I Used to ‘Compensate’ for My Blackness in the Dating World — Now I Embrace It

“Did he really say that?!” That’s a common phrase my friends say when we talk about bad dates. It’s usually followed by an eye roll or a witty comment and some laughs before we change the subject. But as a Black woman, I tell date stories that are followed by shock and awkward silence. It’s no secret that dating is hard for everyone. But my race makes my dating experience harder (like almost everything else!), and unfortunately, my experience is not unique.

“How is it that easy?” I shouted over the music. I was celebrating my friend’s seventeenth birthday. She always threw big parties with lots of friends. Meeting new people, drinking to get drunk and general social interaction was very much on the to-do list. Almost everyone I came with that year showed up with the same mission: find someone, flirt and see where the night takes you.

My best friend had just told me she’d found this guy attractive five minutes prior. Suddenly, she was sitting next to him, and he had his arm around her. Genuinely effortless! Five more of my friends had a new partner within close proximity. Meanwhile, I had been told, “You look interesting, pretty — you know, for someone who looks like you,” twenty minutes into arriving by the same boy who’s arm was around my friend, followed by nods of agreement by his buddies. This wasn’t the first time (or the last, unfortunately), but as I watched my friend and her new lover make out, I felt a mix of envy, hatred for said envy and exhaustion — what was I doing wrong?

According to data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, Black women marry less than women of other races. Black women also get the least matches on dating sites compared to women of other ethnic groups. But long before online and app-based dating existed, dark skin has had negative connotations. Women powdered their faces snowy white because of the associations it had with beauty and fertility as well as higher class. The lighter your skin, the lower the likelihood that you’d been slaving outside in the sun all day — literally slaving. When you google “pretty girl” or “attractive woman,” how much scrolling does it take to find a woman of color, let alone a Black woman?

Society has repeatedly delivered the narrative that Black women aren’t attractive or dateable — Black women are masculine, angry, ratchet or ghetto, to be avoided at all costs. This is what I’ve seen and experienced in my personal life. The birthday party incident repeated itself in many forms, and it took my self worth with it.

Most teenage girls struggle with not feeling “pretty enough.” As a Black teen, my insecurities made me feel like my Blackness was something to compensate for, something that dragged down my worth. So I became obsessed with my appearance. I thought that if I made myself “perfect” in every other way, I’d be almost as good as all the other girls — almost, but not quite. I wanted to be loved. I wanted to be beautiful. Eventually, I was diagnosed with anorexia. When my doctor asked me why I was hurting myself so much, I remember saying, “I can’t be Black and fat. The world already hates one part of me, so I should change the other.” I constantly felt like I was the friend people compared themselves to in order to feel better about their situation.

I changed my mentality along with my appearance. I diluted any part of my culture. Any Blackness in me was hidden away. And although I hated every part of this, it worked. I felt prettier. I started dating. People treated me like I was Black enough to be interesting and exotic. My curls were a conversation starter. All the “cool parts” of me were picked out — food, music and culture, and yet I wasn’t considered Black enough to be a threat. And for the first time in my life, I felt feminine, like I was deserving of a fairytale love story because people finally thought I was pretty. Black men would say that while they tended to avoid dating Black women, I was “different” from the rest. I never understood that their criticisms were just reflection of their own self hatred and took it to heart.

Unsurprisingly, I was never satisfied and never ended up dating anyone who was genuinely a good person. And the comments and microagressions I would experience on dates or in relationships irritated me every time. I would be asked if I were mixed race as a compliment. I would be told (again) that I was pretty “for someone of my race.” All of these people liked me, but at what cost? And did they even like me, or did they like the lesser version of me that I’d created to please them? And why was I trying to please them anyway? Racism wouldn’t go away if I achieved validation. I was beyond angry at myself for putting up with all of it.

I almost feel ridiculous complaining about something so trivial. Dating is far from a necessity. Police brutality, incarceration rates, unemployment — there are much more pressing issue that Black people face on a daily basis. But in 2021, we shouldn’t have to face challenges in any part of life simply because we’re Black.

As a bisexual woman, I found that a lot of my self-hated also stemmed from lack of acceptance in the LBGTQ+ community. The LGBTQ+ community has been seen as white-dominated time and time again, which has added to my sense of isolation. I have been very grateful to find Black communities within the LGBTQ+ community where people relate to my experience and celebrate their intersecting identities.

I didn’t have a single moment of clarity where I embraced myself as I am — instead, I slowly taught myself to fall in love with my culture again. I learned how to be proud of the strong-smelling food from the kitchen, the music with stronger beats. My skin color was beautiful to me. Yes, I was different than a lot of my friends, but that wasn’t a bad thing. The gaps in those differences became smaller and the isolation less painful as I diversified my friendship group, and the alienation I felt no longer manifested in such a self-destructive way. And when I started to learn that other people’s opinions didn’t matter as much as I believed they did, I fell in love with someone who is excited to learn about my Blackness. I still struggle with my self-esteem, but now instead of putting up with racism, I teach people, even if I have to be loud enough for them to think I’m a “threat.”

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Lola Renn

While being a math student, I have a passion for the exact opposite - writing! I am passionate about contributing to a community which actively chooses to listen to the stories, experiences and insights that are so rarely spoken about. I particularly enjoy covering race, politics and accessibility in marginalized communities.

Lola has written 1 article for us.


  1. i feel largely unqualified to comment here, but when i got to this part of the piece: “I almost feel ridiculous complaining about something so trivial. Dating is far from a necessity. Police brutality, incarceration rates, unemployment — there are much more pressing issue that Black people face on a daily basis. But in 2021, we shouldn’t have to face challenges in any part of life simply because we’re Black.”

    i was struck by how insidiously unfair it as that after recognizing all the indignities you faced as such, it appears to feel wrong for you to want it to stop. women in general feel the need to qualify what we say in advance of being criticized for participating in public discussion. but i’ve observed that women of color have to work even harder to prequalify their experience or logic because challenges are the norm instead of acknowledgement or acceptance.

    in this space, white people could learn from that and support women of color when they speak. if we listen, they’re often telling us how to do that.

  2. Thanks for your vulnerability in this piece. As a person of colour growing up in a very hetero world I can relate to your dating.
    Regarding your comment ‘almost feel ridiculous complaining about something so trivial.’
    Everything is relative, so your struggles are still important despite what’s going on around us. And feeling/wanting to be loved in the way you deserve is a very fundamental human need and right, not receiving this often manifests and impacts our mental well-being in serious ways.

    As I’ve gotten older I realised so many things about how & why I made myself invisible for so long I’m so very glad that you are embracing your culture/yourself while you’re still young 💗

  3. great article, i hope you write more and more here! quite honestly i feel like this is an article i could read with my high schoolers, maybe in companionship with “the bluest eye” by toni morrison and the video “a girl like me” on youtube. the ways racism and colorism infiltrate dating and romance and self-esteem, and the ways we internalize these things, are really important to talk about; i’m glad you did. you have a beautifully relatable and down to earth voice.

    (if you haven’t… i would totally recommend reading the bluest eye. i as a white girl am not qualified to really say, but some black girls call morrison required black girl reading. i would call her required everyone and everything reading. the bluest eye specifically is a great, heartbreaking articulation of the colorism and internalization of colorism you’re discussing here.)

    also, i noticed that a lot of people are commenting so far on the paragraph “i almost feel ridiculous complaining about something so trivial…” and i just want to say, even though i too feel very unqualified here, dating is the common way to find love nowadays. dating is the pathway to love for most of us. it’s never trivial when love is tainted. i feel like you’re not whining about dating. you’re raising your voice about a huge issue– LOVE and the poisonings of it. on a planet run by oceans and humans, those are like the most relevant topics ever.

    please do not stop complaining. please do not ever decide that your pains and injustices and hungers are not important, not big enough to merit talking about, or are ever not relevant. even though there are more violent problems, and more clearly and directly destructive forms of racism, this is always relevant to everybody!

    *hops off my little soapbox* anyways, this was a fantastic article <3

  4. Hi Lola, great article, hope to see more from you! Adding one more vote for the idea that this isn’t trivial and you’re not ridiculous. Even if you were the only person this had happened to, something affecting you so pervasively and harmfully would be worth speaking up about, because you deserve better. I don’t have the experiences you do – I’m White – but for sure someone else who does will read this article and feel seen and held. Wishing you all the best!

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