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How dreadful to have to negotiate the saying, "Once you go black, you never go back". I recently spoke to a woman of colour about my dilemma. I asked her if she would date a white man. Most couples will get to a point in their relationship when things start to get a bit more serious. It'll prompt different conversations, either it's shall we get a dog? Or should we move in together? But I'm dating someone who isn't Aboriginal, I dread other types of conversations because our whole relationship depends on how they pan out.

Expecting him to have all the right answers is unrealistic. But you can tell when someone means well and when they don't. Ah, I'm kidding but it would cross my mind. But what I would do in this situation is keep the conversation going, to discover each other's perspectives. That said, there is limit to how many ignorant racist perspectives a person of colour can endure, and I shouldn't have to continuously defend myself, my race, or my people.

But sadly, that's our life. Personally, I hate confrontation because I'm not very good at it. Really — I fold like a cheap suit.

The Challenges Of Dating As A Black Woman

But when it comes to defending myself, my culture and my people — a warrior rises inside me with a shield and spear ready to battle. So, when you're calling someone out, don't beat around the bush. And look, I don't have all the right words or advice but getting involved with someone who disrespects your race is something to be wary of, because a romantic relationship isn't just mutual attraction and shared interests. You're letting someone into your culture, allowing them to see your world, and know your identity, which is really special. ABC Life helps you navigate life's challenges and choices so you can stay on top of the things that matter to you.

But dating someone outside of my race makes that problem go away. It makes me question my race But before I start getting jiggy with a vanilla slice, my thought bubble bursts and I catch myself thinking, is he attracted to black girls? Do others worry that their new dude might be unintentionally a little bit racist?

My experiences with Caucasian men have been interesting, to put it lightly. Not wanting to take any chances, I decided to get the hell out of there. Five things that cross my mind I've since learnt that some things aren't so easy to understand, especially when it comes to dating.

These days when I'm considering dating a guy that's not Aboriginal, I have a shopping list of questions I'd like answered first: Has he dated a black girl before? While the lightest colors were primarily on the first chart and darkest colors primarily on the third chart, ranges of color were integrated across all charts; this ensured that all skin color charts shared six of the same skin color options. Participants first selected a color they thought most closely resembled their skin color. Then, they held their wrist to the chart and selected the color they felt matched their skin color; both selections were noted by the interviewer.

The interviewers also recorded in their notes the skin color chart number they felt most closely matched the participant; this was done for comparison purposes with the participants own choice of color. Participants were asked to explain and reflect on their skin color chart choices as part of the interview process. Throughout this process, the interviewers made notes about participant-researcher interactions and salient issues that emerged through the interviews.

Finally, the interview transcriptions were read three times by researchers who did not conduct the interviews; they made notes identifying and highlighting key themes and points that were raised. Pseudonyms selected by the participants were used to identify their voices. Four stages of the constant-comparative method guided the data analysis process in this study: The coding process, which served to categorize the qualitative data and describe the implications and details of these categories, involved the study investigator DS and four undergraduate research assistants RAs , two of whom conducted interviews.

DS and two RAs who had not conducted the interviews began with open coding, also known as generative coding. Individually, they developed categories of concepts, and themes that emerged from the data. Broad categories identified at this stage include skin color beliefs, physical attractiveness, and dating preferences. DS and the two RAs began the identification of coding cues by writing in the left margins of their own copies of the transcripts directly across from the relevant statements.

This ensured an exploration of the data takes place without prior assumptions shaping about what might be discovered. Through this line-by-line process, key thoughts of the participants and voids or inconsistency in statements are highlighted. After completing the open coding process, DS and all four RAs moved into selective coding to systematically codes with respect to the core concept of skin color beliefs.

Together, we condensed and recategorized those thematic classifications identified in the open coding by reflecting on the connections within categories. By examining between categories and subcategories, we were able to deepen the theoretical framework underpinning our analysis. DS and four RAs reflected on the hypotheses generated through discussions noting the similarities and differences in these analyses. This type of triangulation serves as an important part of the validity claim in qualitative studies Creswell, Codes and the relationships between these codes identified by DS and the RAs allowed for the moving of analysis from the descriptive stage to a more theoretical one Glaser, Present findings provide descriptions of skin color, dating and physical attractiveness beliefs shared by a heterogeneous group of Black college women in the southeastern United States.

Qualitative analysis of the data suggests the following three major themes about skin color: From this, three significant themes that emerged from the data analysis are presented here: The study participants came from diverse Black subgroups. Although their sexual and dating experience varied, all had some level of dating experience. The women reported an average of three non- sexual dating partners in a lifetime and an average of two sexual partners in a lifetime. At the time of data collection, nine reported having been dating someone for six months or longer, six had been dating someone for less than six months, two were dating two or more men at the time, and eleven were dating not dating anyone exclusively.

All the women and interviewers selected skin color shades from the dark to midrange skin color charts. None of the women perceived themselves as being on the skin color appearing to have fair or pale options. Across all women, there was consistency in their perceptions of their own skin color values.

Although six familial countries of origin were reported all the participants choose to frame their skin color experiences within the context of the United States. I know we would compare our arms growing up- my sisters and my cousins. We would compare to see who was lightest, who was darkest. It was little things said all the time. Not that I have had an issue with [my skin color] but, ok, when I was little, my sisters used to tell me I was adopted as a joke because I was the lighter one.

I have got a lot of time people have told me that I have nice skin. When looking at the skin chart reports, all the women selected colors from the two pages appearing to be the darkest. When asked if they would prefer to be three shades lighter or three shades darker than their current skin color, 21 of the women stated they would prefer to be three shades lighter.

I would probably prefer if I were three shades lighter, not darker. I would be prettier- to other people- I guess, if I were lighter. I guess- like a caramel kind of tone…. So I get treated okay. Skin color was also found to influence the ways in which women perceived they were treated by other people. When asked if they had experienced differential treatment in settings they interacted in regularly over the in the past 12 months e. In my lab- the teacher always mixes me up with the other [dark skin] girl, Julia. And there are only three of us Black girls in the class! I stood out as different but not seen as different from Julia.

And we look nothing alike. Specifically, lighter and darker skin colors were associated with specific scripts for sexual behaviors used to predict dating interactions. According to 26 participants, dark skin had negative connotations for Black women in dating contexts.

Ok, because a lot of [people] have said and they really believe that black skinned women are offensive and act stuck up. And they think they are all that.

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Well, expectations as in like why you are on TV, why you all ways have an attitude. Like the darker you are the meaner you are. I mean when it comes to dating [darker-skinned women] are perceived as being crazy. Well, in my opinion you know they view us as being freaks. Yeah, not yellow even with our skin. In contrast, 17 participants reported that women with lighter- skin were more likely to be stereotyped as having more socially acceptable personalities and achievements.

The descriptors of their perceived personalities were more positive, engaging, and attractive. You see you automatically think that [lighter-skinned women] are sweeter and nicer, which is kind of crazy because I know- and there is no difference. But you sort of believe the stereotype and think [lighter-skinned women] are just nicer. For example, sexually immoral and lascivious terms- including freaky, wild, and sexy- were used to describe beliefs about scripts associated with darker- skin.

Girls- like the ones who are on the darker side. Like my shade or darker, [people] say we tend to be freakier in bed laughs. Bright skin- you know lighter girls are like good girls But the darker you get the further you get from that. It gets like the bad girl, wild in bed. Well… like chocolate color women- or darker women It should be noted, however, that only six participants specifically stated that lighter-skinned women were not as hypersexualized as darker skinned women. The remaining participants spoke of darker-skinned women in comparison to lighter-skinned women but did not make statements indicating lighter-skinned women were not sexualized.

Only one participant felt that men would be attracted to her dark skin color. In contrast, 27 participants reported that women with lighter- skin are viewed as the more attractive and, in turn, were more likely to be approached by Black men. I know that, a lot of [Black] boys they find it more attractive to be with a light-skinned girl. They like light-skinned girls. Because people think that the darker you are… men think really dark, close to dark, like really black, that midnight black is ugly. While these women generally held positive attitudes about their own skin color varied, the majority indicated that a different dating script would be utilized by men if their current skin color changed.

If I were darker-skinned then they may not be attracted to me but then they might also see me as like easier to talk to. I think more men would be attracted to me [if lighter]. Especially if my face was clear and light; they would look at me and notice me. I think if I was that [lighter] complexion I think it would change the way men look at me.

But you know the majority of the men that I have seen they tend to… like if there is a contest between me and this other girl who is 3 shades lighter, the girl who is 3 shades lighter than me would get more attention [from men] than me. Other people would like, like [white men] would come to me opposed to who all ready comes up to me now. Like opposed to darker skin people coming up to me it would be, if I were lighter toned, it would be lighter tone people coming up to me.

I think if I were lighter more people would come up to me. While these findings are informative, a further contribution of this study to the existing literature pertains to the importance of skin color in dating script belief development and perceptions of sexuality in emerging adult Black populations. Frameworks of male desires and their influence on shaping dating interactions were also identified.

The Influence of Skin Color on Heterosexual Black College Women’s Dating Beliefs

We explore the implications of these findings below. We assert this occurred because the women primarily reported experiences they had within an American context. The questions asked focused on experiences during adolescence and emerging adulthood, a period in the lifespan when all women resided in the United States. Their narratives described the experiences, and related feelings that shaped the meanings they give to their skin color and self- identity.


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The Black college women in this study reported that stereotypes about skin color influenced dating script development. These within-group level distinctions illustrate the skin color tensions that the research has noted continues to occur among diverse Black women. As traits associated with darker-skinned women are deemed as less desirable than those associated with Black women, researchers assert that men are less willing to view darker-skinned women as potential partners Niemann et al. For example, Weitz and Gordon found the top three traits used to describe white women were intelligent, materialistic, and sensitive.

These cross- cultural divisions have influenced the psyche of Black populations and created a system of skin color beliefs and values that informed within group social hierarchies and interpersonal relationships as is evident through the present results and prior research e. By continuing to reproduce these same divisions between lighter and darker skinned Black women, the same hierarchical stereotypes based upon physical attractiveness and partner competition beliefs is maintained. Beyond general dating script assumptions, skin color also informed specific sexual script behaviors beliefs.

There content has changed little, yet remains as damaging as they inform the development of sexual identities and interpersonal processes of Black women and those with whom they interact. Ninety-six percent of these participants perceive dark-skinned Black women as unattractive to Black men, while those with lighter- skin are the most desirable. For example, when asked about the implications of having a skin color three shades lighter than their current skin color, 26 of these emerging adult women all agreed that they would receive positive responses from Black men.

In contrast, having a skin color three shades darker decreased the number of Black men who would approach or view them as attractive. These beliefs about Black male skin color preferences are important for understanding dating script development, given men place greater value than women on physical attributes --particularly skin color-- in dating contexts Ross, Those women that are unable to meet these have a lowered self-esteem.

Thus, Black women with negative perceptions about their own skin color attractiveness may be more likely to experience unhealthy dating interactions and negative sexual health outcomes. As research has clearly shown that race and gender-based factors e. By focusing on individual functioning, goals, and meanings- all elements of BFT- therapists can help Black female clients recognize the influence of skin color on their sense of psychological well- being, educational attainment, income status, and social capital beliefs.

Our findings indicate that several therapeutic issues must be considered, including 1 identifying skin color values, and 2 negotiation of intimate relationship messages. We now explore these issues sequentially below. As Tummala-Narra noted, the client and therapist often both use skin color to identify racial heritage and related beliefs, which are important factors in determining if a client engages in the counseling process.

This reinforces the fact that anxieties continue to exist around the discussion of race-informed issues in therapeutic settings Hall, , ; Tummala-Narra, Although no relationship was found between client skin tone and primary diagnosis or treatment recommendation, white therapists were more likely to view Black clients a less likely to benefit from therapy and less physically attractive Atkinson et al. Further, White therapists more strongly endorsed severe mental disorder diagnoses for the client when compared to Black therapists. Therapists must also recognize that not all Black women feel that skin color is a significant issue in their lives.

Further, some Black women view their skin as a source of racial pride and a stronger black identity. For these women, skin color may be significant, but not viewed negatively. In fact, skin color may be a source of empowerment and essential to their self-esteem within contexts that provide positive responses to their appearance.

Further, some women who appear as having dark skin may not identify as having the same skin color concerns raised by other Black women in the research. For example, some women may have different perceptions of their skin color than an outside observer; this is particularly true among ethnic Hispanic populations. Clearly, there is significant diversity in skin color identification across Black communities, indicating differing skin color meanings exist in varied contexts.

For therapists, suggesting the relevance of skin color when addressing dating experiences in therapy would be a useful way to open the door for discussion; but assuming its centrality could be problematic. As such, therapists should draw upon a feminist approach to therapy, which strives for a collaborative relationship.

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While it is accepted that the therapist knows more in terms of psychology, the client knows more about herself. Similarly, not all therapists are comfortable discussing issues so closely aligned with race, or avoid skin color as a topic for fear of racializing their client. For example, research consistently finds that there is still a level of discomfort around the discussion of race-informed issues in North American therapeutic settings Hall, , ; Tummala-Narra, It is important that therapists recognize the role and influence of familial and community messages about dating partnerships when working with Black college women in therapy.

The goals or concerns that brought them to therapy cannot be viewed in isolation from these powerful influences dating values. Thus, despite perceiving Black men as not being attracted to darker skin, Black women might find it difficult to seek out other partners. Further, they may feel obligated to continue to seeking a Black mate in order to please familial expectations, despite a fear of rejection due to their skin color. Recognizing the significant influence of the sources of dating partnership messages, helping the client navigate these familial and cultural values around may be the primary work of the therapist.

Despite historical community and familial dating message trend, in reality, many Black women are dating men of other racial and ethnic groups. Although they are the group least likely to date interracially, research has shown a significant increase in the number of Black women dating men of other races over the past Childs, ; Yancey, A primary reason cited for choosing to date men of other races is a concern regarding Black men giving greater value to white standards of beauty including skin color and, in turn, white women Childs, Thus, these women are finding an alternative way to address skin color biases within the Black community.

Thus, meanings about skin color differ in these relationships may be more complex than concerns about gradations of skin tones. Recognizing this growing trend, practitioners should be clear about the dating preference and related skin color values held by their Black female clients, particularly when addressing concerns about self-esteem- interpersonal relationships, or sexual health. First, clearly it would be imprudent to assume that these experiences are applicable to all groups of Black women.

Literature Review

Future investigations may wish to explore the meanings and values given to skin color in dating scripts among Black college women who live in communities with either smaller or significantly larger Black populations and do not attend post-secondary institutions; this would allow for a more comprehensive identification of diversity or commonalities in opinions. This would provide even more detailed information about dating scripts, highlighting even more within group differences and common values.

Despite these limitations, our results contribute to the existing body of mental health literature examining color beliefs in Black populations in the United States by showing that skin color plays a significant role in the development of dating script frameworks.

By examining these skin color perceptions, we can move from just acknowledging their values and meanings to challenging how Black women and others may use it to shape beliefs about who Black women are and what they are capable of doing. However, Black women must lead this action-based approach, occurring at individual, interpersonal, and institutional levels, so that a sense of personal power combined with an ability to affect others will lead to social and interpersonal change in skin color beliefs.

In the present study, we specifically examined the ways in which Black college women ascribe meanings and values to skin color, and, in turn, how these shape dating script development. One of the most meaningful results from our study reveals that the socio- historical beliefs about skin color continue to influence dating script beliefs among young Black women. Lighter- skin is still perceived as most desirable and is still viewed as attractive to potential partners. Similarly, our data support prior research findings that show dark skin is neither attractive nor enviable.

Overall, these findings validate that Black women do contend with distinctive physical attractiveness values. These, in turn, contribute to the maintenance and usage of racially unique dating script beliefs. Future research should consider the accuracy of these perceptions in dating contexts and the long-term implications of utilizing these beliefs.

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