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Why your swiping behavior on dating apps might be racist

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The authors of a new book are arguing for race-blind dating apps — and the removal of filters for race and ethnicity.

Finding love, they say, isn’t so black-and-white. 

In a new book, “The Dating Divide: Race and Desire in the Era of Online Romance,” sociologists Jennifer Lundquist, Celeste Vaughan Curington and Ken Hou-Lin show how online dating sites exacerbate racial divisions.

They found that race-related “preference” filters on digital dating platforms help foster racist attitudes — especially toward black women. 

Filtering out people based on race is a normal practice on dating apps,” Lundquist told The Post. 

“The idea of having racial preferences is unacceptable and illegal in any other arena,” she added. “But it’s literally built into the structure of these dating apps.”

A 2014 study about dating preferences along racial lines on OKCupid came to a similar conclusion: Black women had a hard time matching on dating apps, as did black and Asian men.

(The 2014 study also found that preferring to date within one’s race was fairly common. For instance, black women preferred to date black men at a rate surpassed only by Asian women’s preference for Asian men.)

Filtering for race on dating apps has led to rampant racism.
Filtering For Race On Dating Apps Has Led To Rampant Racism.
Alamy Stock Photo

For their book, Lundquist and her co-writers analyzed large-scale behavioral data from one of the leading dating sites in America. The authors declined to publicly reveal which digital dating platform they used for their research per a data-share agreement with the website. 

They also conducted over 75 in-depth interviews with daters of diverse racial backgrounds and sexual identities. 

The authors found that racial filtering on mating forums exposed black women to more exclusion and rejection than white, Latina and Asian female daters. Black women were the most likely to be excluded from searches, as well as the most likely recipients of offensive messages.

The research trio found that discrimination is laced into the algorithms of mainstream dating apps and websites.

“[It’s] this idea that it’s OK to say, ‘I prefer this race of people, and I don’t like this race of people for my romantic interest,’” Curington explained to The Post.

Hinge, OKCupid, Plenty of Fish and offer race and ethnicity filters, while Tinder and Bumble do not. 

While plenty of people have “a type” when it comes to dating, the researchers found that filtering for race also let “people feel free to express their biases and racial misogyny towards women of color in a way they typically wouldn’t in a face-to-face encounter,” Lundquist said.

In a new book, “The Dating Divide: Race and Desire in the Era of Online Romance,” sociologists Jennifer Lundquist, Celeste Vaughan Curington and Ken Hou-Lin show how online dating sites exacerbate racial divisions.
The Dating Divide

So, how did users go from being ignored to harassed? One possible explanation: When the average dating-app user doesn’t see black women because of the filters they’ve set, you end up with a higher percentage of users seeking black women as a “fetish.”

For Nicole, a 39-year-old Afro Caribbean single mother from Brooklyn, receiving overly sexual overtures from non-black men on apps has become an unwelcome norm. 

“Right off the bat these guys are approaching me with, ‘Hey, sexy chocolate,’ or ‘I love your beautiful black body. Can you twerk?,’” the registered nurse told The Post.

Nicole and other black daters who’ve endured racist attitudes while online dating declined to share their full names with The Post for privacy reasons. 

“I’m on these apps hoping to find a meaningful relationship and these guys are treating me like a sex object before even extending a proper ‘Hello,’” the Brooklyn resident added. 

The authors found that black women on matchmaking platforms must frequently contend with racist stereotypes such as the sexually insatiable “Jezebel,” which has roots in slavery, and the “angry black woman” — a belief that black women are innately unruly and ill-tempered. 

“We talked to a number of educated black women who were thriving in their careers and looking for comparable partners,” Curington told The Post. “But there’s a disconnect between who they are in real life versus the Jezebel stereotype they’re being subjected to online.”

“I’m on these apps hoping to find a meaningful relationship and these guys are treating me like a sex object before even extending a proper ‘Hello.’”


Mish, a black executive assistant to C-suite business administrators, told The Post that her digital quest for companionship reaped a paltry handful of bad love connections. 

“I’m very turned off by dating sites now,” the 53-year-old Bronx native insisted. “They make me feel uneasy. Like I’m not being seen as the beautiful queen I am.”

She recalls one relationship with a Hispanic man that quickly turned sour.

“When we first met, he made a point of telling me how much he loved black women,” Mish told The Post. 

He was sexually aggressive during their first in-person meet-up last year. After finally engaging in consensual sex, he ghosted her. 

She later discovered he had a sordid history of fetishizing black women for his personal pleasures, then dumping them once he’d had his fun. 

“He targets black women because we’re seen as sexual objects, nothing more,” she said, noting that they never spoke again. 

Black gay men were also subjected to hypersexualized stereotypes, the authors found.  

Clark, a 26-year-old urban contemporary choreographer, told The Post his brush with racism ultimately got him banned from a leading dating app. 

“At first this white guy was sweet,” the Manhattan-based dancer explained. “But after a few messages, he asked for nude pictures to see ‘if the rumors about black guys are true.’”

Clark responded to the request with a flurry of expletives. The man reported Clark to the app administrators for “cyber bullying.” Clark’s dating profile was immediately deactivated. 

“I couldn’t believe it when I saw my profile was gone. I had to create a whole new account,” Clark told The Post. “It was like I was being attacked twice, once by the white guy and once by the app.”

The authors suggest doing away with racial filters on apps in order to eliminate the perpetuation of racial stereotyping and discrimination. 

However, they note that their objective isn’t to bash people for having a dating “type,” nor is it to browbeat folks into dating outside of their race. 

“We’re not dumping on dating apps or people’s individual choices,” Curington told The Post. “We just want everyone to be aware of the long-standing societal issues being exacerbated on this platform.”

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