One of the things I am most grateful for during my time writing And That's Why You're Single is proverbial mirror certain readers would hold up to my face from time to time. I was fortunate to have black people in my readership - Craig, Jaimie, Heather - who thought enough of me to take the time and perform the emotional labor to point out my blindspots when it came to race.
It's with that in mind - given this seismic societal shift we are hopefully experiencing - I felt compelled to raise the topic of race, preferences and online dating.
I perform about eight to ten dating profile reviews a week. Something I see more often than I'm comfortable with is Caucasian people selecting either "White/Caucasian" only or only two or three races of their ideal match. When I ask why they limit their pool, they say the same thing.
It's my preference.
I used to say that, too.
It was a choice borne of external messaging, lack of sophistication and ignorance on my part. I grew up in an almost all-white town, went to an almost all-white high school, and attended a church with an almost all-white congregation. I rarely ventured outside of my comfort zone, even in college and well-after. I didn't expose myself to other cultures and traditions enough, even thought I lived in a cultural melting pot like New York City. I was sheltered. I was insulated. And I was woefully uneducated in the area of race relations.
In short, I was bigoted and didn't even know it. As smart and insightful and empathetic as I thought I was, all of that was limited to experiences of people that looked like me. Looking back, I cringe at my ignorance.
In these times, it is critical for people to confront these so-called preferences. Since dating is my wheelhouse, one way I'm going to add to the over-arching dialog is by focusing on changes that could be made when dating online. Let's start with your dating profile.
First, know this: there's a difference between a Caucasian person preferring to only date other Caucasian people and a Black or Jewish person preferring only to date Black or Jewish people. Before someone cries racism, in the latter case, understand that decision has a historical context. Caucasians were not enslaved, sold, beaten and considered sub-human nor were six million of their ancestors murdered in a mass genocide. Nothing - NOTHING - Caucasians have experienced compares. The choice to date exclusively within their race is a layered one that involves justified mistrust, a desire to carry on traditions and wanting to rebuild and strengthen their community.
If a dating app or online dating site asks you - a Caucasian person - to select the race of your ideal match LEAVE IT BLANK. Additionally, if your first impulse is to only select Caucasian or make selections that exclude other races, ask yourself why that is. I am imploring of you to examine that choice. Break it down and apply logic to it. Those traditions or beliefs you claim to want to carry on, do you even practice them? If you cite physical attraction as the reason, we all have eyes, noses, mouths, ears, etc. The only difference is the color of the person's skin. That's it. A pull towards one skin color over another is not about attraction, it's about prejudice. It's a result of years and years of conditioning.
In our discussion group last Friday, one white attendee said he felt it was misleading to leave that preference field unpopulated. I countered with this:
What do you think is worse: someone sending you a message or swiping on your profile and not getting a reply - par for the course when dating online - or a person of color reading your dating profile, thinking you're great, and then getting to the section about race and seeing what is essentially "Whites Only."
Which do you think will be more hurtful and disappointing?
If, for no other reason, that is why you leave that field blank. (The other reason, of course, is that most evolved potential matches will see you've selected only one or two races and rightfully deem you a bigot.) Online dating is all about getting messaged by people you don't find appealing. People disregard age, distance, education level all the time. What makes this one issue any different?
Rhetorical question. The answer is racial bias.