Tayo Bero, Women's Health, February 14, 2022
Tiffany Crawford still vividly remembers the first boy who made her feel like she wasn’t good enough—just because she was Black.
As a teenager, she mostly dated people who weren’t Black, but that never presented any issues. “My attraction kind of was towards people outside of my race, because that’s who I was surrounded by,” the now 27-year-old TV producer from Toronto, Canada recalls.
Then, at 17, she dated a boy who opened her eyes to the ways that Black girls and women are often dismissed and cast aside.
“I remember him saying to me that if he brought me home, his grandma would not let me in the house,” she says. “It made me think, ‘I’m good enough to hook up with, but I’m not good enough to be this person’s partner.’”
The comment stuck with Crawford. After that, whenever a future relationship with a non-Black person reached the point of meeting their parents, Crawford worried about what they were going to think.
“I just got it stuck in my head that no matter what, there’s a chance that this person’s family’s not going to like me, and that means that I’m not worth considering as a real partner because of my race,” she says.
Crawford’s experience isn’t rare, unfortunately. The dating landscape for Black women is often bleak and unwelcoming. Both online and IRL, Black women are navigating a dating world filled with microaggressions, colorism, and outright racism.
Black women are the demographic most likely to be unmarried, per a 2019 Pew Research analysis.
Here’s a look at some of the struggles Black women are facing, and how three women healed from past negative experiences, unlearned harmful dating patterns, and found the support they needed.
Systemic racism and white supremacy have played a big role in labeling black women as “undesirable.”
These issues prop up women of other races, and make it more difficult for Black women to be recognized for their beauty, says Taryn Codner-Alexander, a licensed mental health counselor and owner of Tea for the Soul Mental Health Counseling in the Bronx, New York.
Throughout history, Black features like darker skin and kinky hair have been greatly disparaged, while more Eurocentric features like long hair and fairer skin are favored, according to the Journal of Black Psychology. This devaluing of Black women’s bodies can present major issues for Black women dating outside their race.
These biases around physical appearance also manifest themselves in the digital dating space. Online, Black women are considered far less desirable than white women, according to data from a 2014 study by OKCupid. After looking at millions of interactions on the site between 2009 and 2014, studying how people rated potential dates on a scale of one to five based only on a view of their profiles, researchers found that Black women received the lowest ratings of all women on the platform.
The notion that Black women aren’t feminine is also a product of the historical racist stereotyping of Black women, one that persists in popular media today. For example, tennis legend Serena Williams is consistently being called “manly” on social media.
White women tend to be characterized as feminine, delicate, or frail, while these traits are usually not afforded to Black women. Instead, Black women are often masculinized and vilified, especially when they don’t fit into these Eurocentric versions of femininity, according to a study from the journal Race and Social Problems.
Black women in the LGBTQ community also face structural barriers to finding a partner. They still face the “person-of-color outsider” status in LGBTQ communities, meaning that they are still othered for being a POC, despite being a part of or identifying with the larger queer group. And that othering makes it harder to date people outside of their race. What’s more, research published by Fordham University found that LGBTQ people of color have historically been pushed out of “gayborhoods” in the U.S. That, in turn, creates a kind of segregation that further hinders the establishment of meaningful and equitable connections.
Colorism is a challenge for many Black women as well.
Unrealistic beauty standards are also a hurdle for Black women dating Black men who have internalized colorism, and who have been socialized to find women more desirable and valuable if they fit into Eurocentric “ideals.”
Black women are often exoticized and fetishized.
But discrimination doesn’t always look like avoidance. Sometimes it involves attention for negative reasons, says Sarah Adeyinka-Skold, PhD, assistant professor of sociology at Furman University. Non-Black men often exoticize or fetishize Black female partners. This can manifest in comments about skin tone or hair color, or even the perpetuation of age-old stereotypes about Black women being hypersexual or “freaks.”
Healing and managing healthy relationships isn’t easy, but it’s possible.
Talking openly about issues like racism and colorism with your partner is something Codner-Alexander recommends to her clients. If a Black woman is dating outside their race, they should assess whether or not the relationship feels like a safe enough space to have conversations about racial issues. “If your partner is someone who is from a group that holds privilege like the white community, are they willing to be an ally for you when you’re being discriminated against?” Codner-Alexander asks.
Seeking dating spaces specifically for Black people is another option. After her negative encounters with people outside her race, Abbaro started dating Black men more often. “I find that there’s a lot more empathy,” she says. “I feel like someone who isn’t Black, they can empathize, but they just wouldn’t really get it.” Apps such as BLK, which are designed for Black singles only, could be a good route for women who want to date within their community.
For Adeyinka-Skold, it is vital that Black women know, simply, that they are enough. “Black women should always be seeking spaces—whether in LGBTQ relationships or hetero relationships or polyamory—where people recognize that they are fully human,” she said. “And because they’re fully human, they’re fully enough.”