The problem is, this isn’t personal. It’s cultural, it’s national, and it’s fucking everywhere.
When it comes to dating, there are a lot of opportunities for people to sound like assholes. And let’s be real: we’ve all been huge, gaping assholes about dating. As a professional matchmaker, I’ve interviewed over 1,000 singles, and in the past two and a half years, I’ve made around 2,500 matches. This means I have been #blessed to hear a lot of this nonsense, and honestly, most of it doesn’t faze me. Because people become the most neurotic versions of themselves on their quest for True Love, and that’s totally allowed. People are entitled to their taste and you can’t help who you fall in love with, right? Totally right! Except for this one, teensy, tiny exception:
Oh I’m sorry, did I say teensy tiny? I meant monumental and indicative of an entrenched and deeply troubling societal prejudice that we have been unable to overcome throughout the course of human history.
Here’s the thing: when asked during in-person meetings, 90% of my clients report having racial preferences. Which maybe doesn’t sound so bad, because I mean, they have other preferences, too. Height, religion, career paths, Netflix show most recently watched, the list goes on and on. But of the 90% of the reported racial preferences, 89.9% are preferences for white people. So . . . that is bad. And I’m not just talking about white-on-white preferences. I’m talking about all my clients, only 55% of whom identify as white. (This seems as good a time as any to mention that when I say “all my clients,” I do mean clients of all sexual orientations. Let’s not get heteronormative now; we’re only in the third paragraph.)When asked during in-person meetings, 90% of my clients report having racial preferences. Click To Tweet
Now, it gets tricky, because when a person sits down and says that they particularly want to date white people, they’re not thinking about the fact that the client before them, and the client after them, are saying the same thing. They’re not thinking about the fact that this is a widespread phenomenon. They’re just thinking about their own personal preferences.
But the problem is, this isn’t personal. It’s cultural, it’s national, and it’s fucking everywhere.
Other dating sites have noticed the same thing. Christian Rudder, co-founder of OkCupid, writes:
“You can actually look at people who’ve combined ‘white’ with another racial description. Adding ‘whiteness’ always helps your rating! In fact it goes a long way toward undoing any bias against you.”
Scrolling through OkCupid’s blog, you’ll stumble across a myriad of depressing race stats. “White women prefer white men to the exclusion of everyone else — and Asian and Hispanic women prefer them even more exclusively.” “Men don’t write black women back.” Their gay data reads the same: “Blacks get fewer responses.” Have you closed your browser and crawled into a hole to live out the rest of your days unencumbered by society and its bullshit yet?
As is protocol with sweeping epidemics, people should start by honestly talking about the problem (see: Contagion; Outbreak for suggestions). But no one will talk about this, because no one likes being called racist. Except it’s hard for me to find another word to refer to “people making negative assessments of large groups of individuals that they’ve never met, based solely on the color of their skin.”
Now, do I think that everyone is lying when they say they’re not attracted to black women or Asian men? That they’re actively harboring racist fantasies about certain minority groups? No. I think they genuinely don’t feel all hot and bothered when thinking about them. But there is definitely a reason beyond “they just don’t do it for me.”
This is about social forces shaping our preferences, and we’ll never progress without acknowledging that fact. To take one of the most obvious and simple examples, consider Hollywood, which is notoriously white. According to the 2014 and 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report, minorities “remain underrepresented on every front.” They’ve reported that “more than half of films had casts that were 10% minority or less.” (The Every Single Word Spoken project is a great illustration of this.) Hollywood is also hot. Like really hot. The societal norm for “hot,” in fact. That means the math equation looks something like this: If Hollywood=White, and Hollywood=Hot, then White=Hot.
The problem is that no one is inundating us with hot Asian guys, or hot black women who aren’t Kerry Washington. So when I ask my clients who their celebrity crush is, they pick white people. And when you close your eyes and think of someone hot, you’re probably thinking of a white person.
Unfortunately, most people feel like attraction is out of their control. Like it’s something they’re born with and nothing can be done about it. People say to me, “Ah . . . I actually only want to date white people. I know it’s awful, but I’m just not attracted to black people.”
Often, what I want to respond is:
1) There are other races besides white and black.
2) You’re not attracted to black people? ALL black people? You’ve met all of them, and not a SINGLE PERSON does it for you? Man, you must be exhausted after traversing the ENTIRE GLOBE searching for just ONE black person that you could get it up for! Do you need to lie down?
But this kind of racism is so deep-seated, so ingrained, that people genuinelybelieve their attractions are chemical. That these “preferences” are out of their hands.
Of course, that’s not the case. This isn’t biological, it’s societal. It’s institutional.
We are not the passive victims of our own internalized biases. We have governance over our actions. As author and psychologist James Giles writes, “That is not to say that romantic attraction is fully under our control, but only that it is not fully beyond our control.” So when are our love lives going to start reflecting that? Studies have shown that we are attracted to what we know and are used to, but as Deborah Ward writes, “Repeated exposure to certain people will increase our attraction toward them.” This means that a conscious change in behavior will impact subconscious desires.
Of course it is hard to parse out what turns you on due to pheromones and what turns you on due to cultural influence, but even allowing that both play a part is a huge step in the right direction.We are not the passive victims of our own internalized biases. Click To Tweet
I’ve had clients turn down dates because their match’s name sounded too “ethnic,” and they want their children to be white. That is a real sentence that someone said. Now switch the scenario and pretend it’s an employer, discussing who to hire (maybe replace children with interns? It’s not a perfect swap, but you get the idea). That would never fly. Whether workplaces adhereto their goals of diversity is another, much longer, discussion, but the guidelines are there. The ethics have been agreed upon. You can’t be blatantly racist in your office.
But the reality is, your office isn’t your family. And our society has tacitly decided that those guidelines only apply to your professional life. People are happy to acknowledge that hiring someone based on their skin is racist. But somehow, dating someone based on their skin is not. We’re comfortable (theoretically) with integrating our schools and workplaces, but we stop short when it comes, quite literally, too close to home.
This is too insidious not to acknowledge. As Ward says, “You cannot control what you’re not aware of. But you can develop awareness and create a new pattern.” Without recognizing that this is an issue, we don’t stand a chance at fixing it.
So the next time you’re absent-mindedly swiping left, ask yourself why you’re rejecting those profiles. And if the answer is “attraction,” just imagine me reading this article aloud to you, really close to your face, without modulating the volume of my voice. I think that should do the trick.