Dating while dark skinned

Illustrator: Princess Karibo

Race and romance can be a very contentious topic. Particularly within the realm of colourism, conversations about dating within the black community more often than not lead to divisive spats, as opposed to general resolve. After a candid conversation with a close friend at a particularly fed up time I realised some of the qualms I’ve had when it comes to dating black men were more common than I thought. Black men in the UK to be more specific.

Now, I’ll start with admitting that I’m not the most forthcoming when it comes to dating. The raging introvert in me shuns any form of social interaction that may lead to the slightest bit of awkwardness. So, I must accept my own part in failing to secure an active dating life. However, this article is more about general feelings around the desirability of dark skinned women around the world compared to the UK, than how good I am at pulling.

I’ve done a lot of travelling this year, which allowed this observation to come into the fore. The observation being that black men abroad are more likely to overtly show their interest in darker skinned black women. This is a bold statement, I am well aware of that. So, it was only after speaking with friends and reaching out to other black femme travellers that I realised the statement wasn’t as nefarious as it first felt.

I’ll begin with New York, my most recent frivolous expedition. My friends encouraged me to join dating apps during my stay to have fun and meet people. I’m a black woman attracted to black men so my first instinct is to seek them out when getting swipe-happy on Tinder. There’s nothing strange about that. However, what did stick out to me was the differing frame of mind I had when being on dating apps in NY compared to London. At home my usual train of thought is “hmm… he probably doesn’t like black girls”. But I’d been shown more attention from black men in NY in the space of a week and a half than I had in London for God knows how long. So, this time round it was more of a standard “hmm… he seems nice”.

Disclaimer: I know we shouldn’t peg our attractiveness based on how much male attention we get etc. but let’s be frank a little smile, and genuine compliment always does a little something for the self-esteem – we’re human after all!

I was explaining this notable difference to my friend who had moved from London to NY about 3 years ago – let’s call her Jane for the sake of anonymity. A dark skinned black girl just like me. We had an “OMG me too” moment then went on to chatter about how if she hadn’t become an expat or if I hadn’t caught the travel bug we would have hardly known what it meant to be seen as highly desirable or attractive.

Growing up in the UK does very little for the self-esteem of dark skinned girls and so the attention we’d get abroad (that wasn’t fetishizing) initially came as a shock. Jane described how moving to NY gave her more confidence and that she felt more “fanciable”.

Jane had embarked on a trip of self-discovery to the Motherland for about a month at the start of the year where she met her current boyfriend. They met on a night out and when she first saw him she discarded him as a person of interest, even though she was attracted to him. “He looked like he was from London, and I thought he probably wasn’t interested in a girl like me”. Turns out he was born and raised in West Africa and well, the rest is history. Unfortunately for us though, this is the kind of sad vetting system we have acquired over time.

My moment of realisation that the dating scene within the black community wasn’t as disastrous in other parts of the world happened a few months earlier while I was in Salvador, Brazil. Compliments about my skin and being told I was beautiful threw me at first. As a traveller you get used to fetishizing remarks disguised as compliments. But along with seeing other black women revered in the same light, it felt different, it felt genuine. The compliments were kind and appreciative, the sort that unhinge the corners of your mouth to form a gratuitous smile almost immediately. A far cry from being ignored on all my many nights out in Shoreditch.

Now, I’m not delusional – I know that colourism is a global disaster, and others’ experiences of colourism in the places I have mentioned may be even worse than in the UK. While dating as a dark skinned woman seemed a lot easier in New York, I’m aware of the colourism that is prevalent in the US. In other countries I noticed my skin became more attractive depending on the region: in Colombia blackness seemed more celebrated and less of a gimmick in Medellin than in Cartagena. I’ve also been told about an experience in the Dominican Republic where a group of travelling black girls were complimented non-stop about their beauty in the South, but treated with little respect in the North (probably because they were assumed to be Haitian, and if you don’t know about that terrible history, look it up). It would be silly on my part to ignore these things but equally as ludicrous to silence these experiences.

“I’ve accepted that I’ll probably be with a white guy, because they’re more into girls like me”.

Again, “girls like me” meaning dark skin and afro hair. I was told this recently by another friend in casual conversation and it hasn’t left me since. As much as I’d like to keep skin colour out of my dating life, and indeed there is nothing wrong with dating white men. It can be hard when you’re forced to acknowledge colour every time you see a guy you like or decide to take the red pill and jump back on Tinder. There is a lot of learning and unlearning to be done and there aren’t any quick fix solutions to this particular problem. However, I can encourage that we do our best to surround ourselves with things and people that reciprocate love, continue to champion representation to better expose the world to different ideas of beauty. And if possible! Book tickets to Salvador as often as your pockets will allow because you will never regret it!