When I was in middle school, a boy in my class — who happened to be white — told me that he liked me. I kind of just stared at him, nodded silently, and went back to doing my work, because I didn’t know whether he was joking or not. As a fifth grader, I couldn’t even fathom the fact that a white guy could find me attractive, and I think a lot of that mentality has spilled over into my college years.
I’d like to think that this is because I didn’t see many examples of black women being objects of attraction, neither in my community nor in the media. For most of my life, I had grown up as the “other.” My hometown of Scarsdale, NY (1.5% African American) was a place where you could count on one hand, the amount of black families that lived in the area, and I was the only black girl in my elementary school. Growing up, I didn’t have a Princess Tiana from The Princess and the Frog; I had Nala from The Lion King. I had identified closer with a lion than I had with any other female protagonist from a Disney movie. Because of this, I grew skeptical of the advances of males of a different race.
Relationships and dating at Princeton are such hot button issues for the black females on Princeton’s campus. Rarely is there Princeton Association of Black Women meeting that doesn’t dissolve into a conversation about interracial dating. Now, I’m not much of a relationships expert. In fact, I’ve never actually dated anyone of a different race, and there are probably reasons for that: namely, my fear of being considered unattractive by other races, and a fear of being fetishized. There have been instances in which guys have approached me asking, “can you twerk?” At this question, I just want to scream, “No I can’t twerk, black girls don’t all magically have the ability to twerk!” (insert rhythmic claps in between each word). And when I’m viewed through this lens of blackness, I can’t help but be offended. I’m a complex individual with unique experiences and interests, so when I receive a comment about my body in pieces (e.g. my hips, thighs, backside, etc.) I wonder, does this person like me for the right reasons, or is he only interested because I’m black?
Now, why is interracial dating such a hot topic at Princeton? I believe this interest comes from four factors: (1) prevalence in media; (2) the novelty of visible differences; (3) frustration with the dating scene; and (4) growing interest and awareness of discussion of race in general. I will explain what all these factors mean below (please note that I am writing only in the viewpoint of a black heterosexual woman):
Media attention and popular culture
Just this past year, we’ve had an abundance of television shows centered on diverse women and the romantic (or platonic) relationships with white men. Scandal, a show starring Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope, has gained quite a following on campus. Although the show is political in nature, much of Scandalis centered on Olivia’s relationship with President Fitzgerald Grant, who is a white man. Deception attempted to ride on Scandal’s coattails of success by mixing the same tropes: black woman, white man, sex, and scandal. For whatever reason, this show was not as successful and was cancelled after one season. And to name a few more: Sleepy Hollow, The Mindy Project, and Elementary, round out the list of popular television shows featuring interracial relationships.
Why is it so easy to instantly discern interracial couples? I think our society has predisposed us to identify couples that adhere to the norm and couples that don’t. And it is the visible differences that make interracial relationships inherently interesting: “interesting” in the sense that you wonder how they met and connected. Interestingly, some couples are more novel than others, based on appearance.
In the following diagram, I have sketched the map of what I believe to be indicative of the interracial dating scene at Princeton:
Of course, my diagram is not comprehensive. Entire ethnic groups, as well mixed students, are absent.
The couples on the far left are not interracial couples. These may be the couples we see the most, and the couples we don’t look at twice. The couples on the far right, however, are the most novel, and we don’t often see them (Asian Men/Black Women and vice versa). If we do, we might do a double take if we see them. To some extent White Men/Black Women, and Black Men/White Women, are starting to be normalized, if pop culture can attest to this statement.
It is, in fact, the visible differences of a couple that can make a passerby look twice. Perhaps the differentials in physical appearance like skin color, hair texture, and eye shape of a Chinese student and a black student that makes AMBW or BMAW novel. When talking to a Hispanic student who was dating a black student, she explained to me that if they were both walking together, people wouldn’t perceive them as an interracial couple immediately. She attributed that to the fact that they both looked like they were the same ethnicity, and that “it might not be as drastic of a difference, because we’re both minorities.”
Frustration with the Dating Scene
If you’ve ever been to a PABW meeting, the prevailing sentiment is that, “Black girls would like to date black guys,” which is followed by “There aren’t enough black guys to date,” or “Black guys aren’t interested in black girls here.”
When I asked a black sophomore (now part of an interracial relationship) about her experience with the dating scene as a freshman, she replied, “It sucked.” In her words, there were two reasons why it sucked, and I touched on these points earlier. The first was hyper-sexualization: are guys attracted to me because of my otherness? Am I the exception to the rule, or something you wanted to try? The second was the perpetual state of being friend-zoned: you could be really close to someone, but they would have no intentions of pursuing a relationship with you at all.
Race as a Hot Topic
I would consider race to be a topic that has been gaining attention all over Princeton’s campus. Now, with the existence of organizations like The Stripes, I believe that Princeton’s student body is becoming more aware of issues related to race. Dating has always been a hot topic, so when you put the topics of race and dating together, it makes sense that people would want to talk about it. Questions like “Why do all the black people know each other?” lead into “Why do Asians only date other Asians?” When it comes to dating, there’s no denying the invisible barriers that arise between two different people coming from two different cultures and backgrounds. White guys that have dated black girls have been described as “joining the team,” but when did we ever choose sides?
Editors’ Note: In the time since the author wrote this piece, a very poignant example of the frustrations of Princeton’s interracial dating scene was posted on the Tiger Admirers Facebook page. The page is usually reserved for anonymous professions of Princeton’s students feelings towards one another, and though this posting was somber and forlorn, it nonetheless received supportive commentary from others in the Princeton community. The original post can be seen here, with commentary here.