I Am Deneeta Pope, AKA Paul Ryan's "Black Ex-Girlfriend"

Maybe someday the white dude I dated in college will run for vice president and all my business will get put out on the streets.

Sep 4, 2012 at 11:30am | Leave a comment

Stew was totally fly for a white guy. I remember the first time I admitted out loud that I liked him. It was the morning before a football game and the cheer squad was huddled on the concrete in the front of the team bus gobbling down ham, egg-and-cheese bagels before we had to squeeze into our uniforms.

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"He said he was 'all about me' last night," I casually announced to a captivated audience of virgin freshmen and veteran sophomores.

"Annnnd? Thennnn?"

"I said I was all about him too!" I yelled, thrusting my foil-wrapped bagel into the air triumphantly. A smile splitting my face like a lightning. The squad clapping like thunder. It was a moment. The moment.

I'd fallen for a white southern boy from Florida. The guy who drew penises on the dry erase board hanging on my door and renamed all the files on my desktop "vagina." Stew was also the guy who walked with me to get bagels past midnight (why did we eat so many bagels in college?) and tore off half of his without hesitation when a homeless man said he was hungry. 

We lasted all of three weeks. Mainly because it was college, but also because I watched him play air guitar unironically. The next semester he dyed his blond hair black and stopped hanging out with the jocks. We didn't talk again for years. Not until he got engaged to a girl he said reminded him of me.

I was reminded of Stew (not his real name, come on, ya'll) after I read the recently regurgitated story of vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan's "black ex-girlfriend." Like that's seriously this grown woman's epithet now. Black ex-girlfriend.

In 2005, Ryan, the republican congressman from Wisconsin, told Milwaukee Magazine that his college sweetheart was black. 

"I have a sister-in-law who's African American. My college sweetheart was black."

Oh. OK.

Since then this mysterious magical black woman, Ryan's Bagger Vance of romance if you will, has been "revealed." Her name's Deneeta Pope. She's a married IT consultant in Chicago and a Democrat. Why is this news? 

Unlike young Barack Obama's quirky "love letters" crammed with smarty pants porn, nothing at all significant about Pope and Ryan's relationship has been uncovered aside from the obvious fact that he is white and she is black. That's the story. That's the peg. That's pathetic. 

For her part, thus far Pope hasn't signed her name on the racist hall pass this new plotline clearly represents. 

"Paul is a very nice guy, a kind guy and a family guy. He's very approachable and a very likeable person," she told the Daily Mail, adding, "It tells you the kind of guy Paul is when you learn that he has remained friends with all of his friends that he met in college."

Pretty vanilla stuff when you consider the entire interview is predicated on the swirl factor. 

Anyone with a lick of sense knows that having a black girlfriend, sister-in-law, doorman or dentist doesn't really mean much in the grand scheme of things, especially when you have to tick them off like bullet points on a "I'm Not Racist" resume. Ryan offering up his black friend credentials is one thing, a thing I'd honestly expect from someone whose policies aren't all that friendly toward poor (read black and brown) people.

What's surprising to me is the reaction one of my colleagues, Keli Goff, got after writing of Ryan's interracial past, "If you want to know where a politician's heart lies when it comes to a particular community, it may be best to look at that person's policies -- such as his or her record on civil rights --  rather than personal relationships. In her piece Goff pointed to research that shows "those who hold stereotypes about a particular group of people are unlikely to have those stereotypes altered merely by encountering someone who defies that stereotype. Instead, they are likely to view the individual defying said stereotype as an exception."

That makes sense right? Not according to some of the hatemail Keli got. Apparently simply asking the question, "Does it matter that Paul Ryan had a black ex girlfriend" is in itself "playing the race card," according to the admittedly conservative-driven backlash Goff said she received after writing a piece that neither condemned or criticized Ryan. 

I wouldn't want to be Deneeta Pope right now or probably ever. I wouldn't want a nosey reporter asking me questions about a man I dated in college only because I was black and he was white. And conversely, when I end up running for supreme ruler of the universe someday, I wouldn't want someone asking Stew about me either. Mostly because god knows what he'd say and also because he probably wouldn't say anything different from what any other man might, a romance CV that could range from "She was awesome" to "Helena Andrews? Fuck her!" Race wouldn't matter, only my own character would.