Last weekend while watching Season two of Aziz Ansari’s brilliant Netflix series, Master of None, there was one particular episode that I was told I needed to watch because it was by far the funniest of the entire season: episode 8, “Thanksgiving.”
Rather than revolving the story around Ansari, the show pushed his homegirl Denise (played by Lena Waithe who also wrote that episode) into the role of protagonist. The backstory explores their lifelong friendship, but the episode’s central focus centers around the stages of Denise grappling with her lesbian identity and the difficulties of revealing the truth of who she is to her mother Catherine (played by Angela Bassett). From a young Black girl, Denise was always acutely aware that she lived in a family and a community where being queer is framed as a bad choice resulting from inadequate parenting.
After Denise initially comes out to Catherine, her mother reacts with shock, disbelief and disappointment. Two scenes later, we see Catherine confessing to her sister Joyce (Kym Whitley) that she never thought she would have a gay daughter. Joyce reassures her that she has raised an intelligent, hard-working, respectful young woman, therefore making her private life “nobody’s business.”
At one point in the earnest back-and-forth, Joyce says, “Well get used to it, because one of these days she gon’ bring home one of her little girlfriends!” To which Catherine responds, “Oh lord. Oh lord! Well I just hope she don’t bring home no White girl because I don’t wanna see no Jennifer Anistons up in here!”
In a world where prejudice, racism and bigotry are all used interchangeably without little nuance or context, and the racial animus of the historically privileged is frequently falsely equivocated with the perpetually marginalized, it’s easy to perceive Catherine’s comment as symbolic of her ignorance. But the reality is, the comment “don’t bring home no White girl or boy!” is not the overtly simplistic exclamation of intolerance that many oft-handedly perceive it to be.
During the scene where Denise comes out to her mother, they have an incredibly telling exchange that not only exposes the roots of her mother’s homophobia, but also Catherine’s perception of survival for Black women in America.
When Denise say,s “I’m still your daughter. Nothing’s changed,” Catherine’s only response in that moment is to intensely stare through her grown little girl, almost shaking as she holds back her tears.
“What’s wrong? Ma, why you crying?” Denise asks.
Catherine waves her away, fighting back an explosion of tears and says, “I just …I don’t want life to be hard for you. It is hard enough being a Black woman in this world and now you wanna add something else to that.”
In America, interracial dating is still a relatively new thing for Black folks. Without the recent reminder of a movie like Loving, it may be hard to conceptualize how recently anti-miscegenation laws existed in the United States. The final anti-interracial marriage law in America wasn’t overturned until 1967. Hell, even without the existence of direct laws, interracial marriage, dating, sex, or even flirting could mean ruin for a Black person. It was literally courting danger, and that’s a reality that many of our grandparents, great aunts and uncles actually lived. For them, “Don’t you bring home no White girl!” was a statement of security.
And it also must be stated that the stigma of interracial dating can be a cultural restriction among our own people too, especially for Black women. For them, to be seen with a White man can illicit hurtful rhetoric like “coon” and “bed wench” from members of our own race. Battling bigotry on a daily basis is difficult enough, but to have that layered with animosity from other Black people can feel suffocating and isolating. “Don’t you bring home no White boy!” is a statement of racial solidarity wrapped in conflict-avoidance. The same politicism that drives much of our concerns against interracial dating, can also drive our advocacy of it.
When I was in high school, I will never forget hearing the brown-skinned mother of my dark-skinned friend admonish him for dating a beautiful, dark-skinned girl. She told him in no unquestionable terms, “Don’t you bring no little nappy-headed dark girls in my house no more.” He’s now married to a White woman.
Now, of course, there are Black folks who are against interracial dating because they harbor their own bigotry towards White people and they’re just not here for it. Just as there are Black folks who propagate the merits of interracial dating not as a cultural statement, but rather under the simple guise that you should love who you love, regardless of their race. But as the nation finds itself confronting more and more interracial relationships in an age of extreme racial politics, it’s time to unpack the racial divide with much needed nuance.
At the beginning of the episode, Catherine is asked by a preadolescent Denise, “what’s a minority?”
“It’s a group of people who have to work twice as hard at life to get half as far,” Catherine replies. “And Denise, you a Black woman so you gonna have to work three times as hard.”
For some Black folks in America, the complicated reality of protecting your loved ones is less about understanding what they want and more about shielding them from a world looking to tear them down.