Racism is nothing new to read about, nor is it nothing new to experience or witness, particularly in the United States. Regardless of how progressive your city may be (we love you, New York), it’s undeniable that there are large amounts of people in this country who are openly racist and even larger amounts of people who are secretly racist.
So, where does racism rear its ugly head? Well, a lot of places, but I’d like for us to take a look at online dating apps. You know the ones: Tinder, Ok Cupid, Plenty of Fish, Grindr, and so on. These dating apps provide people ample space to hide their racism behind keyboards, microaggressions, and a certain amount of anonymity.
So, just how prevalent and serious is racism within the online dating community? As a White woman, I will be truthful with you: I don’t particularly feel comfortable using my voice to illuminate a problem from which I am not experiencing the excruciating pain and embarrassment.
However, this topic needs attention. In order to give it that attention, without speaking over POC/BIPOC voices, I reached out to a number of people who have suffered racism on dating apps firsthand. Excuse my Law & Order phrasing, but these are their stories:
Monae, 28, Black, Heterosexual Female:
To start, a big question I get when I match with White guys is, “You like White guys?” And then they will keep going, and ask about my involvement with White guys. They are very preoccupied with my history with White guys. I personally feel like at least with Bumble, the way it works is I match with someone and have to message them first for them to be able to even talk to me. So even if I never dated a White guy, clearly I’m interested so what’s the point of asking so much? And with some dudes, it’s almost like a fetish or an accomplishment to be like “Hey, I banged or dated a Black girl.” It’s weird. I don’t run into much blatant racism. But when I do, I always hit up my friends like here’s another boy wonder. It’s like we all know how they are.
The worst offender? Bumble stands out only because girls have to message first, so the race questions seem pointless and weird.
Amber, 30, Mixed, Bisexual Female:
Honestly, I haven’t experienced any racism on any of the trash apps I’m on. This is pretty surprising, to be honest, but I’m coming from the perspective of being mixed. And society accepts me and fetishizes me over people who are darker…I guess I shouldn’t say they “accept” me, but they tolerate me more.
I think it’s great that there’s some sort of positivity surrounding mixed people. But then again, it’s almost like we’re animals in a zoo. We aren’t truly appreciated, we’re just admired for how we look. But I mean it bothers me that society doesn’t accept POC who are darker or of other ethnicities. If you can admire me with my medium skin, then why can’t you also admire a deep chocolate-skinned person, ya know?
The worst offender? Plenty of Fish would be the worst, then Tinder.
Anonymous, 28, African American, Heterosexual Female:
I haven’t been on a dating app in over four years. The only dating app I was on was Tinder and the vibe I got from it was the White guys just wanted to experience having sex with a Black girl. I guess just to brag or something, but no racism other than that.
The worst offender? Tinder was literally the only dating app I was on and it literally comes across as just a sex app.
Cynthia, 35, Afro-Latina/African Latina, Heterosexual Female:
Um, honestly thinking back, I don’t think I’ve experienced racism in dating apps because I tend to only match with people of color.
I will say, when a White guy swipes for me on Hinge, I do think that he has a husky Black chick fetish.
I’ve been on all of the dating apps pretty much. I avoid Black People Meet because I think the men on that site are extra creepy.
Tinder is what you expect (a hook-up app), but there are a lot of catfish-looking White men swiping for me.
Hinge, for some reason, I think it picks up on the type of men you like because now most of the guys that come up on my algorithm are Black, which is actually pretty cool and refreshing.
The worst offender? Plenty Of Fish and Ok Cupid are where you find the biggest d-bags.
Isabel, 28, Latina/Mixed, Heterosexual Female:
Racism on dating apps happens often and to many people. When I did use them a few years back, I did experience such a thing. I really never thought I would at all. There was this one White guy. He asked me where I was from and I told him. I said I’m half and half. I told him I was Latina and half Arab. He was like, “Oh, you’re someone I would just have sexual encounters with.”
Even though he called me “exotic,” I wasn’t good enough because apparently his parents would never be okay with us dating. He said that they were very racist. I honestly had the feeling that he was racist, too. He never said they were wrong. He never mentioned that he wished their behaviors would change. Nope. He never once condemned them for it.
He seemed to believe in what they believed in, only with a few exceptions. (One exception probably being that he wanted to have sex with someone who wasn’t White.) He went on to say his parents thought every Latin person was here in the United States illegally and that we didn’t belong here. Then he said, “Well, you already know what they think about the Arabs.” Then he even laughed after he said that and I asked him to explain what was funny. He only said, “Oh, come on, I don’t think like that.”
The worst offender? Plenty of Fish.
Angi, 26, Korean American, Heterosexual Female:
Hm, I never really experienced racism through dating apps just because I never really went on them. I just dabbled here and there but never lasted too long on any app. The only thing I can think of that struck me as racist was when men would always tell me, “I’ve never been with an Asian.” As if I were just some sort of achievement or something they could tell their friends or a goal of some sort. It seemed to never occur to some of these men that I’m a human, I’m a woman, I’m not just “an Asian.”
The worst offender? Tinder.
Ishmael, 36, Jamaican American, Heterosexual Male:
To be honest, I’ve never had any racist experiences with dating apps. I’ve used them, but not consistently enough for something like that to happen.
Other races have definitely sexualized me on dating apps. They are curious about sleeping with me. But as far as flat-out racism, I never experienced that on a dating app.
The worst offender? Tinder.
Anonymous, 35, Jamaican, Heterosexual Male:
I don’t think I’ve ever experienced overt racism on a dating app. I’m sure that some people don’t date outside of their race for whatever reason so I don’t expect to get responses from everyone, especially since it somehow became cool to ghost people sometime in the last decade.
I went on Ok Cupid and Match and Tinder (for like a week, nobody I talked to was serious on Tinder.)
There are a lot of variables to consider when people are decidedly vague with you online. I can’t say for sure that racism played a factor in not getting responses.
The worst offender? I suppose I could make the argument that since Tinder is so impersonal initially, it affords its users a safe space in which to skip a race they don’t want to date without having to interact with them in any way beforehand. Whereas with Ok Cupid and Match, you either have to awkwardly ghost someone or actually give a reason as to why it’s not going to work out (whatever reason they choose to give.) With Tinder, you could be like, “Ew, Black guy” and swipe me away and I’d never know.
Anonymous, 27, Afro Latino, Homosexual Male:
I was on Grindr down in Miami and this older White guy, maybe mid-30s, with a very toned and muscular body, sent me a message. He, of course, wanted to hook up and have sex with me. I told him I don’t do hook-ups, but we could meet for a drink, I also mentioned that I would not send him any nude photos. He then became very aggressive and said, “You’re not that cute anyway, you ugly n****r, you f*****g s**c.” I just laughed and blocked him.
There was another time in New York on Grindr, when a Hispanic guy wanted to see my nudes. I told him no. He also got aggressive and said I was ugly and looked like a monkey. I blocked him, as well.
Racism in the gay community is rampant, but no one seems to mention it. People assume that because the LGBTQ community is oppressed, that the White people within it cannot be racist, which is insane. I’ve experienced a lot of racism on dating apps, and the gay community is notorious for it. You’ll see things written in profiles like, “No fats, no fems, no Blacks, no Asians, etc.” all the time. It comes from gay, White males.
The worst offender? Grindr.
Frank, 29, Hispanic, Homosexual Male:
I can’t remember if someone was ever racist to me through a dating app. At least not in a direct way. But I definitely have experienced it indirectly. MANY times guys would stop talking to me as soon as they found out I was Hispanic. I remember I would always tell them I was Guatemalan (Central American) and they would automatically lose interest.
That rejection came not only from White guys, but even from other Hispanic/brown-skinned guys, which is so messed up to me.
I feel like rejection due to race, social class, and the way one looks is VERY common in the gay community. Especially in New York. Gays in NYC are always aiming to get the best of the best. They have VERY high expectations.
When you use dating or hook-up apps like Tinder or Grindr, one of the first questions people ask is, “What is your background?”
And the answer to that question determines the rest of the conversation.
People seem to try to be nicer on Tinder, in my experience.
The worst offender? Grindr is the worst.
Carolina, 39, Afro Latina, Heterosexual Female:
I’ve been single since 2015, after a 13-year relationship that was going nowhere. I am what you call Afro Latina, but people always want to sub-categorize me into something else because I don’t look “Black enough” (whatever that means.) As a woman of color, I’ve had my fair share of work discrimination and always getting the short end of the stick. The dating world hasn’t been any different.
I’ve always dated Black men and decided maybe I’d have luck dating outside my race. I’ve been on apps like Tinder, Plenty Of Fish, Bumble, Ok Cupid, Hinge, and on a dating site for plus-size women. My hope when I was on these sites was to meet someone nice and to see where it goes.
My relationship with my ex wasn’t really a relationship since it lacked so many things. These (White) men I’ve met on these dating sites only seemed to want one thing from me. White men would speak to me in slang for no reason as if I couldn’t speak proper English. Within two minutes from matching with me, they would flat out say they were only looking for sex and nothing more, while their profile would say they were looking for something meaningful.
Back in 2018, I went out with a Greek American who I met on Hinge. He worked for the NYPD and our first date was AMAZING. We went to this Mexican restaurant that was beautiful and he was such a gentleman. He picked me up for a second date and told me to wear “gym clothes.” I’m thinking maybe we were going to go hiking or something. Nope. He took me to his gym to work out. He explained that this was his polite way of calling me fat by “fixing the problem.” I ended up cursing him out.
Then there was a school teacher that lived in the Bronx and he was of Italian ancestry. I met him on Ok Cupid. We were talking during the pandemic and he said some pretty racist things to me about BLM (Black Lives Matter) and why everything that’s going on is Black people’s own fault. We got into a big argument and I blocked him. I have the longest blocked list in history. Five years on and off dating sites and absolutely no luck, nothing has morphed into a relationship, just a few friends with benefits. Being a woman of color and plus-size in the dating pool full of turds makes me the least likely candidate to be taken seriously, not to mention my age.
People always dismiss my feelings on this, but no one wants to date a woman of color who is fat. Black men want mixed women or a White woman with a big ass. White men just want White women or Asian girls. Latin men want White girls. Black women are at the bottom of the totem pole and being plus-size puts you at even more of a disadvantage. I’m not on any site at the moment, I’m not interested in talking to anyone right now. It’s much better than being disappointed, being disrespected, or sexually harassed on these sites.
People are quick to dismiss someone when they say that color isn’t an issue, yet those people aren’t the ones living it on a daily basis like I am. There’s subtle and not-so-subtle racism. Or there’s sexualization and only being good enough to be a “friend with benefits.” Many of the men lack consistency, common decency, and respect. I have “playfully” been called a big-booty hoe. I have only been texted during weird hours of the night. I’m over it. I just want to be alone and maintain my peace of mind.
The worst offender? I would have to say Tinder was the ABSOLUTE worst! Guys would literally tell me they were just there for sex. They would say, “This is Tinder, not Match.”
Lex, 31, Black, Heterosexual Female:
So the way dating apps have gone for me is that the White men only want to hook up because I’m Black. Most would tell me that upfront. They aren’t even ashamed of it. I have had a guy ask if we could do “slave/masta” role-play. Then when I reported him, Ok Cupid banned me, not him. All because I was telling them he was a creep. I found out I wasn’t the only one who he had harassed in this way. Other White guys will just say “no Black chicks” because we “have problems.” We really just get ignored or told to move along. Sometimes they actually do call themselves “masta” and I’ve had my lady parts referred to as a “dirty black p***y.” That’s why I quit dating apps.
The worst offender? Plenty of Fish is the worst. So many guys have sent unsolicited d**k pics asking if I like having sex with White d**k.
Now For Some Statistics…
According to the book, Dataclysm: Love, Sex, Race, and Identity–What Our Online Lives Tell Us about Our Offline Selves by Christian Rudder, he found that on apps where you can rate one another (like Ok Cupid), women of races other than Asian—Black, Latina, White—give Asian men a rating between 1 and 2 stars less than what they usually rate men. Black and Latin men face similar discrimination from women of different respective races, while White men’s ratings remain mostly high among women of all races.
Asian, Latin, and White men tend to give Black women 1 to 1.5 stars less, while Black men’s ratings of Black women are more consistent with their ratings of all races of women. According to these findings, Black women are considered the “least desirable” on these dating apps.
This “least desirable” statistic led Ari Curtis, a Black woman, to start a blog, encouraging others to share their stories of the racism they experienced on dating apps and websites. The name of her blog? You guessed it. “Least Desirable.” She describes it as “an awkward name for an awkward existence.”
Where Did This Racism Come From?
The above stories shared may seem shocking to some, but they are hardly abnormal and they are nothing new. Racial microaggressions (and straight-up aggressions) have existed on these types of dating apps for years now. From fetishizing certain races, to blatant violent racism, this behavior is rampant, and only getting worse as time goes by. The reason for this could be the general atmosphere of the country, and how much easier it has become to be openly racist.
It also could be because some people genuinely do not understand that their so-called “dating preferences” are, in actuality, racial biases. In the above stories, you can see that quite a few people begin with “I haven’t experienced much racism on dating apps,” then proceed to describe racist interactions. Just because these racial biases are potentially subconscious, doesn’t make them less racist. Harvard even released a test you can take to find out if you are unknowingly contributing to the ongoing issue of subconscious racial bias.
So, What Can We Do?
How can we help to end the deeply-embedded racism that exists within dating apps? For starters, as White people, we can work on our language. We can stop referring to people as “exotic,” or commenting on their hair texture, their physical features, and so on. We can stop asking people “what they are” or “where they come from.” Most importantly of all, we can take a hard look at ourselves and figure out why we have certain dating preferences that involve race.
This is obviously not a problem that will disappear overnight. I encourage you, White people, particularly White men, to swallow your initial sensitivity to this topic and examine your dating profiles. Do you specify that you only like to date a certain race? Do you only swipe a certain race? No matter what you say or what you think, these “preferences” are not preferences. This is racism. The sooner we admit that the sooner we can rectify it. Hopefully, as time goes by, there will be fewer and fewer stories like the ones you read above.