Emi Kolawole, Washington Post, October 12, 2015
A few clicks put online dating in the rear-view mirror. The relief was immediate.
I quit online dating for a number of reasons. Chief among them was that I did not want to participate in platforms where users are given tools to discriminate based on race.
Regardless of the type of app or site, online dating works better for some than others–a lot better, in fact. If you’re a black woman, as I am, or an Asian man, OkCupid data shows that you’re likely to receive fewer matches and messages.
My experience reflected this trend. It became glaringly obvious that I was getting far fewer matches and messages while online dating than my non-black friends.
The people who design and create these sites and tools are working to address this disparity in user experience, but their attempts and failures show just how deeply ingrained racism is in our society.
For instance, in 2013, OkCupid removed users’ profile photos for one day, dubbing it “Love is Blind Day.” People couldn’t tell who was, well, what. They complained bitterly, as OKCupid co-founder and president Christian Rudder chronicled in his book, “Dataclysm.”
When the profile pictures returned, many conversations and interactions that had budded in the photos’ absence–and which OkCupid found to be qualitatively better than usual–fizzled.
Newer sites have had similar experiences with racial bias. Dating Ring, the matchmaking company followed in the second season of the “StartUp” podcast, tried to improve the dating experience for minorities, but their users often pushed back.
In a chilling account discussed on the podcast, a Dating Ring user, upon receiving the name and phone number of a match, was said to have replied: “I hope that’s a typo, because that name doesn’t sound white to me.”
Whenever someone tells me that discussing online dating is a waste of time, I refer to that anecdote and two sad truths about the online dating industry that Dating Ring’s founders discovered: First, giving people the tools to act on racial bias is profitable; and second, it is not fair to users who are discriminated against to be matched with people who are biased against their racial group and, as a result, will dismiss them as potential matches.
So Dating Ring moved away from its original design. It allowed users to select the racial groups with which they did not want to be matched.
Listening to that podcast heavily influenced my decision to quit online dating. Did I really want to contribute to businesses that felt they had no choice but to cater to people’s racial biases to stay afloat?
At times, online dating as a black woman has been extraordinarily painful. I have desperately wished my friends and peers would more actively and deeply explore how profoundly this disparity in opportunity affects my life and those of millions of others–not to mention how it holds us all back from more equitable and enjoyable dating experiences.
What if online dating sites called on all users to consider what it means to be a black woman or an Asian man while swiping and messaging? How would behaviors change if people were forced to recognize that you are consistently being rejected, not because of who you are but because of your race?