White People’s Black Fetish

When I was growing up, we had this toaster cover that someone had made by hand, and like all sorts of mundane, everyday items, it vanished and can only be seen in my memory. It looked something like this:

The main difference was that the dress on ours was some sort of gold pattern. But the hair wrap, earrings, and everything else was the same. This is the sort of object that you don’t question as a child — it’s just there — and it wasn’t until I was a lot older that I began to wonder about it. Kind of like those black garden jockeys that one may sometimes still see in the yard of an old, southern white person. Or even, until recently, in the form of a bottle of pancake syrup.

The confusing part of this is having “representations” — I’m using quotes because they were really stereotypes — of black people in the home of a white person who presumably doesn’t like black people is just weird. It would be like hating spiders, but surrounding yourself with their image. Why?

I think the answer may be similar to what goes on for some men: they hate women, yet they revere the woman’s role, even if they have no respect for it. The misogynist’s perspective is not much different from a racist’s: they don’t like those people, but they sure are glad to have them around to do the shit they don’t want to do.

Toxically masculine men like this also want to be mothered in ways that they are ashamed of. These sorts of men are not supposed to need that, understand, and they view it as a terrible form of weakness. This is how they can require women in their lives and yet despise them. Of course, they really despise themselves, but projection is how this works.

Because of several centuries of slavery, black people have acquired a sort of domestic aura. I don’t remember a time when black slaves were a standard part of a wealthy or even nominally well-to-do household, but enough of my ancestors do that it has become part of our cultural DNA.

My ex-husband was an only child and unusual in that his mother worked outside the home during the 1950s and 1960s. In his early years, he was cared for by a black woman during the day. She was very maternal and loving toward him, and it was a confusing thing to be so well cared for by a person whose entire race was vilified by his parents by night. He literally couldn’t thread that needle, particularly given how undemonstrative, emotionally abusive, and cold his own parents were. I doubt that his story is all that unusual.

Sometimes I wonder if the virulent racists are just jealous. That they imagine that an enslaved black woman who might raise them would be warmer than their own parents. Or that they imagine that black people are somehow freer to express their emotions than they are. Or maybe they envy the spirit that has kept them going under a 400-year-old yoke. Or they’re afraid that black people have something they just don’t have and will never understand. I really don’t know.

But it’s telling that (racist) symbols of black people have occupied white American houses for a long time now. That’s not something for black people to figure out, either. That’s all on us, white America. Black people aren’t fetishes. Time to stop treating them as such.

Writer, painter, cat fancier, troublemaker, democratic socialist, & antifascist.

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