Recently, I went on a first date.
I hadn’t seen anyone in several months and it was summertime. All the cute couples were out and, I’ll admit, I was curious about having some masculine companionship again.
I was a bit nervous about dating in Denver. I’m a young, black woman and I’m interested in white men, but I have experienced insecurity about whether or not they’ll be interested in me. Experience has shown me that my race is not a deterrent for men of any culture, but I’ve heard plenty of bad experiences. Wanting to touch my hair, making comments about me being “wild” or “exotic”- I was grateful it hadn’t happened to me. Still, I’m always acutely aware of my brown skin and tightly coiled hair in the dating world.
We met on a popular app and began an easy conversation about our styles of humor and shared about our enjoyment of tennis. He was a perfectly well-mannered man and I had been looking forward to going to a street festival in Denver, hanging out in the warm-weather and listening to music.
We were both a bit reserved at first. Still, we started a conversation about each of our days, our jobs – first date stuff. Suddenly, without awareness of how, our conversation drifted to politics and the topic of guns came up. “I would never use a gun,” I told him, “even in a zombie apocalypse.” (I would use a machete, if anyone was curious).
This sparked an imaginative session of our strategies for a zombie apocalypse. Me, somehow surviving for several days, hiding in the best corners and hotwiring cars. Total fantasy. He participated, commenting “Oh yeah, I could see that. In fact, there’s a woman on the Walking Dead who does that! You look just like her!”
My curiosity was sparked and I wanted to see what she looked like. Who is my zombie-slaying twin that came to this guy’s mind when I described myself dodging the undead?
When I searched for the character, Danai Gurira’s bold gaze filled my phone screen. She was beautiful but, I have to admit that I still felt a small knot in my stomach as I scrolled through photos of her fighting zombies.
I look nothing like her – no resemblance at all.
Our skin tones were two completely different shades of brown. Mine, a light tan, and hers, a deep, almost-ebony brown. Her eyes were rounded and large, while mine are almond-shaped and small. My face, heart-shaped and hers was more square. We looked like two different people not even distantly related.
I was disappointed and, unexpectedly, deeply hurt. I tried to stuff my feelings down, but one thought kept bubbling back up.
“Does he really think we look alike? Does he think all black women look the same? Is this how other white guys see me?”
In the moment, I was confused. Was it wrong for me to be insulted? Why did I have that terrible feeling? Then I realized:
I was just “another black person” to him. He wasn’t really looking at me and noticing my unique facial features. He just looked at me and saw a black girl, as if we all look alike. He saw my brown skin and filled in the rest of me without even bothering to look. He didn’t even see me clearly enough to notice that I have my own face, my own eyes, my own nose and my own lips.
I acknowledged the sinking feeling in my stomach but pushed it down, reasoning with myself that I was on a date and that it didn’t mean anything.
“Maybe he didn’t mean it,” I thought. “I’m taking it the wrong way.”
I settled on feeling like I was just being nitpicky but my insecure thoughts multiplied.
“Does he even think I’m pretty? Is he even interested in black women?”
Black women were the least-desired women on dating sites, according to OkCupid. Among women and men of all races, black women received the least responses from everyone. Even from men of their own race. Is this because people assume things about black women before they even meet them? Do people send messages to me or are they writing messages to a caricature of a person, an idea of who I am that they’ve constructed through media and anecdotal experiences?
I thought I had gotten over it, but the thoughts polluted my opinion of him. I was stifling myself by not allowing myself to let these thoughts in. I decided that I’m not wrong, I’m not too sensitive and I’m not “making it a big deal” – like people are so often told when they bring up an issue people don’t like discussing.
Not all black people look the same. No, I do not look like Kerry Washington, Michelle Obama, or Serena Williams. Not one bit. Ethnic groups don’t exist as blank canvases for you to splatter with stereotypes and assumptions about our personalities, faces and lives. People of color – we’re all unique. We’re individuals as much as anyone else.
If you are one who believes that the people of a specific race/ethnicity look the same, you should look a little longer. You should give us the consideration and respect of acknowledging our own individuality and, by extension, our humanity. You have a choice every day to lazily view those different than yourself as a collective with stereotypes, or to evaluate them comprehensively and respectfully as the individuals they are. We look like ourselves. Open your eyes.