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Blackness and hookup culture

Abena Boadi-Agyemang/The Stanford Daily

My first college hookup took place fall quarter on a balcony of my freshman dorm with an individual I’d only known a few hours. Between onion ring-tinged breathy gasps for air and the ungracious clambering of hands on flesh, my mind vacillated between the confusion and euphoria of this novel experience.

As the the tawny fall leaves slowly adopted spring’s verdant hue, and as my once non-sexual encounters took a more ~carnal~ turn, so too did I begin to increasingly seek the thrill of these casual encounters. I was caught in the throws of using and discarding individuals like soiled Kleenex. It was titillating. To loosely quote the Pulitzer Prize-winning Kendrick Lamar: dick and other non-phallic body parts were totally disposable. I felt powerful!

It wasn’t long before the objectifier became the objected, however. As a Black womxn, I’ve known what objectification and dehumanization looks like — my body and entire being has long been the subject of it. Yet I’ve actively participated in a culture that upholds the idea that people are disposable objects.

This leads me to ponder: How do my Black peers navigate hook-up culture? What are their individual experiences with this prevalent phenomenon? How do they process their experiences with hooking up in relation to their Blackness, as well as their other identities?

I interviewed five Stanford students who identify as Black on their experiences with hooking up. These are their abridged stories.

 

Black, Rwandan-Omani

Pronouns: She / her

Year: Sophomore

Hometown: Kigali, Rwanda

How would you define the term “hookup”?

“They are meaningless, sexual encounters.”

What was your first experience hooking up with someone at Stanford?

“My first hookup experience was during my freshman year. [I]t was with a junior… He asked me to ‘Netflix and chill.’ I didn’t really understand the American slang or hidden meanings, [s]o I thought we were going to watch ‘The Originals’… I go to his room, [and] that doesn’t happen. Instead what happens is obvious: him starting to touch me and whatever and I’m like, ‘Oh, so this is where it was going?’… I did indulge [i]n  [hooking up], but I wouldn’t say [hooking up] was the primary intention just because I was still confused about how it works around here.”

What is it being like as a Black individual at a predominantly white institution (PWI) navigating hookup culture?

“For a black girl at an elite college, or just any college in general, there are two distinct situations that happen to you: one of them is with black guys. If you’re a dark skin black girl, then you’re probably the last option for a black guy at a party. Unless, the lightskin curly-headed girls are not interested, then they’ll probably look at you. And [then] there is [the other] situation where you’re [being pursued] by someone of another race, but they only want you because you represent everything that’s cool to them, that they want to be.”

Do you feel as though there is a pressure in college to engage in casual sexual encounters?

“I’d say that during freshman year, I did feel pressured to join just because I thought that was the key to being in college…[B]ut I also didn’t know that it wasn’t as easy and [that] I could get hurt while discovering that… But that’s not how it goes. [N]ow, I participate in it, but it’s not out of pressure.”

Have you felt that casual intimate encounters either come into conflict with or complement certain elements of your identity?

“I think my sexual life is an identity on its own and I mean, sex goes across all identities… So I feel like I just have to respect it on its own.”

 

Black

Pronouns: he/him

Year: Sophomore

Hometown: United States

How would you define the term “hookup”?

“Black communities have, mostly used ‘hookup’ as a term to describe a sexual experience… In other majority communities, [the term] has been used to describe nonsexual experiences… So it depends on the context.”

What was your first experience hooking up with someone at Stanford?

“My first couple of hookup experiences were kind of odd because you literally don’t know that person… Then you come into a room, and there’s this awkward silence. And you and this person are just sitting in a room… and then comes this really awkward question: ‘Do you want to have sex?’ Like you barely know that person’s name, and since you don’t know that person, the sex can be good or it can be really bad.”

What has it been like navigating hookup culture as a Black individual at a PWI?

“As a black person, you already have a stereotype against you that you’re probably dangerous… Most people assume that you’re going to be hyper-aggressive or very dominant… In hookup culture, you’re able to see how stereotyping really works when there’s a situation like that where decisions are made really quickly… As a black male, you’re held either to a higher standard or a lower standard, depending on the stereotype you’re associated with.   

Have you felt that casual intimate encounters either come in conflict or complement certain elements of your identity?

“I would say that [hookup culture] does come in conflict with my religious beliefs and that’s just depending on my relationship with God at that time.You’re supposed to wait ‘til marriage… So it’s like, sometimes, after I’m like, ‘Damn! Should I have done this?’ But I [do] feel like everything should be based on your personal relationship with God because really nobody on earth can judge you.”

 

African American, Black

Pronouns: he/him

Year: Junior

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

How would you define the term “hookup”?

“I would define hookups as encounters that people assume [lead] to sex [and] I guess no intentions of anything after that.”

What was your first experience hooking up with someone at Stanford?

“My first experience hooking up [was] after hanging out all day. [We] went to a party the same night. [After] that, we went to my room, sat on the bed, talked, started kissing and then that was it. Just ended relaxed and then fell asleep.”

As a Black male or as an athlete, do you feel like people expect more from you sexually?

“Definitely a part of my biggest annoyance being a Black male is dealing with non-Black women [who] fetishize Black men. Being an athlete, being looked at like I should do certain things [and having people] assume your body is a certain way, they feel like they want to touch [or grope] you which makes it disturbing to be in a party setting sometimes. ”

Do you feel like there can be an overlap between hookup culture and rape culture, especially because of the lack of consent?

“We’re actively talking about consent, [but in] the process of trying to hook up, there’s the least amount of talking in those situations. So to assume that something is okay is morally wrong. Also, people still lack trying to openly say ‘You cool?’ or ‘You sure?’ or some type of question that puts a pause in the moment to make sure everything is cool.”

 

Black

Pronouns: she/ her

Year: Coterm

Hometown: Florida

How would you define the term “hookup”?

“No strings attached. If I was going to call it a hookup, it would have to be sexual. At the very least, kissing. If you just hung it my room, just Netflix and chilled, I’d say we just chilled or had a date.”

What was your first experience hooking up with someone at Stanford?

“I think it was spring quarter, freshman year. And it was after a party. It was actually my favorite night of, like, my undergrad experience. I went out with three other friends. [The] four of us rolled out to this party; it was a party on the row. Another friend was there, and I was feeling them and they were feeling me and so we started dancing on each other. One thing led to the next, and we went back to [my dorm] and we hooked up.”

Do you currently participate in hookup culture on Stanford campus?

“I don’t have Stanford hos. A ‘ho’ is someone you routinely hook up with. You just have that understanding. Sophomore year, I had a Stanford ho and that was bad because he got feelings, and I really wish that I would have watered those feelings, because in retrospect, he was a good guy — could have been a whole husband.”

Do you think high pressure environments, like Stanford, foster hooking up?

“Stanford is not the best place for relationships — I don’t think. I think we move too fast here… I think it’s hard to have time for yourself that feels slow and feels committed. Like I can’t even have that with myself, so just being honest, I don’t know how much  I can extend that time to other people either.”

What has it been like navigating hookup culture as a Black individual at a PWI?

“My experience of Stanford has always been colored, though… The people I’m interested in romantically [and] sexually are, to be honest, people of color. And to be very honest, Black people. One thing for me in undergrad was just building confidence, in terms of feeling comfortable participating in romance or hookup cultures.”

 

African, Kenyan

Year: Junior

Hometown: Kenya

How would you define “hookups”?

“Hookups for me must have the component of a stranger. Like, it’s not someone you’re familiar with. I loosely define hookups in the sense that making out and shit [still counts] as a hookup.”

What was your first experience hooking up with someone at Stanford?

“Sophomore year. It was with a senior and it was weird for me… because it’s almost like from the jump, the intent is to have sex. And personally, it’s not something I’m comfortable with. I want to be comfortable with you  and around you before we proceed to this thing that is very personal.”

What has it been like navigating hookup culture as a Black individual at a PWI?

“If you look at the statistics, you know that most people meet their spouses in college. That’s not true for minorities. There’s obviously a smaller population, and then it gets way smaller when you combine queerness… Dating outside of your culture, it’s not even about preferences, it’s hard. [But] I no longer participate in hookup culture and, it’s not out of choice. There’s nothing out here.”

Was there something that drew you to participate the hookup culture?

“Validation… I used to have [self]-esteem issues and I felt like, most people, when you hook up with someone it meant that there’s nothing wrong with you — like ‘Oh, okay. Fine, I’m not that undesirable. Okay, I’m desirable to someone.’”

 

Hooking up is a dynamically defined term. It interacts with distinct identities differently, shaping vastly dissimilar experiences; and as Black individuals, we have experiences that differ from our non-Black peers, but also from our fellow Black peers. Our religious beliefs, cultures, queerness and a myriad of other factors shape our hookup experiences. While these few interviews don’t represent the entire Black student body on Stanford campus, these accounts do display a needed consciousness when approaching hookup culture. As college students, we can continue perpetuating a culture of objectification, hyper-sexualization and disregard that undermines the humanity of our peers. Or we can choose to embrace a culture that recognizes and acknowledges our differences, all while contributing to a phenomenon that fosters our own sexual liberation but not at anyone’s expense.

 

Contact Abena Boadi-Agyemang at aboadi98 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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