Crushing on someone is difficult, to say the least. It makes you this overanalyzing, nervous wreck who can’t stop daydreaming and talking about the possibility of getting with this person who probably doesn’t even deserve your time and energy. It’s hard enough to worry about whether your outfit is on point, your hair being a wild, frizzy mess, and if your skin is acne free, without having to worry about whether someone won’t like you simply because of the color of your skin. Unfortunately, it is what women of color have to take into consideration every time they look for a significant other.
When I am interested in someone, the fact that the color of my skin plays a factor in the interest level of the other person is always in the back of my mind. If you know me, you know I’m in love with Justin Bieber, but I obviously do not think I have any chance of dating him. When I was younger, I truly did. I would sit in my room blasting songs like “One Less Lonely Girl” and “That Should Be Me” waiting for the day Justin Bieber would come and sweep me off my lonely feet. I would also look in the mirror and constantly compare myself to girls Justin had been seen with, and critique every part of me–from my sleepy eyes, to my imperfect smile, to my dark(-er) skin. Bieber was actually dating a woman of color at the time: Selena Gomez. I was very happy to see that Bieber was open to dating women of different ethnicities. However, I couldn’t help but notice that people would always bring up the fact that she is Mexican in a very derogatory manner. Why would race matter in the context of a relationship? People would always find imperfections on her face and body and if they couldn’t find anything, they would mercilessly attack her race. An example of this was on “The Roast of Justin Bieber” when comedian Jeff Ross had this to say about the relationship:“Selena Gomez had sex with you, proving Mexicans will do the most disgusting jobs Americans just won’t do.” I could just imagine the kinds of things people would say about me being Indian if I was dating someone with even a small amount of the success, popularity, and beauty Justin Bieber has. My best friend’s brother had posed a question to me that absolutely shattered me this one day of my freshman year: “But how can you date Justin Bieber if you’re Indian and he’s white?” I cried for five hours straight. It’s not that I truly cared what my best friend’s annoying little brother thought but to hear my insecurities regarding my race spoken out loud by someone else–a straight, white boy–was too much for me to bear. After that, I knew for sure that racism would always follow me, even when it came to finding love. Looking back on it, it’s sad to see how ashamed I was of myself. I can’t remember ever feeling so frustrated with my identity. I was so ashamed of the color of my skin and my culture instead of the society that was destroying me.
Another issue is the problematic people who use “People who are [insert race other than white] aren’t my type,” as an excuse to dismiss an entire race of people. Let’s just make this perfectly clear: this is inherently racist. How can you say that you are only interested in people who have European features and not comprehend the bigotry behind this statement? Apps like Tinder and OkCupid make racism, misogyny, and fetishization even more apparent. Kevin Lewis, a sociologist at University of California-San Diego, conducted a study in which he examined messages to determine how and if racial biases affected someone’s likelihood to date another person. He took a look at the five largest racial categories of Black, White, Asian, Latino, Indian, and discovered:
“Most men (except Black men) are unlikely to initiate contact with Black women, all men (including Asian men) are unlikely to reply to Asian women, and although women from all racial backgrounds tend to initiate contact with men from the same background, women from all racial backgrounds also disproportionately reply to white men.”
I can just imagine a bunch of white, straight boys sitting around swiping through Tinder together right at this moment and swiping left to girls who they find undesirable while saying things like, “Swipe left, she’s [insert any race besides white].”
I personally have gotten countless messages asking me about my ethnicity, telling me I look “exotic,” and that they have been with other Indian girls before, as if this has anything to do with me as an individual. It makes me especially uncomfortable to get this kind of message: “Hey, I have a thing for Indian girls,” or“You are so pretty for an Indian girl.” FOR AN INDIAN GIRL?! They make me feel like a wild animal in a zoo that people can gape at, as if I am so inferior that are doing me a favor by just messaging me. On dating websites, the act of only choosing a person based on the color of their skin and making racist, misogynist remarks to women of color is more prevalent, but it happens offline as well. Interracial couples are constantly seen as a product of fetishization, a way to elevate one’s status, and always receive comments like, “You’re going to have the cutest mixed babies.” This promotes the idea that being partially white is more attractive than being wholly black or fully any other minority. There is even blatant racism between two people of the same race who are looking for love. There are people who strive to find women who are not of the same race and in doing so, extend racial microaggressions. I hear black men saying things like, “I will only date light skinned women,” very frequently. We as women of color should not allow ourselves to feel inferior to these men or women, who treat us as these exotic “others” that should feel privileged to be involved with them, who see us as their fetishes instead of the strong, capable women that we are.
Prasuna Cheruku attends Emerson College and currently works at Kiss 108 Radio in Boston, MA. She is from Lexington, MA.