Tuesday, August 20, 2013

DEBATE: Is There Racism In Online Gay Dating?

There is an interesting discussion going on about whether (and how) racism plays a role in online dating by gay men. With the proliferation of electronic means by which gay men can find each other (websites, cellphone apps) the many ways by which men desire broadcast to each other has become clearer, easier to scrutinize, and in some cases, problematic.

On some dating sites, one can search for "dating" partners (and  I use the word "dating" liberally, because what we are really talking about is "hooking up") using various features or physical characteristics of the desired partner. Sometimes one of those features to be searched on is the race of the person you are looking to "date." (Other features are age, height, weight, et ceteraThe primary question for debate is whether it is racist to communicate a racial preference in your desired partner. For example, some people who identify themselves as one particular race may seek to only "date" within that same racial group, explicitly saying they are only looking for that group, or conversely saying that they are not looking for partners from all other racial groups. There are also situations where people who identify with one race only seeks to date from another, different racial group. Is that more or less problematic than the first scenario? In other words, should expressing an intraracial dating preference be considered differently than expressing an interracial dating preference? Or is  excluding consideration of any particular race prima facie evidence of racial animus by definition?

My position is that it is racist to specifically exclude all members of a particular race from consideration as a sex partner or potential date. One must first always remember that racial categories are fictions, problematic figments of the imagination which are used to classify groups of people in order to reify a system of dominance and subordination. Just because race is a social construct, however, does not mean that it is not "real" and that being classified by racial categories does not have real and quantifiable impacts on real people's lives. So, coming from the perspective that race brings with it a maelstrom of conflicting and confusing forces and ideas allows me to say that yes, it is racist to specifically select or exclude partners by race. (To be clear, the definition of racism I am using is this one: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.) By eliminating all members of a particular race from being a potential partner means that you are buying into the belief that race is "a primary determinant" of desirability. Additionally, because of the slippery nature of race there are no traits or features that are indisputably aligned with one race or another, so that to make a categorical statement about people of a certain race is almost by definition, racist in of itself.

Clearly, lots of people disagree with my position that racial preference in selecting sexual or dating partners is racist. However, there are also lots of people who agree with me that this behavior can appear pretty icky.

Rick Mula, writing at The Task Force's blog, provides some data to demonstrate that racial categories do appear to impact how gay men select partners:
Based on data published by OkTrends, a blog produced by OkCupid, white gay men respond more often to OkCupid messages from other white men than from men of color. They respond to messages from other white men 44% of the time but respond only 37.3% of the time to men of color. 
White gay men also respond less frequently to messages in general than gay men of color. On OkCupid white gay men respond to messages from all races at an average rate of 41.4%, but gay men of color respond to messages from all races at an average rate of 49.3%. 
Ironically, even though white gay men respond to messages in general less frequently than gay men of color they fail to attract the highest rate of responses to the messages they send. Middle Eastern gay men, on average, will receive about 48 responses for every 100 messages they send, while white gay men will receive an average of 45. By contrast, Black gay men will receive about 36.
This data demonstrates the reality that gay men have racial preferences when selecting partners or dates. This is not a surprise, and has been defended in print:

If you enjoyed and would date all races but had a special thing for lean latino boys, does that extra crush of yours make you racist? If you are an Asian boy and have that “boi” gene in you that has you searching out bigger, older white men does that make you a racist? If you think mixed raced boys are particularly sexy then does that make you especially open-minded or again, a racist? While many would weigh their answer to each question with special thought and care, I personally blanket-answer “Nope!” to all of em’! I’m quite a black or white (forgive the pun) kind of guy when it comes to most issues and unless you think people are genetically/socially/anyway unequal because of their race then I’ll stamp you with a big ol’ R for racist, but being more turned on by a particular set of men to me is totally acceptable and pretty much exactly how we are made to cruise/date/love.
Also at the Homorazzi blog where this defense of racial preference occurs, there is a survey (with nearly 500 responses) that indicates that more than 60% of respondents felt that racial preference is not racism.

This is a complicated topic but I think it is useful to think about the issues and hopefully have  a reasonable and reasoned debate.

What do you think?


Bryan J Blumberg said...

I don't think that a dating preference of one race or another is racism. You said it yourself that in order to be racism that it had to be accompanied by the belief that one race is inherently superior to another. That has nothing to do with preference.

If someone prefers chocolate ice cream over vanilla or pineapple coconut that doesn't imply a belief that chocolate is better. If someone prefers cats over dogs as pets it doesn't imply a belief that cats are better.

(You probably won't publish my comment for the following) I remember a long time ago reading an ad from you on a hookup site where you boasted that you were very well hung and were looking for OTHER guys who were also very well hung. Did that make you peniscist?

What if someone only wants to date men, but not women?

It's not racism for people to have certain dating preferences including the racial attribute of the person.

I studied Spanish in high school and college. It is fun to incorporate Spanish into my relationship, so dating a Latino makes that possible. But I also like Black guys and Asian guys. I don't care for White guys; I already am one. To me, a same sex and same race relationship would be BORING.

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