Racial Profiling: Filtering Out Discrimination in Dating Apps

racial profiling

If you're a gay man trying to find a date, you'll soon discover it's a dog-eat-dog, fat-shaming world out there. If you're a black gay man, you'll also discover that people are generally the worst. Personally, I've made several contingency plans that all end with me dying alone. 

It's 2016, but discrimination—much like Christina Aguilera over a simple musical scale—is running rampant, particularly when it comes to online dating and hookup apps. BuzzFeed News interviewed SCRUFF co-founders Eric Silverberg and Johnny Skandros to, not really get to the heart of the matter, but dance around it a little, asking: should a hookup app that prides itself on inclusivity have a racial filtering feature?

Silverberg and Skandros, like most white men, weren't too keen to talk about race but were very politically correct and very polite about the whole thing.

“Ultimately each one of our own individual choices is profoundly informed by the community we grow up in, perhaps by the relationships we had with our siblings or parents," Silverberg said. "I mean, to try and unpack that would probably take years for each person and so…I don’t know…I give wide latitude to other people when they talk about the kind of people they’re into.”

As we all should. Everyone has a right to their own preferences. I think we should just stop pretending that race is a preference. It's something far deeper than that, and just because you're sexually or romantically attracted to a person of one race over another doesn't place your tastes above or outside of racism. If anything, that is in itself a product of racism.

***

I often wondered why it is that I'm primarily attracted to white guys. I've had guilt about it for my entire adult life and I didn't know if it was a reflection of my own internalized racism or if it was in actuality a "preference." Then I started to unpack it, as Silverberg put it. My first memories of what was deemed an attractive man were almost all white, I never saw that many black gay men growing up, and when I did see them they were rarely if ever posited as an object of desire. And feeling lesser than for being gay, for being black, I instinctly sought the best, or what I was told was the best, in order to feel better about myself. So a white boy became something like a trophy, proclaiming to the world that I was good enough. 

With age and the concurrent dissolution of any and all fucks I had, my opinion of myself and of my "preferences" changed. I still like white boys, but it's with an understanding that a guy being white doesn't make him attractive, it makes him accessible. He's familiar, he's what I'm used to, he's what I've learned to identify as attractive. And these realizations have also made me more critical of whitness and my attraction to it. I like white boys who have a sense of their whiteness as it relates to the world, and who realize that my blackness means that I relate to the world differently. The sharing of those experiences makes for a deeper understanding of the world for all involved.

Lest we forget, however, this racial profiling thing goes both ways. The majority of guys that hit on me are white—but white boys with a penchant for chocolate are equally amazing and problematic. In my experience, I either feel fetishized for my penis or carelessly boxed into a catalog of expectations. It's like, no I don't want to be your mandingo, no I don't want to be your homo thug, and no I don't want to be your sassy gay black best friend. I'm the sassy gay black best friend to at least a dozen people right now and I'm not accepting new applications.

I think there's just an assumption that white guys are the ones most responsible for this race-as-preference charade and that they're the ones being desired, when that's not always the case. It might usually be the case, but not always. Still, whether intentional or a matter of course, SCRUFF and Grindr just aren't made for black guys in mind. Most apps and dating sites aren't, as this OKCupid poll made all too clear a while back. [Ed. note: I will say, though, that Jack'd, for whatever reason, apparently has all the black dudes. Do with that information what you will.] 

It may be a problem with hookup culture in general, or as I suspect, a problem with America.

***

As I've dated more than my fair share of European men—Josephine Baker ain't got nothing on me but a banana skirt—I found myself identifying with this lady writer who discusses feeling unattractive as a black woman in America until hanging out in Europe. While I'm certainly a sucker for an accent, I'm mostly attracted to European men because they don't have the same racial hang-ups as Americans (they have their own racist/ethnicist problems, but mostly with each other). 

After years of silence, America as a nation is finally having a very long, very passionate discussion about race—whether it's the Black Lives Matter movement or the Formation movement. And frankly, I'm tired of talking about it. But here's the thing: I'm black. It's something I'm reminded of everyday; it's in the way people view me, how they interact with me, how I see the world. It’s the same as being gay—this inextricable quality that doesn't define me but plays an important part in my identity.

So I don't really have the liberty to not talk about race, which is in itself a liberty. Especially because for a while—namely the '00s—we weren't allowed to talk about race. It came under the increasingly wide umbrella of what was deemed unpatriotic. It was impolite to talk about what it meant to be not white, or not straight, or not a man in this country because in a post-9/11 world, as a nation at war, we were all in this together. And then suddenly we’re in post-racial America: we have a black president, we’re all quoting Lil Wayne and Maya Angelou and everything's fine and dandy. But this only served to postpone the conversation about race we still weren't having and you can only postpone an inevitable conversation for so long. And the people grew tired.

Talking about race may be unpleasant but it's incredibly important—freedom requiring constant vigilance and all that—and so the LGBT community has a lot of talking to do. Of course, there are greater issues relating to race facing the community than discrimination masquerading as a preference, such as HIV rates, access to health care, discrepancy in income, homelessness and the myriad other difficulties in being a minority within a minority in a country that tries its best to ignore both. Which is why we need to address this racial filtering nonsense. Because no one wants to be ignored. 

The LGBT community could only benefit from having its own discussions about race, to begin unpacking all that baggage that seems to foster so much needless acrimony

***

It's hard being black and gay when you're trying to date. I wish it wasn't, but it's really hard and frustrating and stupid. It also hurts. It hurts to be ruled out or marginalized because of your race, but that's the real legacy of America. If we're being honest here, though, does it even fucking matter? I mean, who wants to be with an insensitive, narrow-minded prick besides another insensitive, narrow-minded prick? Let them go off together in one of the sunsets Hell is so famous for and you can move on to someone who's actually worth your time. 

Speaking of a waste of time, should SCRUFF have a racial filtering feature? No. No one should. Because it's 2016 and not 1956. And SCRUFF, Grindr and all the others should take responsibility for how their apps affect the community they're serving and representing. That being said, is it wrong for them to have a racial filtering feature? As wrong as it is to believe we live in a post-racial society. Or as wrong as it is to want someone on the basis of pigmentation (or lack thereof) in their skin. It may not seem that wrong, but neither does Taylor Swift. But just like Taylor Swift, there's something inherently evil about it that’s hard to place. To be safe, we should just stop it—racial filtering, that is. Or Taylor Swift. Whichever comes first. 

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