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I settled into freshman year at Rhode Island School of Design the tried and true way most other college students do: I drank.

During one lively night out, I met the. hottest. guy. We'll call him Derrick. As we talked for the first time, I thought he looked like something out of an ad in "Town & Country" — and he was smart and well-spoken to boot.


Not only that, he's the one who walked up to me, and he's the one who asked me out to dinner after the witty banter we shared. This gentleman was a gentleman in every sense of the word, and I fell quickly.


During our first date, we both ate sushi and enjoyed adult-adjacent conversation on television, movies, and what we were planning on majoring in.

I felt like this was what adulthood is supposed to be like. Easy.

After dinner, as we were walking back to his car, he stopped before unlocking my door, and he kissed me. He was pretty great at it. As he pulled back, his eyes opened and suddenly there was a look of confusion on his face. Then he said, “I've never kissed a guy like you before."

“Oh?" I said, wondering what that meant, exactly. Does he think I'm the one or something?

“It's just..."

“Yes?"

“I just realized I've never kissed a black guy before. I've never been into them."

“Oh," I said, wondering if this was supposed to be a compliment.

“But you — you're different. You're hot," Derrick said, and he smiled.

At the time, I smiled back and thought nothing of it. I thought this was a compliment. I'm so good-looking to this guy that I transcend what he finds attractive.

Turns out, it's a lot less flattering to hear that you're the first black guy a white guy has dated, found attractive, or would ever sleep with — the sixth or seventh time you hear it.

Me, after hearing it for the seventh time.

In the four years of dates I had in Rhode Island, I heard all sorts of colorful things, but that statement was the most consistent.

As I heard it more and more, it started to make me angry — and I really had no idea why. I thought to myself: "Why am I so mad? They're complimenting me! They think I'm special!" But gradually, it began to dawn on me: It wasn't a compliment. It was an insult in disguise.

I'm not the only one who has fallen prey to this "compliment." Other colorful things my friends and colleagues have heard include:

  • "Your butt looks like it belongs south of the border."
  • "I love the contrast of our skin."
  • "You're such an exotic person!"
  • Said to a black person, while making out: "Will you be my n*gger?"

Do any of those things sound hot? Maybe. That's why they were said. But they hurt the person they were trying to attract. That's a problem.

It's OK to find a new person attractive. Sometimes it's shocking who you find alluring from one day to the next. But when it becomes clear that the only reason you're into someone is the way they look — and that look is different or exotic to you — that's a problem. It's called “othering."

Let me give you an example:

Say there are two types of kids that go to my high school: the popular kids and the geeks. I'm a popular kid. I love being popular and everybody else in school knows I'm popular. I just got nominated for prom king. I'll probably win.

When a nerd looks at me, I'd think, “How dare he." He's not as good as me. I'M POPULAR.

This is essentially what Derrick was doing with me. Whether he realized it or not, he was saying black people aren't good-looking enough for him to be attracted to, but I was an exception to this rule.

“But you — you're different. You're hot," Derrick said, and he smiled.

Derrick believed, deep down, that white people are fundamentally worth more than black people (in the looks department), even if he didn't acknowledge it and would probably never admit it to himself.

I have some dating advice for ... everyone, really.

Tip 1: Black or white, thin or fat, old or young: You may find yourself attracted to someone who is different from you.

I love this picture. Courtesy of @mrchunkyexpress
A photo posted by Nickelson Wooster (@nickwooster) on

It happens! I have a deep, relentless attraction to fashion maven Nickelson Wooster (the freshly dressed fellow above), a man who is 24 years my senior. In the past, I've mostly dated around my age, but the past is the past. Let's all embrace the possibilities!

Tip 2: Everyone wants to feel wanted — for everything they are, not just a superficial attribute.

Your soulmate could look or act differently or have different political beliefs than all of your exes or anyone you've ever known. But don't feel compelled to differentiate them from everyone else you'd ever think of dating. After Derrick and I stopped seeing each other a few months later, he could have met another black man he found cute. And maybe they eventually got married. Who knows!

Tip 3: If you find yourself surprised by someone you're attracted to, it's a verygood thing!

This is the most important tip. If you're expanding your horizons, great! You know what Cupid says: Variety is the spice of life.

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