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The anxiety of being a Black man watching ‘Love Is Blind’

Season Four of the popular Netflix series was the best yet

This season of Love Is Blind — Netflix’s popular reality show where singles “date” each other sight unseen until they get engaged — has given me so much anxiety over the years. The show, which just wrapped its fourth season, featured a mixed bag of Black men, and one bright light who gave me something to be proud of in the midst of the secondhand embarrassment.

Black folks (and marginalized groups in general) have often felt a collective responsibility when members of a group do something that could reflect poorly on the whole. I grew up casually joking about not eating watermelon in public and being embarrassed when Black people got into fights. It was a dark, dark time of respectability politics for me, and since then, many of us have moved on from that type of thinking (occasional pearl-clutching over Black celebrities fighting in front of white folks notwithstanding).

There are two exceptions to this. One, I still get really nervous about what Black families are going to say on Family Feud. And two, watching Black men on reality dating shows can feel straight-up embarrassing. This season of Love Is Blind was no different — well, sorta.

When I first watched the trailer for this season, I kept getting flashbacks of all the brothers on other shows who embarrassed me in the past. There was Zack Freeman from Season 13 of Married at First Sight, who was a walking gaslight, engaging in what was essentially psychological warfare against his wife Michaela. Then there was Temptation Island’s Kendal Kirkland, who couldn’t wait to spurn Erica Washington, his beautiful brown-skinned girlfriend, for every blonde he laid eyes on. Or Dom Gabriel, who spent the entire season of Perfect Match not bothering to look twice at any Black woman on the show.

This is such a recurring, annoying theme across all of these series. During these dating shows we see the impact of colonialism, Eurocentricism and misogyny in real time. So often that the brothers picked for these shows end up opting for women who are at least three shades lighter than themselves — or the women they were dating before the show began. And so often darker-skinned women get summarily ignored whenever the men have multiple options. Even on the aforementioned Perfect Match, Colony Reeves, a successful real estate agent who had become a viral sensation for her beauty, never even got a second glance from any of the Black men on the show. And, of course, there’s Matt James, the first Black man to be The Bachelor, who, when given the choice of dozens of women, picked one who had enjoyed slavery-themed parties. How embarrassing.

Which brings me to Love Is Blind. The first thing I noticed about the preview for the show is that even though it’s about finding love sight unseen, we were again seeing a cast where the most of the women were either white, racially ambiguous, or Black women lighter than a brown paper bag. So far, Lauren Speed-Hamilton, of Love Is Blind Season One fame, has been the only darker-skinned Black woman to make it through the sight unseen stage of the show’s four-season history. She ended up marrying Cameron Hamilton, a white man.

This latest season was a mixed bag, saved by one hero whom we’ll discuss later.

Five minutes into the first episode of Love Is Blind Season Four, we get introduced to Kwame Appiah. The Portland, Oregon resident, whose family is Ghanaian, opens the season by talking about how difficult it has been to date white women without being judged for the way he looks. It’s pretty clear that his desire is to date white women without having to fight through stigmas about his Blackness to get their attention (“I feel the need to impress,” he says. “I have to always bring up, ‘Hey, I’m really successful. I have a master’s degree.’ ” Yuck.) It’s also apparent that the man doesn’t know a good barber, so there’s that. Kwame was in heaven early in the season when he’d gotten the attention of blond-haired Micah Lussier and blond-haired Chelsea Griffin. It felt like the dream he was looking for when he got on the show.

Marshall Glaze was another one of the Black men who made it out on the other side of the pods, having proposed to Jackie Bonds. The two seemed pretty incompatible from the beginning and their relationship dissolved rather quickly. While Jackie was pure chaotic energy, seemingly never truly interested in Marshall before ultimately breaking off their engagement and choosing Josh Demas, an obnoxiously hypermasculine martial artist who made everyone uncomfortable. Marshall, though, had underlying issues that made him cringey as well. He was the curated perfect guy in a way that seemed intentional. Sure he’d make pancakes with compote and talk about his feelings, but he also awkwardly forced Jackie to wear his jacket when she didn’t want to (presumably to keep Josh from checking her out). It was a move that crossed over from chivalry to chauvinism.

Marshall, though, did seem like an overall OK, if imperfect, guy. I just hope he figures out that some of his desire to appear like the nice guy is more off-putting than he realizes.

But the season gave me a hopeful brother to hang my hat on. The immaculate reality dating show savior we’ve all been waiting for: Brett Brown. The immersive designer is a self-made genius who works for Nike and just has the biggest heart you’ll find on one of these shows. His relationship with Tiffany Pennywell, a client lead recruiter, was full of constant communication, affirmation, and pure, unfettered affection. It was also one of the most fulfilling relationships in the show’s history. The same could be said for Marshall and Brett, who developed a bond that felt genuine and caring. They also had the second-best relationship of anyone on the show.

And these are the types of Black men on reality dating shows who feel like needles in haystacks. Shiny, Black-women-loving needles. I can name them from memory because they have brought me so much joy. There was Woody Randall from Married At First Sight Season 11 who loved his wife Amani through the pandemic and worshiped the ground she walked on. There was Javen Butler from Temptation Island who pretty much spent his time in the house full of women talking about how much he missed his girlfriend, getting in touch with his emotions, and trying to reassure her that he was faithful. And, of course, there’s Leroy Garrett’s love of Kam Williams from MTV’s The Challenge that is basically Jay-Z/Beyoncé levels of reality TV power coupledom.

These men hold a special place in my heart. And while they are unfortunately not as abundant as the brothers who hop on these shows and disparage and shun Black women, they’ve given me an option that’s better than me hanging my head in shame. Until I grow out of being embarrassed by what I see on these ridiculous reality shows. Or stop watching them altogether. Stay tuned.

David Dennis Jr. is a senior writer at Andscape and an American Mosaic Journalism Prize recipient. His book, The Movement Made Us, will be released in 2022. David is a graduate of Davidson College.