The Whitening by Matthew E. Henry

“They transferred this Anglophilia to their six children and sixteen grandchildren. Except for an occasional and unaccountable insurgent who chose a restive black, they married “up,” lightening the family complexion and thinning out the family features.”

– Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye

She’s late, but he’s not surprised. It’s almost always the case with the darker ones, especially the Negroes. He likes that the Orientals are punctual, usually early. Early is on-time; on-time is late. The Hispanics are somewhere in between. Swirling his drink around the double-walled glass, he leans back on the bar and surveys. This is out of character. He normally picks his hunting blinds with far more care, but he’s in the mood for a mental challenge, and he has the time. 

He catches the eye of a few. They smile. Prospective quarry for another night. He shows his straight white teeth. He knows he looks virile, simultaneously strong and sensual. Tall and broad-shouldered. The hint of grey at the temples exudes something they find irresistible. He’s the result of centuries of proper breeding. He chuckles at his choice of internal diction, remembering the first time, how he had absently stumbled into a pussy-hat rally, surrounded by mostly white social justice warriors, the smell of patchouli oil and unshaved armpits caked with backing soda-based deodorant stifled him. But then he noticed what a co-worker would later label “a brown goddess,” what his little sister—the black sheep of the family—would later call “Beyoncé-lite,” shining in all her Black girl magic at the edge of the crowd. The moment she turned, caught his eye, and smiled, the idea took shape. 

He’d read the numbers. No tweaking of census questions, or electrified boarder walls would stem the brown tide from stealing our jobs. No affirmative action reform or trade war could divert the yellow stream of silk and curry saturating graduate school positions. Sunday suppers with his family were filled with talk of the perils of race-mixing. The evils of miscegenation were breast-fed. His grandpa, lips stained with chaw, spits about how they multiply like vermin, rats and coons. His brother sends weekly emails about demographic shifts, and uses “minority-majority” like a road-rage curse. They’re both right, in their way. Given the inevitable, the approaching storm of beige babies, he would do his part. But they would never understand, so he kept his plan to himself.

He grew more adept at picking his prey. Studied which hunting grounds were flusher with potential for the most dangerous game. Faux-browsing in bookstore sponsoring a reading by the latest NPR-approved pundit. Asking for directions outside of a campus’ BSU, ASU, MSU, or La Raza meeting, knowing coffee would follow. Sitting in authentic restaurants on the boarders between pre-gentrified ethnic enclaves and the suburbs, a dog-eared copy of Guevara or Malcolm or Vera Cruz in hand.  And of course Whole Foods.

Later, sobbing in a friend’s apartment, stroller along the wall, they were forced to admit that it wasn’t his attention or his charm, so much as his ability to make his objectification, his fetishization, not only acceptable, but desired. That a rich white boy from the south found them so beautiful and captivating. How he masterfully feigned his feeling of profound privilege to be allowed in their sphere, their community, their bed. Much later they recognized that he manipulated their racial insecurities to get them in heat. 

He had run the numbers, read the studies. He preferred those who found birth control a patriarchal imposition. Regardless, his condoms always had surgical imperfections. A strong faith or other misguided pro-choice morals, assured a live birth 73% of the time. Only 2% resulted in sealed adoptions. His eyes, the timbre of his voice, simultaneously baleful and joyful, conveyed his commitment to paternity, nuptials, and picket-fences. His father’s fortune—left untouched on principle, part of the separation he needed from their backward ways, the family who would never accept their love, and who would never be met—meant they could put their dreams, their academics and professional aspirations, on hold, only on hold, while they established their life together. Two months after she held their child, he would leave for work, and never return. Cell phone disconnected. Condominium empty. No forwarding address. 

Why attempt to keep the race pure, when he could improve theirs? He enjoyed the benevolence of it all. What apex predator shared its adaptations so generously? Instead of being left red from tooth and claw, they are bestowed a blessing from his ancestral gift of astonishing virility. To say nothing of the fact that, with their hands baby-full, one more dwindling spot was opened to a more qualified white man. He’s doing it for the culture. What more could he do? He’s considered bedding more than one at a time, but that requires more planning, tracking, and…

He sees her enter the bar, Black and beautiful. He waves enthusiastically, showing his straight white teeth. He can see the end of the hunt in sight. In ten months he’s sure his ledger will contain another hashmark next to the phrase, “stuffed and mounted.” 


MEH is Matthew E. Henry, a poet who dabbles in prose. The author of Teaching While Black (Main Street Rag, 2020) and editor-in-chief of The Weight Journal, MEH’s recent works are appearing or forthcoming in The New Verse News, Ninth Letter, Ploughshares, Poemeleon, Porcupine Literary, The Radical Teacher, Rejection Lit, Solstice, and Versification. His website is here. His Twitter profile is here.

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