Not your African princess

Photo by Robb Hohmann. Creative commons license.

I once had a couple tell me that they would put leopard-print bed sheets and animal furs on their bed to (and I quote) “make me feel more at home.”

by Samantha Edwards

I’m sitting alone at a bar, sipping on an overpriced cocktail and making casual conversation with the bartender when a beautiful woman approaches me. She’s the girl I’d recently met on a dating app. After all, dating when you’re not straight is a lot like finding a job in the 21st Century: you either get on the internet or get a referral from a friend.

She’s conventionally attractive; white, blonde and somewhat thin. She compliments my hair, and says my long waist-length braids make me look like an “African Princess.” I roll my eyes but keep smiling.

Then she says, “I’m excited to finally meet you. I showed your pictures to all of my girlfriends. They think you’re absolutely beautiful. You know, I’ve never been with a black girl before. I’ve heard good things.”

I raise a perfectly arched eyebrow. “Oh really? What have you heard?”

“Well,” she leans in as though she’s about to spill some scalding tea, “I’ve heard you guys are like animals in bed. You’re so exotic and pretty looking. You could say I have jungle fever.” To my shock, she puts a hand on my chin and slides it down to exposed cleavage.

This is when I grab my purse, wish her a good night and leave. This isn’t the first time this has happened to me.

To be black and bisexual is to automatically become the “exotic other.” Black women (and other women of color) face another level of racism and sexism. The racism we face gets sexualized, and the sexism we face is racialized. (To sum it up: I’m not just a bitch, I’m a black bitch).

This spills over into my dating life. As my Tindr app buzzes in my purse, I wonder: how many of these men and women will confess to me that they’ve “always wanted to try a black girl?” As if I’m food; my flesh to be consumed, sampled and then have the gristle spat out. Whenever I speak to new potential mates, I always have the same question in the back of my mind: “Am I just a fetish to them?”

Related: Introducing Her: The New Dating App for Lesbian, Bi and Queer Women

More often than not, I am. I’m a hushed whisper over cocktails with a coworker, I’m the juicy gossip relayed to a spouse during sex, I’m the dash of paprika you add to your relationship when the sex has become stale. My black body is seen like a testing ground for some. It’s an itch they need to scratch before settling down with a more suitable (this is usually code for white) partner. I am not human; I am the exotic beast brought in from some far-away land and trained for your spectacle and enjoyment. The sexual stereotype of black women is a paradox: we are viewed as both ugly yet innately sexual. I’ve had both men and women proclaim their disgust for black flesh and, in the next minute, tell me what they want to do with my pouty lips.

Perhaps one of the most jarring realities that I faced when I first entered the LGBT+ community was the rampant racism. I never thought a community so used to violence and persecution would turn around and exhibit that same behavior. It’s an odd thing that happens when people experience a “double consciousness.” While some people in the LGBT+ community are part of privileged majority groups (e.g. white, cis or able-bodied), their queerness sometimes negates those privileges. This results in many queer people having racist ideals.

Couple that with the fact that most LGBT+ spaces are often sexualized, many races often become one-dimensional sexual caricatures. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been at a gay bar only to have a white couple (regardless of sexual and gender orientation) approach me for sex and assume that I’ll be “dominant,” “aggressive,” or “animal-like” in the bedroom. I once had a couple tell me that they would put leopard-print bed sheets and animal furs on their bed to (and I quote) “make me feel more at home.”

Dating has become cumbersome, to be honest. I’ve all but sent in my application to become a nun. I’m barely into my twenties, and I’m already exhausted with dealing with fetishization and bi-phobia. Until then, I’ll put on some more red lipstick and keep swiping right.

Samantha Edwards, the child of Jamaican parents, was born in New York and raised in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She dreams of being a screenwriter and is a business student. Follow her on Tumblr

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