Season 2 Of Love Is Blind Shows Us The Depressing Reality Of Dating As A Woman Of Colour

In Season 1 of Love of Blind, Netflix's hit reality dating show, viewers got to see something rare for television — a Black woman being loved, accepted, and treated well. Lauren and Cameron Hamilton, who have been married for three years, had an onscreen love that seemed affectionate, passionate, respectful, committed and intimate. Viewers were ecstatic, because the romance was so sweet and also because seeing a Black woman experience that kind of healthy and adoring romance on television is so rare. We usually get struggle love narratives, stories that praise us for enduring the worst of what men have to offer, sticking by their sides anyway or leaving them and ending up alone. 
When I saw that the cast for season 2 of Love is Blind seemed more diverse in ethnicity, I was excited to see more women of colour get these storybook romances. Well, as storybook as you can get in a premise that involves meeting your fiancé through a wall reminiscent of Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century. But although three women of colour made it past the initial dating and engagement phase of the show, the treatment they’ve faced on-screen has been worse than ever before. In two cases, the ones mistreating them are men of colour, which is a unique kind of disappointment. It’s reminiscent of the way Diamond was treated in season 1 by Carlton, who verbally berated her when she merely asked questions about his bisexuality after he hid it from her. 
But this season, it’s been incredibly painful to watch how Abhishek (Shake) Chatterjee treats his fiancée Deepti Vempati. When they initially met in the pods, he made a point of telling her that previously he had only dated “blondes,” his euphemism for white people,  it seems. The producers may have edited out necessary context to increase the drama factor, but how it appeared onscreen was that he was warning Deepti that he was only interested in white women. 
However, as their relationship progressed, the two felt drawn to each other, bound by a shared culture. Deepti hadn’t dated anyone non-white before either, and at times it seemed like they were both mistaking their shared Indian culture for the foundation of a good marriage. Even though genuine friendship and affection blossomed between the couple, we soon saw Shake constantly verbalise that his physical attraction to Deepti was nearly non-existent.

 Women of colour sometimes don’t get our intended happy endings, not because of chance or our own shortcomings, but because of what society has decided we deserve. We have to carve out something different.

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Shake’s actions are not uncommon, with some men of colour who choose to date white women repeatedly and reject or don’t understand their own cultures. When they tire of that cycle, they look for the familiar; women that remind them of their mothers and aunts. They give their youth and wild years to white women, later asking women of colour to raise their children and pass down culture, support them emotionally, help them build their businesses or careers, and perform domestic labour for the household. 
Women of colour often cope with this dynamic by slut-shaming white women — an action that only ends up harming us, as we exist at the intersection of marginalisation due to race and gender. I’ve heard it countless times; women of colour reducing men of colour’s attraction to white women as purely sexual and commenting that white women are more promiscuous and do sexual acts that people often consider makes a woman “tainted,” like frequent oral and anal sex. Because of this, women of colour often console ourselves by stating that we are the prize, actually, because we have been given the gift of becoming marriage partners to men of colour who spent their formative years solely fucking and loving white women.  
While the slut-shaming is counter-productive and offensive, the sexual aspect of this cannot be ignored. Men of colour often see white women as a status symbol; white women fetishise them in return, each using the body as a site of power struggle. White women’s parasitical  gaze turns towards men of colour’s bodies and culture. And frequently, men of colour are drawn to white women as a status symbol to be procured or as some misguided act of defiance against white supremacy, which has long demonised men of colour and even killed them for “defiling” white women’s bodies. 
Colourism, featurism, and fatphobia also lead white women’s bodies to be elevated above the bodies of women of colour. In the beginning of the show, Shake made several superficial comments about women’s weight and appearance (which all seemed to lead back to his clear obsession with eurocentric standards of beauty), to the point where Deepti confronted him and confided in him about her own body image issues. He apologised and seemed to have a real moment of reflection, saying he felt “ashamed.” I felt hope, thinking we might see a rare moment of growth and accountability on television. 
But on their engagement trip in Mexico, Shake started to tell producers and fellow castmates that he was struggling to feel an “animalistic” attraction to Deepti and that being with her felt like being with his aunt. Throughout the show, he repeatedly tells multiple people including his mother Sita that while his “emotional” attraction to Deepti is strong, he’s just not feeling physically attracted to her. At one point he directly relates this to his past of only dating white women. In a refreshing moment, his mother Sita called out her own son for his behaviour. “Being very frank, I'm very much identifying with her right now more than you," Sita said, "She could find someone who absolutely loves her the way she is. She's a wonderful person… She doesn't deserve someone who gives her even half a percent less." 
However, what Shake is doing is so depressingly common. Especially in media, Desi women face being seen as undesirable romantic partners by South Asian men who express that they don’t want to “conform” to their culture, gravitating towards white women as some sort of enlightened rebellion. It’s a long-held trope that Desi women are the symbol of duty and cultural backwardness, while white women are covered in the exhilarating sheen of progress. Shake’s comments about Deepti feeling like his “aunt” remind me of The Big Sick’s hurtful portrayal of Desi women, which writer Kumail Nanjiani has since said he regrets. Based on Nanjiani’s real-life story of meeting his wife, the movie shows him being introduced to a variety of Pakistani women who are caricatures: dressed solely in salwar kameez, fake accents, awkward, unaware of American culture, clingy and desperate for marriage.
In narratives of romance by brown men, like Nanjiani’s The Big Sick, whiteness is seen as a symbol of lust and freedom, while Desi women are seen as symbols of regression and even outright disgust in some cases. It’s heartbreaking to see Shake constantly reify these harmful ideas, seemingly not even caring that he is saying these things to millions of people, that Deepti will one day be made aware of this. It’s a shocking lack of respect. 
However, it’s a lack of respect that Deepti recognised, saying “no” to Shake at the altar, which clearly  — and hilariously — distressed him. Watching her serenely say “I’m choosing myself,” as her mother embraced her was powerful, and perhaps more groundbreaking than a cut-and-dry romance story. 
Another case of a woman of colour being disregarded is Natalie Lee, a Korean-American participant who became engaged to a white man, Shayne Jansen. Although Natalie also chose herself on her wedding day — the girls really stood up this season! — she and Shayne had a romance that was dotted with painful moments from the beginning. A white woman, Shaina Hurley, was also interested in Shayne during the initial dating stages. While Shayne was patient with Shaina when she asked questions about his attraction to Natalie, he blew up at Natalie when she did the same. He gaslit her and stormed out of the pods.
It’s a common dynamic with men who love women of colour; white women are treated gently and with care, while their women of colour partners are the ones they unload all frustrations onto. As a Black woman, it’s a dynamic I’ve even faced in the past, with men of colour partners being perfectly cordial and kind to wildly racist white women — sometimes directed at me — and then verbally abusing me when I pointed out their racism.  
When Shaina decided she no longer wanted to be engaged to her fiancé Kyle Abrams, she told Shayne he was who she wanted. Shayne rejected her gently and with apparent remorse, saying she should have “said something earlier” and going on to propose to Natalie instead. Shaina later made it her mission to break up Natalie and Shayne, claiming that Natalie could never be a “real wife” to Shayne, which felt like a comment about Natalie's Asian identity making her unsuitable in some way with the extremely white “bro” personality and background Shayne has. 

If we refuse to accept the denigrating behaviour, we may experience painful loneliness and the devaluation society projects onto unmarried women of a certain age. If we stay, we’re mocked as being “stupid’ or not loving ourselves. Shame is such a core feature of so many of our dating experiences.

nylah burton
Another heartbreaking example is the treatment of Iyanna McNeely, a Black woman. Her fiancé Jarrette Jones clearly made a deep connection with her in the pods, the two of them sharing traumas — Jarrette being stabbed by a close friend, Iyanna experiencing rape and family estrangement — and they exchanged banter with ease, familiarity and affection. But Jarrette was torn between Iyanna and Mallory Zapata — a biracial, light-skinned Latinx woman who, from the way the footage was edited, he shared a much less strong connection with. When Mallory said no, he then proposed to Iyanna using the same ring he’d picked out for Mallory. As Iyanna debated whether to accept his proposal, knowing that she was his second-choice, she kneeled on the ground and sobbed. 
That image is burned into my brain, and I feel like it represents what women of colour this season have been dealing with. Should they accept humiliating treatment that has been normalised, that all women of colour have been conditioned to expect and endure in some way? Or should they risk leaving the show alone —it’s important to note that this season was filmed right after the COVID-19 vaccine became available, after a long period of romantic loneliness for many young people in America and all over the world — and being mocked by the audience later or simply feeling empty? These impossible choices define romance as a woman of colour more often than most of us like to admit. If we refuse to accept the denigrating behaviour, we may experience painful loneliness and the devaluation society projects onto unmarried women of a certain age. If we stay, we’re mocked as being “stupid’ or not loving ourselves. Shame is such a core feature of so many of our dating experiences. Also, it’s worth mentioning that Iyanna’s trauma might have played a factor. The stigma is greater against Black women who are survivors of sexual assault, who have experienced abuse during childhood, or struggle with mental health issues. 
To some extent, Love Is Blind does address these dynamics by showing the footage of the problematic things that are done and the pushback against it. It’s somewhat comforting to see fellow cast members like Shayne and even Shake’s mother firmly say that the way Deepti, Iyanna, and Natalie are being treated is unfair. It made many viewers, including me, smile widely or even cheer when Deepti and Natalie chose themselves. And in many ways, it’s good to show the reality of these dynamics. Women of colour sometimes don’t get our intended happy endings, not because of chance or our own shortcomings, but because of what society has decided we deserve. We have to carve out something different. But reality shows aren’t really about reality, are they? They’re supposed to be escapist viewing, shows that give more joy than they take, shows that make people believe in dreams about love. 
While this season of Love is Blind makes us believe in the power of standing up for yourself, it doesn’t give us the romantic escape we still want. This season instead shows us the bleakest of romantic situations and reminds women of colour viewers of the harsh treatment we receive in our most intimate relationships, even by men who share our identities. 
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