Everyone seems to have a convenient solution for single people who have fallen into a monumental dating slump: Look for love online! In the age of instant gratification and lightening-speed technology, the 21st-century meet-cute is about as romantic as browsing the cereal aisle in the grocery store. Looking for marriage? Fork over your cash and trust the algorithms perfected at Match.com or eHarmony. Looking for a hookup? Try Grindr or Tinder. There’s dozens of choices. Well, at least if you’re not a minority.
If you’re young, black and female, your identity might be a liability. Recent studies have proven that online dating can be tainted by racism. According to Kevin Lewis, a University of California-San Diego professor and sociologist, the average user of an online dating site is more likely to to contact someone who shares his/her racial background. Using OkCupid as his data pool, he gathered the following information about the racial breakdown of user interactions: “Most men (except black men) are unlikely to initiate contact with black women, all men (including Asian men) are unlikely to reply to Asian women, and although women from all racial backgrounds tend to initiate contact with men from the same background, women from all racial backgrounds also disproportionately reply to white men.”
Lewis’s studies may be unsettling or hard to believe, as other findings have verified that interracial marriage is on the upswing. Regardless, the everyday racism that black women encounter in the real world is often translated into a few thoughtless and crass keystrokes. In fact, the Wall Street Journal declared that black women are “the most unmarried group of people in the U.S.” Unlike the writer, Ralph Richard Banks, I believe that the factors of fetishization and exoticism are often magnified in the online dating world; framing the explanation by a matter of “desirability” or at worst, the consequences of self-segregation, blatantly ignores the roadblocks that prevent a higher marriage rate among black women. Hiding behind the relative anonymity of the Internet allows all walks of bigots and sexists to vocalize their views. Some are so bold as to state this “preference” in their profiles, listing which races they don’t want to date. What woman wants to be constantly reminded that she’s deemed unwanted every time she logs into her OkCupid account?
I’ve decided to give up on online dating as an act of self-care. In the more eloquent words of Audre Lorde, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” I suspect that my creep magnet was on extra-high due to living in an area of the country where whiteness is homogenized and liberal racism runs rampant. The suburbs of Connecticut aren’t shining beacons of racial diversity. I can’t help but recall the description of the state by n + 1 writer Freddie Deboer, “Aside from a few college towns—New Haven, New London, New Britain, ‘New’ as in England, new as in ‘no old money’—where there’s some real diversity, Connecticut is a sea of comfortable whiteness with afflicted pockets of brown.”
If you’re an over-educated black woman of a racially-mixed background, Connecticut may not be the best place to find a date, let alone a relationship. Sometimes strangers make a game out of guessing my ethnicity; I’ve been asked if I’m Puerto Rican, Indian, Spanish, mixed, and Hawaiian. White people are always fascinated by my natural hair. Some ask questions such as, “Is it real/is it all yours?” or “What does it feel like?” The majority simply brush aside all rules of etiquette or respect and reach out and dig their fingers into my hair as though I were a lamb at a petting zoo. I was once in a restaurant when an older, white, weathered-looking man decided to pet my head without warning. He offered a hollow apology, saying that “he couldn’t help himself,” as though this violation of my personal space was a well-meaning joke. When he later bought me a shot, I promptly told the bartender to send it back. The people in my lunch party, who had witnessed the entire awkward exchange, couldn’t understand why I was “being so sensitive.” The microaggressions that have woven themselves into the narrative of my daily life were a predictable feature of my experience on OkCupid.
Sadly, like many other women, I received a slew of sexually crude messages from the moment I created my profile, some popping up before I’d had the chance to upload any pictures. When I did add pictures, I got a barrage of poorly typed one-liners ranging from, “Wut are you?” and “What kind of black and what kind of Asian are you?” to “Where r u originally from?” After he’d opened with a short “Hello,” one 40-something gentleman told me that I needed to start going to the gym. There were a few who would adamantly make plans only to stand me up. The longer I stayed on the site, the more I was approached by men who eventually revealed their outright if not covert, New-England breed of racism. For example, when I was contacted by one particular man, I thought I’d finally sorted through the endless reject pile and found someone who was respectful, interesting and thoughtful. Turns out my expectations were too high. After expressing that sometimes I felt uncomfortable walking through my neighborhood due to the laser-beam stares of some of the white residents, this white man recommended that I “stop taking racism so personally.” He went on to add that he “knew what it was like to be a minority because sometimes [he] had been to bars where he was the only white person inside and [he] had been in neighborhoods where everyone was Hispanic and didn’t speak English.” He couldn’t understand why I was offended by his willful ignorance.
My OkCupid account quickly turned into a black hole of negativity. Logging on began to feel like indulging in masochism. What new form of abuse would I see next? What form of anti-blackness would I encounter? I learned that as soon as you deleted and blocked a troll, another would be ready to take his place. They all resembled one another and they all recycled the same catch phrases and idiotic lines. There were the ones who thought that they were complimenting me by confessing that they didn’t normally find black women attractive, but they’d date me. There were the ones who overcompensated and declared that they “even though [they] were white, [they] didn’t date white girls.” These men were not attracted to the self-possessed person I was choosing to project on the site, but simply because my skin color was an anomaly, a point of amusement and Otherly fascination in their little bubble world.
As word travels down the small town grapevine of former classmates’ engagements and weddings and babies, I am not intimidated by these mainstream markers of “successful adulthood.” I deleted my OkCupid and Tinder accounts and I don’t have any interest in trying out any other sites. I am not saying that all black women should completely give up on online dating. For me, the choice is more about preserving my mental, emotional and psychological health. Why should I go online to read some guy hiding behind a computer spew the same garbage that I hear in the real world?
Ralph Richard Banks from The Wall Street Journal may say that the quick fix to marriage rates among black women is to stop being picky, but he fails to realize that battling racism and objectification while clicking through dating profiles is an exhausting, taxing feat. Some women would rather avoid the pain of being humiliated and coldly rejected.
- Click to share on Tumblr (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)
- Click to email a link to a friend (Opens in new window)
- Click to print (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)
Try online dating while being a black -plus size- lesbian.. In the South.. Then again, don’t its depressing.
*I thought it was just me. Word for word it’s my experience with the major sites. Match was the single WORST. It was so bad for black women I typed an actual letter, and mailed it to corporate HQ… And they refunded my money because I was right about black women not being received. Never have I received hundreds of views with almost no response… After viewing their profiles it would say explicitly on 9 of 10 they preferred white women. It was eye opening. Older white men without a real way of hiding it would say they had a black woman fetish… And they just want to fulfill it. Single 30 something black woman? Good luck with THAT.
there sure are a lot of low life people on the internet. anonymity brings out weird creativity
Vanessa, would you date, sleep with, or have a relationship with a very short man–5’4″? Do you use any criteria to determine who you’re interested in dating?
Take a look into the discrimination faced by, and experience of, short men in online dating. It’s far more of barrier to connecting with others on dating sites than being black, asian, etc. Black men contact black women; short women do not feel an affinity for short men in the same way.
You wrote: “Hiding behind the relative anonymity of the Internet allows all walks of bigots and sexists to vocalize their views. Some are so bold as to state this “preference” in their profiles, listing which races they don’t want to date. What woman wants to be constantly reminded that she’s deemed unwanted every time she logs into her OkCupid account?”
Most women on dating sites directly state their preference or discrimination as you would call it against short men with the height range they list for the men they’re interested in. At 5’4″, more than 90% of women’s profiles I read exclude me from consideration based on their stated height range (there are studies that have statistics about this sort of thing). Are these women bigots? Heightists?
Whatever you say about what black women experience when it comes to dating, relationships, and marriage is even more true for short men.
If you want to explore the idea of “discrimination” in online dating, you have to realize that everyone “discriminates” in their own ways–no one agrees to meet with or date everyone on the site. Everyone screens people in and out based on various preferences. If doing so means one is a bigot, then I have yet to meet s person who is not a bigot when it comes to dating, romance, sex, relationships, and marriage.
There is a lot of short women out there.
I am waiting for someone to create a legit free online dating service specifically for black women who want to date interracially.