Posted on September 26, 2005

‘Whites Only, Please’

Goda Ellis, Mail and Guardian (Johannesburg), Sept. 21

The last time I suggested someone try online dating, she replied: “I’m not that desperate, you know.” Mere seconds before, she had been asking that terribly hard question: “Where on Earth can I meet a nice man?”

Her distaste at my suggestion surprised me. I don’t see how going online to meet someone when you’re sober, unprejudiced by lust and relatively sane, is any less dignified than shouting your sexual preferences into someone’s ear in a noisy bar.

So in search of proof that nice men (or women) are available online, I visit a South African dating site. I peg myself as 32, heterosexual, fairly attractive, and white (mostly true). I pretend to be single and am contacted within minutes.

Wondering how online desperation can exist, I search for those with the keyword “lonely” in their online name. I’m surprised by literally hundreds of results. Lonely300* catches my eye.

She looks like she might be bedridden — and not in a sexy way. She’s in her mid-30s. She’s typed her profile all in caps. Looking down her list of requirements for her ideal match, I notice it hasn’t overcome racism yet. Ethnicity is non-negotiable. She won’t consider other online daters who are not “white/Caucasian”.

Curious about my chances, I change my profile to make myself a very attractive “black/African” girl.

At first, things look good. I have an 88,4% match with Boereseun*, who says: “I’m very open-minded, so I don’t care much . . . Just be yourself!” But reading further, I notice a big red cross next to one of the points in my profile and the words: “You aren’t a match for him because of this non-negotiable criteria: Ethnicity.”

Is excluding people from your amorous ambit on the basis of race wrong — or even racist? Not everyone I know thinks it is. In fact, the number of my friends who believe it is acceptable to state a “non — negotiable” no when it comes to interracial dating shocks me.

Some people defend this. They say race is a matter for stated personal preference, just like the gender, height or location of potential partners, and that dating sites should allow you to specify race in the same way.

Others say it’s a cultural issue. Apartheid still quite successfully divides us children of the Eighties. I’m socialised to think twice about dating a black man. But cultural issues clearly aren’t the motivating factor for many men. For instance, there’s a Eastern European guy on the site I joined. He speaks no English, but is willing to date English girls — on condition that they’re white. In other words, he’s fine with not being able to have a conversation with his lover, as long as her skin is some shade of pink.

Feeling that your sexuality is diminished by your race — because being white is harder currency in the world of love — has to be emotionally hurtful. So who should prevent this hurt occurring? Dating sites?

Dating sites say their users are better off knowing they’re unwanted before they arrive on a date.

But it’s still bizarre to think that, in 2005, people seeking true love online would choose to exercise the option to reduce their chances of finding it. Some of these people have given themselves names similar to “Desperate&Lonely10*”.

Contradictions are rife. Many who call themselves “open-minded” or say “I have no interest in politics” feel it’s completely natural and uncontroversial to exclude black people as possible sources of friendship and romantic love? Others find no conflict between flat out excluding someone on the basis of race and saying they seek “ . . . a woman who will accept me for who I am and for the life I have”?

Seems weird?

That’s no surprise, really. We all bury our freaky stuff in our sexual identities. Spanking, bondage, feet, rape, alien abductions or racism . . . you name it, it’s there. While racial prejudice — like sexism — is now officially unacceptable in most spheres of life, many overlook it in the bedroom.

By contrast, I see more multiracial couples on South Africa’s streets than ever before. Perhaps when you’re face to face with a real human being, prejudices will always seem as silly as they really are.

Or perhaps those multiracial couples met in the real world and continue to live in it.

*Names have been changed