Online dating is revealing everyone’s sexual racism
“I’m just not attracted to black women,” my friend Carter says as we’re sipping on beers. There’s five of us, talking about our “types.” Josh likes athletic blonde ladies. Chris likes half-asian women. Carter just doesn’t like black women. His sweeping statement is met with disbelief.
We challenge him, “what about exceptionally beautiful black women?” He responds, “I wouldn’t even fuck Beyoncé.”
Carter might seem like an exceptional asshole, but the dating world is full of people like him, whether they’re willing to admit it or not.
Data proves it.
A few years ago, OKCupid released a study that found most men on the dating site rate black women as less attractive than women of other races. It also reported that white women get the most interest, in terms of visitors and messages in their inbox, and were showered in so much attention that they often don’t have time to respond to all of their potential suitors.
Similarly, Asian men were rated least desirable. Consequently, black women and Asian men are pushed together as internet dating’s bottom-of-the-barrel leftovers.
This can be blamed on more than just human discrimination, though. The sites’ algorithms also play a part in racializing the online dating experience.
To the horror of many Tinder users, it was recently discovered that the app gives you a “desirability rating” based on how many people swipe right on your profile or respond to your messages.
If you’re classified as a 7, for example, the app will consistently push more 7s in your direction. If you manage to improve your profile — by adding a sexually-suggestive photo of yourself eating an ice cream cone or mentioning that you always pay extra for guacamole — the algorithm will recognize that you’re attracting more users who are DTF, upgrade you to an 8 and start throwing more 8s at you.
This all leads to a terrible realization for online daters: if all of your matches are ugly, it’s probably because you are ugly.
Or, if you’re a black woman or an Asian man, you can be beautiful, and still get sucked into a self-reinforcing cycle of getting swiped left, getting a lower “desirability rating,” and ending up with a dating selection of goblins and bridge trolls.
The algorithm was built to match popular people together, but the unintended consequence of this popularity metric is that the results are highly racially-discriminatory.
What’s worse, the discriminatory technology is keeping humans from overcoming their discriminatory views.
"[When it comes to attraction,] familiarity is a really big piece," Melissa Hobley, OkCupid's chief marketing officer, tells NPR. "So people tend to be often attracted to the people that they are familiar with.”
My friend Carter, for example — who insists he wouldn’t fuck Beyoncé — grew up in some small Connecticut town into which a minority hasn’t stepped foot since the Native Americans got kicked out three hundred years ago. He’s only ever dated white girls, and he couldn’t imagine it any other way.
"I feel like there is room, honestly, to say, 'I have a preference for somebody who looks like this.' And if that person happens to be of a certain race, it's hard to blame somebody for that," Curtis says. "But on the other hand, you have to wonder: If racism weren't so ingrained in our culture, would they have those preferences?"