Since the days of Saartjie Baartman, known as the “human oddity” Hottentot Venus among her spectators, black women’s bodies have been subjected to a particular kind of scrutiny. Unfortunately, the repercussions of that historical narrative haven’t changed much since 1810, as one woman recently discovered through an online social experiment.
Paige Tutt, an associate editor at MMR Magazine, created online dating profiles on OkCupid for five different personas: the “video girl,” the “hipster/nerd,” the “afrocentric,” the “professional,” and the “Me-Yoncé.” Although she kept the written description the same for each persona, she changed the photos to reflect a different identity, donning a hair wrap to look afrocentric and a preppy button-up to look professional.
Tutt shared her findings in a conversation with HuffPost Live on Monday.
Her experiment, which she called a “dip into perception,” uncovered the grim reality of online dating as a black woman. While most of her personas did not elicit direct comments about her dark-skinned complexion, when it came to her “video girl” persona, which shows her posing in a fitted, low-cut top, Tutt found overwhelming responses that linked her race to her sexuality.
“In every other persona, people spoke about everything else. I wasn’t necessarily sexualized in the same way,” she said. “But if I want to express my sexuality, according to this experiment, I have to accept the fact that people are going to see me as purely black and nothing else.”
Many of the responses revealed a tendency towards the “fetishization” of her skin color. As Tutt unpacked this problematic finding, she took issue with the way users restricted her identity based on her looks and choice of clothing.
“As a black woman, as a woman of color, I really feel that I’m only allowed to occupy two boxes,” she said. “One is [a] sexualized black being and the other is everything else. I’m not allowed to have shades or layers at all.”
Watch HuffPost Live’s full conversation with Paige Tutt here.