about when I was growing up. As the only black girl coming of age in a white suburb, I didn’t really have a choice. For the promise of a better life, or rather a life free of taxes, my family made the move from Boston to New Hampshire. Even though we were only 40 minutes away, there was no denying once you crossed that border — you were in God’s country. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry, neither did I, but thanks to growing up in the Granite State, I can now spot it a mile away.
Skin color aside, I thought I seamlessly fit in with the white kids growing up: I played tennis every day, I went through an unsightly goth phase, and by the time I was in high school, I was ready to make out with all of the boys — and girls too. Back then, the representation of black women in the media and on our television screens was hardly accurate. What I didn’t realize was that I was in an unfair role of being everyone’s first introduction to black culture. I had to conduct myself in a way that went against the stereotypical norms my white friends naturally attributed to being black.
To be honest, I was ready to start dating at nine years old, around the same time that I first saw the Undertaker on WWF put someone in a chokeslam. When my friends started dating, my fears of being the last person to go on a date were quickly validated. While dating outside my race wasn’t a deal breaker for me, or for my parents, it was still controversial for many of my friends’ parents.
On multiple occasions, parents felt the need to reveal their own ignorance directly to me. One of my first memories of this was when I was invited to a friend’s house for dinner. My mother always called parents before I could go over anyone’s house, perhaps because she knew that we still weren’t welcome everywhere. My friend’s father explained to me that he thought it was great for his kids to have black friends, as long as they never brought home a black date. For me, it sounded as if they thought it was a rare gift they were bestowing upon me: I’m welcome in their own home — as long as I never kissed their child. Cool.
By the time I met Craig, I was 14, and I truly believed deep within my teen-goth soul that I would never, ever have a boyfriend. When I saw Craig’s sick Dungeons & Dragons’ skills in the parking lot behind the library, it was hardly love at first sight, but the fact that he looked in my direction was enough to make me swoon.
If you’ve ever been a hormonal, horny, thirsty AF 14-year-old, you probably know that Nazi skins were not going to stand in the way of me and my first real boyfriend
He was weird. He was weird that day at the library, and he was even weirder when my friends and I ran into him at the mall. Though, despite his lack of eye contact, I couldn’t forget how he looked at me that day at the library. I waited for my opportunity to pounce like a lioness stalking its prey. When he was astray from his friends, I invited him to the record store parking lot. For those of you unfamiliar with mall parking lots in the suburbs, that’s where all first kisses and hand jobs take place. Exclusively.
What if you were starving, and someone finally offered you something to eat, only it happened to be the one thing you were deathly allergic to? That’s what Craig had in store for me.
He confessed to having a crush on me, and claimed he had noticed me a few weeks ago perusing for dog chains at Hot Topic. Those were the words 14-year-old me laid awake fantasizing about, right down to the studded rack of dog collars. He was nervous, and visibly torn by his feelings for me. As I stood there in the dimly lit parking lot, mentally planning our wedding reception, Craig continued his confession. Unfortunately, his words weren’t about how he also dreamed of me in a black feathered wedding dress. He was telling me that we couldn’t be together because he had joined a group of Nazi skinheads.
If you’ve ever been a hormonal, horny, thirsty AF 14-year-old, you probably know that Nazi skins were not going to stand in the way of me and my first real boyfriend.
In that moment, it didn’t really matter what his beliefs were to me. Did this new information feel painful for me to process? Not really. I was well aware of Nazi skins, and I had seen ex-skins on television who spoke out about racism. I knew how easy it was to recruit young people into hate groups, and I knew like most of the goths and punks I hung out with, that we were all looking for family. Sometimes, you have to take what you can get.
For the first few weeks, we chatted in secret from our friends. When I would call his house, his mom was lovely, and eventually our moms spoke and I came over for a family dinner. Ironically, his parents did not hide their excitement that their skinhead son was interested in a black girl. Clearly, they knew he was headed down a pretty ugly path. My mother, ever an optimist, and having lived among some pretty heinous racists herself when she was my age, didn’t seem to bat an eye.
It didn’t take long for our teen love to blossom. Craig quickly cut ties with his Nazi friends and became woke before the hashtag woke was born. The segue from boy with Nazi friends to boy with black girlfriend was actually pretty quick. I was the first black person Craig had ever even had a conversation with. For him, I was the first black girl that was interested in horror movies, goth shows, and metal. Looking back, it makes absolute sense that he could drop a group of skinheads as quickly as he got involved with them.
The only lasting memory of his skinhead days was a swastika he had burned into his chest, but even that eventually healed. Even though our love affair only lasted a summer, we would remain friends until he passed away in 2010 after a sudden, quick battle with Rhabdomyosarcoma, an aggressive form of cancer that usually occurs in childhood.
Craig wouldn’t be the last boyfriend I had in high school, and he wouldn’t be my last white boyfriend. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some serious emotional baggage that comes with being a teen, longing for romance in a place where I was always an other. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t effortlessly unpack that baggage and move it into other relationships.
I lucked out knowing Craig. Not only was I hungry for love, but I needed to know that the ignorance people in our small town had towards black women wasn’t omnipresent. I needed to know that my brown skin, kinky hair, and wide nose were beautiful. More importantly, I needed to know that hatred was never permanent.