After 2.5 years of being in a committed (but probably very unhealthy) relationship, I once again find myself single and living in a new city by myself. What better place to be single and hunting for love again than the city of Brotherly Love, right?
Since I met my previous boyfriend online, I decided to give it one more go. I spent a few weeks building my profile and answering questions about myself (some rather pointless, some incredibly personal) to build up my match percentage. Then, I posted pictures of myself as I am today, curly twist-out, brown skin, red lipstick, and dark purple glasses. Surely, if my appearance did not tickle anyone’s fancy, my personality would score me some points. Or so I thought.
As myself, I initially received some messages, mostly overly-sexualized in nature. I reached out to a couple other men but quickly realized that I probably wouldn’t be receiving a message from any of them. I noticed that although most men would not message me back, the only ones who would occasionally respond were Black men (my own ethnicity) and Hispanic/Latino men. Not one White, Asian, Pacific Islander, Indian, or Middle Eastern man would message me, regardless of how much effort I put into the message.
It seemed that I was guilty of ODWB: Online Dating While Black.
I started reading articles about online dating as a Black woman and what I read was incredibly disheartening. I ran into articles on the Huffington Post, Madame Noir, and the Washington Post which all confirmed my experiences; Black women received less interaction on online dating than women of other ethnicities. I read one article on Madame Noir entitled My Week as a White Woman on a Dating Site written by Christine Mwaturura, in which a woman did just that; created a profile on a dating website which highlighted her own personality but the picture was of a white woman that she called Stephanie. The writer found that although she may have received more profile views than “Stephanie,” “Stephanie” received more emails, more quality emails, and slightly better quality in matches. Mwaturura’s article inspired me to do something similar.
I wish I had thought of this earlier so that I could’ve planned my pseudo-experiment a little better but this is what I did. I modified the pictures and ethnicity in my profile but changed nothing else about the profile (likes/dislikes, hobbies, education, location, personality). After I spent the aforementioned few weeks as myself on this site and tried to cope with the dismal and disheartening results, I decided to modify my pictures and ethnicity so that I would appear to be an ethnic mix of Black and White.
I took the pictures that I had originally posted on the dating website as myself and edited them to lighten my skin color. I changed my ethnicity to both Black and White. I left my profile like this for 24 hours and was shocked at the results. Over the course of 24 hours, the mixed version of me had received 51 Visits, 14 Messages, and 9 Likes. In 24 hours, mixed me had received more attention and had more messages initiated than I had received as myself. At this point, I decided to see, like Mwaturura, how this would change if my pictures and ethnicity both showed me as a White woman.
One of my friends was kind enough to let me use two of her pictures. I took down my “mixed pictures,” replaced them with pictures of her (a White woman), changed my ethnicity to White, and didn’t change anything else about my profile. I left this profile up for 24 hours. In this time, I received 106 Visits, 19 Messages, and 27 Likes. I noticed a few things this time. Those who were mainly viewing my profile and sending messages were White and Asian men. I also noticed that these messages made less reference to my general appearance and more reference to information found in my profile. I messaged one man as myself (Black), asked him a question, and received no response. Three days later as the White version of myself, this same man initiated a message which made no mention to the question I had asked some days earlier but did comment on aspects of my picture and profile that he liked. It seems that he may have deleted the message I sent him, forgot about me, and then found me as the White version of myself and thought we might make a good match.
I acknowledge that some people just aren’t our, “type.” But what if by excluding matches based, in part, on ethnicity we are closing ourselves off to meaningful relationships? How can we tell ourselves that Iwe are absolutely, without a doubt, sure that we are not attracted to or will not be interested in someone of a specific ethnicity? There’s a paradox in our society in which we all pine for that special someone who will set our souls on fire but then we decide that that person must be a certain shade, height, age, gender, and have a specific eye color.
These results are concerning. What does this mean for Black women in a society that is quickly adopting technology as the only form of human interaction?
We can bank online so we don’t need to talk to anyone.
We can go to school online and never have to meet our classmates. Some jobs let you work from home so we spend less time in the office with our co-workers.
Hell, we can even order and pay for food online, walk in and pick it up, and not have to interact with a single human. I can’t imagine that online dating won’t be the most prevalent form of dating in a world that is turning more and more to technology. How will this affect the chances of Black women who want to date?
Finally, this sends a number of negative messages to Black women. It doesn’t matter how educated, eloquent, well-dressed, or beautiful you are. You’re still Black and that makes you not good enough. The overly sexual messages I received as myself as compared to the White version of me let me know that, as a Black woman, I am meant to be, “messed around with,” but as a White woman, my personality should be considered and I should be taken seriously.
I think the most important message we should gleam from this experience is that we need to break the barriers of dating related to physical appearance. We need to give people a chance based on their personality and not necessarily on the color of their skin.
For more reading on this topic:
Black Women Face Prejudice Every Day. I Don’t Need it in Online Dating, Too, Emi Kolawole- https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/soloish/wp/2015/10/12/black-women-face-prejudice-every-day-i-dont-need-it-in-online-dating-too/
My Week as a White Woman, Christine Mwaturura- http://madamenoire.com/586982/dating-site/
The Perils of Dating on OkCupid While Black, Vanessa Willoughby- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/literally-darling/the-perils-of-dating-on-okcupid-while-black_b_5698351.html