Am I Single Because I'm Black? The Complicated Realities of Race and Dating in College

Valentine’s Day is coming soon. For millions of women it means chocolate, flowers and other forms of commercialized adorations from a loved one. For me, it is just a reminder of my perpetual state of singleness. I will spend February 14th alone, but also will a good number of my Black female classmates. There is a strong presence of straight, single Black females at many predominantly white college campuses like mine. It is not a coincidence.

As a little Black girl dreaming of my college days I never imagined I would be single the entire four years. In every montage that I played in my head, I always had a partner by my side. Did life work out that way? Not even close. Blame it on watching Love and Basketball on repeat as a teenager, but I thought college was a place anyone could find a real love. I did not understand how my Blackness would make dating at my predominantly white school a rather difficult situation.

A still from the movie <em>Love and Basketball.</em>
A still from the movie Love and Basketball.

Traditional dating in any collegiate scenario is rough for any person, but dating as a straight Black woman in a PWI is so difficult because there is a scarcity of people who want to date Black women. Despite increasing representation in the media, Black female beauty still is not as widely esteemed as European or Asian female beauty is. Black women cannot romantically access the majority of individuals on their campus.

This scarcity of a dating options is most highlighted by the low numbers of Black men in predominantly white institutions. The majority of Black women date a partner of the same race. This is tricky at PWIs because Black men are so scarce at PWIs. Heterosexual Black women have to deal with disproportionate Black female to male population ratios on their campus. Most PWIs enroll about three Black women for every two Black men. Due to many systematic factors that siphon young Black men to jail cells or graves at young ages, Black men are even more underrepresented in schools that already pitifully boast a 5-10% Black student population.

Black women cannot romantically access all the Black men on their campuses. Not all straight Black men want to seriously date another black woman. Hookup Culture is a real phenomenon and there are black men included among those who have no desire to have a long term relationship during their university years. There also is a contingent of a university’s Black male population that prefer dating women of other races over Black women. Every time I see a Black man I instinctively wonder if he likes Black girls, which is a notion my female friends of other races never have to worry about.

In a perfect world interracial dating would be a commonplace thing for Black women, but on college campuses it is rather rare. The amount of Black women who date outside their race in my university is a fraction of the amount of Black men who date outside their race. Black bodies have been characterized and hyper-sexualized in American society for years, but these stereotypes have led Black men to be highly desired by other races while Black women are highly shunned by other races.I have met non-Black men – including progressives who love Obama and read Ta-Nehisi Coates – who will bluntly say they would not date a Black woman. Or at least date her publicly.

There are non-Black men who do find Black women attractive and are in relationships with Black women, but they are not the majority. A circumstance I often hear of is non-Black men who seem afraid or unsure of how to approach Black women. While it is understandable to have nerves, it seems rather unacceptable to have so much fear. The stigma of the strong Black independent woman that is scary to engage with is extremely false. We do not require a special set of instructions to talk to or interact with. We are kind and human just like any other race of women.

Non-Black and Black Men who dislike Black women often chalk it up to their preferences. Preferences are normal, but they do not arise in a vacuum. They are shaped by social and environmental factors. I often hear people stating the reasons they do not like Black women, without stating what caused them to have that viewpoint. Were you born finding black features unattractive or were you born to a society that told you black women were not worth bringing home? Is it in your DNA to dislike brown skin and kinky hair or did you grow up with shows and billboards painting Black women as ghetto prostitutes or mammy-like maids? Not desiring a Black woman romantically does not make you a racist, but it does mean that you have had had your romantic outlook shaped by racialized notions.

There are many college-age Black women in happy and healthy relationships. I have friends who have relationships that are #BlackLove personified. Likewise, there are many unbelievably smart and talented Black women who will not have a romantic partnership largely because of their race and the stigmas directed towards Black women.

No one goes to college to find a husband. Tuition is too expensive for that. But many of us have an idealized vision of what a successful Black woman looks like, and having a partner is often included in that. Celebrated Black women such as Beyoncé and Michelle Obama have their images bolstered because they and their respective partners can be quantified as “Relationship Goals”. Newspapers consistently run articles lamenting about the college educated Black women who are single at thirty-five. All these factors scare us into thinking a partner is necessary to reach the pinnacle of Black female success. This in turn helps make the lack of dating options even more frustrating.

Jay-Z and Beyoncé.
Jay-Z and Beyoncé.
Michelle and Barack Obama.
Michelle and Barack Obama.

The lack of dating opportunities for many Black females goes beyond date-less Valentine’s Day nights. It is a reminder that there is still a deeply rooted disregard for Black women in this society. It is a reminder that many non-Black people, even the very liberal ones have been shaped by communities and societies to completely disregard Black women in any romantic fashion. America still has a long way to go before Black women will be portrayed with the respect we deserve.

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