My professor commented that her friends (they are all on their late 50's) like to travel to Europe because over there they are more sought after than here and they come back with their self-esteem boosted to 10000000%
Illustration by Brittany Holloway-Brown for BuzzFeed
At first glance, Black Girl Travel
seems to be like any other American international travel club, just one
that caters exclusively to black women. But buried toward the bottom of
its About Us page is a fuzzy YouTube video that indicates a wider problem.
The video is a defense of the company — directed at “haters” who have
criticized Black Girl Travel for encouraging black women to date men in
“The heart of what we do is about empowering African-American women
with options,” says Fleacé Weaver, founder of Black Girl Travel, in the
clip. “I have done a lot of research and talked to a lot of women in
this country, and what I’m hearing is: You can’t find dates, you can’t
find mates, you can’t find husbands.”
Weaver, a statuesque black woman flanked by two chic employees on
either side, is all long lithe limbs and wavy hair. Her presence,
despite the poor video quality, commands the screen.
“And I kind of thought about, like, well why is that? And as I
started talking to [women] it’s like, they’re only dating black guys.
Don’t shoot me!” she exclaims, pressing her hands to her chest, then
throwing them out in a shrug. “It’s the truth. That’s what’s happening.”
She cites her research, 2008 census data that suggests that even if
every black man chose to partner with a black woman, there would still
be 1.5 million black women left mate-less.
“That’s why I created BlackGirlTravel.com. To get you to start
thinking about dating interracially,” Weaver says warmly. “There are a
lot of incredible men out there, yes, you know you want a brother. …
That’s what you want, right? And that’s OK. But we know it’s just not
enough to go around!” Weaver’s staff laughs along with her.
“What you gotta do is open your mind.”
Weaver’s not alone in her exhortation to black
American women. The idea that we should travel abroad — particularly to
Europe — to find love has a home in online discussion groups, travel
websites, blogs, and Facebook pages, all of which earnestly and
enthusiastically encourage us to “swirl,” i.e., date non-black men (the
term is designed to evoke a half-chocolate, half-vanilla soft-serve).
I first came across the encouragements to go to Europe and “swirl”
when I was a junior in college preparing to study abroad in Sweden.
Though I cringe to admit it now, I was excited by the possibility of a
semester spent flirting with Swedes. As a painfully self-conscious
biracial woman, I had struggled to date at an Ivy League school, and
studying abroad was as much an escape as it was a necessary academic
endeavor for an international relations major. But I am also a European
Union citizen, born in Hungary to a Hungarian mother and Nigerian
father, and my optimism was tempered by the reality of my experiences
living and traveling in Europe, experiences that taught me I was both
Other and object. As much as I wanted to believe in sites that told me
differently — that men across the pond were just waiting for my arrival —
I felt like I also knew better.
And while these sites say they intend to expose black women to a
world of possibilities, the “possibilities” seem to predominantly
feature black women with white men — a move that, intentionally or not,
presents interracial dating as aspirational. Kim Butler, a data editor
from California who moved to Germany in 2011, pushed back
on the argument that Europe is a solution to black female singlehood on
her blog last year. She told me she’s noticed many of the pro-“swirl”
websites seem to be pushing one message: “What is right is white.” But
Butler says there is more of a conversation to be had. “Are we going to
start talking about some of the issues going on in America, why there’s
not so many black female couplings … or are we just going to say, ‘Screw
it! We’ll just go to Europe and find a white guy.’”
“That’s not what we’re saying,” Weaver told me via Skype from Rome.
She’s a former Los Angeles socialite who ran a once-popular site for
affluent African-American Angelenos: blackweekly.com. “We say, ‘Date all
And her statement was more or less repeated by nearly every one of
the women I interviewed who advocate that black women date interracially
and internationally. Several added that they tell women to “choose
character over color.” But it’s difficult to scroll through picture
after picture of beaming-black-woman-with-smiling-white-man and not feel
that interracial relationships are being idealized, rather than simply
celebrated, an experience discomfiting enough that it has at times made
me question my own relationship with a white man.
“Once those images are posted and once they’re permeating society,
then a certain kind of picture is presented and reinforced about who
black women should be with,” Tiya Miles told me over the phone.
Last year Miles, the chair of African-American studies at the
University of Michigan–Ann Arbor and a former MacArthur fellow, wrote
about the issues facing black women and interracial dating for the Huffington Post.
While “in a perfect world love would be blind,” she wrote, in the
United States — and its polarized racial landscape in which black is
essentially bad and white is essentially good — our romantic decisions
are also political ones, whether we’d like them to be or not.
The practical, not the political, was certainly the driving force for
Weaver when she founded Black Girl Travel. The company, which was
originally named Bella Italia before expanding to other countries,
arranges tours for groups ranging from fewer than 10 to over 70. She
could readily name all the women she’s taken to Italy who are currently
in relationships with, or married to, Italian men. But she insisted that
Black Girl Travel’s purpose isn’t to convince black women that Europe
is the solution to their singlehood.
“I’m not saying it is the promised land; I’m just saying you have more options,” Weaver said.
Weaver is speaking to what she calls “the 1.5 million”: the number of
black women in America who outnumbered black men in 2008 (now 2.5
million according to current census data). The women who, even if every
black man chose to date a black woman, would still be left without a
partner. Because it assumes all black women are heterosexual, this
figure can’t accurately convey the number of single black women seeking a
male partner. But black men are more than twice
as likely than black women to marry outside their race, perhaps because
stereotypes about black men and sexuality increase their desirability —
while comparable parallels aren’t often available to black women.
According to some advocates of interracial dating, unlike black men,
black women face a unique pressure to date within their race.
“Black women are the community,” said Christelyn Karazin, founder of BeyondBlackWhite.com, author of Swirling, and creator of a new interracial dating show Swirlr,
told me via Skype. “It’s like what Alice Walker said: We’re the mules.
We’re the mammies. We’re not supposed to leave. We’re supposed to be
holding it down. ‘I love my black kings, I’m holding it down!’
Meanwhile, so many of us are so miserable and unhappy and think that we
don’t even deserve to be happy — that it’s about being black first and a
Karazin, who also spearheaded a controversial
movement advocating against single motherhood in the black communtiy,
describes tangled and knotted long-standing ideas about black
desirability and femininity — or, the supposed lack thereof. The slave
trade turned black bodies into objects of toil and labor, and made black
women’s bodies desirable largely in the context of rape, which allowed
slave masters to exert further control over them. Slapstick mammies made
exultant, toothy-grinned claims on the screens of early 20th-century
cinema, their large and lumbering figures merely vehicles for laughs.
And black female sexuality has often only been portrayed in its most
grotesque and sensational forms, those of Hottentot Venuses or conniving
jezebels. Throughout American history black women were either
desexualized or hypersexualized according to the whims and anxieties of
whites in control of their images.
In America, with the exceptions of nearly exclusively light-skinned
celebrities, to desire a black woman is to reach your hand into the
bottom of the beauty standard barrel. It’s why the adoration following
Lupita has been so refreshing, and complicated. As recently
as 2011, science (or, “science”) has been used to claim that black
women are decidedly unattractive. As black women in the United States,
we’re told not only that we likely won’t get married,
(based on oft-misconstrued statistics that apply only to women aged
25–29), but that trying via modern conventions like online dating are
probably futile — after all, we’re also the least likely to get messaged in online dating.
Malika Walker arrived in Rome two weeks ago as
Weaver’s new assistant. Her boss said she “can’t even keep up with” how
many dates Walker has been asked on since arriving.
“I guess you could say my stock is up in Europe,” Walker told me,
with an exuberant laugh. “I felt like Naomi [Campbell] when I got off
the plane. When I walked through the airport, I felt like a supermodel.”
Walker, who calls herself dark-skinned and repeatedly noted that she
used to be heavier, moved to Italy from Atlanta, Ga. In Atlanta, she
explained, light-skinned ideals made it difficult for her to date,
though she had long ago learned to find validation from within rather
than without. “Someone else’s preferences don’t define my value.”
Chelsea Como, Weaver’s other assistant who moved to Rome in 2012,
echoed Walker’s statements. As a self-identified “brown-skinned” woman
in Miami, Fla., she found she couldn’t live up to anyone’s ideals of
“I felt like as a brown-skinned girl, there was nothing extraordinary
about me as a black woman who’s in shape but doesn’t have a humongous
booty or the whole Nicki Minaj-J.Lo body type,” she told me. “I wasn’t
The first time Como traveled with Black Girl Travel, in 2009, the script was completely flipped.
“When I came to Italy, it was like ‘What a beautiful figure you
have!’ and ‘Your skin is so beautiful, it shines!’ or ‘I love your
smile!’ The things that they looked at me [for] or complimented me on
were things that I didn’t value because I felt that the society I lived
in didn’t value them.”
Como also admitted that getting honked at on the streets of Rome made her initially feel uncomfortable.
“I was very self-conscious, but then I embraced it,” Como said. “I’d
felt invisible for such a long time, and then when I came to Italy,
Italian girls felt that I was competition … In America, a white girl
doesn’t feel threatened at all by a black woman.”
An aspiring singer-songwriter who traveled with Weaver four times
before making the move to Italy, Como said she only started wearing her
natural hair after she left the U.S. “If you could go somewhere, be
yourself 100%, try, experiment, and whatever you did, people would
appreciate that, wouldn’t you want to be there?”
My thoughts have lingered longingly on this question — why, yes, I
would want to be there. Yet, in the context of this Euro-topia, I wonder
what to make of those in Italy who’ve derided
their cabinet minister, Cecile Kyenge, as a “Congolese monkey” leading a
“bunga-bunga goverment.” I’m puzzled by the French family who decided
it was appropriate for their 12-year-old son to present the French
justice minister with a banana. And I’m at a loss to understand the actions of the Swedish minister of culture, who smiled at the opportunity to cut into a cake in the form of a black woman as the artist who created it screamed in agony, his face smeared in black paint.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’m on a date
and all the guy’s doing is rubbing on my skin and telling me how much
he loves the color of my skin,” Weaver said. “One friend of mine has
been married to my friend for 17 years, he said that he still loves her
like he did from day one and that he likes touching her skin because her
skin feels like velvet.”
Some might say that sounds like a fetish or exotification, an issue many black women fear when they date interracially.
But Karazin chalked that up to “defensiveness,” saying, “We’re always
so weary that if somebody appreciates what we look like and who we are,
then we automatically go into the mode of ‘Oh, they’re fetishizing
Having grown increasingly frustrated for years by incessant and
unsolicited comments about how I look, I have shielded myself to the
point that I sometimes wonder whether I’m too quick to judge. But in my
experience, the “keen interest” I’ve received from men in the European
nations I’ve traveled to have been more about exotification than genuine
appreciation. My skin, facial features, and hair have all been subjects
of questioning and prodding, and on one occasion, in Romania, I left a
public pool after an older man, who stared relentlessly for several
minutes, eventually retrieved his cell phone and attempted to take
pictures of me from a bench.
“It’s just fingers in your hair all the time and ‘Oh, you have such
nice black skin,’” Butler said. “It’s never really, ‘What is your
She recalled a particular conversation she had with the cousin of an
ex-boyfriend. After he deemed her “exotic,” Butler told him that German
people were also exotic to her. After all, she had never met an ethnic
German before her boyfriend.
His response: “Oh, I’m normal.”
Butler and other black women she is friends with in Berlin have
learned to evaluate the interest they receive, asking questions that
they hope will give them “a gauge of if this guy is thinking of us as a
human or just a black woman who represents all black women.” Despite the
fraught navigation of being desired versus dehumanized, many women feel
their travels were worth it.
“Some of these girls in the States feel like they’re invisible,”
Weaver said. “That no one has even seen them, let alone speak to them or
flirt with them or even taken the time to try to seduce them.” On her
tours, she focuses especially on trying to help dark-skinned black
women, who, in a society that scales beauty according to a rigid color
spectrum, are least likely of all to be seen as desirable.
“That’s what they get out of it: knowing that they’re beautiful,”
Weaver said. “That people find them attractive. It’s not about the
actual hook-up, it’s about knowing that you’re pretty. It’s something
that a lot of these girls haven’t experienced in a long time, if they’ve
ever experienced it, period.”
I don't think you should I idealise it. Though how many times have aa men said that black women are angry or bitter? Or that they exault the virtues of lighter and white skin? I think it can become fetishism.
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