September 9, 2019

ZOHORE | The Least Desirable

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Though I often don’t like to admit it, I am a reality TV fanatic. To me, reality stars are just characters whose stories can be followed past the confines of the show. However, I tell myself that I’m not just mindlessly watching Lisa Vanderpump’s waitstaff to desensitize myself from the crushing weight of my own reality. I like to think that reality TV serves as a useful tool to observe human behavior and see social norms at play. It’s real(ish). It’s raw(ish).

In high school, the debut of the show “Are You The One” piqued my interest in the realm of heterosexual dating shows. My DVR consisted of hoarded episodes from the Bachelor franchise, “Ex on the Beach” and all five “Twilight” movies. Night after night, I watched intently as midwestern white people found (usually very temporary) love.

Eventually, it began to dawn on me that girls who looked like me never seemed to find their Prince Charming on these shows. Black girls were seldom offered the coveted final rose. 

Every season of “The Bachelor,” I came to expect that almost all of the black women will be kicked off within the first few episodes, except for one or two contestants that are strung along for a few weeks to uphold a somewhat non-racist image. Every season of “Are You the One,” black girls often fail to connect with their “perfect match,” receiving little to no airtime or used as ploys to create drama for ratings.

When I came to college, it hit me that this was not unique to reality television. It’s an authentic reflection of the continuous exclusion of black women by society.

Facts don’t lie. In 2014, an OkCupid study found that black women were rated the “least desirable” amongst all other races. The National Survey of Family Growth found that less than two-thirds of black women are married by age 40, in comparison to nine in 10 white and Asian women and eight in 10 Hispanic women. Dr. Darrick Hamilton, a professor at Ohio State University, conducted a further investigation about black women and marital status. He found that the likelihood of marriage decreased as skin shade darkened. By age 29, 55 percent of light-skinned black women were married, while only 23 percent of darker-skinned black women were married.

And there’s no shortage of profiles, videos and tweets where men of all colors are quick to deem black women — a group that makes up millions of unique individuals — as undateable, unattractive, ill-mannered or any other stereotypical label slapped on to black women since the dawn of time. Men are quick to dismiss black women, chalking it up to preference. Though, in case you didn’t know, racial preferences are indeed racist. It’s okay to have a type, but to write someone off because of their color is pretty much the definition of racism.

Even within the scope of Cornell, a school whose students tend to feign open-mindedness for clout’s sake, black women, especially those who are darker-skinned, are consistently pushed aside for lighter and whiter counterparts, even by members of their own race. Cultural commentator, Ayishat Akanbi explained in one insightful tweet, “Only black girls see a man of their own race that they are romantically interested in and have to consider whether he even likes black girls.”

Faced with rejection from men of our race, straight black women are often told to date non-black men. Cheryl Judice, a professor at Northwestern, published a book in which she urges black women to explore the idea of finding love with men outside their race, as the availability of marriageable black men decreases due to factors like high mortality and incarceration rates. However, exploring romance outside your identity group comes with its own set of challenges and rejections.

To illustrate my point, take the case of Taysia Adams, a 28-year-old phlebotomist from Southern California who made it to the final three on Colton’s season of “The Bachelor.” As the season progresses, you can tell that Taysia is a great match for Colton. She was kind, intelligent, beautiful and seemed to really get along with Colton. But to absolutely nobody’s surprise, Colton rides over the fence and into the sunset with the stunning blonde-haired, blue-eyed Cassie, a 23-year-old speech pathologist with ironically poor communication skills, an allergy to commitment and seemingly no real direction in life.

I’ve watched my friends move from relationship to relationship, at times wondering “what’s wrong with me,” but as I began to see other black girls in the same situation, I came to realize there wasn’t anything wrong with me — there was something wrong with society’s inability to progress from stereotypes created during a bygone era.

Black women are not all one and the same. Our personalities go beyond outdated mammy and jezebel tropes, the archetypes long used to box us in. We deserve a chance to be treated as unique individuals, just as capable of engaging in the most universal human experiences — love.

Amelia Zohore is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at az288@cornell.edu. And What About It? runs every other Tuesday this semester.