I had a very strong feeling that for me and many other Black women, now would be the worst time to find anything “real” on dating apps. Unfortunately, I was right. Allow me to explain what dating during a global heath crisis looks like for Black women—a time that some may consider “the peak of online dating” and “the best time to find a relationship.”
Very simply put: Virtual dating has opened up the opportunity for non-Black men to fully explore what dating a Black woman is all about. This comes even if their family is racist, even if their mothers would never approve, and even if they have no intention of actually, legitimately considering a Black woman for a relationship.
You see, I've found that behind the Zoom screens and FaceTime dates are non-Black singles using this time to be taste testers—you know, to sample different Black women as appetizers without committing to the whole entrée (…or relationship).
And some non-Black people, white men especially, are capitalizing on exoticism behind closed doors. With no reason to present a relationship to the public sphere (because, hi, we literally can't go places), and with video dating now mainstream, dating Black women may be an experiment or itch to scratch behind the safety of a screen. And, not that I need to remind you, but that is not okay.
For me personally, after testing the waters with dating apps like Hinge, Bumble, and Tinder during my time in isolation, I noticed an alarming trend: White men were matching with me more often, and those conversations often went immediately to sex.
I couldn’t pin exactly what felt so off about it until I noticed the other worrisome reoccurrence: They all had at least one thing to say about my Blackness. Sometimes it started with a casual nickname of “Black goddess” or being described as “caramel.” But other times, as things proceeded without the prospect of actually meeting up, it went further.
Under the pretense of wishing they could meet me in real life, guys would start describing my body in anticipation, “No offense, but your ass looks amazing,” a white man from Tinder once texted me after only one casual Zoom date prior.
“I bet it looks even better in person,” he said.
But no matter how much I tried to avert the conversation away from sex, it always came back to my body and its features. After two weeks of frustration, I blocked him from my phone and uninstalled Tinder. It was just too easy for him to lead me to believe he wanted to “someday” date me in a fake future in order to get what he wanted in the present.
I wish I could tell you that’s the only occurrence I’ve personally dealt with. It’s not.
One man told me on our third Zoom date that his family would never approve of him dating a Black woman. He mentioned more than once that he’d never brought a Black girl home and couldn’t imagine how his parents would react. I asked him what he meant by that.
“It’s just…it’d be really different for them, you know?” and proceeded to quickly change the subject.
As if that wasn’t awkward enough, I’ve had non-Black men, usually white men, ask me if I can do stereotypical things, like twerk, saying it's something that motivated them to talk to me in the first place. They’ve also asked me if I can sing, if I love wearing yellow, if I opt out of sunscreen because of my brown skin, and again, and again, if I can dance.
Listen, a reminder: “Black women are not a monolith. For someone to assume that any Black woman is either a good dancer or knows how to twerk is indicative of someone’s assumption that all Black women have had the same set of experiences and exposures,” says licensed clinical social worker Ayana Ali. “This illustrates an inability to view Black women as individuals who have varying as well as unique talents and aptitudes. It’s stereotyping at its best.”
The issue is widespread and rampant. Popular YouTuber Asha Christina, who has nearly 131K subscribers to her channel, has also received the “Can you twerk?” infatuation from non-Black men. On top of being asked this question, she has recently received messages like “Oh my god, I love your lips, they’re so full” and “I love your complexion, you’re like this caramel latte kind of thing.”
“No one wants to be related to food like that,” Christina says. “There is a difference between being interested in learning about different races or cultures while dating and being hyper-focused on specific characteristics or stereotypes.”
And then there's Patricia Lewis, another Black single maneuvering dating apps right now, who recently had a white man message her “I want to orally service you ebony queen."
In my experience, there are men like this who use cyberspace as a way to test their conceptualizations of Black women. They want to see if Black women are as “wild” and “loud” as the media portrays them to be, or if they at least look similar to the Black women in music videos they’ve watched.
So it seems that on top of an already existing plethora of discriminations that Black women face, racialized dating during the pandemic is unfortunately another to add to the list. Like systemic racism, this isn’t just an individualized phenomenon that only I am facing, it’s a collective struggle for many other Black women who are using dating apps.
And during new waves of Black Lives Matter protests, with so much easily accessible information about Black people—and Black women specifically—it is a shame that fetishism is perpetuated so easily through the pandemic.
Christina may have put it best: “I want someone to see beyond my race and color.” Gentlemen—take note.
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