Navigating The Dating World As A Woman Of Colour

Navigating The Dating World As A Woman Of Colour
 

We spoke to five POC women about sexualisation within the dating arena

When I was 8-years-old, I noticed it. At pottery, ballet class and clarinet practice, I noticed it. At our homeschool folk dancing lessons, when myself and my sisters were often the last to be picked, I noticed it. Inferiority - years before I could even spell it or find it in the ‘I’ section of my little red dictionary, noticed me too. My quiet observations enabled me to participate in a culture of inadequacy that generations of young girls do.  

The lack of representation for knotty haired, overtly tall and large nosed brown girls greatly affected my perception on beauty. It shaped the way I grew up looking at love and different races. It disfigured years of potential self-love into seeking hollow validation by people seen and respected and beautified in society. These people certainly didn’t look like me.

Myself on the left. via @glittergirlclub

Navigating low self- esteem as a little Polynesian girl was one thing; but it was something entirely different to grow up and cross into the dating spectrum. I believed the white boys I knew didn’t think I was attractive, which resulted in failed attempts at validation from them- a pattern which zig-zagged in and out of my life. Every boy I admired was plainly westernised; admiration solely based on efforts to get out of my marginalised little bubble. I hoped someone would like me enough to fill the large gaping hole in my emotional sphere. I wanted someone celebrated and represented to tell me I just as special as silky haired Louise or ski-nose Emma.

I entered high school with the determination I would get someone’s romantic approval. Roll camera past a 3 month relationship complied with micro-aggressions, intense shame that I had more Pacific Island heritage than German, internalised racism and facebook messages admiring my ‘differences’ to other brown girls he’d been around.

During the aftermath summer, I’d had enough. My sore heart told inferiority to leave. Failing to feel the slightest bit validated from everyone I had ever met, I attempted no more.

I retrained the pathways in my brain to see my cultural and ethnic worth as a wonderful and brilliant thing. To have access to a healthy relationship, I grew into an era of belonging and of firmly renouncing racism and inadequacy from every aspect of my life. Yep. A small statement for the magnitude of difficulty myself and WOC as a collective often manoeuvre through.

Many, many woman of colour know exactly what I mean by attempting to gain a twisted, romantic approval. Diversity as people means a diversity of results:

So I spoke to FIVE WOMEN about inferiority, sexualisation and racism within the dating arena so as a reader, you can understand its prevalence.

Describe a negative dating experience you’ve had:

“I’ve had a guy DM me one night with the classic ‘You up?’ followed by ‘I’ve heard Indian p**** is tight.’ I often shut down conversations like that pretty quickly so they don’t get very far.”

Sonia, Indian

“A few years ago, a close friend I had suddenly revealed to me that he had liked me for a long time, and asked if we could start dating. I later came to realisation that our whole friendship had been heavily based on the grounds of his fetish for Asian women, especially through his obsession with Japanese culture. I felt degraded, and he became extremely possessive despite the fact that I did not agree to start any relationship. Knowing we were close friends, he became extremely manipulative, and racist towards any claims I’d make on based on my identity. The people he was friends with later came out as white supremacists, and continued perpetuating the sexualisation of Asian women.”

Helen, Hong-Kong Chinese

“I was seeing a man at one point (Samoan) who clearly had a preference for white women. When I asked why he would pursue an Afakasi like myself he responded ‘Because you’re white too.’ This made it seem like my whiteness is a mitigating factor for my Samoan- ness. Like being Samoan is less valuable, less beautiful. Like being mixed with European blood makes me better than.”

Tiana, Samoan 

“It’s blatantly obvious that many, many foreign men (usually western) have chosen China as their destination because of their attraction to Chinese women. Many of them are happy to state this too. There’s a term here coined ‘sexpats,’ a play on expats, but refer to men who have an Asian fetish. I often do feel that these men are quite patriarchal and although China’s youth in particular are rapidly changing, growing more socially aware (especially with the rise of the #MeToo movement in China), they’re still confined to gender roles. It makes me mad when I see these foreign men act like Chinese women are ‘less troublesome, more docile’ than western women or are ‘sweet girls.’”

Lizzy, (living in China) Chinese and Dutch

How do you distinguish between someone’s genuine attraction and their potential reinforcement of fetishisation? 

“I trust my instincts. I avoid people who leave me feeling unseen and unheard and gravitate toward people who see me as a person who has a meaningful contribution to make. You can discern this through conversation. There’s a big difference between ‘you are so beautiful/sexy/perfect’ and ‘I read your article on justice reform, can you elaborate on your points?’”

Tiana, Samoan

“Always become friends before going into something serious.” 

Ashley, Fijian-Indian

“In all honesty, the lines are often quite blurry. The yellow ‘warning’ sticker for me comes in the form of an ignorant or culturally insensitive statement made in the person’s bio or in conversation. It becomes concrete when they believe it is complimentary or in ‘good humour’ to make such statements.”

Sonia, Indian

Something I generally look out for is the degree of cultural sensitivity they have when say, they are talking about people-of-colour, and how they perceive issues specific to marginalised communities. Also noticing whether they are generally respectful towards women as a whole, and whether they make degrading or misogynistic comments.”

Helen, Hong-Kong Chinese

Would you consider it appropriate to ask of someone’s dating history to establish a clean playing field?

“I think the premise of any relationship is open communication. I feel you should be able to ask the dating history of your partner. However, I recognise that while open communication is always welcome, questions concerning someone’s romantic history tend to stem from insecurities. Who was he with before? Is she beautiful? Is she smart? Is she better than me?”

Tiana, Samoan

“I don’t think it’s inappropriate at all because the intention for asking is pure. It also helps you understand the person better; some people just attract a certain type of person. A tell-tale I find, is in how they receive the question. If they avoid, become defensive or aggressive when answering the question, that’s a red flag.”

Sonia, Indian

“If I were to go on say more than three or four dates with someone, I would definitely consider it appropriate to ask about the person’s dating history. After going through a few relationships, I feel like the need for transparency and to learn more about someone’s dating history or patterns is something that’s vital before moving onto a serious relationship.”

Helen, Hong-Kong Chinese

Is having a ‘racial type’ a form of cultural sexualisation?

“I like to date within my own cultural realm. My justification for this lies in the fact I have always wanted someone to be with someone who understands my cultural space and who can appreciate that. I have no desire to induct someone into my ways of being. In fact, I am off put by imagining even having to explain to another person why I emptied my bank account at my family’s request. I never want to answer these questions. To me, this have never seemed like cultural sexualisation. In fact, it seems profoundly like a cultural preservation.”

Tiana, Samoan

“I think it’s okay to have a racial type you are interested in because it’s about personality, interests and values of the person. Personally, I was surrounded by one race when playing sports at school and thus unintentionally gravitated towards individuals of that particular race; it was so as my personality, interests and values aligned better with theirs.”

Ashley, Fijian-Indian

“Again, speaking from the perspective of an east Asian woman, when white men say they’re “just interested in Asian girls” as a whole, it’s obviously a racial fetish. It’s disgusting to reduce all Asian women, or women-of-colour into one type of personality, behaviour or value. Dating an individual based on their “ethnic” features or what you believe they are based on a racially charged stereotypes is harmful, and can often turn into instances of violence and abuse.”

Helen, Hong Kong-Chinese

“I think having a specific race in mind, and solely dating that race is cultural sexualisation.”

Sonia, Indian

Is it easier dating within your cultural group?

“Yes, and no. Yes, because you have a better understanding of each other’s circumstances and have a lot to relate to! No, because you could be dating someone of your own race – who has internalised disregard for your race, and you can be met with the same treatment from time to time.”

Sonia, Indian

“Yes as it’s hard to mesh to religions together especially adapting to the two different values, rituals and daily influences religion has on your life (church on a Sunday or temples on a Monday etc). Weddings also come into play with this and having children. You have to combine two lives, cultures, religions and communities together: so you have to be flexible in order to do that.”

Ashley, Fijian-Indian

“As a half Chinese, half European who has been single as of the start of 2018 (my personal dating experiences have been mediocre at best) I’ve noticed I’m left in this grey area where I’m neither viewed as Chinese or European. Most of the time when I clarify my ethnicity I often feel the strong need to- it’s very important for me, especially in the dating sphere that whoever I’m seeing understands my eastern and western upbringing. It's a huge part of who I am.”

Lizzy, (living in China) Chinese and Dutch

“I’ve never dated a white person that has not exerted forms of racism, whether it be blatantly, through micro-aggressions, or through racism fetishisms. Even when I was in high school, there were people I was interested in, but they would later make certain remarks e.g. my parent’s migration experiences or joke about cultural practices other people-of-colour had. I reckon it’s not really dating within my own cultural group, but dating a person-of-colour is something that’s not to say easier, but something that’s more comfortable for myself.”

Helen, Hong-Kong Chinese

“Absolutely. Less energy expended explaining things. Likely to be accepted by your family more readily.”

Tiana, Samoan

Can you share your best dating advice?

“Date with an open heart and an inquisitive mind, have realistic expectations of people, understand what your needs are and what the person you’re dating can give you. If they’re struggling to meet you half-way (or vice versa) it’s not worth it. Know your worth and don’t compromise or settle for less than you deserve.”

Sonia, Indian

“Don’t settle for anything mediocre. Don’t be afraid that you won’t find love. Love will find you because it’s in your nature. Our ancestors endured so much. We have intergenerational cycles of silence to break.”

Tiana, Samoan

“As an Indian girl we’re told to date at a certain time of our lives and a certain type of person (race, culture and even caste). But at the end of the day you’re going to fall in love with whoever you do. To all women-of-colour, especially my Indian girls: we have a culture that’s engrained shame in us. It’s shame that’s caused many deaths and murders. If your partner isn’t treating you right or you’ve been abused you shouldn’t have to tolerate it. You can walk away- no one’s judgments should ever go above the safety of your body and mind.”

Ashley, Fijian-Indian

“Take your time to figure out what makes you comfortable in a relationship, and don’t feel bad for taking things at your own pace. Remember to choose someone not just based on initial physical attraction, but to make sure they respect your values, cultural background and identity as an individual from the beginning.”

Helen, Hong-Kong Chinese   

Thank you ladies xx

Words | Aasha Samara Nimo