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How online dating allows racism to thrive

There's something in the air these days, and it's certainly not anything good. Racism has never not been an issue in society, but in the 21st century, it sometimes seems like it's the issue. Prejudice is rampant; it's on our streets, in our work lives and even etched into some parts of our social lives. It's gradually becoming abundantly clear that nowhere is safe - not even our online dating lives.

Yes, that's right. On Tinder, Bumble, OkCupid, eHarmony, Grindr, whatever dating app or website you want to name, racism has been quietly bubbling under the surface for years now and the even worse news is that it appears to be thriving in the online world. The truth is, your race massively affects your romantic opportunities and connections, whether you like it or not.

Recent figures reported by OkCupid told us that, on their site, white users got more messages when compared to black, Asian, or minority ethnic users. White users were also discovered to be less likely to reply or to match with users of a different race to themselves, these biases remaining mostly consistent between 2009 and 2014. However, the people who were the most afflicted were no doubt black women and Asian men, who faced the brunt of the racial bias.

Discrimination Credit: Getty

Stats from 2014 show that 82 per cent of non-black men on OKCupid show some bias against black women. Christian Rudder, founder of OkCupid, summarised the findings by saying, "Essentially every race - including other blacks - [gives black women] the cold shoulder." Similarly, Asian men’s dating profiles are consistently rated the lowest by single women using online dating sites.

But this minefield of bigotry goes far further than simply which people prefer to swipe right on. For instance, in addition to not being matched with as frequently, non-white users are often subject to messages that often fetishise them for their skin colour. Case in point, when VT spoke to one female Tinder user, she reminisced about the time a white guy opened with the line: "I've always wanted to taste some mixed race booty". Another claims that she matched with a 27-year-old recruitment consultant who asked her: "I've heard mixed race chicks are freaky in bed ;)".

VT spoke to one black woman in her 30s who claimed that fetishisation is something that is nearly always present and often forces some women to date only within their own race. She told us: "It happens definitely not all the time, but a lot of the time whether it's subtly or majorly obvious. If it's not something completely offensive, it's something speaking about how 'exotic' you are. To be honest, I'm quite sick of being asked about my skin colour before my job or my interests on Tinder. I've met a fair few black women who simply won't date outside of their race anymore for fear of being fetishised."

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However, an abnormal fascination with skin colour is only the beginning of it. Tragically, it's increasingly common to find descriptions stating "No blacks. No Asians" or "No rice, no spice" and minorities are often the victims of vile abuse that spews from racists. For example, in 2016 British woman Elizabeth Webster said she was left "shocked and shaken" when a man she had just begun speaking to started launching horrendous racial abuse at her.

The man, called Zorophos on his profile, started the conversation by telling Elizabeth: "I’d like to ruffle your hair like you’re my dog." When she told him that she found his comment offensive, he responded with "OK, how about I put a chain around your neck with a sign saying “N***** Slave” and ride you around the place?"

The user in question was permanently banned from OkCupid for violating their terms of service, but he remains a not so shining example of the attitudes prevalent in the online stratosphere. For example, recent research from Australia also found that 15 per cent of gay men on the dating app Grindr included sexual racism somewhere on their profiles. This was increasingly more likely to be the case if the profile user was white and, of course, if they held broader racist views.

Tinder app Credit: Getty

The tragic thing about the situation is that, as a result, online dating as a whole appears to be becoming more and more segregated. Minorities have taken things into their own hands, creating an online dating world of their own completely separate - and secure - from the popular ones that exist. Neo-Nazis and white nationalists also seem to have their very own websites that give people the opportunity to meet like-minded sexy, single young racists, Daily Stormer and Where White People Meet being two popular sites accused of uniting racists in the past.

But why is this behaviour tolerated online? The truth is, it's not. Dating apps like OkCupid and Bumble have begun taking harsher action against white supremacists in their user base. In August 2017, OkCupid stated it had found a white supremacist using its platform and within 10 minutes of verifying him, banned the user for life.

But it can't be denied that dating sites and apps give racists the platform to quietly thrive behind their computer and phone screens. One 28-year-old mixed race woman claimed that the racism online was, in a way, a positive thing in her world, saying: "It's awful, obviously it's complete b******t, but at the same time I'm fine with it as it helps you weed out the people who don't deserve your time."

So, clearly racist dating is clearly a big issue we need to stare in the face and deal with as a society - but an important side issue is, is it OK to have a racial preference in dating? There's no definitive answer we can give you on this one, but what we can tell you is that when we put the question out to the community, we received some eye-opening answers. Interestingly, most of the individuals VT spoke to seemed to think it was acceptable - so long as it was a preference and not a prejudice.

"If you're not physically attracted to black people so don't date them, fine," a 26-year-old African American woman answered. "That seems like it's fair enough to me. But if you have a fetish for us, or you log online literally just to make horrible comments or to give us abuse, that is complete racist b******t."

Mixed race couple Credit: Getty

Another 23-year-old black man agreed, stating: "I think it's fine to have a preference, but it depends how you go about it. If someone said 'I'd never date a black person because I don't find them attractive', I think that's disgusting because you're writing off an entire race. How do you know you might never find a black person attractive? But I think if someone says 'I normally don't find black people physically attractive, but you never know', that's fine."

Nonetheless, a handful of people still disagreed with the idea that you can't help who you're attracted to, claiming that behind a preference always lays a prejudice. One 26-year-old Londoner insisted that people should think about why they're only attracted to one race, telling us: "You can always play the preference card but I think if you looked a bit further, you'd find something you didn't want to admit to yourself. Why aren't you attracted to mixed race or black people or whatever minority? Do you honestly find all of them unattractive or is it the stereotypes behind that particular race? Or maybe it's the fact that you're not used to dating people like that, or because you don't like the culture. There's always a reason, even if you haven't quite realised it yourself."

So, are most of us guilty of perpetuating racist online dating, or can we really honestly not help who we find attractive? That's a question that can't be answered in one article. We all know our own reasons for dating or not dating someone. But if race comes into it for you, perhaps it's time to take a long look at yourself and answer some difficult questions.

Unfortunately what we do know for certain is that sites like Tinder, OkCupid and Grindr are plagued with prejudice at every second right or left swipe, and that's not OK. So, are you going to swipe right on racist online dating, or are you going to stand up and do something about it?