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tv Should Black Women Stop Going on Love Is Blind?

AD’s journey underscores the Netflix hit’s (Love Is Blind) misogynoir problem.

Fabiola Cineas covers race and policy as a reporter for Vox. Before that, she was an editor and writer at Philadelphia magazine, where she covered business, tech, and the local economy.


Netflix’s Love Is Blind is reigniting conversations about whether the show’s unique dating experiment — courting sight unseen — benefits Black women.

Since season six of the hit show began airing on Valentine’s Day this year, all eyes have been on Amber Desiree (AD) Smith and her bumbling journey through the pods. AD quickly became a fan favorite because she was candid about her destructive choices when it comes to love. “If I see a red flag, I’m like, ‘Oh, well, I’ll just paint my nails red to match,’” AD confessed to the camera early in the season. This tragic admission informed her decision to pair up with Clay, a man who reminded her of her exes and revealed that he selected women solely based on physical appearance. The internet placed Clay in the show’s villain category once he probed AD about her looks, a major faux pas for a show titled “Love Is Blind.”

Throughout the course of their engagement, Clay earned that villain title. Commentators noted how he treated AD like a receptacle for his trauma, even going as far as laying his head on AD’s chest to be coddled like a newborn minutes into their reveal. “I’m a baby,” he told AD, as they took stock of their physical characteristics, noting that both of them were dark-skinned. Clay talked about his father’s infidelity like it was the third partner in their relationship and focused on how AD could build him up. He repeatedly expressed fear about commitment, but AD held his hand through the process. He ultimately managed to shock AD, in front of their parents and other family members and friends, when he said no to marrying her at the altar.

Outside of her relationship with Clay, AD faced additional hurdles during filming. Her castmates drew attention to her body, pointing out how “stacked” she is, and made an inside joke (“bean dip”) about non-consensually smacking her breasts, which, no need to look it up, is in fact sexual assault. Now, a year after filming, AD says that she “had such an amazing experience” on Love Is Blind. But her storyline highlights some of the sinister aspects of dating as a Black woman, and because it’s airing on Netflix, the reality is being splashed across one of the world’s biggest platforms. AD’s experience is connected to that of Lauren, Diamond, Iyanna, Raven, Tiffany, and Aaliyah — Black women whose stories came before hers on Love Is Blind — as well as to the Black women whose journeys were never shown, and even those well beyond the show’s pods.

To talk about how this show positions Black women, I reached out to “meeting and mating” sociologist Sarah Adeyinka-Skold, an assistant professor at Loyola Marymount University. Adeyinka-Skold studies how “inequalities are produced and reproduced” in romantic relationships, and says that Love Is Blind viewers are naive to have ever thought that this experiment, sometimes billed as an equalizer, would help Black women have an easier time finding love. We talk about the unique challenges Black women face, their limited portrayals on the show, the issues with casting, and why Black women’s pain seems to be profitable for both Netflix and the show’s producers.

We are now six seasons in on Love Is Blind and I find myself questioning whether Black women should continue to go on this show. Have you been wondering the same thing?

I can honestly see an argument for Black women to not go on the show. What we’re seeing is that external constraints like racism and sexism are always in the pods even though the show has tried to create this other reality.

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What kinds of portrayals of Black women are allowed on Love Is Blind?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the reality they choose to show and how they choose to edit. They’re choosing to give us some things and not give us others. They’re creating a reality that reinforces these gendered racial stereotypes of Black women as these Jezebels — hypersexual and promiscuous. And as these mammies who are caring.

In season four, they had these two white nasty women [Irina and Micah] on the show. That’s not behavior we could ever see from Black women on that show! The kind of backlash they would get. And I wouldn’t want them to depict Black women that way. But again, there’s this humanity and fullness of person, or a spectrum of white womanhood that we get to see, that we don’t get to see with Black women.

All of the Black women on the show are professionals. They’re extremely kind. They’re extremely smart. But we don’t get to see that. We see the producers and editors focus on the problems these women have. Why are we treating the representation of Black women so basic?

Black women being ignored, disrespected, or rejected on dating shows isn’t new. We have so many examples from the Bachelor and Perfect Match to Married at First Sight and Love Island. Black women are either treated as side characters or just not given a chance to shine at all. But it felt like Love Is Blind could somehow equalize dating and create a space for Black women to be seen and celebrated. Do you think this has happened?

I think when people say that, they’re being naive about how our social structure is shaped and formed. Anytime anyone says that something is supposed to be the great equalizer, we should side-eye them and ask, “What does that actually mean?”

In this context, that idea shows a lack of understanding of how our society is set up on purpose to put Black women at the bottom of the gender and racial hierarchy. To think that any dating show could be an equalizer for Black women is pretending that that hierarchy doesn’t matter.

Let’s talk about casting. People have criticized the show for not casting men who are interested in dating Black women.

We think about romance and love as these agentic, individual things that we do in silos. We’re constantly acting as though we are choosing or making decisions outside of our social structure. But the fact of the matter is, this country was built on the rape, pillaging, and conquest of Black women’s bodies. It’s also built on explicit laws that said you should not be marrying Black people, laws that were on the books until 1967 with the Loving v. Virginia case. So how do we think that that’s all just going to disappear? My question is, what do people mean when they say we need to get men that are interested in Black women, and dark-skinned Black women, in particular? Isn’t that the antithesis of the show?

If the whole premise of the show is emotional connection, maybe what they’re trying to say is you need to bring people on the show that are really tuned into and attracted to the experiences that Black women have, [who] know for themselves that Black women’s stories and the experiences make them great partners. So maybe what we mean is we need to cast men who are intimately familiar with the Black woman experience, and it’s part of their attraction to these women.

Yes, that is the subtext. Most of the people I’ve seen making this suggestion are Black women. AD herself is advocating for a better vetting process, and a few seasons ago, former contestant Raven Ross said men in the pods “weren’t looking” for Black women. So it seems like Black women in the pods have had to do this kind of initial vetting themselves.

That’s why AD asked Matt, “Do race and ethnicity matter to you?” She was correctly attuned to the fact that he is white. And when she asked, she was talking about skin color, but the subtext was also, “I’m coming in with a particular kind of experience that you’re not going to get with any other woman precisely because of the way our social structure is set up.”

Let’s break down some of the issues in AD’s relationship with Clay and try to make sense of what it all means for Black women who go on this show and for Black women who date on any reality TV show, online, or in real life.

Let me first say that any man of any race can say all of the things that Clay said. But when we think about the cultural imagination about Black men, unfortunately, Clay checks off all of the boxes of what we think about Black men who are good-looking and as egotistical as Clay.

We can think of it like a Venn diagram. There’s the circle of shitty men characteristics, and then another circle for Black men characteristics, and then in the middle you have Clay. So together, Clay is a shitty man who also happens to be Black.

And when we think about what a shitty Black man is, he’s a guy who cheats. He’s a guy who’s not ready for commitment. He’s a guy who is stuck on the physical. He’s a guy who’s maybe fine dating non-Black women but doesn’t think that Black women should be interested in non-Black men. Like, he’s so much cooler. He’s a cool Black guy, so how could AD possibly be interested in a guy like Matt?

In the United States, there are these characteristics that we associate with shitty men, but when you’re a shitty man in Black skin, society looks at it differently. Society says, oh my goodness, they are going to ruin your family. They are going to be violent. They are going to be cheaters. It doesn’t carry the same type of weight as a shitty man in a different skin tone.

So unfortunately for Clay because he happens to be a shitty man who’s also Black, he’s just playing into that cultural imagination, those stereotypes, that we already have of Black men and which we think is the source of Black women and Black families’ problems. When you have a society where Black people are at the bottom of the racial hierarchy and Black men are demonized, Clay is seen as particularly bad. Again, I don’t think that Clay is doing anything original.

It feels like Black women are having this conversation among themselves. I don’t know that I’ve seen many men outraged, apart from Wale who’s been keeping his foot on Clay’s neck on X all season.

That points back to our racialized and gendered society. Black women are often the ones that have to bear the burden of choosing Black men, of being committed to the racial uplift of Black people, of choosing Black community over themselves.

People are always holding Black women to the highest standard. Black women understand that it’s on them to keep Blackness afloat. It’s on them to breathe the respectability of Blackness. It’s on them to show other people we can have Black love and Black families. Black men don’t care about this because first of all, they’re men. They are rewarded regardless. They don’t have to care because the pressure is not on them to keep the race going. The pressure is not on them to choose the community every time. And if they do that, people are like, “Oh, that’s fantastic.” You get extra points for choosing the community and choosing Black women.

But Black women don’t get extra points. And in fact, they get deducted points, if they do something like date a white guy, which goes outside of the norms. And I think that AD probably didn’t even understand how much the experience within a culture that says, “This is what good Black women do” also impacts the decisions that she’s making. That’s why Black women are having this conversation. They recognize that these two things constrain the ways in which they’re allowed to be fully human.

Some would argue that Black women have had some successful relationships on LIB. For example, fans view season one’s Lauren and Cameron as the show’s golden couple. And then we have Tiffany and Brett, who are celebrated for being the show’s first Black couple that has remained together.

I like the contrast with Tiffany and Brett. They did a good job in season four of giving us a successful story. It was just really beautiful and I’m glad that they did that. But I also think it shouldn’t be an anomaly. It shouldn’t be that in these other seasons we’re kind of treating Black women like trash. We need to see the full experience of Black women just like we see the full experience of white women on the show.

I’ve seen white commentators call Tiffany and Brett boring, while others have complained that they don’t get enough attention from the franchise.

When you say it’s boring, what are you looking for? Are you looking for that drama that you guys focused on in season five? Is that the only thing we’re capable of watching? These are the same groups of people who will tell us that the Black family is in shambles because all the men are like Clay. But y’all want to watch that shit on television. You guys will tell us Black families are poor because the women are too much in charge. But y’all want to watch that shit on television. So when there are Black healthy relationships, they’re calling it boring. That should make you question what it is you want to watch and why. Why do you want to see Black people as stereotypically dysfunctional? So Black people can’t win.

Though AD and Clay say they’re not dating, viewers are speculating that they are still together based on their body language during certain moments of the reunion. But if some months from now they do announce that they are giving it another go, how should we interpret their decision?

I think we need to understand that AD and Clay are navigating some pretty complicated structural and agentic constraints as they are trying to find love. As we have discussed, no white woman on the show was like, “What do you think about race?” They have never asked that question. I will die on that hill.

AD and Clay are still navigating gender and race in a way that white people simply will never have to. And so we need to extend to them the full grace that we give to humans because they are humans.


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