European monarchies built and waged their power upon our deaths and our blood. Within this context, how could we possibly expect them to value Blackness?
By Nneka M. Okona
Some months ago, I was comfy and settled on my couch awaiting that week’s episode of “Real Housewives of Atlanta”. I had a glass of wine at my side and as I reached for the first sip, my eyes caught a commercial for a new show aired by Bravo, named “To Rome For Love”.
The basic premise of the show: a group of middle-aged Black women crossing the Atlantic to visit Rome, the land of pasta, gelato and the famed coliseum — for love of course. Gina Neely, one half of the famed pair known for their cooking show on the Food Network, was one of the featured women looking for love across an ocean and time zones. I watched the episode of Real Housewives and got my cackles in.
My curiosity was piqued after seeing the preview for “To Rome For Love”, but mere minutes later I began to ask myself questions. One of the first things I heard uttered on the show was how, “Black women have trouble finding love in America” and from there a laundry list was rattled off about the numerous ways Black women are perceived to be undesirable romantically; the goal of the show promotes the idea that if Black women dared to relocate across the pond, in London, Paris or Rome, their chances for finding love and being appreciated increases exponentially.
That’s where the buck stopped for me and when I changed the channel to something else.
Although it’s merely a television show, the fallacy of elsewhere in the world, namely Europe being a fertile ground for Black women to find love and adoration, is prevalent. It’s a commonly believed truth as per conversations I’ve had with other Black women of all ages throughout the years.
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Somehow the idea of being attached in a fruitful partnership here in the U.S., especially with Black men, is out of reach for reasons we’ve all nursed amongst ourselves as known truths: Black-on-Black crime, too many brothers in jail and not enough men out in the world to marry or date us, Black women being too educated, too independent, too put together for a man to find suitable enough to “settle down” with.
But, I’ve long been annoyed with the idea that Europe is some untouchable utopia for Black women in regards to love. “To Rome For Love” only reminded me of this irritation. And it’s mostly because I know better based upon firsthand experience, I lived in Europe, in Madrid, Spain, years ago. My experiences with dating and existing as a Black woman were not stuff made of fairytales. One time, early in the morning as I waiting for a bus to take me to the airport, a man drove up in his car, talking to me aggressively and trying to lure me to go home with him. I blithely talked to him, mostly ignoring as he spoke to me in fast Spanish, eventually getting him to drive off in a huff.
It wasn’t until hours later when I was at the airport about to board my flight that it dawned on me what had happened: because I had been out, alone, on the street so late, he had assumed I was a sex worker. This was something I’d heard from countless other Black women as they’d traveled through Spain, aggressively being talked to suggestively because of course, a Black woman out at night always equals a sex worker.
Here’s a truth I know most people probably don’t want to hear: being a Black woman in Europe generally is hard. Being one in Spain specifically is harder. I can’t speak to Rome or Italy at large because I’ve never lived there nor spent extensive time there but anti-Blackness isn’t uniquely American, and to think so ignores history and the present context of our lives.
But for me, expecting Europe as an entity, a place that in many regards systemically and socially degrades and hypersexualizes Black women, to be the answer to a Black women’s prayers for love, is unrealistic and misplaced. European nations colonized the global south and participated in the slave trade. For centuries, European monarchies built and waged their power upon our deaths and our blood. Within this context, how could we possibly expect them to value Blackness?
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I understand the doe-eyed wonder that Black Americans have with Europe. This country was built on the shared pain of our disenfranchisement and centuries of abuse. We looked to Europe as a place of opportunity and escape. Black literati, such as James Baldwin and the like, leapt to go to Europe to create free from the racism that engulfed their home country. Europe gave them peace and unbridled creativity. Because of that, we’ve looked to Europe in different ways. But Black women in Europe know all too well that misogynoir is an everyday part of their lives. Activists like Rokhaya Diallo has seen her activism and journalism pushed back against by the white public in France — we cannot ignore the testimonies of our European sisters. Myths are just that, myths.
No place is perfect, the United States isn’t and neither is Europe. There is just as much racism, prejudice and bigotry there as well, even if it doesn’t readily to appear to us in ways we’re used to. Let’s not paint of picture of idealism that doesn’t exist. Instead, let’s look to where we are, open our hearts to finding love to let bloom where we are planted, even if that’s right here in the United States of America.
Author Bio: Nneka M. Okona is a writer from Atlanta, Georgia who writes about travel, food and wellness.
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