It started when I was in the fifth grade. Or, at least, that’s the earliest incident that I can recall, but I’m sure there were other, less scarring incidents before then.
A boy in my class told me I had hairy man legs during gym. I cried in front of my entire class, my teacher yelled at him and made him apologize, and I went home and begged my mother to let me shave my legs.
After a year of me asking relentlessly, she finally caved and showed me how to do it properly. I have shaved my legs at least once a week, every week, in the 16 years since then, scraping away at layers and layers of skin over time, trying to seem like some naturally hairless wonder.
Growing up I always thought ‘my nose is too big,’ ‘I’m too hairy,’ and ‘my eyes are too dark.’ It wasn’t until recently that I realized the subconscious endings to all of those thoughts that I never said out loud was, ‘compared to most white women.’
Vogue magazine’s March 2017 “diversity” issue was, rightfully, ripped to shreds on social media for featuring Karlie Kloss as a geisha, and for including women of “color” on the cover who were all varying shades of the same off-white and posing the only plus-sized model differently to cover up her body.
The photo essentially sent the message that “diversity” is beautiful as long as you still mostly look like a white woman who weighs less than an average 12-year-old and, P.S., cultural appropriation is totally okay.
There have been more people of color featured on magazines, but only in recent years, and not every publication has embraced racial diversity to the same extent.
In fact, while I was writing this piece I even discovered that there’s an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to sexual racism, a concept some people still deny the existence of since everyone is entitled to their dating preferences.
There’s a growing body of evidence suggesting that POC have a hard time meeting and dating people who genuinely find them attractive in a way that does not fetishize their race or ethnicity.
A lot of the literature on racism in dating is anecdotal, though there are some studies published on race and perceived attractiveness. The online dating profiles that say “no spice, no rice, no chocolate, no curry,” though not scientific per se, are perhaps the most damning evidence of all.
I would be an idiot if I pretended to be a completely innocent victim when it comes to racism in dating. I’m part of the problem.
I too grew up in a world where the “hot guy” in every movie I watched and every jock I swooned over in school was a muscular, tall white dude (e.g. Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing).
I received the same message as everyone else: white means attractive. A message that has definitely been reflected in my dating preferences and swiping habits.
I realize I’m focusing mainly on superficial aspects of racial prejudice, but of course, many of our assumptions and hesitations about dating POC go beyond our physical attraction (or lack thereof) for them, due to the inherent complexity of the issue.
For example, I’ve thought for a very long time that most brown men of South Asian descent come from strict immigrant families that cling to patriarchal values (even though I know that’s ridiculous because I am a child of South Asian immigrants and I grew up in a fairly liberal-minded household where we did not respect patriarchal values).
Nonetheless, with the advent of online dating apps that all start with a photo of someone, and some of them leaving only 500 characters in which to write about yourself (a space many people simply fill with emojis now), being superficial is basically encouraged and as such has become a socially accepted norm.
I never started to question the notion of white as the ultimate standard of beauty until the last few years. Historically, my reaction to wish I was a white girl, because life would be easier, instead of asking why, in order to be considered beautiful, I had to look like a white girl.
To this day, I still envy my white female friends who can go out to a bar knowing that some guy will talk to them, flirt with them, and ask them about their varied interests and ideas.
Being hit on by decent, attractive men is an inevitable part of their nights out, and they know they can find someone to go home with them at the end of the night without lowering their standards.
To be clear, being envious doesn’t mean I resent them. It’s not their fault that they are white and were born into a world where they are put on a pedestal.
I just think it sucks that I’m at the other end of the bar explaining to an ignorant guy that I grew up in Waterloo, that’s where I’m really from, I only speak English, and I have never been to India but I guess it’s nice that they have. All of this is only if I’m even ‘lucky’ enough to get a guy to talk to me.
Clearly, even if POC can get past the initial phase of trying to meet someone who genuinely find them attractive, the racial bias within people can still rear its ugly head.
“You’re the most ethnic girl I’ve ever slept with,” is something a white guy once said to me, post-coitus, when we were still in bed. A guy on Tinder once wrote, before saying anything else, “Mmmm, I’ve had an Indian before.”
As I said earlier: being different looking, when it comes to skin color or otherwise, is often fetishized and you end up being a bucket list item, but not someone to be dated seriously.
Have sex with a brown girl: check. Have sex with a curvy girl: check.
I know someone who constantly wonders if guys are only sleeping with him because he’s black and my first instinct is to say, “Of course not,” because I don’t want it to be true but I know there’s a reason he wonders and he’s probably not wrong for doing so.
On that note, I can only speak to my own experiences as a brown woman, but of course, people have different experiences based on their race, gender, and sexual orientation.
My reaction to racist comments and questions from guys on dates is to be immediately turned off because I’ve been ‘spoiled’ by having dated men who would never even think to ask me these questions.
I’ve been dating long enough to know the difference between dating a guy who thinks he’s dating a brown girl, and dating a guy who thinks he’s dating a girl who happens to be brown.
Being seen as a person before being seen as your skin color is a luxury in a world where our racist tendencies are second nature.
Some friends of mine who are also POC think of these racist comments as merely “dumb,” and they choose to ignore that aspect of people they are dating even though they are bothered by it.
Other POC that I know have vowed to only date within their race from now on because they are exasperated and done with being offended by the racist questions and assumptions that have come along with dating outside their race.
So what do we do? Social change has always been slow.
I’m only one person with a lot of opinions but I think we just have to keep talking about it. My friends, more often than not, responded, “That’s not true,” or “You’re being ridiculous” whenever I told them men don’t think I’m attractive because I’m brown.
I would just shut up about it, assuming they perceived my comment as insecurity, which isn’t considered socially acceptable. Now I’ve started to tell them they’re wrong. I don’t want it to be swept under the rug anymore as something I’m making up in my mind.
I want to talk about it. I want to have the uncomfortable conversation with people, and more importantly, with myself.
The next time you’re about to swipe left on a POC on Tinder, ask yourself, would I swipe right if they were white? Am I only swiping left because they are a POC?
Start by asking yourself: am I racist when it comes to dating? And if you’re willing to admit to yourself that you are then start asking why.
We’re all part of the problem, so it naturally follows that we all have to fix it.