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  • Labiba Hassan

The Absent Dating World for POC in a PWI

In predominantly white institutions (PWIs), POC struggle dating as they often encounter colorism, fetishization, stereotyping, and “racial preferences.”

“I’m only into blondes:” a phrase masked as only a preference for hair, in reality, is a form of racism. Some people avoid the ambiguity all together and make it clear that they are not into people of color (POC) because they are not their “type.” In predominantly white institutions (PWIs), these expressions have become mottos.

Although statements such as these are claimed to be merely “dating preferences”, they enforce unrealistic beauty standards and isolate people of color. In popular debates of “blondes vs brunettes,” despite being labeled as a preference for hair color, white people are the only ones considered to be part of that discussion. These hair colors are not as common for POC unless dyed.

Even so, POC with blonde hair are not what they consider to fit the category. Statements like this mimic Eurocentric beauty standards of having light skin, eyes, and hair. Desiring certain physical characteristics (i.e.: tall height) is not necessarily discriminatory towards people. However, when used in such a manner, saying that is only hiding the fact that they only date white people.

Statements that exclude a race from their preference, such as “Black women are not my type,” are also racist. To completely exclude a race from your “preference” assumes all people from a race share the same qualities and feeds into harmful stereotypes.

“How come people of color who date within their race aren’t seen as racist?” POC often date within their race because by being part of the same community, they share similar experiences and culture. This is not the same for white people because society is already constructed to make experiences of white people the norm. By calling out and addressing problems such as these, it helps reconstruct standards to be more inclusive. As the world becomes more accommodating to varying cultures and identities, dating would diversify as well.

In a PWI, these conditions are amplified in the dating world because it is already a difficult space to be in. Every community undergoes experiences that others outside the community may have difficulty understanding the tensions of.

Therefore, when diversity is limited, POC can have trouble finding a support system that would help them thrive. Schools with many affinity groups can help create an inclusive space for those pushed to the sidelines by society’s standards.

Some argue that these experiences are inevitable and not as common as it used to be. Dating “preferences” have slowly been diversifying. As the United States Census Bureau indicates, three percent more of couples in the U.S. are interatrial since 2000.

Despite improved conditions, it does not mean the situation has been resolved. According to many students who expressed their difficulties of dating in a PWI on various online forums, the dating sphere for POC in PWIs is practically “non-existent.” If they choose to date within the PWI, POC must consider factors including colorism, fetishization, and stereotyping.

The pattern of white people dating primarily other white people is usually credited to the environment they grew up in. To what extent does our environment affect the type of people we find attractive? Attending a PWI myself, when bringing up diversity, many students claim that the school was one of the most diverse places they have been in.

Growing up, these people are not exposed to as many people of color, therefore habits indicate that they tend to date white people. Given they grew up adapted to that idea of attractiveness, they argue that it makes sense to stick to that “type.”

If we were to follow this logic, then colorism would not exist. For example, we can look at Bangladesh and address their beauty standards. There, having fair skin is idealized so much that cream bleach for the skin is normalized to get “lovely skin.” Despite being surrounded by people of color, the beauty standard there is still modeled by white people. Not being exposed to a race did not limit them from having racist preferences.

Specifically, beauty standards in Bangladesh can be accounted for by British colonization of the country during the eighteenth century. This created the standard that if you looked like them, you were not as “inferior.” However, the dynamic of white supremacy is present throughout history all over the world, not just Bangladesh.

To clarify, regardless of the how diverse your environment is or the races you are exposed to, white characteristics are idealized everywhere. Beauty is seen as a spectrum, where the closer you are to looking white, such as having fair skin, you are deemed more attractive in society.

Solely dating one race (i.e.: only dating Asian people) is just as bad as only dating white people. This is a form of fetishization, where it eroticizes and devalues people as if they are simply sexual fantasies. It is such a frequent experience that the term “yellow fever” was created to label the degrading obsession with Asian people.

Due to fetishization, a common struggle faced by POC dating in PWIs is they are seen to be only good for a hookup and not a relationship. For example, black people are viewed as hypersexual and Hispanic people are labeled as “spicy.” People of different races are seen as objective to catch a thrill rather than people.

White being the standard of beauty is still enforced in modern day in subtle ways that are commonly disregarded. For instance, the lack of diversity in social media and modeling pushes Eurocentric beauty standards. Racism is a taught behavior that is further enforced by stereotypes.

Hence, when we are only exposed to white influencers as the beauty standard, people associate beauty with their features. Representation in media is crucial in creating an accepting environment for all people to depict how beauty comes in different forms. Other stereotypes include romanticizing accents except when they come from countries that are predominantly people of color.

For example, a British accent is considered charming, whereas a Chinese accent would label the person as “uneducated” and “unassimilated.” There is a racist bias in many beauty standards that are important to acknowledge.

With these ideals being repeated to people through generations, it becomes a norm and thus taught as the standard. When the norm of being attractive and desirable in a PWI is a white person, it marginalizes people of color and implies that their beauty is not worthy.

This can be tarnishing to a person as it rejects POC from the environment that they want to thrive in. Thus, it is extremely important that we break these stereotypes and address how racial preferences is just another form of racism.

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