Married at First Sight is a popular reality television series that uses scientific matchmaking from a sociologist, sexologist, spiritualist, and psychologist to pair compatible couples. As the title indicates, those couples are married before meeting. Married at First Sight then documents the first few weeks of their marriages, including the awkward honeymoon. At the end of the season, the couples decide to either remain married or get divorced. Two Black couples have been featured since the show began airing in 2014. Yet, one of Married at First Sight’s dating experts claimed in a clip from the show that “none of our African-American men have any interest in marrying African-American women” because of their preference for interracial relationships.
In an enlightening Facebook video, Brunson called the show “ignorant” and “disgusting” for making an inaccurate claim in order “to get people talking, to demoralize us, and to be provocative.” According to Brunson, Married at First Sight was “very irresponsible to do this” because none of their claims are “supported by any data.”
Dr. Joseph Cilona, Married at First Sight’s resident psychologist, responded to Brunson on Facebook.
“It should be emphasized that these comments are in reference to African-American men in our applicant pool. There were no generalizations made to other populations or claims or implications that our experience on the show should be made to other populations,” Cilona wrote.
Cilona also claimed that though the applicant pool consisted of three Black men, it was representative of a trend. “We consistently had an abundance of what we consider to be rather amazing African-American women and little to no African-American men to match with them. In addition, very frequently, African-American men in our applicant pools across all three seasons expressed deal-breakers around NOT wanting to be matched with African-American women as was highlighted in the clip you referenced above,” Cilona wrote.
Perpetuating fallacies about Black relationships is both inaccurate and damaging. There were only three Black men represented in Married at First Sight’s pool. While their individual perspectives matter, it isn’t representative of all Black male preferences. In their study of interracial marriages, the Pew Research Center found that of the 3.6 million adults married in 2013, only 19 percent of African-Americans partnered with someone of a different race. So, 81 percent of African-Americans married other African-Americans. Furthermore, 75 percent of African-American men wed African-American women in 2013, which has been a statistical constant. Also, as Brunson explained in his Facebook video, Black men marry less outside than race than almost all other ethnic groups.
While Married at First Sight attempted to center on Black men in their clip about interracial dating, it was, as always, an indictment of Black women. It was the show’s contribution to growing idea that it’s more difficult for Black women to find life partners as we accrue degrees and wealth. It’s a return to the 2009 “single Black woman epidemic,” where skewed statistics were used to pinpoint Black women as undesirable. Those statistics, from the 2009 Census Bureau, estimated that 70.5 of Black women between the ages of 25 and 29 had never been married. News organizations, including ABC, which hosted a segment on Nightline about the rise of the single Black woman, latched on to that statistic. There were books, like Is Marriage for White People? How the African American Marriage Decline Affect Everyone, and the encouraging of Black women to marry interracially.
One statistic was used to depict Black women as angry, emasculating, and more concerned with success than partnership. Yet, these news reports also declined to mention that 87 percent of Black women have been married by the time they reach 55. The statistic was highlighted and used repeatedly to degrade Black women in an effort to privilege whiteness. Dating preferences don’t exist in vacuums. We’re socialized to be attracted to certain phenotypical features, so craving a light-skinned man while deeming darker-skinned men unattractive is rooted in historical stereotypes deeper than simply swiping left or right on a picture.
White women, in particular, have been heralded as the pinnacle of beauty. In an interview with Bitch Magazine, Tamara Winfrey-Harris, author of The Sisters are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America, explained why it’s more difficult for Black women to be seen as attractive and desirable.
“America’s unique racial history has placed white and Black women in binary positions where white women are idealized as the pinnacle of beauty and femininity—and there is a ton of sexism to unpack in that idealization—and Black women are their polar opposites. Everyone else jockeys for a space between,” Winfrey said.
Depicting Black women as unworthy and incapable of finding love reiterates the same oppression we’ve been tasked with navigating for centuries. Despite the ways racism and sexism impose their will on our lives, African-American women are in surviving and thriving relationships. Iconic couples like Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith, Barack and Michelle Obama, and Jay-Z and Beyoncé as well as newer couples, including Remy Ma and Papoose, are public representations of Black love in action. Black love is alive and thriving. To suggest otherwise, as Married at First Sight attempted to, belies statistics.