The Everyday Racism You Encounter While Dating as a Person of Colour
"I've decided not to have sex with white people any more. I'm tired of being made to feel like I'm only around to fulfil their sexual fantasies."
This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands
As someone with an Egyptian background living in the Netherlands, I'm constantly forced to laugh off poor attempts at flirting that focus solely on my race. "Arab guys make me so horny – I hear you're all very dominant and aggressive in bed," was one example. "You’re quite handsome for a Moroccan," was another.
It's clear that, for some people, having sex with me would just be another exotic experience to tick off their bucket list, like wakeboarding or salsa classes. On the flip-side of this fetishisation are guys who won't date me purely because of my roots; I’ve had people tell me to my face that they're just not attracted to "foreigners". This kind of exclusion based on race is rampant all over – like on Grindr, where countless profiles feature terms like "no Asians" or "no blacks".
I was curious to see if experiencing racism in the dating scene is as common as it seems to be, so I spoke to seven people of colour in the Netherlands about the part race plays when they're out, dating someone, or in their sex lives.
Sarah, 22, Student
VICE: Hey Sarah, have you ever had to deal with unpleasant sexual comments based on your race?
Sarah: Yes, all the time. Guys have asked whether my vagina is pink or not on more than one occasion. Usually, it isn't even meant to be funny. And I'm often on the receiving end of racist "jokes" when I'm out in bars and clubs, like people saying, "I didn't see you there, you're so dark." I also get comments that are meant to be nice, but are incredibly ignorant. "You're so good-looking for a black girl," or, "You're the first black girl I've kissed." It has ruined so many nice dates, because I don’t want to feel like an experiment. I'm not an exotic piece of fruit you can try and toss away if it's not for you.
How do you respond to comments like that?
I usually just tell people it isn't cool to say stuff like that. It's so infuriating when I’m flirting with a guy and, out of nowhere, he just makes a joke about my skin colour. I have to keep calm, though, or I'll run the risk of being labelled an angry black woman.
I also have to watch how I dress so I'm not automatically seen as a "ghetto girl with a big ass who probably loves to twerk", as one guy once described me. I’m proud of my West African roots, but I don’t want that to be the only thing people see of me.
Do you ever get ignored because of it?
Absolutely, and it's just as annoying. Loads of times I've gone out with my white mates and I was the only one who didn't get any attention from guys at all.
Myrna, 21, Fashion Designer
VICE: Can you give an example of racist comments you've received that were meant in a sexy way?
Myrna: Recently, a guy came up to me and told me I looked "sexy exotic". In bars, I always get comments about my curls that are meant in a flirty way, but can be quite intimidating.
Is it always bad?
Well, I've had men say I'm more exciting than white girls, which I take as a compliment rather than a racist insult, so that's not too bad. It's just the prejudice and exclusion coming from some comments which is the issue for me.
What do you mean exactly?
I noticed that a lot of white guys assume that I would never like them, because they think I would only go for Moroccan or Turkish boys, for example. My boyfriend is actually white, and some people are shocked when they find out. And it's not a lot of fun when I'm out with my friends and I'm the only one who's being ignored by guys.
Shamiro, 32, Event Planner
VICE: Have you ever had to deal with sexual comments based on your race?
Shamiro: I’m pretty certain almost every person of colour has experienced that, yeah. A friend once told me there are these sex parties where black men are treated like gold dust, because we're seen as wild sex machines to lust after. Women I meet when I'm going out start talking about my hair, tell me I have this "exotic" coconut smell, or are curious about what's down my pants.
Generally, what assumptions do people make about black men?
That we're unfaithful, have enormous dicks and are always horny. A girl once said that she didn’t want to go out with me because she suspected my penis was too big for her, while a lot of white girls who get to know me say that I'm "not like other black guys", even though they’ve never dated a black guy. They've just gone ahead and made the assumption that black guys don't treat women very well.
Do you sometimes feel excluded in the dating scene because of your skin colour?
Yeah – sometimes women tell me outright that they're not attracted to black men. And when I was younger, I had a girlfriend who wouldn't introduce me to her parents because they didn't accept the fact that we were together.
Do you attract certain types?
The white girls who pride themselves on how much they're attracted to black men, and go on and on about how much black culture they consume. All they talk about is how much they love Kanye West, like I'm supposed to be impressed by that.
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Elia*, 25, Refugee from Morocco
VICE: Hey Elia, what sort of comments do you have to deal with when trying to date people in the Netherlands?
Elia: On Grindr, loads of men start conversations by calling me "master", because Arab men are seen as dominant in bed. That's why I decided not to have sex with white people any more, because I’m tired of being fetishised and made to feel like I’m only around to fulfil other people's sexual fantasies. And I don’t really go to gay bars any more, because I never feel comfortable. When I had just arrived in the Netherlands, I went to a gay bar and a bunch of older guys there thought I'd be up for anything. They kept buying drinks, they were touching me and demanded I come home with them – I don't want to be in that situation again.
What's the weirdest thing you've experienced?
When I was living in a refugee centre in the northeast of the Netherlands, older white men would regularly drive to the camp just to try and sleep with refugees. I've been harassed by a guy there for that reason.
Wow. And do you experience rejection because of your race, too?
Oh yeah, absolutely. People say things like, "I'm not racist, but I'm just not attracted to Moroccans."
Tothu, 24, Student
VICE: How often do people make assumptions about your sexuality because of your race?
Tothu: All the time. Men assume I'm either wild or submissive in bed, or think I'm some sort of Japanese Hentai character. I'm not even Japanese. Once, on Tinder, this guy who literally had the term "yellow fever" on his profile wouldn’t leave me alone. Also, lots of men aren't shy about openly saying they want to sleep with me because they suspect I have a "tight vagina".
Do you always find the comments annoying?
Yes – I love getting a compliment about me as an individual, but being labelled on your ethnicity is never fun. I don’t want to hear, "You’re so beautiful for an Asian," or anything like it. One time, when I told someone at a party that I thought the DJ was hot, their response was that the DJ probably "wouldn't like spring rolls".
Do you think you attract certain types?
I do attract people who see having sex with me as ticking some kind of box. One guy I slept with told a friend that he'd done it with "a Vietnamese girl", like it was all just an experiment for him.
VICE: Have you ever had to deal with unpleasant sexual comments because of your race?
Loubna: When I still wore a headscarf, guys would often try to intimidate me with looks, or by asking if I was still a virgin. Or they'd tell me they thought I probably would be hotter without it. A man once asked me if I was good at anal sex because he'd heard that Moroccan girls loved it as a way to stay a virgin before marriage. It's not as bad now that I don't wear one any more, but I still get told that I look exotic, or that it's their dream to have sex with an Arab girl.
How do you react to these kind of comments?
I used to be pretty shy, so I never said anything back and just felt dirty. I'm a bit more confident now and I’ll speak up if I feel something is inappropriate. But I also don't pay too much attention to it. I know girls who feel like they have to adopt the "exotic, submissive" persona just to get attention. I don’t want to judge them, but personally I don't like it – it only encourages certain prejudices.
Do you sometimes feel like guys won't flirt with you because of your background?
I think there are two extremes – white men who don’t give you any attention because they think you're all set for an arranged marriage, or will only go for Muslim guys. And then there are the guys who think Arab girls are desperate for any man, and they assume they can act however they like towards us.
Reza, 30, DJ
VICE: What sort of comments do you deal with being Iranian in the Dutch dating scene?
Reza: People often ask me if I’m circumcised, and if so, how that feels. There aren’t actually that many prejudices about Iranian men. Some people assume we all treat women badly, because they think they're considered inferior in my culture.
How do you usually respond?
The circumcision thing is just a weird question – I can’t compare it to anything, so what am I meant to say? Mostly I just laugh and try to change the subject. But when it comes to women assuming that I'll inevitably treat them badly, I go out of my way to prove that I’m a good guy.
So some women rule out dating you simply because of your race?
Yes – some say quite openly that they're just not interested in Middle Eastern men, but I don’t actually mind. For some people, you will never be good enough, no matter how hard you try. I can't force anyone to like me.
*Names have been changed to protect identities.
This article originally appeared on VICE NL.