Every time I find myself in a new place, the question of "How am I going to date?" quickly comes up. When I first got to college, my roommates and other peers had already activated their Tinder and Bumble accounts. The same happened when I started my semester abroad in Spain. Dating apps are an incredibly useful way to meet people, and they provide a safety net that you don't get in the real world where you have to physically approach someone instead of sending a message or swiping right. But despite being behind your computer or device, dating apps are, as shows like Love Is Blind have pointed out, visual. And sometimes when all people can see is what you look like, true prejudice reveals itself.
The chocolate bar emoji cleverly paired with the heart eyes emoji doesn't tell me you think I'm pretty — it tells me you're especially interested in the color of my skin.
I personally have never enjoyed my experiences on dating apps. I've used Tinder and Bumble, but have only ever interacted with men on Tinder. It was fun at first until one guy told me he had never been with a dark-skinned girl before, and he wanted me to be his first. I was an 18-year-old college freshman at the time, and it made me feel disgusting. Even now at 21, I can only ever go as far as to swipe right on some people before deleting the app altogether for extended periods of time. I don't want to start messaging with anyone because I'm afraid that I'll just be fetishized for being a Black woman.
The people I know that have had a lot of fun using dating apps are typically white women. They've told me that apps, if anything, are a self-esteem boost. While I'm sure that's true for some, that simply hasn't been my experience. The chocolate bar emoji cleverly paired with the heart eyes emoji doesn't tell me you think I'm pretty — it tells me you're especially interested in the color of my skin.
And I'm not the only one who's experienced this. Torian, a Black college student, described her interactions on dating apps as "weird" and "uncomfortable" for the same reasons. "Whenever I'd match with a white guy, he would always have to acknowledge the fact that I was Black and that he's never been with a Black girl," she said.
Torian eventually stopped trying to use dating apps because any time she went to redownload, she would always regret it. She believes that this experience is common for Black women who are trying to navigate the virtual and real-life dating world in general. "It makes me feel like a conquest novelty or something, like you don't have the respect or awareness to interact with me as a human being," she said.
Another friend of mine named Kaithlyn texted me a few weeks ago with the word "Sis" and two screenshots attached, and I immediately knew what was coming. The screenshots were a Bumble exchange she had with a man in Spain. After she greeted him with a message saying hello, he immediately told her she seemed tasty and that he likes "carne oscura", which is a sexual way of saying he liked dark skin. After I texted her back exclaiming how gross that was, she said she had gotten a few messages like that already. It made her try to focus on just interacting with men on the app who were also darker skinned. "It's like, can I get a 'How are you?' or something?," she said. "I don't know if they're just treating me as an exotic thing that they want to try out because they've never dated a Black girl before, but I'm not here to be a social experiment for you."
As if dating isn't hard enough, being fetishized for your race and skin color always adds an extra layer. If anything, I'm now also more nervous for those interactions with men in real life because, although we're not behind a screen, it doesn't mean those thoughts and feelings about Black women don't exist.
But I won't act as if I never see women like me thriving in the dating world, because even my own friends who experience being fetishized on apps also meet nice people on those same platforms. I have too! But we'll always have our guard up, because that's what the world has taught us to do.