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Dating Abroad: 5 Issues Black Women Will Face

Some things haven't changed.

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As a solo traveler who is often overseas for extended periods of time, there is no avoiding dating, in fact, it is something I embrace. In my experience there are five issues you will face as a single black woman with an American passport:

Your Americanism trumps your skin color;
Is he interested in you or the money/passport;
Colorism;
Exoticism; and
What your clothes are saying.

Sure, there are many other situation-specific issues one will encounter but these overarching themes, I have seen played out in my own experiences and those of my friends. 

1- You are American First, You Are Black Second

This is a topic which surfaces in many of the articles about Black expats. Men and women face it—it’s something you have to accept. In the spirit of Afrocentricity, I consider people of African descent in one lump, not to negate specific cultural differences but in that, we are all black. That of course, is a very American viewpoint born of the one-drop rule.

When overseas and having more than a perfunctory conversation with men, the topic of citizenship will always arise. Across Africa, when speaking with European men, I encounter the mentality that I as an American am more one of them (Euro) than those people (locals). Yes, it may be true when speaking of some Judeo-Christian holidays or democratic values. However, it doesn’t mean I am okay with listening to the white expat b***hfest about how irritating “these Africans are with their…” For me, it’s the same as complaining about black folks at home, I can do it among other black folk but, I take offense when white people do it. 

2- The Politics of Skin Color

“But I am black, both of my parents are black, that makes me black too.” I have repeated this in five languages; most of the time to no avail. While I will always identify as black, of African descent, it doesn’t mean my date has to accept it.

Years ago, I went to a party with my friend’s brother in Pretoria where everyone was Xhosa, Swazi, or Zimbabwean. It was here that I was first called “colored”, not a person of color but just plain old colored like the Jim Crow water fountain signs. While I knew it was a category in South Africa, I wasn’t prepared for someone black to call me that.  He and I launched into a long conversation about the term. Several weeks later we were dating. I felt perfectly comfortable hanging out with my Zim boyfriend, but, I noticed when we would walk into Primi Piatti in Rosebank or News Cafe in Rivonia, people would stare. They were quick ones to be sure but there nonetheless. When I would go to these same places with my white or colored friends there were no such looks.

3- The Passport/Money Matter

Do you remember how Stella Got Her Groove Back? She, the wealthy American woman, picked up her island boy and brought him home as a kept man. Skipping the Caribbean, in Milan, my friend was working on her accessory line when she met an investment banker. A black girl with light brown hair and gray eyes, she was well educated and spoke fluent Italian. The banker was in town on business. He lived in New York but was from Eastern Europe. A whirlwind romance ensued and soon they were married. In this case, he was the one with money and she was the one with the passport he desired. As soon as he qualified for his citizenship he wanted a divorce.

I have experienced the odd man here and there who would expect me to pick up the tab because I was the rich American. I found the only way to deal with it is to shut it down immediately, “I am working here too. I have to pay my bills here and in the States. And by the way, I have no intention of ever living there full-time again.” It is blunt but effective.

4- The Hottentot Venus 

The same people who want to deny your Africanness can be the very ones who covet your blackness. There seems to be a combination of mystery and exoticism, of fetishization, lust, and taboo which men, including African, exhibit towards your blackness when combined with Americanness. “You know, I have never been with a black woman before,” is something I've been told unsolicited from the guy buying me a drink in Hong Kong to the one with whom I was contemplating more than a drink with in Buenos Aires. 

This is the extent of my interaction with this issue, but my friends have experienced more extreme cases. “He was nervous, I don’t know if he thought I would have three breasts or my ass would be magic,” one dark skinned model recalls about a Danish man she met in the UK. Recently in an OkAfrica piece about being black in South Korea, 26-year-old Regina states, “It’s nice to stand out in the Korean dating scene but it feels terrible to be fetishized.”

5- Styling Speaks Volumes

This may seem shallow but we live in a visual society, just look at how Instagram and SnapChat took over the social media space. There are some dead giveaways which may have people more prone to thinking you are a prostitute. In the wealthier States of the Gulf, tight and cheap clothing are the mainstays of the Sub-Saharan African women plying their trade. 

European men and those educated in Europe tend to have a more refined style than their American counterparts. For them, a woman wearing athleisure wear is coming from the gym not going out on even a casual date. If this is the type of man you are trying to attract leave the yoga pants at the studio and the cheap shoes at the discount store.

Intercultural dating can be a learning opportunity for both parties—enjoy.

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I am a communications consultant and long term expat