Oooh! He seems cool!
She also wants to abolish prisons!
He listens to the same music as me.
…but does he or she or they like Black girls?
These are the thoughts that often cross my mind when attempting to date as a Black femme. I’m unashamed to admit that I’ve spent a fair bit of time on dating apps since going into quarantine, and I think about my Blackness a lot as I’m swiping left and right. But this hasn’t just been a dating app situation. I’ve also thought about these things pre-COVID dating. I’ve thought about them almost my entire life since I realized that I wasn’t the beauty standard and wasn’t quite pretty enough for the people around me. My skin is too dark, my hair is too kinky, my nose is too wide, and my body is too thick.
The seeds of realizing that my Blackness would be an obstacle to dating were honestly planted when I was too young to even have serious romance on my mind. In elementary school, a boy used to bully me by calling me a gorilla. At the time, he was making fun of me for the fact that I was growing leg and arm hair before everyone else around me, but the distinct racism in that insult can’t be denied either.
I had my heart broken on the playground in first grade when a ‘boyfriend’ left me to start dating a white girl. Going into middle school, when dating suddenly became the popular thing to do, every boy and girl that I liked never dated a single Black person. I had a boy tell me that I was “pretty for a Black girl.” I spent most of high school in a long term relationship, but whenever I was single and attempted to pursue guys, it was often, very clearly, a hopeless chase. Everyone I was interested in had never dated a Black person in the time that I’d known them.
I had a boy tell me that I was ‘pretty for a Black girl.’
Often when attempting to date, I have always been good friend material, but never partner material, as evidenced by the various times I’ve been friend-zoned. I swipe and swipe on dating apps and rake in a few likes. Outside of catcallers, people do not attempt to pursue me. I’ve thought about pursuing several people, but I always shut myself down and remind myself that they probably don’t like Black girls — just to avoid the heartbreak that might come from actual rejection.
I’ve lost weight, changed my appearance by cutting my hair and getting piercings, completely altered my clothing and style, and moved almost 1,000 miles across the country, but the results never seem to change — people just aren’t interested, regardless of their race.
In the last few years, it’s finally started to click for me that my lack of luck in the romance department might be, in some cases, because of racism being hidden behind preferences. People can look me in the eyes and say how adamantly they despise Trump, want to abolish prisons, and hate racism, but they still would never date a Black person.
People can look me in the eyes and say how adamantly they despise Trump, want to abolish prisons, and hate racism, but they still would never date a Black person.
I’m not the only Black person to have stories like these. What I experience is part of a bigger phenomenon called sexual racism. The term was defined by Professor Charles Herbert Stember in the ‘70s as “the sexual rejection of a racial minority, [and] the conscious attempt on the part of the majority to prevent interracial cohabitation.”
While in some cases sexual racism is intentional, I argue that it’s the internalized sexual racism that can cause the most damage. It goes unacknowledged and is protected because some people just have preferences. When OkCupid did some evaluations of their users, they found that Black women tend to reply the most, but get the least replies. Regardless of the race of the recipient, Black women are rejected and ignored.
We have been taught from the time that we were young what was beautiful and, more subtly, what wasn’t.
Sexual racism is taught. It’s taught directly and indirectly through the media. The top models of the world are white with thin noses, perfectly tanned skin that is not too dark, hair that is bone straight and blonde, and plump lips that are not too big. Up until a few years ago, if you did an internet search for pretty women, the first few pages would be full of white women. The main actresses in television and films are predominantly white. We have been taught from the time that we were young what was beautiful and, more subtly, what wasn’t.
So how do we move forward?
I won’t attempt to tell you. It is not my responsibility to teach you how to be anti-racist. It is not my responsibility to teach you that Black is beautiful or that I am deserving of love. The last few months of 2020 have required Black people to spend all too much of their emotional labor demanding white people to confront racism with others and within themselves, as the slaughter of our brothers, sisters, and siblings has been televised.
The next time you’re scrolling through Tinder, Hinge, or Bumble, or when the world is back to normal and we are able to interact and meet other humans in person, I simply encourage you to think more closely about who you find attractive and who you gravitate toward.
Do they look like you?
Last updated 9/8/20
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