‘To Rome for Love’ raises concerns for black women

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Recently Bravo debuted the tv series “To Rome for Love,” a show where five heterosexual black women, ages ranging from 25 to 52, temporarily move to Italy with the hope of finding a partner with the help of dating expert Diann Valentine.

I wanted to enjoy this show, but the premise makes me extremely wary.

“The men my clients meet there aren’t the same as American black men,” Valentine said in an interview with People magazine. “They’re dating someone who is incredibly affectionate, who welcomes PDAs all the time; who has a strong sense of family and community. They’re men who don’t have the baggage of racism and being a minority in a place where you’re trying to figure out where you belong and how you fit in.”

While I certainly do believe that white Italian men are raised differently due to their geographical location and skin tone and, therefore, are different from African-American men, I wish that Valentine had set the show in America. A 2012 study conducted by Mandela Research showed that only 20 percent of African-Americans travel internationally at least once a year. Perhaps the show being set in Italy is meant to serve a sensational purpose. The audience is meant to drool along with the ladies as Italian men finesse their way into the ladies’ hearts with their accents in oh-sobeautiful settings. It’s great that these women have the chance to travel outside of the country to date–– I mean, it sure does beat Tinder. However, not everyone gets to pull a Lizzie McGuire and find love in Rome.

In the first episode, we see the women excited to explore the city and embrace all the attention they’re getting from men eager to give hugs and kisses on the street. Later at a mixer, we see one of the ladies get “attacked” with kisses from a man she had just met that night. If one weren’t thinking critically about these scenes, perhaps the argument could be made that these women are truly living the dream. At first glance, they are. Being in a new country surrounded by new faces is exciting; however, I fear the possibility of the women being exoticized for their black skin. For instance, in blogs and YouTube videos by black women, many of them offer stories about feeling hypersexualized during their stays in Rome.

In a blog post titled, “My Life as a Unicorn: A black girl in Rome,” j.nambowa said, “What I did not immediately remember was that seeing a black woman walking down the street, for many Italians, seemingly, is similar to a unicorn [sighting]. During my ten-minute walk to the train I would notice many people staring at me, old women looking uncomfortable and sleazy Italian men giving me hypersexualized stares often accompanied by an undesired “Ciao bella.”She later says, “I suppose, me, dressed for my job at the UN, may seem very strange to people who conceptualize black women as sex workers.”

Luckily, the women on the show are surrounded by camera crews and security, so the possibility of any man taking advantage of the cast is unlikely. But once again, many “normal people,” aren’t afforded this luxury when travelling.

Furthermore, YouTube user NaturallyKenya put the issue of racism into perspective in her video about being black and dating in Rome.

“There have been at least three or four situations in the past year where I have been called a ‘n word.’ And that only happened to me once a year when I lived in Texas,” said NaturallyKenya.

It’s a humorous but sad comparison that only goes to show that yes, a black woman will stand out in Rome. However, she is just as (if not more) likely to get attention from sleazy and racist men in Italy as she would be in the United States.

All of this makes Valentine’s comments referencing her Italian suitors benefiting from not being minorities seem tone deaf and inconsiderate of the women she’s working for. What Valentine (and maybe even all five women) fails to realize is that the women will not benefit from their partners’ white privilege

I would also like to believe that black American men do not use the “baggage of racism” as an excuse to not date black women; notably, their reasons are usually less complex (I.e. thinking we’re too strong) and are based purely on their own insecurities.

In a world where weekly conversations on Twitter revolve around why black men and women resent those who date interracially, it’s refreshing to see black men and women unite. In episode two, one of the women leaves her Italian beau at a club when she sees a crowd of black men and decides to dance with them. The event marked the one and only moment I found myself smiling during the show instead of cringing.

Having said that, I am not interested in the fantasy this reality show offers. Black American women could have benefited from a positive example of finding love with black men in the United States (or even a country in Africa for cool factor.) I reject the idea that black women are having so much trouble dating in the United States that they are being forced to travel and date outside of their race because black men aren’t interested in them. I encourage viewers to watch the hit documentaries Black Love on OWN if they need confirmation that finding black love in America is possible.

“To Rome for Love” airs on Bravo on Sunday nights at 9/8 central.