For Most of My Life, I Kept Falling for White Men. This Novel Untangled the Reason Why.

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For Most of My Life, I Kept Falling for White Men. This Novel Untangled the Reason Why.


The first boy I ever had a crush on was white. He happened to be on my favorite TV show at the time: Barney & Friends. When I called my mom to confirm this, she informed me that yes, even when I was just a toddler, I had a type. “Of course he was!” she answered, with a smile in her voice. “All your crushes had blonde hair.” Even though I ultimately married a Black man, I can’t deny the (in retrospect, slightly mortifying) fact: I had a thing for white men for most of my life.

That’s the messy dynamic explored in the much buzzed-about debut book from Cecilia Rabess, Everything’s Fine. In the novel, our main character Jess finds herself romantically drawn to white men, despite having bad experiences with past boyfriends who never saw her as “girlfriend material.” But when Jess lands a job as an analyst at Goldman Sachs, she’s surprised to fall for a former college classmate and coworker, the white conservative Josh, in the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election. Cue the romantic tumult. Their budding friendship as co-workers gives way to a level of intimacy that startles Jess as she begins to emotionally lean on Josh, despite their disagreements about race, identity, and politics. You know, just the small stuff.

They could not stomach the enemies-to-lovers trope being deployed for a romance between a politically liberal Black woman and a MAGA finance bro.

Even before the book had officially been released and only advanced copies of the novel and marketing materials were swirling around, people on BookTok and Goodreads were m-a-d MAD. They could not stomach the enemies-to-lovers trope being deployed for a romance between a politically liberal Black woman and a MAGA finance bro. But for me, it was a fascinating, honest read about the relatable impulse to cleave someone’s politics from the person they are when there’s an undeniable spark, and how hard it can be, even in a romance novel, to reach a happy ending under those circumstances. Sometimes, things aren’t as black and white as we want them to be.

Every Black woman who’s dated outside her race knows the sinking feeling when you realize that the person you’re kind of into is fetishizing you. Whether it was the white classmate in high school who told me that I was the “prettiest Black girl” he had ever seen, or the Tinder match who casually informed me he had never had sex with a Black girl before, the meaning was always clear: my Blackness was seen as exotic, but nothing more. Sadly, feeling like you’re never a serious prospect for white men makes receiving romantic attention from them all the more validating.

Every Black woman knows the sinking feeling when you realize that the person you’re kind of into is fetishizing you.

I related to the fact that Jess desperately wants Josh to be the exception. In college, I met a boy who I thought was my exception. He didn’t comment about my then-relaxed hair or ask to touch my butt in a creepy, racially-charged way. Slowly, we started acting less like friends and more like a couple. We watched Scandal together while drinking wine. We talked about homework assignments during weekly Chipotle lunch dates. We had movie nights when it was too snowy to go out to parties. Hooking up seemed like a natural progression, so we did, despite the fact that his relationship status was murky—he told me he and his girlfriend had a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy while she was abroad. But we both felt terrible about crossing a line. Thankfully, I was going to Los Angeles for an internship at the end of my junior year, and we wouldn’t see each other for months.

During the summer, I got a message from a friend who had been with him at a party. He’d gotten drunk and started talking about how much he liked me. Remember those Scandal nights? Apparently, it was fantasy fodder for him—he compared our relationship to Olivia Pope and President Fitz’s affair. When my friend told me that those words had actually come out of his mouth, I felt my crush-bubble burst. I had foolishly thought my Blackness wasn’t a part of our relationship; that, for once, it wasn’t a factor. I didn’t realize that, for him, it was the main event.

Jess keeps bumping up against the same issues with Josh. She asks herself, “Does he have a fetish for Black girls?” because why else would a white, privileged Republican be into her? But more importantly, why is she into him? Does their off-the-charts chemistry and rapport cross out some pretty essential differences in values? My college situationship was, thankfully, not a Republican (though I regret to inform you that he was, um, actually a libertarian), but I was still drawn to a boy who couldn’t fully see me. For Jess, the issue is even deeper: Josh’s politics ultimately call for her marginalization. Jess is delusional when she tells herself that “everything’s fine,” even as Josh refuses to understand why Donald Trump is dangerous for America, chalking up the soon-to-be POTUS’ racist speech as election rhetoric, and ignoring Jess’s concerns about her and other people of color’s safety.

The problem is that you can no more take politics out of the equation than Jess or I could erase our Blackness.

The book ends at Trump’s inauguration, with Jess and Josh staying together. Of course, we know what horrors await with the coming administration, but the characters don’t. Josh is convinced that the craziness that comes with election season is in the past, but Jess knows better. She ultimately compromises her morals to be with Josh. She is willing to look the other way, ignore his politics, and enjoy their expensive apartment together instead.

Of course, the problem is that you can no more take politics out of the equation than Jess or I could erase our Blackness.

Looking back, I realize I was drawn to white guys for the same reason Jess is willing to put up with Josh’s bullshit: to grasp at some semblance of acceptance, even if it meant muting our identities. Would people care that I was Black if I was on a white man’s arm? The answer is yes, but sometimes that lesson has to be hard-earned. Rabess’s novel brought into sharp relief the fact that colorblindness—and indeed politics-blindness—can’t exist in romantic relationships, at least not in the world we live in, where Black people’s rights are under relentless assault on nearly every front. A love like this will always be fraught. The complications might be external: maybe you’ll receive a racist comment from a stranger while walking hand-in-hand down the street, or a prejudiced family member will make a snide remark. But it’s even more heartbreaking when you realize the call is coming from inside the house: when the person you’re so enamored with fetishizes you, stereotypes you, and downplays how racism impacts you.

Eventually, as I grew up, I stopped seeking out white partners as a way to validate myself. Actually, I stopped looking for romantic partners in general and focused on my own happiness. I no longer work to erase my Blackness—I embrace it. I don’t know how Jess’s story ends beyond the pages of Rabess’s novel, but I hope it goes the same way for her. She deserves someone who can love all of her and isn’t willing to debate her humanity as a political talking point. On that front, there really is no room for compromise.

Headshot of Paulina Jayne Isaac

Paulina Jayne Isaac is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer and editor, who covers politics, culture, and lifestyle (especially when they intersect with race, gender, or mental health). Her work can be found in Glamour, Bustle, The Cut, Well+Good, Stylecaster, and other outlets. When not writing, she can be found listening to Taylor Swift, watching a teen drama (One Tree Hill is her favorite), or perfecting her skin-care routine. You can follow Paulina on Instagram .





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