Race and Online Dating

Last week, dating website OKCupid posted a blog about race affecting the chances of getting a response. While their candor about racism being alive and well is refreshing in an era of “We elected a Black president! Racism: OVER!” their findings were nevertheless flawed for many reasons, and skewed their argument a tad. (ReadWriteWeb nitpicked the blog post as well, and were eager to proclaim some of the results as “white men are today’s punching bag – at least on the OKCupid blog.”) The overwhelming finding: people were not very willing to date outside of their race, though they were curious.

There are many reasons that the findings were as commented on and analyzed as they were. The exact numbers of people polled, breakdown of racial makeup of said members, sexuality and gender were not released, which immediately calls the findings into question. More than that, though, and perhaps because of the distortion, the findings show that white men and women ultimately prefer to respond to and date their own race, and that Black women are the most ignored in message replies.

Oscar Wilde said that art dictates life. If Couples Retreat is art, life is sad.
Oscar Wilde said that "art dictates life." If Couples Retreat is art, life is sad.

A few more interesting “factoids”:

– The better the match (broken down by responses to survey questions), the better the chance of receiving a message
– Black men are very likely to respond to Asian women (55 percent); Black males have a 17-percent chance of receiving a reply from Asian females
– White males have the best match rates with white females
– White men have a high rate of response (38 percent) from Black women
– White men dominate in getting responses; Black men are not as lucky (colors representing success; oh, OkCupid, you sly dogs!)
– White men are are not as responsive overall as those of other races
– White women would prefer to date someone of their own race/skin color (54 percent), and white men share a similar preference (40 percent)
– White people be RACIST…

(That last one may or may not be true.)

Again, I can’t speak for the validity of the findings, but I, like many people, immediately took the results at face value. When I first read the blog — admittedly, after seeing the ReadWriteWeb post — and processed the findings, I was overwhelmed with emotions. Sadness, confusion, anger, hurt, rage; my feelings ran the gamut. For a site seemingly as smart as OkCupid with seemingly intelligent daters on the surface, the data was that much more bothersome. This led me to process my own online dating past.

I have my own personal experiences in dating, and the vast majority of them have been interracial. I have been on the receiving end of the “it’s not you, it’s me” speeches, the non-replies, perusing profiles and seeing women explicitly state a preference for one race, blatant and subtle ignorance in profiles and responses. It was like marching into battle every time I logged onto the site, expecting to be shot down.

Like Miley Cyrus and Twitter avoidance as a result, this is an argument against dating.
Like Miley Cyrus and Twitter avoidance as a result, this is an argument against dating.

Such is life in the dating world, as it is a battlefield (Pat Benetar did say it best), but I naively thought that online daters would be a more discerning, open-minded bunch. And OkCupid’s blog suggests that my past is within range of their results. Add to that the fact that my regular dating would fall in line with this as well, and it suggested a few things: either their findings were really true, I am a crappy dater, I haven’t met the right woman, and/or I should give up.

Then, I got all logical. What benefit is there to post such xenophobic-leaning findings on a dating site’s blog? Why were the methods of experimentation not published? And what can be done with the results, slanted or not? Well, there are answers to all of these.

Obviously, the OkCupid folks love crunching data and showing readers their findings. As America has been oddly quiet on racial issues since Obama was elected — though those DELIGHTFUL Birther/Teabaggers are not that shy — the idea of race in dating online is intriguing and rarely mentioned. While interracial marriage is legal in all 50 states since Loving v. Virginia (1967 Supreme Court case), and interracial dating and marriage are more common nowadays, there is an unspoken ideal preference for dating and marrying within in one’s race. I am not saying this as fact, but my personal experiences within my family and via friends’ families are predominant in being with someone of the same race. In other words: people are more open to the idea of interracial coupling, but it’s not all “Ebony and Ivory” yet. OkCupid is merely the messenger, and you can use their results and website at your own risk.

Oh, racists. Always trying to stir up trouble.
Oh, racists. Always trying to stir up trouble.

So if the website is being all daring with their article — highlighted by their quote “being poor gives us a certain freedom. To alienate all our users. So there” — why not go the extra step and show the numbers of said people that were tabulated? Good question, and one that can’t be answered without contacting them directly. No matter what, it succeeded in getting people thinking and talking about racial attitudes in dating. And really, isn’t that enough? As long as people are mindful of what they prefer and perhaps being more receptive to others, the mindset of altering attitudes might be worth obscuring a few figures. I don’t agree with this if true, but it isn’t a scientific journal; it’s a blog about why people be wanting to bang. And bang they will.

But who will they bang? And why? In examining the article, I learned quite a bit about the inner workings of OkCupid and online dater preferences. I learned that people will do what makes them comfortable. And that magnified why people need to step outside their comfort zones to truly find happiness. People will gravitate towards maintaining the status quo that was taught to them, if only to avoid disturbing the delicate fabric of society.

However, people can open themselves up to something wonderful, if they are willing to put in the work. On the subject of uneasiness, film director Guy Ritchie said, “You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable.” He referred to fear being worse than the potentially threatening situation itself. Life is not all chocolate-fudge-ripple unicorns, but enduring something once seen as scary could be worth the experience.

Mad Mens Christina Hendricks and Super Troopers Geoffrey Arend: encouraging geeks to go for the hottie.
Mad Men's Christina Hendricks and Super Troopers' Geoffrey Arend: encouraging geeks to go for the hottie.

In director Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy, female protagonist Alyssa Jones was more wordy and yet direct on the subject, explaining to her lover, Holden McNeil, why she branched out from her comfort zone of dating women:

“You know, I didn’t just heed what I was taught, men and women should be together, it’s the natural way, that kind of thing. I’m not with you because of what family, society, life tried to instill in me from day one. The way the world is, how seldom it is that you meet that one person who just GETS you – it’s so rare. My parents didn’t really have it. There were no examples set for me in the world of male-female relationships. And to cut oneself off from finding that person, to immediately halve your options by eliminating the possibility of finding that one person within your own gender, that just seemed stupid to me. So I didn’t. But then you came along. You, the one least likely. I mean, you were a guy.”

Jones (and Smith) manage to explain in one monologue what OkCupid took hundreds of words and data to try to say: wake up and realize what is out there.

With most relationships ending for a variety of reasons, and more than half of all marriages ending in divorce, why not expand those horizons to buck the negative trend? There may be heartaches, issues and shakeups in stepping outside of the box. The initial distress, however, could net the person they’ve always wanted. And wouldn’t it be nice. I know that it would be for me.

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