Racism rears its ugly head constantly in the dating lives of black women in a white man's world.
By
Jennifer Neal

16 Jul 2018 - 2:21 PM  UPDATED 16 Jul 2018 - 2:26 PM

When I first moved to Germany, I met a doctor who had worked for a humanitarian organisation. He spoke five languages, read all my favorite books and we could speak for hours about politics, art and life.

One night, we ate burgers in the dirty heat of Kreuzberg, and walked all night through the city until he dropped me off at my Airbnb.

Needless to say, I was impressed. Apparently, so was he – quick to extend an invitation for me to visit him at his new post in Africa.

But something about him didn’t feel right, and I couldn’t put a finger on it until I decided to go with my gut and end it a few weeks in.

That was when he told me that he was a rich, white doctor who made €11,000 [$A17,000] a month – to use his exact words.

Women in Haiti, Peru, Cameroon and the Dominican Republic all threw themselves at his feet – so who the hell was I to refuse him?  

As a stand-up comedian, my dating life is an infinite well of fodder for my on-stage antics. Most of the conversations that other women reserve for their Sunday brunch catch-ups with girlfriends or private group chats are all laid out in their plain, naked glory before a crowd of complete strangers who find endless amusement in the cringe worthy and, at times, heartbreaking reality of being a black woman dating in the age of the internet. But when I’m approached after sets and pressed about the authenticity of my stories, I tell them all the same thing: every word is true.

To be fair, love isn’t easy for anyone. It never has been. If that were the case, then we would be suffering from a dire shortage of breathtaking artwork, poetry, architecture, literature, self-help books, bad movies starring Katherine Heigl, faerie tales and overly-saccharine pop tunes that really do a disservice to address the crushing reality of trying to emotionally, intellectually and physically connect with another human being.

Even if you do, there’s a reasonable argument to be made that the real work begins after the fact. And I’ve never met an individual, happily matched or otherwise, who said “You know, the self-flagellation I commit daily to seek validation from another human being is really the best part of my day.”

Women in Haiti, Peru, Cameroon and the Dominican Republic all threw themselves at his feet – so who the hell was I to refuse him? 

Race does, unfortunately, add another gigantic element of complexity. In my experience, these dynamics with non-black men usually play into one of two narratives: fetishisation or vilification. More time than I care to recall, I’m either playing an unwitting role in helping a completely mediocre white guy who’s grown up on really bad hip hop realise his life-long dream of having a sassy black girl on his arm to raise his social capital, or I terrify him with my muscular physique and razor sharp retorts, causing him (or worse, his family) to question their fragile self-image as the spectacular white saviours society has raised them to be. 

It’s true that men are described as opinionated and determined, whereas women are stigmatised with the labels “bossy” and “loud.” But as a black woman, I’ve been described as threatening. Intimidating. Scary. Hostile. Aggressive. Argumentative.

I’ve never met an individual, happily matched or otherwise, who said “You know, the self-flagellation I commit daily to seek validation from another human being is really the best part of my day.”

It’s a collective woe shared by many of my black women friends who date or have dated white men. We are constantly self-policing our tone, words and mannerisms to diminish whatever perceived threat we present by virtue of simply existing. If gaslighting were an Olympic sport then white men who refuse to own the racialised responsibilities of dating outside of their race would be awarded a collective gold medal.

In Australia, I found myself completely at odds with the dating environment, where I was treated more like an exotic curiosity than a human being with a job, thoughts, or feelings. Men who had grown up watching the United States’ racial conflicts came out strongly against police brutality and segregation, but were completely blind to the homegrown bigotries they held towards Aboriginal people.

Navigating beauty standards around the world as a black woman
The definition of beauty changes constantly, and mostly in a way that doesn’t consider blackness in any meaningful way.

There is absolutely nothing more infuriating than the “good intentions” of well-meaning white men who assume that because they’ve never burned a cross on anyone’s lawn, that they are down with a cause that they believe begins and ends with a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote taken completely out of context.

It’s infuriating because these are the same men who think that all black women have large butts. Or that all black women sing, or dance, or are involved in the hip hop industry in some tangential way.

That we all have strong family dynamics and are hoarding the recipe to our grandmother’s special fried chicken somewhere in our lucky underpants.

That we all are fierce and indestructible; a trope that lends itself to the dangerous assumption that we don’t need empathy, compassion or support. And I have been left far too many times to repair the wounds of racist comments simply because it was believed I was “better equipped than most” to handle them, when each confrontation tore a chunk out of my will to exist in this world to begin with.

We are constantly self-policing our tone, words and mannerisms to diminish whatever perceived threat we present by virtue of simply existing.

But dating within my race isn’t what I would call a solution either. After living abroad for 10 years now, meeting a man with similar interests, experiences, values and goals is an exercise in frustration as a whole – but narrowing the pool of acceptable applicants to those who share the same skin colour would guarantee me a golden girls' membership in spinsters anonymous. 

When we talk about interracial dating, it often takes the form of black and white. But some of the most meaningful relationships I’ve had in my life have been with people of Southeast Asian, or Middle-Eastern descent. Not that this makes me progressive in any way - I don’t wear my dating history as a certification of my bleeding leftist ideology. But if it hadn’t been for these experiences, I would be so much poorer in my understanding of love, acceptance and kindness – not because of where they came from or the colour of their skin, but because of who they were.

I don’t understand the exclusionary politics people play in dating. If stupidity doesn’t discriminate, then I sure as hell won’t.

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