Written by Andrea Nwabuike
We were hiding from the rain under a gazebo, waiting to catch a ferry back to the city from Toronto’s Centre Island. After a day spent lounging on the island, we were in no haste to get home. The calming patter of rain hitting the metal roof was a fitting accompaniment to the peaceful silence shared between myself, my mom, and sister. Mom abruptly interrupted our silence by rummaging through her bag. I assumed she was looking for a tissue or her phone, but to my surprise she brought out a crumpled piece of paper.
“Make sure you look into this,” she said as she pressed the note into my hand, avoiding eye contact. I smoothed the paper down on my lap. The note contained a phone number and the words Misty River Singles scrawled in mom’s handwriting. She wanted me to “look into” a matchmaking platform she had seen on TV. I had been too lax in fixing the problem of my singleness, so it was time for me to seek professional help.
When my singleness becomes a topic of conversation among married friends and acquaintances, I am often met with one of several common responses. Like my mom, some will question my efforts to find a spouse. Have you tried online dating? Are you interested in anyone at your church? Do you want my help? Others will lament the perils of modern dating, admitting that had they not found their partner earlier in life they probably would have forgone relationships all together and embraced a life of singleness. Most will assure me of the blessing of singleness, sometimes going so far as to confess their envy of my freedom.
These responses, while well-intentioned, fail to adopt the nuance that fruitful conversations often require. Singleness is spiritually meaningful and no less fruitful than marriage, but it is also an experience shaped by socio-cultural norms and expectations. For Black Christian women who face layers of scrutiny and pressure from both the Church and culture, singleness can be a dizzying journey of frustrations, heartaches, and profound joy.
The odds are stacked against Black women in the modern dating world. Belinda Robnett and Cynthia Feliciano’s 2011 study out of the University of California Irvine revealed that Black women were least preferred among White, Asian and Latino women for interracial dating. They also noted that in selecting a potential date, “…white men, black men, Latinos and Asian males are all more likely to exclude black women than their female counterparts are to exclude black men.”
Sociologist Sarah Adeyinka-Skold cites this study and several others in her 2020 dissertation, Dating in The Digital Age: Race, Gender, And Inequality. Adeyinka-Skold notes that although college-educated individuals are more likely to be married than those without a college degree, college-educated Black women are less likely to be married than their non-Black peers.
In explaining the race and gender-based disparity in dating, Adeyinka-Skold argues, “Black women’s relationship formation patterns are not simply an issue of individual choice, preference, or action. Structural factors such as racial/ethnic demographics of a city or town, the by-products of racial and gender inequality such as gendered racial stereotypes and hegemonic masculinity, constrain Black women’s agency.” She points specifically to media portrayals of Black women as loud, angry, and emasculating as a significant contributor to the undesirable image of Black women on the dating scene.
Most of the research exploring race and gender-based dating inequalities are from an American context, but single Black women in Canada can attest to similar experiences of exclusion. In an article for The Walrus titled “Dating While Black,” Toronto-based writer and consultant Hadiya Rodrique shared about the vastly different responses she received when she “whitened” her online dating profile.
Using the same information as her original profile, Rodrique created two new profiles updated with pictures of a white friend and pictures of herself that were edited to whiten the colour of her skin. The whitened profiles receive significantly more responses from men, many of which were longer and more substantial than the responses she received on her original profile. Rodrique writes,
“Race has always had an impact on my identity, but I had been loath to admit the role that it might play in my ability to be loved. We are talking about one of the most elemental of human impulses. I’ve broken through so many of society’s barriers through my own determination. But force of will can’t set me up with someone who has set his online dating filters to exclude black women. If I made it past the filters, I still might be ruled out as a potential partner because of the colour of my skin.”
The sexual ethic and values that shape Christian perspectives on marriage and relationships further limit the options of Black Christian women. Christian women intent on finding a partner who shares their commitment to the lived-out expression of their faith expect to find their future spouse within their church communities.
My hope is that I am seen, cherished, and held in perfect love by the God who knit me, a Black woman, in my Black mother’s womb.
However, most church congregations tend to have more women than men. And of the single men that are available, many have a particular ideal of a good wife. And that ideal is often based more on cultural interpretations of gender roles than on Scripture. Due to the deeply entrenched stereotypes of Black women, we rarely fit into that ideal image. As teacher and author Jasmine Holms writes in a blog post titled “Single Black Women in Evangelical White Space: Eight Things We Wish You Knew,” “…there’s a reason people don’t think of melanin when they think of the soccer mom: one of the stereotypes that so many imbibe is the fact that single black women are inherently attitudinal and un-submissive. Claire Huxtable is seen as a poor substitute when the ideal woman is portrayed as being the consummate June Cleaver.”
As I pour through the research and read stories of countless Black women, I do so with an uncomfortable familiarity. I am reminded of my own experiences of being overlooked or outright rejected. I have heard and been told stories of men, both Black and non-Black, struggling to explain why they could never marry a Black woman. The negative stereotypes and blatant discrimination academics seek to quantify are documented in my own life. There is a sense of solidarity built on the knowledge that I am not alone in these challenges, but I am also filled with a deep sense of grief. Grief that in another facet of life, the blessing of my blackness has been misattributed as a curse. And yet, I do not grieve as one who does not have hope.
While many around me have offered their hopes that God will grant my desire for marriage, I cling to a hope that assures me of a far greater blessing. My hope is that I am seen, cherished, and held in perfect love by the God who knit me, a Black woman, in my Black mother’s womb. This hope does not rob me of the ability to lament the pains and heartbreaks of singleness as a Black woman. It invites me to draw near to the One who offers his abiding comfort and peace. As writer Alicia Akins so beautifully writes in her Single Person’s Catechism,
“Should I suffer another holiday fusillade of questions from well-meaning kin, should I be the last single person standing among my friends, should my hopes for a child be dashed, or should my yearning batter my faith to its brink, yet may Yahweh quicken my heart to rejoice all the more in him from the valley. He will rise to calm my chronic ache, to remove my sense of shame, and to be my long-sufferer-in-arms. Blessed are all who wait for him. As long as day and night continue at their appointed times, the mercies needed for each day will greet me anew each morning.”
The role of the Church in society and culture is to be a place of refuge and resistance. We welcome those who are abused, rejected, and maligned within society, offering a taste of the love and acceptance found most richly in Jesus Christ. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we fight against the harm done to image bearers, expunging the stereotypes, broken beliefs, and sinful behaviours that so easily find their way into our hearts and minds. A Church of refuge and resistance is desperately needed by Black women. Rosemary Brown, the first Black woman elected to a provincial legislature in Canada, once said, “To be black and female, in a society which is both racist and sexist, is to be in a unique position of having nowhere to go but up.” Black women are lifted to the highest heights through a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ that is tended to and nurtured by the family of God.
Andrea Nwabuike is a Nigerian-Canadian mental health counsellor and writer. Her love of words began in childhood when she would hide under the covers with a flashlight and a juicy mystery novel. Those reading sessions expanded her imagination and ignited her curiosity. Andrea’s passion for the written word has drawn her to write about the intersections of faith, ethnicity, and gender. When she isn’t writing or counselling, you can find her eating plantain chips or belting out 90s R&B classics.