Like so many prior actions that Americans are now reevaluating about race, dating preference has to be put under the microscope. Racial bias is insidious, only surfacing when someone challenges a societal norm or a personal choice. My industry has allowed daters who claim to be friendly advocates of black people to hide racial bias under the guise of dating preferences for far too long.
In my very first session with clients, as they begin the process of identifying their ideal mate, we always discuss racial preferences. It’s usually easy to convince them that inner qualities matter more for long-term compatibility than physical attributes such as height and weight, yet if a racial preference comes up, we have to dig in deeper.
That’s when I bring out the Five Whys, a business technique used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem. I begin with a question like “Why didn’t you check the box for black in your dating preferences?” The initial response is usually a surface-level reaction like, “I’ve just never dated anyone black before,” to which I reply, “Why?” Each answer leads to a deeper question that drives my clients into a challenging self-reflection. As we peel back the layers of the onion, we often find unconscious bias at the core, which has been shaped over time by family, media imagery and personal experiences.
In his 2014 book “Dataclysm,” Christian Rudder, co-founder of the OkCupid dating app, published data about its users’ hypocritical statements about racial bias. OkCupid bases users’ compatibility on their answers to wide-ranging questions on subjects such as lifestyle and current events. In the book Rudder says 84 percent of OkCupid users responded that they would not date someone who exhibited a strong racial bias, yet based on OkCupid’s user data, most of the people at the time were not responding to messages from users of a different race.
As a writer for Date Lab, I’ve seen instances of coded racial bias. The application does not ask for racial preferences, but daters might say they have a thing for blondes or list celebrity crushes of only one race. The subtext is crystal clear.
Francesca Hogi, love coach and host of the “Dear Franny” podcast, interprets code words like “all-American” to mean white and “exotic” to mean a person of color to Caucasian daters.
Francesca, who is black but coaches daters of all races, has found that about 10 percent of her white clients state a racial preference, compared with about 50 percent of her black clients. She told me: “For my black clients, usually their preference is based on who they think will like them. They often don’t have the experience of being asked out by white men, so they assume these men aren’t interested.”
Black women aren’t wrong about this perceived rejection. “Dataclysm” also revealed that black women received the fewest responses of any racial group.
Francesca continued: “Some worry they’ll be fetishized by any nonblack men who are interested in them. Other times they feel strongly that it’s important to have a partner who knows what it’s like to be black, and they don’t want to educate anyone about their experiences.”
While I can understand the feeling of being burdened by having to explain our culture to a partner, I believe learning from someone you love is the fastest way to bridge the divide between us.
But what if you’re just not attracted to someone outside of your race? That’s hard to defend when you understand why we have attraction to certain races and aversion to others. Did you only have a model of a successful white couple in your household? Have you, like most of us, been limited to European standards of beauty in media and advertising? Are you simply terrified of saying the wrong thing at Thanksgiving dinner?
Carmelia speaks for many love professionals like Francesca and me when she says, “Eliminating an entire race of people truly limits one’s potential to date and find a life partner.” Furthermore, I tell my clients that no choice in life is more important than who you choose to spend it with, so if you really believe that black lives matter, it’s time to put your dating choices in alignment with your values.
Damona Hoffman is a writer for Date Lab and host of the “Dates & Mates” podcast.