"Girl, no. He looks Indian."
This is what I screamed at my bestie when she encouraged communication between me and a guy who appeared on my eHarmony profile. I was hesitant because surely I was not going to date an Indian man, because the whole reason I was on the online dating site was because I was seeking a serious relationship. Not just any relationship; I was looking for my prince, whom I was taught should be at least 6 feet tall, broad shoulders, nice smile and teeth, a good job, and most importantly: Black.
This 5'7 Indian dude did not look the part and certainly did not fit the bill. That was five years ago; we have been married for the last two.
I've learned from personal experience that societal expectations of black love-- and norms in general-- can actually limit a person's potential for lifelong partnership. The expectations of same race love is reinforced every year by Jet magazine, Ebony and Essence when they showcase lovely African American couples. The recent Essence slideshow of "40 Black Couples That We Love, " features, of course, the President and the First Lady. But the issues idealize relationships that are frankly out of reach for many educated African American women looking to marry similarly situated black men.
Black-ish, a new series slated to premier next month on ABC, will showcase the ideal black family: A husband with a great job, beautiful wife, four kids, and a colonial home in the 'burbs. Andre 'Dre' Johnson, played by Anthony Anderson, fears that his middle income success has brought too much assimilation for his black family - so he is consumed by making sure they don't forget their cultural roots.
Ironically, the series wife, Rainbow Johnson, played by Tracee Ellis Ross, take on a very different role --unlike her role in her last primetime sitcom show Girlfriends. During this series, Tracee is unmarried, depicted as the unofficial "den mother. " She is the most financially savvy among her friends, an attorney by profession, but most obvious - always lacking serious courtship. Even when she finally got a man, and became engaged, she was left alone as he was deployed to Iraq.
Is art imitating life?
According to the Pew Research Center, marriage rates have fallen dramatically for African Americans over the last 50 years. In 1960, 61 percent of black adults were married, but by 2011, the black marriage rate had fallen to 31 percent.
More alarming is that two out of every three black women are unmarried. The good news is that statistics show that the percentage of black women getting married significantly increases by the age of 55. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only about 13 percent of black women have never been married.
I don't believe Black women should give up on the possibility of finding Black love. Black love is beautiful. I initially rejected the possibility of dating my husband because he was not Black. Being fearful of negative judgment by others of my race (and Black women in particular), caused me to reject a serious courtship with my now Guyanese husband of Indian decent. That was because in all my conversations with my single Black friends, dating outside our race was okay to fulfill your curiosity, but marrying someone non-black was off the table.
I was also fearful of creating a family unit that did not reflect the successful images of Black families on television that I had grown up admiring such as the Cosby's. I thought that in order to be successful, my marriage had to reflect modern day real-life married couples like Denzel and Pauletta Washington or Will and Jada Pickett Smith. The Carters: Beyonce and Jay Z.
To be sure, not all Black couples are perfect and even The Carters are no exception. Beyonce and Nicki Minaj released a remix of the popular female empowerment tune "Flawless" where Beyonce acknowledged the now-notorious elevator brawl between her husband and her sister. Still, they clearly are a couple who have achieved professional and financial success.
My own fear of not abiding with cultural norms overshadowed the harsh reality of delaying the opportunity to build wealth through marriage. I always heard of the benefits of dual income but never gave it any serious consideration.
According to Professor Jay Zagorsky of Ohio State University, people who got and stayed married each had about double the wealth of single people who never married. Together, the couple's wealth was four times that of a single person's.
The idea of never getting married was not a concern for me. However, when I found myself still single after graduating from Stanford University, owning a condo, starting on a successful career track and financially secure, marriage was the logical next step. But it still felt out of reach. Dating was no longer fulfilling because the dates were just dates - nothing more.
Arguably marriage is not for everyone. Statistics around single black female rates according to researchers at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity have been misconstrued. Particularly, the often stated figure that 70 percent of black women are unmarried in reality only applies to women ages 25 to 29.
Nonetheless, as a 27-year-old longing for the next step in my life, I was ignorant of the odds of marrying an African American man with at least a master's degree who matched my income. So I stayed on the "hunt" for my "tall glass of chocolate milk."
I dated a few Black men I had met on EHarmony. The first one I was sure was the "one," but then I wasn't moving fast enough for him, so he moved on. The second man I really liked because of his spirituality and mannerism, but then I desired a greater commitment than he was prepared to offer. So we mutually decided to go our separate ways.
After a few months of online dating, I responded to the "Indian looking dudes" communication request, and we began a slow but steady long distance relationship over the phone. Fast-forward three months later and we finally met in person.
The weekend we connected, my heart fluttered uncontrollably, his humility, generosity and simple humanity forced my mind free from being locked within the jail cell of norms and customs of what I believed to be "acceptable" family units.
I am no longer fearful or ashamed of the perceptions of others regarding my interracial marriage. Instead I am amused each time I walk into a meeting, training conference, or board meeting and experience folk's reaction to my last name: Singh.
Because I was willing to go outside my own race, I learned the lesson that racial dating profiling can not only change your name, but change the way you look at the possibilities for the way you view the world.
Lillian Singh is Director of Economic Strategic Partnerships at the NAACP and a participant in The OpEd Project Global Policy Solutions Greenhouse.
She holds a bachelor's of arts in Urban Planning and Master's in Sociology from Stanford University.