“I’m open to dating women of all backgrounds,” he tells me. “Except for black women.”
“I’ve just never been attracted to Asian men,” she says.
Uncomfortable yet? Unfortunately, the vast majority of singles I’ve worked with have clear racial preferences and biases when it comes to dating. Now that I’m four years into professional matchmaking, I’ve seen clear patterns emerge when it comes to race and attraction.
White men: congratulations! Women of every racial background seem to strongly prefer dating you. Asian and Latin women are most popular with the gents. Black women and Asian men are the two groups most notably at a dating disadvantage. They are the hardest singles for me to match, because they tend to be excluded from the match searches of the majority of clients. Men seemingly open to dating “anyone and everyone” eventually include a “no black women” addendum. Women who state they only want to find a nice, kind, man say that they have no real physical preferences … as long as the man in question isn’t Asian. Non-starter, that.
The online dating world is also stacked against black women and Asian men. According to Christian Rudder’sOKCupid blog, stats from 2014 show that 82 per cent of non-black men on OKCupid show some bias against black women. Similarly, Asian men’s dating profiles are consistently rated the lowest by single women using online dating sites. But why?
“Attractiveness is a very haphazard dish that can’t be boiled down to height or skin colour, but Asian men are told that regardless of what the idyllic mirepoix is or isn’t, we just don’t have the ingredients,” television host Eddie Huang recently wrote in the New York Times.
“The structural emasculation of Asian men in all forms of media became a self-fulfilling prophecy that produced an actual abhorrence to Asian men in the real world.”
Pop culture is a window into desire. Consider the male Asian characters in movies you’ve seen in the last several years. What were their roles? When was the last time you saw a North American film where a desirable Asian man played the romantic lead and didn’t know martial arts?
A similar story presents itself when we deconstruct black women in popular culture. In film and television, black women are often portrayed as two-dimensional “strong and sassy” stereotypes (see: Leslie Jones’ character in “Ghostbusters: Answer the Call” or Jennifer Hudson as Carrie Bradshaw’s personal assistant in “Sex and the City: The Movie.”) When cast as a romantic interest, they’re usually played by biracial or multiracial women with lighter skin tones, such as Halle Berry or Zendaya.
“Society tells us that black women are hypersexual but also more masculine than other women, while it suggests that Asian men are less masculine — to the point of being effeminate — and that they are physically less attractive,” says Shantel Buggs, a PhD Candidate in sociology at the University of Texas. “All of this centres on Eurocentric beauty standards, which privilege those who are white or are white adjacent in appearance — things like lighter skin, light coloured eyes, thinner noses, certain jawline shapes. So, when we see Asian men and black women having a harder time, part of it has to do with beauty standards and part of it has to do with the ways people are socialized to imagine how Asian men or black women behave inside and outside of relationships.”
This exclusion of Asian men is a particularly visible problem in the gay community. “No rice, no spice” is social networking apps Scruff and Grindr parlance for “no East Asian men, no South Asian men.” Straight people aren’t nearly as upfront about their prejudices on Tinder, but having spoken to several women of colour about their time dating online, they seem to get fewer messages and matches than other women and are frequently racially fetishized when they do connect.
“I’ve personally experienced plenty of this,” Buggs tells me. “While pretty much all women of colour are considered more sexual and exotic than white women, the ways in which this plays out varies. Asian women have historically been deemed more sexual but also are viewed as being more demure and feminine. Sexual narratives about Asian women suggest that they will not challenge a man’s masculinity the way that other women of colour might. So, they become idealized due to being considered very sexual but also very feminine. Alternatively, black women are viewed as hypersexual because of things like the legacy of chattel slavery, which also suggested that black women are more masculine and animalistic than other women. We’ve seen this over and over in the U.S. with how certain people talk about former First Lady Michelle Obama.”
In a recent feature article in the Walrus, lawyer Hadiya Roderique detailed her challenges dating as a woman of colour. When Hadiya photoshopped her dating profile photos so that she appeared to be a white woman, her profile’s popularity skyrocketed.
“When you combine demographics, the fact that users disproportionately message others of the same race, fetishism, sexualization of blackness, racism and anti-blackness, it adds up to — to put it mildly — a ‘harder time’ in those spaces,” Roderique tells me. “The experience on other sites, especially those that cater to people of colour, may be different, but even people of colour and black people are not immune from anti-blackness.
“I’ve gotten quite a few comments from other black women noting similar experiences to me and the other women I mention in the article on the large sites. This wasn’t really news to black women. As for others, it’s easy to keep yourself in the dark about racism and bias when you are part of the majority, and I seem to have shone a bit of light about this in those spaces.”
As Roderique alluded, there are incredibly complex social reasons behind racial preferences and stereotyping in dating. Systemic racism continues to oppress and “other” people of colour and interracial romantic relationships were taboo — even illegal — until shamefully recently in our history.
So are you racist if you aren’t open to dating everyone? I don’t know. Are you the product of a racist society? Undoubtedly, yes. We all are. And we’re going to have to work hard at being inclusive and open-minded in dating and in every other aspect of life if we’re set on making any progress at all.
Sofi Papamarko is the founder of Friend of a Friend Matchmaking. Reach her at facebook.com/sofipapamarko
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