Race & Love: Is it ever just a preference?

Contributor: Dinan Saeed (@dinan249)

Some of the most heated discussions in the black community relate to having preferences for a certain skin colour when it comes to dating. This is a multi-layered discussion and there is no one correct answer to whether it is acceptable to have a preference. There are different reasons one might want to be with a partner or a particular race, and among those reasons are some that are problematic and others that are valid.

Often, the preference is not particularly about the skin colour but about the experiences people have as a result of their race. For example, a black person may want to only date other people of the same race as they are more likely to have had similar life experiences, and thus a better understanding of what it’s like to live as a black person. Preferring to be with partners of your own race because you want your partner to understand the experiences that are specific to people within your race is valid, as is similar to wanting a partner who is in the same field of work, of a similar age, and so on.

However, not all preferences are driven by such understandable motives. Many people will state preferences either for a specific skin tone or a specific race that is not their own and that can often be problematic. These are usually influenced by anti-blackness, colourism, fetishizing, and other forms of dehumanization.

For example, if a non-black person states that they exclusively date black people, this may be a red flag. While some consider it a mark of progress, that black people are being desired in this manner, it is still inherently dehumanizing as it is reducing human beings to race, physical characteristics and stereotypes. Often, those who make such statements hypersexualize and fetishize black people and black culture, and may also be weirdly obsessed with the idea of having biracial children.  Of course, this does not apply to everyone. There are a growing number of inter-racial couples who show every day that true love has no boundaries.

These harmful preferences do not just come from outside the black community, but sadly often come from within it as well. It is not uncommon to hear someone state that they prefer to date those of a lighter skin tone, and to justify it by saying that this is simply a personal preference. While everyone is entitled to their own taste, preferences do not exist in a vacuum. Through years of slavery and colonialism, we have been socialized to believe that the more someone resembles a white person, the more attractive and better they are. Stating preferences like this reinforces colourism and upholds Eurocentric beauty standards as the ideal. Statements like the aforementioned often come from a place of self-hate or misogynoir, and are particularly harmful to dark-skinned black women, who suffer the most from Eurocentric beauty standards, not just in the dating sphere but even in their careers and family lives.

When reflecting on our preferences and the preferences of others, it is important to reflect on the historical and socio-political context in which they exist. It is crucial that we are conscious that the type of love we seek does not reinforce systems that dehumanize  any human being.