Dating apps are rooted in institutional racism

Jordan Reid is the founding editor of Ramshackle Glam.
Liberal Opinion

Jordan Reid

Author; Founding Editor, Ramshackle Glam
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Dating apps have long provided its users the usual assortment of preferences to help target potential mates. Gender, religion, age and interests are some of the more obvious filters, but there’s one that might seem less overt, carrying with it deeper — and unintended — consequences. Straight Arrow News contributor Jordan Reid examines the connection between dating apps and institutional racism.

I’ve been divorced for about four years, which means that I am way more familiar with the dating app landscape than I ever hoped to be in my forties. And it’s really something. 

Forget about the age liars — it’s a thing — catfishers — and truly astounding numbers of men wearing fedoras. One of the most striking things to me right off the bat was how quickly and directly dating apps ask you to confront your so-called “preferences.”

Do you want a non-drinker? Someone who dabbles in hallucinogenics? A farmer and only a farmer? There’s an app for that. But even the most seemingly egalitarian apps often ask you right off the bat what gender, age, religion, and, yes, race you prefer. Which can be a jarring question to be asked to answer outright, whether it’s something you’ve ever consciously given thought to or not. 

On Hinge, for example, you can mark your preferred race or races, and then indicate whether race is a “dealbreaker” or not. And that’s just okay, according to a lot of apps, and a lot of users.

Because, of course, the mechanics underlying dating apps, like so many other societal institutions are deeply rooted in institutionalized racism. 

In 2020, a number of dating apps, including Grindr, removed so-called “ethnicity filters” in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd. But the filters only go so far, even in their absence, users can of course swipe right or left based on whatever they want.

Those who hold that incorporating racial preferences into online dating is a valid choice tend to equate them to, say, a preference for a certain type of cuisine ignoring the obvious fact that the rejection of an entire group of humans based on their racial or ethnic makeup isn’t exactly the same as not being super into jalapenos. 

I’ve been divorced for about four years, which means that I am way more familiar with the dating app landscape than I ever hoped to be in my forties. And it’s…really something. 

Forget about the age liars – it’s a thing – catfishers, and truly astounding numbers of men wearing fedoras…one of the most striking things to me right off the bat was how quickly and directly dating apps ask you to confront your so-called “preferences.”

Do you want a non-drinker? Someone who dabbles in hallucinogenics? A farmer – and only a farmer? There’s an app for that. But even the most seemingly egalitarian apps often ask you right off the bat what gender, age, religion, and – yes – race you prefer. Which can be a jarring question to be asked to answer outright, whether it’s something you’ve ever consciously given thought to or not. 

On Hinge, for example, you can mark your preferred race or races, and then indicate whether race is a “dealbreaker” or not. And that’s just…okay, according to a lot of apps, and a lot of users.

Because – of course – the mechanics underlying dating apps, like so many other societal institutions – are deeply rooted in institutionalized racism. 

According to Celeste Curington, co-author of The Dating Divide, race is a huge component of online dater’s choices almost across the board – a fact that is in itself differently acknowledged along racial divides. 

If you tell people of color that studies show that online dating benefits white people the most and Black people the least, with other races tending to fall somewhere in between, they’ll probably be less-than-shocked, while white users – especially ones who identify as progressive – may resist confronting their conscious or unconscious preferences and biases. 

In 2020, a number of dating apps – including Grindr – removed so-called “ethnicity filters” in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd. But the filters only go so far – even in their absence, users can of course swipe right or left based on whatever they want.

Those who hold that incorporating racial preferences into online dating is a valid choice tend to equate them to, say, a preference for a certain type of cuisine – ignoring the obvious fact that the rejection of an entire group of humans based on their racial or ethnic makeup isn’t exactly the same as not being super into jalapenos. 

What it comes down to is that dating apps, on their surface, have the potential to subvert social structures, including racial profiling, but when they incorporate features that allow you to literally see only people who are similar to you, that disruptive effect evaporates. 

The solution here isn’t necessarily clear cut: Spokespeople for companies that utilize the filters hold that they are useful for minority users looking to find other users with similar ethnic backgrounds. Further, not all preferences are problematic – a white woman saying she only wants to date men with blonde hair and blue eyes is different than a Black woman saying that she prefers dating Black men because she wants to avoid the prevalence of racism and fetishization of Black women that’s so often found on these sites.

But institutions – including dating apps – should not present users with the ability to virtually surround themselves solely with individuals of a given race, and then double down on the effect with algorithms that reflect these biases. When you look at it that way – just how deliberate and systemic the selection system is, and the degree to which it permits and even encourages our country’s longstanding history of institutional racism – the issue isn’t really all that complicated after all. 

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Comments


EricJune 24, 2022, 9:19am CT

This is ridiculous. This is no different than everyday life. I walk down the street and choose people based on looks, dress, hair color and age. That doesn’t make the decisions racist. The are women that will only date black men. Or men who will only date women from the pacific rim. To attain what you are looking for would mean I could end up at dinner with an 18 year old from Iran with red hair. She might be nice but the relationship would be completely inappropriate. If you want to solve a problem figure out away to get the cat fishers off the sites.

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