For better or worth.

The saga of Sherry Shepherd’s divorce proceedings and multiple custody battles has ignited message boards and websites across the Internet. Though it will not aid her in her legal battles, Shepherd has most certainly won in the court of public opinion, her ex-husband widely considered to be an avaricious, adulterous cad and her current husband a shiftless liar with no inclination to work. Shepherd has received an outpouring of sympathy. Unfortunately, said sympathy has come packaged in venomous invectives as many have stated that she was simply not bright enough to realize no man would sincerely find her alluring, which made her susceptible to grifters such as her ex-husband and current partner.

Though many online have insulted her appearance and intellect, all have agreed with righteous ire that she is superior in earning potential and kindness to the men she married and should not have “settled” for those “beneath” her. Some have used Shepherd’s woes as a teaching tool for black women, who—due to constant negative bombardment by a media ridiculously obsessed with the idea of the mournful or angry black woman—may erroneously believe that they are worth less and willingly accept less because of it.

“[S]ociety does a great job of making black women feel as though we have to settle, as though having any man—whether he treats you poorly or treats you well, whether he is your intellectual equal or not—is better than having no man at all….In 2014, no woman should be saying that or thinking it.” Keli Goff

While no woman should enter a romantic relationship with someone who does not interest her, love her, or respect her because she believes no one “of worth” would ever want her, we need to carefully reconsider what “of worth” means. Of worth to us or of worth to our peers? Adhering to the sexist belief that men should provide money and women should be conventionally beautiful is harmful to beneficial relationships that don’t meet that standard and can result in poisonous relationships when it does. We uniformly agree that men should “bring something to the table,” but aside from the universal constant of love and respect, what should be set upon said table should vary widely depending on the woman asked. He may bring an empty wallet to the table and still be the one you desire. He may have a pot belly and a dopey smile and still be the man of your dreams. He could be as dumb as a post and still be your soul mate. Yours, not mine! My table has nerd-priority seating.

The point is that we shouldn’t get to decide what other people deserve to have at their table. It’s pointless and cruel—and often tainted by racist and sexist biases. And sadly, it can result in individuals making poor choices because they are more concerned with outward appearances than the inner workings of their heart.

One blood.

“You’ve never heard about West Indians being cheap?”

The question had been leveled at me by my mother’s longtime friend, who was clearly amused and surprised by my ignorance. Her tone, teasing and with a musical lilt, was devoid of an iota of maliciousness.

“No! I’ve never heard that before!” I was now fascinated, as if I had come across an old family secret that I’d now been deemed mature enough to handle.

My mother’s friend called out to her, eager to acquire an additional testimonial. “You ever hear about West Indians being cheap?”

My mother didn’t even bother to look up from the laundry she sorted to field such a simple question. “Oh, yeah! The cheapest, honey!”

The matter was settled. “You know your husband is of West Indian descent, right?” I pointed to my father, whose family had come from St. Vincent and Haiti to find a better life here in America. I feigned disdain, but my motives were clear. My father is notoriously and hilariously cheap.

“Well…” My mother’s voice trailed off. A pregnant pause held in the air for a brief moment, and then, like rainfall after a snap of lightning, the jokes flowed like water—torrential, ceaseless.

For so many who see black people as a monolith, who cannot even comprehend the possibility of multiple black cultures, the above anecdote likely comes as a surprise. Yet in my mother’s house that day, filled solely with black people, there was a wealth of diversity borne from countless unique cultures, and a gentle familiar ribbing that is allowed due to shared racial experiences. I am American; African and Caribbean blacks are my cousins—sometimes literally. I tease my family and my family teases me, but I will love and stand with them. Always.

Had a non-black person been in my mother’s house that day and dared comment on West Indian penny-pinching, or African arrogance, or American idleness, he would have been verbally eviscerated for not knowing his place as an outsider who has happened to be made privy to “family” in-jokes—jokes that none of us truly believe or take seriously. I have been in the midst of a group of Filipino, Korean, and Chinese individuals teasing each other regarding which Asian ethnicity is the most racist and possesses the worst accent. I have been made privy to intentionally silly conversations regarding whether Puerto Rican or Dominican men are better lovers. And I’m sure somewhere an Irishman, an Englishman, and a Scot are jovially arguing about some trait that—as a black person and an American—is not for me to comment upon, no matter how many Europeans I call friends. I may be a beloved visitor, but I am not family. Oh, you want my opinion? Nah, I’m good. I’m simply honored that you feel relaxed enough in my company to speak freely and will enjoy the camaraderie. I have enough common sense and respect for those present to refrain from commenting, no matter who is willing to “cosign” for me.

“So, how come white people can’t say nigger and black people say it all the time?”

All the time? All of them? I won’t even address that part. But the answer is for the reasons stated above. The phrase often removed from the query is “without being considered a racist.” Please note that if you have typed some version of this question your disrespect and ignorance is completely exhausting and you are a blight upon every message board in existence. You cannot be jailed for saying nigger. You cannot be killed for saying itnot without rightfully severe legal repercussions for your murderer. You may lose a friend, a job, or a romantic partner—but you don’t have a right to those things. It’s “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” buddy. You can’t complain simply because you don’t have the common sense to pursue it efficiently. Perhaps next time you should try not being a bigot.

I don’t use the word nigger. I find it distasteful. But should I have a change of heart tomorrow and make the slur every fourth word I utter, I would not be considered a racist. I am black. My status is not one of an outsider. Due to shared racial experiences, I am “family.”

The problem is that many non-blacks, including all who have asked the question in question, refuse to accept an outsider status. The idea of being an outsider, even in a role that is respected and cherished (for example, Eminem or Teena Marie), makes them irate. How dare black people—these lesser people—deny us anything? How dare they have something to which we are not provided access? These people feel that not one shred of respect or privacy should be afforded to black people. Non-blacks who demand use of the word nigger sans negative social consequence feel that black Americans should be stripped of all elements of their culture for the consumption of others. For them, to be black is to be a constant performer—a jester for amusement. Black cultures are merely products to try on. Twerk team! S’up, nigga? Shade! Every ounce of every black culture should be splayed open to sample. They demand black people acquiesce dominion over any portion of any black culture should a person who is not black desire it.

And therein lies the issue. For in this age of globalization, it is a wonderful thing to share one’s culture with others. How fabulous is it that I can hear hip-hop from Romania, eat pad thai, and wear chancletas? S’great. But I know that when I immerse myself in a culture that is not my own, I act as a visitor or an ambassador. I do not get to assume ownership of that culture, and if the denizens of that region feel there are cultural rites I should not have access to? That’s fine. Would I love to dance in an Indian headdress? Omigaaawd, who wouldn’t? But this would offend many Native people. And so it is not appropriate for me to do so. I accept that. And for the record, I have Native ancestors and I still know there are lines I should not cross. Though I am “blood,” I am not “family.”

In other words, your black friends are not a valid excuse for your use of the word nigger. You are making them look corny, spineless, and anxious for approval. Stop embarrassing them. Stahp.

Unlike a weeaboo or an anglophile, who comes across as desperate yet deferential, non-blacks who use the word nigger (or nigga) assume a disrespectful and dismissive position of dominance over black American culture. It is akin to walking unannounced into a stranger’s living room and putting your muddy feet upon their coffee table. “Well, they have their feet on the coffee table,” you cry. “Why can’t I do the same?” The answer is simple.

You aren’t family and it’s not your house.

Draw back your bow.

It took me about a month to realize that I had been on the wrong site. Seeking platonic friends on a dating site? Why not? After all, OKCupid had provided the opportunity to search for friends or activity partners. Confident in my newfound venture, I created a profile. And to head any potential suitors off at the pass, I listed myself as seeing someone and reiterated my search for friends in my summary—then sat back and waited for a gaggle of girlfriends to roll in. Oh, I bet I’d be the Josie, or the Jerrica, or the Misty! No. No, let’s face it. I’d be the Sinclair, the Rose, the Charlotte.

Oh, God. I would completely and utterly be “the Charlotte.” But, hey! I could work with that! I could poke fun at myself! I wouldn’t mind being the butt of a few jokes regarding my naïve outlook, to cringe when being dragged to Magic Mike only to finally loosen up and hoot and holler with the rest of the girls. I was ready.

I was the only one ready. I received no responses from potential girlfriends. Not one. And while I scanned through OKCupid’s list of friend matches, eagerly hoping one of the individuals listed would contact me, my profile was not visited by one woman.

I did, however, receive profile visits from men, and responses from men, and instant messages from men. Some of the men were pleasant; some of the men were creeps; three of them were likely registered sex offenders. However, what they all had in common is that none of them had read my profile. My plea for local friends had garnered responses from men outside the United States. My request for friends five years younger or fifteen years older drew messages from men old enough to have sired me. Expressing my distaste for drugs seemed to attract regular marijuana users. Men who stated that they would not be interested in seeing a “geek” asked to see me romantically. The whole process had become an unmitigated disaster.

I decided to be more proactive. I visited profiles of those I found interesting in the hopes that curiosity would compel said individuals to seek me out. I broadened my search to include residents from a wider radius. Sadly, the result was the same. Discouraged, I disabled my account.

The older one becomes, the more difficult it is to make new friends and keep old ones. Often months pass between interactions; it makes the fleeting moments caught at a convention or wedding or baby shower bittersweet. It will last only an hour, a night, a weekend before bags must be packed and flights must be caught. And then one is back to writing occasional emails and viewing pictures on Instagram.

I have found myself in the bizarre position of building a social life almost entirely from scratch. And I am not alone. However, I don’t believe I will be using Social Jane to place an ad for that “Kei” or “Colleen.” It’s not because I believe that such sites do not work; In fact, I actually believe wholeheartedly in their usefulness. It’s that I’ve learned enough about myself to know that seeking a group of close-knit local friends isn’t the current path for me.

The best thing about placing an ad for someone else is that it requires the examination of oneself. I learned that I prefer suburban life in the shadow of a big city, that the culture and climate of the Pacific Northwest and West Coast are preferable to life in New Jersey, and that coffee shops and burger joints are more enjoyable than discos and bars. Gathering a group only to leave them high and dry once Seattle or Sacramento came calling seemed cruel. And it would leave me in the same spot I am now, a great distance from those I call friends.

The loneliness can be hard to bear, but it is often a burden one keeps to oneself to avoid pointed lectures. “Girl, you should have been moved out here! That’s why you’d never catch me building my life around no man!” Moral support can often be salt in a wound. I’d rather endure endless nights of solitude than a phone call peppered with “I told you so.”

I often think about what my ad would look like. Restless Jersey girl seeks Western geek for celebrity gossip and comic industry dishing! Misty seeks Colleen for Thai food and True Blood marathons! You: 30s, short, likes good Kung Fu and bad wrestling!
Hmm, probably not appealing to anyone except me. But, hey, if it sounds good to you? Drop me a line.