Marcus Stow delves into the reasons behind so many black gay men being in relationships with white guys and comes up with some fascinating conclusions.
A friend recently showed me a Grindr profile, an attractive dark-skinned black guy posing shirtless with a sculptured six-pack. “Not into black guys” the profile stated flatly. There was another, a geeky, handsome young black guy. “Don’t like black men”, with the ‘face-mask’ emoji.
As black queer people, we often face discrimination in queer spaces. There’s the white guys on hook-up apps that exclude us, even if it’s a polite “prefer Europeans”. There’s the Pornhub-category fetishisation and expectation of BBC (Big Black…). There’s the exoticism if we are lighter skinned – there must disappointment when they learn you are from Burnley. There’s a set of stereotypes we must navigate – one white guy was astonished how “middle class” I was on a date. I’m not sure if the fact he said he’d forgotten his wallet was related.
You’d think given that there is so much to navigate as black men we would be more inclined to date each other. A picture recently appeared on my Facebook feed showing five handsome black men with their partners, every one of whom was white. “These guys look like really good friends” I thought. “Did they ever consider dating each other?” And of my black queer friends and acquaintances I can think of only one who has a long-term partner who is a person of colour.
The UK is known for its high proportion of mixed race relationships, with between 22 and 62% of African or African-Caribbean people living with a white long-term partner according to the ONS. However, parings with partners from the same ethnic group seem rare for gay and bisexual men in the UK.
I asked black gay and bisexual men their opinions on this subject, and hegemonic European beauty standards were definitely an issue:
“One of the key issues is European beauty standards. In our context we are minorities so the standard of beauty deemed ‘manly’ is someone who is white and is of a certain build, and even though that doesn’t apply to us, that’s what we aspire to as we are told from a very young age that it is the ideal. Those of us who are closer to European features like smaller noses, thinner lips and lighter skin will have more of a chance.
“We are colonised, which feeds into self-hate. I can meet someone like me and they could be like “I don’t like black men or I only like light-skinned men” – I can’t do anything about that, and this is subscribing to the ideals that society says that we are not supposed to be liked. Everyone is colonised to some degree and there are levels to that, and this affects straight people too.” – Denzel
There’s also the traditional ideas of family in many black communities, which were introduced and enforced in our homelands or our ancestors’ homelands via colonialism and religion:
“A lot of our communities have traditional ideas of family – the man, woman, and kids, and when you find out that isn’t what you want, you feel apart from the community and this may feed into self-hate. I did not want to be a part of a community where I was getting bullied. I’m Caribbean and I grew up listening to dancehall music for example but every second track was ‘bun batty man’, and you learn that what you aspire to romantically is not right.” – Denzel
Part of it is simply a numbers game, and the way we date. Even in London, if you take the ONS’ undoubtedly conservative 2.6% figure of LGB people, a population in London of 8.5 million, 75% of whom are adults, and a black population of 12% (including black mixed categories) you get around 20,000 black LGB people, a lot of whom will already be in relationships, and will be dispersed around Greater London.
Unlike our straight counterparts, we are less likely to meet people in our own communities, meaning dating in the wider pool of queer society. Indeed, up to 80% of us now meet our partners on dating apps. Research has shown that middle class people are more likely to be ‘out’, and that middle class group is more likely to be white. A recent survey showed that 2.2% of people in professional jobs said they were LGB, compared with just 1.4% in manual or low-skilled jobs. This has a bearing on how ethnically diverse queer spaces are:
“I’m bothered that discourse on this topic often seems to conflate structural realities of the whiteness of queer spaces with racialised personal ‘preferences. I’ve never dated someone who wasn’t white or white passing but that’s a function of spending my entire life as the only black person in the room. I’ve never lived in a major metropolitan centre where you get large communities of queer and trans PoC, or any PoC at all. I’ve spent my life around white people and the queer spaces I’ve been in have only ever been even whiter. My dating history doesn’t reflect a sexual racism I construe as a preference but a complex of structural racisms which have limited by ability to meet other PoC, black and non-black, particularly queer ones.” – Matthew
There’s also our own particular connections to black communities and how that plays out in our dating choices:
“I always felt that I was never black enough for the black community. My family are from Mauritius, my mum is lighter skin tone and I had very limited interaction with my Dad (from Jamaica) so I lost that part of my heritage growing up. The secondary school I went to was mostly white people. For me it was wanting to fit in, so I tended to find myself drawn into the peripherals of the white crowd.
“Generally growing up, I used to get shunned by the black community for speaking properly and that didn’t set me on a positive road in how I perceived black people. When I started to go onto the scene, I felt out of touch with the black gays as a result of my upbringing and the people I grew up around. I find black people attractive without a doubt, but what I really dislike about some of the black community is expectation. Call it confidence if you want but I used to get approached a few times in Heaven when I was younger by black guys who expected me to be into them, ’cause you know, why wouldn’t I be? And I found that off putting.” – Noel
From personal experience, when I was growing up, gay was white. Even the limited images of gay men in the media back then were always of white guys, and naturally when I imagined my future partner, I imagined someone white. So when I came out at university and joined a small black gay men’s group it was a wonderful safe space to talk about our issues, and that’s where I met my first two boyfriends, both of whom I’m still great friends with now.
What I took from those relationships were a wider sense of who I could be as a man. I could still identify as Afro-Caribbean as well as English, I could still enjoy American R&B instead of the dreadful techno and pop my local gay clubs used to play, and I could be inspired by black gay men such as Bayard Rustin and James Baldwin, whose novel Giovanni’s Room was a real pivotal moment. I could still challenge the racism in society and from other queer people in particular. ‘Gay’ did not have to become a singular, consuming identity.
With our society embracing mixed race relationships, you’d wonder why we should even be any need to write down thoughts about this issue, especially as I now have a husband who is white. For some people cultural compatibility, having the same references and the same trials can add to a relationship, for others it’s not so important. Love may see no colour, but I want my fellow LGBTQ+ PoC to not only be accepted in wider queer society, but also accept ourselves and the possibilities of relationships that our straight counterparts enjoy without question. Even if the latter is not essential, self-love is certainly something to strive for.
Follow Marcus on Twitter (@marcusjdl)