By: Nia Decaille
I sipped my glass of wine, as I stood in the kitchen of a colleague who had invited me to her house warming party. In a sea of white faces, I was one of the few Black women in attendance. During a conversation with another party-goer about relationships, I ended up asking a lingering question,”How do you navigate dating spaces while not making accommodations for your personal views on feminism?”
We ended up chatting about professional goals and how difficult it was to find a partner who could understand that identifying as a feminist didn’t mean you would rip off your bra and burn it.
I left feeling like there was a glimmer of hope to continue dating and finding someone to share my love of hip-hop and blackness with. After I left the party, I realized that during our chat neither of us had brought up the way that race influenced our ability to find potential suitors. From my experience, online spaces like Tinder were dominated by a whiter audience.
I would often match with all of black men I deemed nice enough to swipe right, but rarely matched with guys outside of my race. While I didn’t mind matching with just black men looking to find at least a reasonable choice for a hookup, there were many more white men to choose from. I then realized that it wasn’t for me.
As a black woman, I wasn’t just nervous about venturing out and meeting potential partners. I found this nervousness as more of an anxiety. Online, this anxiety still manifested, but in different ways even when dating within your race.
Unlike past generations, hopeful singles looking for bae, like myself, while navigating online spaces were way past shaming Internet dating. Young people don’t think it’s creepy to meet someone online. It’s not a surprise that Americans in general are seeing online dating spaces as a viable option for building relationships.
But, dating while black and a woman came with its issues. By this time, companies like Buzzfeed and other black women who had tried online dating had confirmed that black women were depicted as the least desirable choice. As a black Millennial, it wasn’t sharing who I was online that was scary; it was the dating part.
Before going on a date, I would often wonder if the guy would ask if I was wearing my real hair in my display picture, If my thoughts on feminism would turn him away screaming, or if he would understand the ‘Black Girl Magic’ reference I had made in my bio? Maybe my bio was too deep for the intro? Would I be tasked with educating a suitor who was sweet, but often said things that were filled with misogynoir? It was an exciting, and frightening experience that felt more like trying a new roller coaster at Six Flags.
Every time I got on a new ride, or acquired a new match, I felt those first pangs of nervousness in my tummy about meeting someone new. For a lack of a better word, the friendly rapport we built over messages before we even made it to the big finish— or the date— usually dissolved when something silly, discouraging or insensitive was said.
Before I knew it ,the ride was over, and all I could remember was that my stomach felt like it was in my butt as we raced to the finish, and how I felt even sillier for wasting my time.
I was frustrated because instead of refusing to get on the roller coaster, or deleting the app, I thought about my options; could I go back to approaching guys at bars or flirting until they got the message enough to ask for my number? I reminded myself that I wanted to try something new, so I stuck with it.
What I wanted was to find black companionship; someone who I shared a mutual attraction with, went on a few dates with, and shared laughs with, while exploring all of what was out there.
Then, I thought, what was the alternative? Sites like Match.com weren’t appealing and Blackplanet had worn out its popularity after shows like BET’s “College Hill” ended and AJ and Free quit hosting “106& Park.”
After months of meaningless flirting and giving out my number to men I never talked to again on Tinder, I gave Soul Swipe–similar to Tinder where you can swipe right and left to make potential matches, but designed specifically for the black community–a try after a friend recommended it. So far, my friend was right, kind of.
In a matter of about two days, I had a solid amount of matches–20 matches to be exact. I enjoyed the few fleeting conversations I did have, and I managed to “meet” some nice people. Unlike Tinder, it seemed like all of my matches wanted to know more about me and I didn’t feel the added pressure of dating someone who knew little about blackness or how different that experience was.
I also had a few connections that evaporated into thin air once we started ‘talking’ a little more over the app’s messaging feature. One conversation in particular over differing tastes in hip-hop music had me questioning whether I was being hypersensitive, or if the disappointment happened so rapidly that it warranted feeling helpless.After a week of leaving each other sweet messages and getting to know each other, I thought it was safe to give him my number.
He didn’t ask any of the things I feared, and we had the same taste in music. After the first text message, things seemed to go downhill and fast. A conversation about my favorite rappers became a bit of teasing that turned into an annoyance about the kind of music “females liked to listen to.”
I’m all for an emotionally charged Drake single, but in those few messages it turned into less about what I liked as a fan, and more about what he thought he knew already. In his ‘defense,’ his mother was also “afrocentric” and he was raised to be “woke” so it made it OK.
This happened again after a longer, more ‘promising’ match I made. In this case, he seemed interested in getting to know me and I was willing to look past the delayed messaging responses. Again, the conversation went sour. He had a habit of using pet names. I tried to broach his use of the term ‘baby’, ‘sweetheart’ and ‘love’ lightly, making it known that it was “weird” that he referred to me with those names. And again, he responded with what I like to call “aggressive confusion.” Like, how could I call him out for being nice to me?
We sometimes–not all the time– talked politics and social justice. We agreed that institutionalized racism and white privilege did exist ,and that it has contributed to a lot of factors in being black. But what I grew tired of was those smaller instances of gender-based microaggressions that he thought were harmless and left me irritated, and exhausted.
This experience accelerated on a dating platform with a simple swipe. Imagine that this happened several times within the course of a week, it felt worse than just one bad blind date. Experiences like these made me question if online dating while being black and female was viable and healthy even in spaces created specifically to cater to that demographic.
These were just a few instances of what I experienced, but there are probably many other success stories of people who used the app and found the right person. What I found was that Soul Swipe offered something that I haven’t seen another app offer to black women;more opportunity. While the app needed a genuine facelift, an app that brought black people together and the prospect of a possible love/lust interest was enticing. If you’re young, black and single, I recommend giving it a try. And when you think about it, what other options are there?