The minefield of inter-racial dating

In the 1991 film Jungle Fever, a married black lawyer named Flipper (Wesley Snipes) begins an affair with Angie (Annabella Sciorra), his white secretary.

In the 1991 film Jungle Fever, a married black lawyer named Flipper (Wesley Snipes) begins an affair with Angie (Annabella Sciorra), his white secretary.

Published Jun 26, 2015


Washington - It was at an Indian restaurant in Manhattan about 10 years ago when they told me.

I was having dinner with a friend from work and two of her friends who'd all met at university. We drank wine and talked about normal, early-20s life stuff - terrible jobs, terrible apartments, terrible dates.

Then my friend turned to her college friends, all black women, and told them I dated black men.

I'm white and, to be clear, I don't exclusively date black men. African-Americans make up about 13 percent of the U.S population, and African American men make up a slightly higher percentage of my dating history.

My friend imparted this news to the others as though she were telling them I always parked in a handicapped space. They looked at me and tisked in a way that was half joking, half very, very serious.

It's so hard for us to find quality black men, they told me. There are more college-educated black women than men. Black men are incarcerated at six times the rate of white men, they pointed out. Don't take black men from us. We want them.

I wasn't super-duper buying it. Wasn't it racist for me to eliminate a possible mate based on his skin colour? And besides, I said, why don't you guys just date men who aren't black?

The response came almost in unison: They don't want to date us.

It was one of those moments that takes a privilege you never realised you had and doesn't just make it visible, it makes it huge.

These women were smart and attractive and funny and vivacious. In fact, each of them outdid me in most of those categories - and I'm pretty vivacious.

But the realities of dating, they were telling me, meant that their race was frequently held against them. Non-black men who dated black women were so rare, they said, that they had given up hope of finding a serious relationship with someone of a different race.

I thought a lot, after that dinner, about whether I was hurting black women by dating black men. But in the 10 years since, I haven't stopped dating them.

Because deciding not to date someone based on race still seemed wrong. How would I even go about it? I imagined trying to explain my reasoning to the next black guy who hit on me at a party: “You're great. Really,” I'd say. “And I'd totally date you except I made a promise to some people not to date black men. No, no, no! Not like that! It's actually the opposite of racist because the people I made the promise to are also black. So, you see, I'm trying to be nice to black people. But to other black people. Not to you. Not right now.”

And then I would, what? Insist that the guy only hit on black women for the rest of the night? Interrupt if I saw him approaching an Asian woman?

I've since moved cities, and I don't keep in touch so much with the friends from that dinner 10 years ago. I also felt like interracial dating was becoming more accepted. At least based on what I was seeing on Facebook and on TV, it didn't seem so rare for black women to date non-black men anymore.

But something else was also happening during that time: More and more people began dating online. According to a 2013 study from the Pew Research Center, one in five adults ages 25 to 34 has gone online looking for dates. Fifty-nine percent of Americans think online dating is a good way to meet people; in 2005, only 44 percent held that view.

And more online dating means more data about people's preferences and online interactions. A recent OkCupid survey validates my friends' frustrations with interracial dating: There is a bias against black women. The company found that, in 2014, white, Asian and Latino men all rated black women about 20 percent less attractive than the average woman, while black men rated them 1 percent more attractive.

White women fared better with non-black men. White, Asian and Latino men rated us between three to six percent higher than average in 2014, while black men rated us 6 percent less attractive than the average woman.

Here's the thing: Dating success isn't based on your average attractiveness, as determined by a website, even a data-hungry one.

I don't want dating to be a hierarchy where a 10 dates a 10, and a five pairs off with a five. I want dating to be about finding someone with a mix of positives and negatives that work pretty well with my own. It's important to me that my partner appreciates my intelligence, values my kindness and can put up with my love of stupid jokes. But I don't want him to date me for my bra size or my skin colour.

The only way I can think of to make sure dating isn't about race is to date without regard to race. So I'm going to keep dating whoever I want, looking for that person who's a good fit for me.

Washington Post

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