It started off so well. He’s handsome, smart, and absolutely hilarious. We talk about life, relationships, our academic backgrounds, our interests and goals. He looks me in the eyes as if ready to lean in for our first kiss. “You’re so pretty…for a Black girl”.
We’ve been dating for 3 months. He rubs his unwelcomed hands through my natural hair, and tells me about how he’s never dated within his race. White girls just don’t cut it for him. He prefers women like me. Exotic women.
He wonders if my dad is white. Or if my mom is biracial. Or if my grandparents are some kind of Asian. Or some kind of Indian. Or some kind of other, because it’s really all the same. He needs to- has to- demands to know what I really am. There’s no way I’m just Black. He needs to get to the bottom of this mystery. He refuses to be satisfied until he is certain that my Blackness isn’t this beautiful on its own.
I wake up to 13 Tinder messages. Five of which asking where I’m from. Five more professing their love for chocolate. The remaining three have not yet been opened.
When I was 15 it started to really make sense to me. I discovered that my skin would be a target for more reasons than I could previously understand. I learned that race and racism would inevitably spill into each and every aspect of my being. It would consume my classrooms, workplaces, friendships, and as I came to find out, romantic relationships. Trying to be in love and be Black at the same time has seemed to be tiresome. No love stories I’ve seen ever looked this difficult.
There is something so strange about knowing that "not being racist" is a requirement to keep in mind while dating. “I’m looking for tall, dark, handsome, respectful and kind, nothing too picky. Those are totally reasonable standards” my cis-hetero white friends say to me. “Yeah, me too. Tall, dark, handsome, respectful, kind, politically aware, likes me as more than a fetish, isn’t racist, or sexist, or homophobic, or transphobic, doesn’t look at me funny when he sees my natural hair, isn’t an internalized racist, doesn’t refer to sex with me as gaining his “Black belt,” you know, nothing too picky. Totally reasonable standards.” And after that is usually when I’m told that I’m asking for too much, and it makes sense why I’m single.
They will keep telling me to be less picky. They say that there are ways around it. Ways for me to co-exist in spaces that were made by me, but not for me. Spaces so powerful that even the men who look like me won’t come near me. Not unless I’m a little lighter, or a little less outspoken. Maybe they are right, and I can still experience love if I just get past the hate. Maybe if I’m really loud I’ll drown out his racism, or maybe if I’m really quiet I’ll hear the few sweet nothings he whispers when he isn’t spewing ignorance.
Dating while Black-but more specifically, as a Black woman- presents challenges and forces me to set standards that non-racialized women likely wouldn’t even think to consider. From the unrealistic beauty standards that continuously leave Black women out, to fear of not being accepted by family in interracial relationships, to intense feelings of undesirability.
I’ve had this conversation with many friends about how to identify when White folks are dating us out of genuine interest, rather than an experiment or a “phase”. How exactly can I be sure that I’m not someone’s attempt to hook up with as many people outside of their race as possible, and am merely a fetish? But what about when you don’t feel desired by people within your own race? What happens after you find out that rejection is coming just as strong from people who look like you?
And that, right there, is it. These questions and anxieties are what come along with dating for me as a Black woman (of course, won’t be exactly the same for every Black woman.) The stress, and confusion, and rejection that is already a common aspect of dating, becomes more complicated when recognizing that race and racism find ways to be present in every single aspect of racialized people’s lives.
This is racism that isn't always loud. This is slow violence. This is figuring out ways to navigate white spaces. This is little Black girls coming home from school and telling their parents that they wish they were lighter. This is me in the fourth grade going to school with my cornrowed head held high, then rushing home in tears begging my mother to take them out. This is conditioning women and girls of colour from the minute they're born to believe that they are difficult to love. To believe that we are lesser than white women. To believe that we don't know how to give love properly, or receive love properly, or understand love properly. This is fetishization and tokenization and the colonial quest to conquer Black bodies. This is me coming home from dates and questioning my own greatness. Examining my worth with a fine-tooth comb and staring at my body as the enemy.
This is what happens when we try to put Blackness, and womanhood, and love all in the same sentence?