image via The Riot Club
Clad in a navy blazer, a red-faced undergraduate eagerly stood up and downed his sloshing glass of wine as he heard the chant: “I sconce anyone who has ever shagged a black girl!”. Sconcing, an Oxford drinking game in which participants stand up and chug an alcoholic drink as an admittance of a sexual act, is almost as common within the university as gowns, essay deadlines and stone buildings.
I was not surprised to hear sconcing at a university dinner. But I was horrified at the racial, sexual and aggressive undertones of the sconce, displayed in such a public manner. Although I wasn’t with the rowdy drunken party behind me, as the only black girl in the restaurant I could feel shame dripping down on me. In all honestly, I wasn’t even sure whether the heaving, muscly student who had been partaking a sporting dinner, was being mocked or applauded for his sexual endeavours.
‘It feels as though I am either regarded as an exotic fetish or as comically undesirable’
Throughout my Oxford degree, I have both been regarded as an exotic token for men, evidenced through continual questioning of: “Oh are you mixed? Where are you from?… You’re pretty hot”, and the overtly smug and predictable post sex statement of “I’ve never slept with a black girl before”. Yet, I have also been confronted by many who have boldly declared their disgust at my being both black and a woman.
Strolling across Magdalen Bridge I watched as two builders yelled, “oi look at those tits” at a frantic white student heading towards a lecture and then as I passed, these same men went onto shout “dog” at me persistently until I had disappeared from view. The builders displayed a shameless disregard and disrespect for both myself and my fellow student, but the shift in rhetoric was poignant.
Notably, when engaging in a discussion regarding racial politics at ACS (Oxford University’s African-Caribbean Society), I was taken aback by the progressive and articulate ideas of a male companion who had randomly strolled over to me. But as I casually pointed out my ex in the room, who happened to be mixed-race, this seemingly forward-thinking black Oxonian, responded, “Oh yeah, him, he’s winning”. My male companion soon clarified and informed me that my ex was “winning” because not only was he mixed-race, but he had also upgraded his black girlfriend for a white one. Then, as if to justify his position, he went onto explain that whilst he found black women unattractive, he preferred black women with natural hair because black girls with weaves had sold out.
‘My male companion informed me that my ex was “winning” because not only was he mixed-race, but he had also upgraded his black girlfriend for a white one’
As a black, single woman, who has dated men of all races, at times it feels as though I am either regarded as an exotic fetish or as comically undesirable. Either way, both perspectives serve as a reminder that despite all the progress society has made towards racial and gender equality, there are those who still position black women at the bottom of the pile. Media outlets such as rap videos perpetuate the “jungle fever” fetish, whereby black women are viewed through the male gaze as sexually available props, thus encouraging men to regard black women as exotic material rather than “the type of women you would bring home to your parents”.
Meanwhile, for some, “scientific studies” are used to legitimise prejudice, as exemplified by Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa’s infamous Psychology Today article entitled ‘Why are Black Women Less physically Attractive than Other Women?’, in which he argued that black women have higher testosterone and BMI’s and lower IQ’s. For others, media stereotypes such as the “angry black bitch”, “the welfare queen” women with little education and multiple children, the arrogant independent woman who “don’t need no man” and the uncouth ghetto ratchet, all reinforce the notion that black women make for poor girlfriends and sexual partners. Googling the statement “why are black women unattractive?”, results in over half a million responses from the Student Room, YouTube, Reddit and Huffington Post, as many are entangled in a fractious debate regarding whether or not black women are even beautiful enough to enter the competitive dating pool.
Black women are constantly caught in limbo within this contradictory double narrative. Racism is commonly seen through the lens of young black males and sexism is argued from the perspective of middle class white women, yet it is often whilst entering the dating scene that the complexities of misogynoir (misogyny directed towards black women, where race and gender both play roles in bias) are exposed for black women to comprehend alone. In the increasingly interactive world of Tinder, Bumble and other various dating platforms, counterbalancing the open mindedness and vulnerability needed to disclose a complex part of yourself to a new acquaintance, alongside the need to maintain a protective emotional guard against potential prejudice, is exhausting yet inevitable.
‘Growing up I discovered that being a black girl meant existing as an emblem of defiance in the face of stereotyping’
When encountering males of all races, I have found myself bombarded by waves of worry and an internal barrage of questions, regarding not only the standard dating dilemmas of “will I be compatible with this individual?” or “will he be a weirdo?” but haunting questions such as, “can he accept both my appearance in a weave as well as my natural hair?” or “will his parents approve of ‘the black girlfriend?’” or most importantly, “will my partner understand institutional racism, male and white privilege?”
Growing up I discovered that being a black girl meant existing as an emblem of defiance in the face of stereotyping. Growing into adulthood, I have discovered that dating as a black woman is both a blessing, enabling me to discover my own confidence and sexuality, and a curse, whereby one is handed hate on the path for love and companionship and exposed to the consequences of systematic racism, misogyny and prejudice.