“I only date Black,” said British-Nigerian actor John Boyega.
Who knew that four words in a GQ UK interview would launch thousands of hate-filled rants into the Twittersphere?
Boyega, who stars as King Ghezo in the box-office hit “The Woman King,” talked to the men’s magazine about everything: his post-”Star Wars” journey, the debate about Black British actors often portraying African American figures, engaging in direct activism in the summer of 2020, and much more.
But his desire to date only Black women turned into a discussion about double standards and preferences. One Twitter user, @ada_akpala, whose bio says they are “not interested in playing identitarian games,” wrote on the app, “If a white actor said they only dated white women, many would not defend his right to have ‘preferences.’ They would call him racist.”
As many users rightfully pointed out in the replies, white entertainers and celebrities don’t say it; they just do it. At most, they use vague descriptions such as “blondes and brunettes” and age-old euphemisms such as “tall, dark and handsome” — and, more recently, “golden retriever vibes” — to describe their type. (We’ve seen it on Love Island UK and so many other reality dating shows, for God’s sake.)
Considering we live in a world where white womanhood is perennially on a pedestal, the sheer fact that a Black male celebrity made it clear that he wants to love and cherish us — without insulting any other group in the process — is refreshing. What is always disappointing, yet unsurprising, is the internet’s reaction, a telltale sign of rampant misogynoir in today’s society.
Northwestern University professor Moya Bailey coined the term “misogynoir” in her 2008 dissertation. The term refers to “the specific intersection of racism and sexism that Black women often face” and she noted it “is used colloquially in all types of academic, cultural, and casual settings.”
In reality, the Boyega discourse is a direct reflection of how people perceive Black women and femmes. It signals that Black women shouldn’t believe we deserve love and, rather, we should be grateful to even be in the romantic dating pool, despite being relegated to the bottom by the racist, misogynistic structures that be.
Historically, we have been hypersexualized and adultified, reduced to objects for mere sexual pleasure. Black girls are perceived as needing “less protection and nurturing” and as being “more knowledgeable about sex,” according to a 2017 University of Florida Levin College of Law study examining violence against Black women.
Then, on the other end point of the pendulum, Black women are mammified and defeminized. The “mammy” caricature originates from the era of slavery and describes the archetypal Black domestic servant who is a good-natured, “obese, coarse, maternal figure.”
Too often, Black women are deemed devoid of any desire or longing for companionship. The expectation is that we are worker mules, saving the world around us, gleefully and loyally, despite reaping minimal tangible benefits.
The conversation also doubles down on the racist notion that loving a Black woman — loudly, openly and as she is — is unfathomable. It points to society’s inability to see Black women as full human beings. We are your playthings, your saviors, your bridesmaids and partners-in-crime, but never the bride.
Yet here Boyega is, professing his love for us.
When it comes to desirability, whiteness and the proximity to it have been and still are considered the default. No one questions it. On dating apps, Black women and Asian men were decidedly the least sought after, NPR reported in 2018.
“But I got a lot of people that said, ‘I never looked at it that way. These choices that I made, I didn’t even realize, my preference … is not just my own choice. It’s not by chance. It’s actually a product of the environment that we live in.’”
– dating expert Damona Hoffman recalling feedback from readers
On an episode of “Therapy for Black Girls,” Atlanta-based therapist Joy Harden Bradford was joined by OK Cupid dating expert and “Dates & Mates” podcast host Damona Hoffman, a Black, Jewish and biracial woman, to talk about online dating. Hoffman said that following an opinion article she wrote for The Washington Post on dating preferences, she received hate mail but also insightful feedback from readers.
“But I got a lot of people that said, ‘I never looked at it that way. These choices that I made, I didn’t even realize, my preference … is not just my own choice,” Hoffman said in the episode. “It’s not by chance. It’s actually a product of the environment that we live in.’”
Hoffman also found data noting that 52% of Black women put an emphasis on culture, ethnicity and race as it relates to our identity in comparison to a mere 36% of our Black male counterparts, which affects how and who we engage in partnerships with.
As “Bachelor” franchise podcast host and actor Mikayla Bartholomew noted in conversation with NBC BLK, because Black women are relegated to the bottom of the social hierarchy, “engaging in relationships is often about finding someone that you’re compatible with. Whereas, for Black men, there’s an assimilation to power that they’re seeking.”
Since chattel slavery and colonialism, white women have been idolized as the pinnacle of femininity. It’s one of many reasons why, according to the Pew Research Center, 24% of Black men are married to women outside of their race, compared with only 12% of Black women.
Let’s be clear: Date who you want to date, but do not denigrate Black women in the process of explaining your rationale for doing so. We too often see young Black men on TikTok, encouraged by their peers in the comments, attribute stereotypes of aggression, dominance and masculinity to Black women as a means to justify their anti-Blackness and refusal to date us.
We see countless Black cishet male celebrities with white wives and girlfriends on their arms; landing a white wife is still perceived as a sign of status to some, only for Black men to later realize that she wore antebellum clothing in a past life. No thoughts or racial analysis present, just vibes, internalized racism and low self-esteem.
Meanwhile, Black women are expected to wait for our “Black king” and uphold the institution of Black love by any means necessary. Often Black women are shamed for choosing their happiness and dating outside of their race. Remember when Serena Williams, who ostensibly dated Common and Drake, married Alexis Ohanian? The same men on the internet who called her a brute were suddenly infuriated that their “Nubian Queen” married a white man.
While Boyega is crucified for, as he tweeted, “expressing his love for cultural familiarity,” white men, such as Robert De Niro, “Love Is Blind” star Cameron Hamilton and my personal favorite NFL tight end, Travis Kelce, are actually applauded for dating Black women, as if it’s inherently so progressive and a favor to us. On the internet, white boys are populating TikTok audios such as this one — “If you’re a white boy and you love you some Black women, please use this sound…” — often merely for likes, virality and a pat on the back.
Preferences are largely characterized by socialization and upbringing and should be interrogated, as colorism, fatphobia, and queerphobia run rife even in our own community. And Boyega stated he “always thought certain reactions to preference would only occur if you belittle other people while expressing what you like.”
You cannot equate Boyega’s comments to a double standard when Black women are not heralded on equitable ground. If anything, the conversation amplifies society’s acceptance of whiteness as the epitome of beauty.
The idea that it is so ludicrous for a Black male celebrity to actually desire a Black woman — and the idea that we are deserving of such love — shouldn’t be as radical as the internet makes it out to be. Yet the mental gymnastics people employ to avoid saying the silent part aloud is mind-boggling.
Instead, how about you just be quiet: Your misogynoir is showing.