Looking for Black love in a sea of white apps

As they sometimes say: The struggle is real.

In this case, the struggle of being a Black woman trying to find love or at least the seeds of it in the dating pool.

I have been on BLK, Bumble, Coffee & Bagel, Hinge, Tinder, and Zoosk. Fifteen to 30 minutes for a daytime date, for tea/coffee, errands, or a walk around Portland. My profile descriptions are honest and brief and my photos are full of smiles and fun adventures. No group photos and mostly full-body pictures. I give depth and substance, always hoping for the best. Turns out men—white and people of color—are more interested in drinking and going back to mine or their place for sex than they are in my name, let alone my career or hobbies. Even as a self-proclaimed commitment-phobic non-platonic dating partner it’s been a bit much. If their misogyny isn’t suffocating me, their fragility or insecurities aren’t drowning me, then their lack of emotional stability generally seals the deal and ends the date abruptly.

I had been in a relationship not that long ago, so how did I get here? Maybe that’s the place to start.

On June 1, 2017, I became single after 17 months of dating a mixed-race, light-skinned fuckboy who was born in Maine and “raised” by his white mother. According to urban dictionary a fuckboy is the type of guy who does shit that generally pisses the population of the earth off all the time. The woman, also mixed race, who was sleeping with him contacted me that morning at 9:51 a.m. to apologize for being caught. I didn’t know what she was talking about. Turns out the cheating hussy’s friend sent me a message the day before, on Facebook messenger, telling me that the hussy and my then scum boyfriend had been sleeping together for more than three months. She said neither of them would tell me the truth and she could see I was a good person and didn’t deserve this treatment, so she needed to tell me. She even sent me a photo of the two of them from earlier that week, half dressed in his bed, as proof. I felt immediate respect for this stranger I would never meet in person.

Once the truth was out, the other woman couldn’t help herself. Her guilt and shame came pouring out with no immediate end in sight. She spent the next 24 hours spilling everything she could as I asked all the strategic questions I could think of. I wanted desperately to put some pieces together for myself about the last few months and our fuckboy’s odd behaviors. She was so eager to be seen by someone, her fingers did all the talking.

Other Woman: I’m sorry for what my friend sent. Never meant to hurt you. She said she sent you a message on Facebook? I’m sorry René. (I was in shock at first. I called him immediately to find out what on earth was happening. He was at work, no answer. Several moments later he called back and of course had all the answers ready for my interrogation.)

Cheating Ex Slimeball: You drove me into her arms, you became emotionally unavailable to me. When you decided you didn’t want to have children with me, marry me, or move in to my apartment I realized we wanted different things.

Other Woman: He told me to be patient but then I saw he wasn’t doing anything about it or talking to you. I didn’t want to be the other woman and I didn’t think it was fair to you. I struggled to tell you. I vented to my friend and she took it upon herself.

I had felt something was wrong for weeks before that day. In fact, 10 days before this incident I had even asked my then douchebag partner if there was something he wanted to tell me—anything would be fine so long as he was honest with me. I made it clear I could feel a change in “us,” and that I wanted to fix it. He denied my concerns and told me it was my fault I was feeling this shift. That I was dragging past relationships into this relationship and not giving him a fair shot.

I believed him, internalized it and thought nothing about him mentioning T.K. (aka “other woman”) more often. So much for slowly building a friendship with her over the last year. Needless to say, after I found out, I was beside myself. I informed all the people in my life that needed to know, got super drunk and high and I went to sleep that night wishing so much harm on him as I played all the possible moments of dishonesty in my head and heart over and over again. After about 48 hours I was a new woman. I was ready to get back on that dating wagon.

However, I was at my summer job in the Western foothills of Maine, so dating was on hold until I got back to Portland, the most culturally diverse place in Maine before Lewiston. Starting in early October I began dating again, an average of two dates a week. I know well that dating is a numbers game and it is rigged against me and women who look like me, so I let go of all my neurotic planning methods and tendencies and said “yes” to almost every date offered.

And as I said at the beginning of this piece, the dating hasn’t gone well and trying to find a Black man or any man of color has gone even more poorly.

I started talking to other women of color about their dating experiences and found the more I talk to my Black female friends—not just in Maine or New England but all over the country—the more I hear them saying they are having difficulties finding a partner, especially if they’re Black, and especially if they want marriage—in a way that our white friends aren’t struggling so much. I am constantly questioning my worth in the dating world in a way I don’t question my worth anywhere else.

In a country where Black men are roughly seven times more likely to be killed than Black women and Black men are twice as likely as Black women to seek marriage outside of their race, the reality of my choices feels so slim. OkCupid statistics reveal that Black women are the least desirable demographic in the dating pool, next to Asian men.

I have been on over 50 first dates since October; only two have been men of color and all of them have been in Maine. I am realizing I want to find a Black man who wants to love me and is worthy of my love. I am not completely convinced I have to leave Maine to find this, but with each new app or new unsuccessful date I am losing hope.

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Photo by Mayur Gala on Unsplash

No to this “Oh”

Too often, White America has selective memory when it comes to the past. It reminds me of my tween daughter’s forgetfulness around things like chores, and yet she never forgets when her allowance is due.

As a Black American, it is fascinating to me how often White America looks back on the distant past with fond memories. It’s rare to find any Black American over 50 who yearns for those eras to the degree that our white counterparts yearn for them—and how often they are seen as “the good old days.”

Of course, why would anyone of color with any sense of history or self-respect yearn or look back fondly at a time when you were denied access to numerous spaces simply due to the color of your skin? A time when the even the family vacation was a racial experience because you couldn’t count on finding a roadside diner that might serve you and you had to do your best to avoid the sundown towns even in northern states like Illinois lest you end up dead. As my father told me, the day he graduated from high school in Blytheville, Arkansas, he was on a bus out of town that evening. Heading to someplace where a Black person might stand a chance of breathing. No, Black folks as a whole don’t revisit the past here in America because to revisit the past is to realize that the progress we envisioned isn’t nearly as far in the past as we like to think, along with the fact progress hasn’t gone as far as it should have yet (or as far as we’ve have been led to believe).

However, in a changing nation, revisiting the past for white folks takes on an entirely different tone. A time when whiteness paid maximum dividends and extending humanity and decency to non-white people wasn’t a thing. Or, as a local community group in Maine advertised with an upcoming stage production of “Oh, Susannah,” they described a version of the Old South as a “dream remembered” of “knights and their ladies, masters and slaves,” and a “pretty world where gallantry took its last bow.” Oh, and the production was to be composed largely of minstrel songs. And promoted using a Confederate stars and bars flag.

In case knowledge of minstrel-style shows isn’t your jam, let me give you the Wikipedia description:

“The minstrel show, or minstrelsy, was an American form of entertainment developed in the early 19th century. Each show consisted of comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music performances that mocked people specifically of African descent. The shows were performed by Caucasians in make-up or blackface for the purpose of playing the role of black people. There were also some African-American performers and all-black minstrel groups that formed and toured under the direction of white people.”

So. yeah…in Sanford, Maine, the local theater group Sanford Maine Stage thought that staging a taste of the old days in the form of “Oh, Susannah” would be a marvelous idea. While the composer of the actual song “Oh, Susannah” was known as one of the fathers of American music, much of what he wrote was fodder for minstrel shows. Foster himself performed in blackface at one point.

A production like “Oh, Susannah” is steeped in racism. It’s one thing to revisit the Confederacy in a historical sense, but even then, it is to revisit some of this country’s darkest history. But as a form of nostalgia and longing? No.

That is a period in history when the degradation of Black people was openly sanctioned and encouraged—when we were viewed as less than human—and this country’s lack of remorse over that in general is bad enough. Its unwillingness to admit what a crime it was and how much it still impacts today. But as bad as that ignorance is, in the era of proclaiming that Black Lives Matter, why would anyone with an iota of decency want to take part in a show  steeped in the misery and subjugation of an entire people and look at as merely wistful entertainment?

Well, after community pushback the theater company decided to cancel the production. But in choosing to cancel the show, there are those voices who refuse to acknowledge how hurtful this very idea was, including a number of the actual performers in the show. Not to mention others in and beyond the community telling people not to be so sensitive and lamenting political correctness.

In this moment, I am reminded of how harmful the silo of whiteness is because too often it prevents its inhabitants from seeing larger truths. Online, there were those upset by the cancellation who were asking “where is the tolerance?” Well, I guess that’s an inadvertent good choice of words for those that actually made that word choice, because “tolerating” is something we tend to do for unpleasant things. So, in a way, those people are making my point. They are asking us to endure such ignorance.

The fact is the marketing of this show used hateful imagery and words—no one needs to tolerate that. The larger question is, “Why didn’t anyone question or flag this production before it became public?” It is not comforting to know that people spent weeks on rehearsal and preparation and no one thought that maybe this was a bad idea? I love theater and there are far too many shows that could have been produced that would not have been steeped in white supremacy. That could have explored the Old South in a more honest or nuanced way.

While the Sanford area is, like many Maine communities, predominantly white, there are non-white community members and white allies who now are concerned that they may be branded as troublemakers for standing up for what is right. The fact is that speaking truth to power often comes at a cost. Still, it’s always the right thing to do. For those who are disappointed that the show is canceled, I would invite you to ask yourself “Why?” To ask yourself why you think that your right to participate in or view a production that is hurtful matters so much. I am sure many of those pushing back would be offended to be called racist and yet their behavior is very much what American racism is all about. It’s the belief in rugged individualism and the American dream while denying or ignoring that it is almost always at the expense of someone else, and most dramatically at the expense of people of color. It’s the same racist spirit that justified “discovering” someone else’s land and then enslaving others to work that land to build a new country.

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Photo by Ron Dauphin on Unsplash

Nurturing the third eye

This past weekend, “Rachel” opened at Portland Stage. Set in the 1920s, the play explores racism, colorism, and the effects of the two on the black psyche. I am blessed to be a part of the production. Rachel has an all-Black, intergenerational cast with several kids aged about 6-10. We call them thelittles,” and they just about burst my heart. A few of them are adoptees, and being one myself, I confess they have a special place in my heart. Working with them is a reminder that children are incredible teachers.

The littles came to rehearsal this week with stories about Martin Luther King Jr. and how he cured racism, having just learned about him in school. This week, of course. The littles want to tell me about his dream, saying “It’s a good thing that we don’t live when this play was set, because then we would have people who hate us and want to hurt us because of how we look.

I take a pause, and then a breath, before telling them gently but firmly that things arent much different today. I watch light fade slowly in their eyes as pieces from family, friends, and bits of news clicks together. Air slips from their previously proud chests. I can see in their eyes that my words have just taken some of their hope.

I want to tell them that yes, MLK was a great man, but he wasn’t the end-all. Crave to explain to them that whiteness propped him up after they murdered him and his dream. That yes, he had a dream, but the nation wasn’t ready, that Martin wasn’t the only one who dreamed of freedom. Wasn’t the only one with fire burning in his chest and wind filling his lungs. I want to tell them about Assata and Stokely and Malcom and Angela.

I want to tell them that we need to devour our history before it is taken from our hands and our mouths; peeled from our lips, as it was done before. As people will try to do again. I want to tell the littles that they can add their names to the history books which we will write and rewrite to include us. Include our truth. Undiluted. Free of whitewashing and white history. I want to tell them it is OK to be mad. To be sad. To be filled with confusion and rage.

I hand one of the littles a comic book I found in a booth at AfroPunk. The story is about a kid who discovers she has psychic and empathetic powers, with an abilities related to chakras and auras. The kid has an older brother who skeptically follows her through the journey. The little wants to know if the brother gets powers too, and I wonder if he is thinking about his younger sister and himself. Wonder if he sees his sister as a superhero. I wonder if he sees himself.

He asks me if I think the third eye is real. I tell him, “Yes, I am trying to activate it.” He nods, then tells me about his friend that he watches Naruto (a Japanese manga series about a young ninja on the quest for belonging). He tells me his friend liked to bring a demon into their third eye then activate it, like on the TV show. Then he told me his friend later realized how foolish that was. They said it didn’t feel good bringing in the demons energy. I said “That’s good. We don’t want to welcome in that negative energy, do we?” He shook his head emphatically “Oh, no!”

Conversations like these show me kids have the basic tools for understanding this world we live in. They don’t need to be spoon-fed stories about Martin and his shiny dream. Kids can be told about the world they live in, in terms they can understand. Living in silos of whiteness, it is easy for us to forget that we are not alone in our blackness. Whiteness creates walls to keep us away from each other and afraid. Whiteness rewrites our history and serves it back to us once per annum, requesting us to be grateful, while shouting “reverse racism” and “Why is there no white history month?!” Kids need to be armed and ready for the world of whiteness that awaits them, gearing up to break them down. Today’s children are going to save the world. In order to do that, they need to be prepared, with spirits intact, and curious. Kids need to believe they are magic and to learn their history. In doing so, they will have acquired the tools to call on their ancestors and love themselves now, so as life rolls on they’ve nowhere to go but up and out, and soar beyond the stars.

If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.