Nona Willis Aronowitz, Teen Vogue, March 10, 2022
All of my friends have boyfriends and I don’t. It doesn’t help that I’m the only Black girl in our friend group and we go to a predominately white school. I feel so left out and ugly. What do I do?
—Marie, 14, she/her
First let’s acknowledge that feeling excluded and undesired is truly the worst, no matter what age you are. But at 14, you’re also at an age when hormones rage and being coupled up becomes a status symbol. As some people’s romantic lives blossom, others get left behind, and the latter situation can be social torture, plain and simple.
But, as you seem to know, your situation goes beyond the universal experience of feeling left out. You’re also bumping up against some deep-seated racism embedded in our culture’s romantic and sexual expectations. This racialized exclusion is not your imagination: A recent analysis found that Black women faced the most discrimination among online daters. “We live in a world that has, at present and historically, set standards of beauty and acceptance that are exclusionary by design,” says Shadeen Francis, a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in sex therapy, emotional intelligence, and social justice. “They exclude people of color, people with disabilities, fat people, people who are living in poverty or have low income, people over middle age, and anyone who doesn’t fit the current trends and social norms.” In the context of social justice, she says, this is called “the politics of desirability.”
Many of our beauty standards and notions of sexual appeal have their roots in supremacy and oppression. Of course there are exceptions, but after all these years the women who are generally valued most sexually and romantically tend to be white, young, thin, able-bodied, and wealthy. So you’re not simply feeling left out, Francis explains. As a Black girl, you’re part of a group of people who “have been historically excluded for unjust reasons beyond our control.” And this exclusion can be especially painful when you’re a teenager and “trying to learn more about yourself, looking for acceptance from your peers, and are undergoing a lot of physical, emotional, and social changes,” Francis says.
These racist standards might be especially prevalent among the students at your predominantly white school. In the absence of personal experiences with people of color, white people might hold onto stereotypical views based on what they see on social media and in pop culture.
Damona Hoffman, certified dating coach and host of The Dates & Mates podcast
I absolutely can relate to Marie’s experience having attended predominantly white schools my whole life and always [being] the odd one out, until I discovered online dating and realized there was a dating pool beyond my immediate social circle. As Marie gets older and is able to expand her dating pool into more diverse communities, her dating options will expand as well.
My recommendation for Marie is that she takes actions that expand her social circle and her chance at meeting people with alternative experiences. Are there more diverse groups, sports teams, or other activities that she can participate in that will bring new people and new points of view into her life? Also, can she seek out more images of Black beauty? White beauty is still the default for our culture and even though American culture has become more inclusive, you still have to make an effort to program a new algorithm on social media and consume different content to prioritize Black voices and imagery.
My home growing up was filled with Black art and, living in a world that was essentially devoid of other Black imagery, this was a crucial element of my development of self. Attracting love always starts with self-love, and when Marie can see beauty herself in Black culture, she will be able to attract someone who appreciates who she is, including and not in spite of, her Black identity.