4 Ways People of Color Can Deepen the Conversation on Racism in Dating

Two people sitting close to each other while smiling

Two people sitting close to each other while smiling

An article addressing men of color who are predominantly sexually attracted to and pursue white men in regards to sex and dating recently circulated my Facebook newsfeed.

Dear Gay Men of Color: Stop Begging Racist White Gay Men to Love You” by a blogger named The Magical Beautiful Petty Black Prince spoke to an issue I’ve been thinking about for quite some time: the ways that the conversation on racist dating standards continue to center white folks and try to appeal to and appease them.

These conversations frequently speak to white people with internalized white supremacist standards of beauty that exclude people of color from their dating pools and asks them to expand their desires in order to incorporate people of color into their lives through sex and romance.

I definitely think that this is a worthwhile issue that white folks need to address, but the focus of this conversation hides something deeper: the ways that people of color perpetuate these standards, and this harm, among each other.

This is also something that doesn’t impact all people of color equally.

Depending on a variety of factors about our bodies, we’re all in different relations to whiteness. And if we’re also not Black, we likely engage in anti-Blackness.

Because we live in a white supremacist world, we’ve all internalized white supremacy to some degree. Unpacking, unlearning, and resisting it is a lifelong and diligent struggle.

To honor and respect the diversity within the category of people, the first two and last points will be relevant for all people of color, and the third is specifically for other non-Black people of color like myself.

We’ll all slip up, make mistakes, have victories and backslides. This is merely an invitation to try and push the conversation even further.

1. Decenter Whiteness

Like Prince says, these conversation continue to uphold white folks as the holy grail.

They often translate to a desperate attempt to beg white folks to allow us into their hearts and beds as a prized possession.

But we don’t talk about how this frequently comes from desperate and assimilationist attempts to be closer in proximity to whiteness through accessing white partners.

That seems to be the scary truth underlying these conversations coming from people of color. Why else would we be so focused on white people?

When we continue to focus on dating racist white people, asking them to challenge their racism just enough to date us, we act as if white people are the only ones available to date – or, even worse, the only ones worth dating.

White people aren’t our only sexual and romantic options.

But they are the ones with the highest sexual and social capital, that we desperately want them to share with us.

And by continuing to participate in these dynamics, we end up replicating them. We continue to reproduce the systems that privilege whiteness by asking them to incorporate us.

When we give all our time and energy to trying to change the minds of white people, we completely forget about all the amazing other people of color we can be giving our love and attention to. 

2. Confront Our Internalized Racism

One of the tools of white supremacy is not only to train us to think that whiteness is inherently exceptional – and to constantly aspire to it through, among other things, white romantic partners. It also teaches us how to think about people of color – even if we’re people of color.

The conversations around the ways we internalize racism frequently focus on how we were taught to think about ourselves in relation to whiteness.

For example, growing up I was embarrassed about my dark brown nipples, and hated my thick hair. I wanted to be thin and straight so I could have the trendy haircuts that never worked for my hair. I never realized that it was because the trendy hairstyles required types of hair mostly restricted to white people.

It’s a somewhat benign example, but it shows the subtly of the ways white standards are so ubiquitous and presented as the standard for all people.

It’s common to hear folks of color talk about the ways we were taught to hate our features that distinguished us from white standards of beauty.

Whether it was about brown nipples, curly and natural hair, darker skin tone, nose and lips size and shape, eyelids, body hair (having too “much” or too “little”), we were taught to compare.

The ways we’re taught to think about ourselves in relation to whiteness even goes so deep to also correlate to our fatness, body sizes, and shapes.

There are so many ways we’re trained to hate ourselves in relation to how not-white we are. What makes us think we didn’t also internalize ways to also hate each other?

Race and gender are constructed alongside one another. And people of color face so many dehumanizing, desexualizing, hypersexualizing stereotypes based on our race and genders.

From the submissive East Asian woman to the effeminate East Asian Man, the Spicy Latinx, the Invisible Native man and Native American Princess, the list goes on.

It’s naïve and untrue to think that the ways we were taught to dislike ourselves for our lack of white features doesn’t also translate to how we feel about other people of color.

It’s also naïve and untrue to think that these internalizations won’t impact our ability to see other people of color and viable romantic and sexual partners. Rather than begging white folks to unpack all their white supremacy, we can work on our own.

3. Confront Your Anti-Blackness

I think the way anti-Blackness operates in this dynamic for non-Black people of color deserves its own space.

Many non-Black people of color will become frustrated, angry, and disappointed when white folks will inevitably reject us for being people of color. But we may never stop to think about how we might similarly reject potential lovers because of their Blackness.

And, like being with people of color doesn’t mean that white folks have worked through their racism, being with Black folks doesn’t mean that we ,as non-Black people of color, have worked through our internalized anti-Blackness.

In an article that has been incredibly influential to the ways I think about how anti-Blackness operates as a non-Black person of color – including my own participation and investment in anti-Blackness – Scot Nakagawa argues that “Blackness is the Fulcrum.”

What he means is, while racial arrangements are ever-shifting, anti-Blackness is the hinge on which white supremacy operates. For Nakagawa, non-Black people of color operate as actors on the hinge in order to uphold white supremacy through anti-Blackness.

This is a foundational reason for non-Black people of color to turn our romantic time and attention away from Blackness and Black people through focusing on white desires.

Anti-Blackness has positioned Black women as the jezebel figure and Black men as brutes – less than human and hypersexual.

However, rather than asking ourselves how we can take steps to see the humanity of Black folks (which is more than simply saying #BlackLivesMatter), and how we can love, care for, and support Black folks, it seems as though non-Black people of color are more focused on asking white folks to do for us what we continue to deny Black folks.

But like Prince says, he isn’t interested in forming intimate relationships – romantic or otherwise – with folks who are going to perpetuate anti-Blackness against him. And sometimes, anti-Blackness comes from us.

Pandering for the romantic and sexual affection of white people is one way we invest in and perpetuate anti-Blackness.

Unlearning anti-Blackness is difficult. It’s messy. You’re going to hurt people you care about, and you can only hope that they are otherwise gentle and forgiving enough to keep allowing you into their lives after. And it’s necessary.

Thinking through this article has made me reflect on the ways my own non-Blackness intersects with my other embodiments that I experience as oppression and framing my dating and romantic prospects negatively – primarily, my fatness and my femmeness.

Rather than thinking, “is this person not into me because I’m not white,” how would our conversations shift if, instead, we asked “would this person still be interested in me if I were darker-skinned, or Black?”

Instead of attempting to become closer to whiteness, we can check our proximity to Blackness.

We can ask which ways we are complicit in and leverage anti-Blackness for our own gain. We can commit to lifting everyone up, and not only ourselves and those like us.

4. Stop Focusing on Dating

I get that we live in a world that privileges romance and romantic partners, and this is another relationship format we become invested in through that.

From childhood, it’s assumed that we’ll ultimately enter into some couple form, regardless of whether it’s in a same gender relationship, long-term relationship outside of a state-sanctioned marriage, or with multiple partners in a polyamorous relationship.

Even with these non-traditional forms, we’re pressured to ultimately integrate others into our lives through romantic partnerships when we reach adulthood.

And when we’re not in romantic relationships as adults, we are assumed to be seeking one out, as all these conversations on who we decide to date emphasize.

These conversations wouldn’t be considered such a priority if we didn’t live in a world that assumed we’re all dating – and that if we aren’t dating, we should want to.

But we don’t have to.

Instead of asking white people to date us, why don’t we think about other ways to love and care for others – especially other people of color?

We can shift this conversation by divesting from privileging romantic partnerships in our lives.

We do all need love, care, and support, but these forms of interdependency don’t have to be tied to romance. We can give these forms of affection to each other outside of romance.

When we’ve learned to support and rely on each other without romantic attachments, the behaviors of white people will become less and less important.

***

I want us as a community to move beyond aspiring to and desiring towards whiteness, and move toward thinking about how we can love and care for each other in every way.

I don’t hold hostility towards folks who do date white people – I recognize that those relationships are complicated and can frequently be about more than whiteness.

But, as a community of people of color, we can move these conversations beyond white folks as a whole.

I’m no longer concerned about what or who white people do in their free time. That isn’t where my priorities or my politics lie.

What does concern me is how I can improve myself to be better towards other people of color, until the day comes when we’re all truly liberated, together.

We can love each other. We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for.

Caleb Luna is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. They are working-class, fat, brown queer living, writing, performing, and dancing in Oakland, California. They are a first-year PhD student at University of California, Berkeley, and their work explores the intersections of fatness, desire, fetishism, white supremacy, and colonialism from a queer of color lens. You can find more of their writing on Black Girl Dangerous and on Facebook and Tumblr. Read their articles here.