What it's like for ethnic minorities dating online
Brexit has uncovered a cesspool of racism in the UK.
I first wrote about my experiences of fetishisation on Tinder as a black mixed-race person just over year ago. Since then, I have removed myself from the app, received many unsolicited Facebook requests from men who had 'read my article and just wanted to say hey', and, quite happily, found myself back together with an ex-boyfriend. But while my forays into the online dating world are halted at present, for many the struggles are still ongoing.
Being an ethnic minority in the UK is always going to make you stand out. We constitute a mere 14% of the population overall, with numbers falling as low as 4% in Scotland and Wales.
As a little girl, rather than feeling isolated because of my brownness, often it made me feel unique. When I got older, however, and became one of the last in my friendship group to kiss a boy, I started to realise that there might be something about my race that was making me 'undesirable'. I have had at least one man inadvertently suggest that I should feel grateful for his interest in me because a lot of the guys he knew didn’t date black women.
The feeling of being passed over because of your race - and intrinsically the stereotypes associated with your race - is not a nice one.
And I’m not alone. According to data from OKCupid, Asian and black men receive fewer messages than white men, while black women receive the fewest messages of all users. Christian Rudder, founder of OKCupid, summarised the findings by saying, "Essentially every race - including other blacks - [gives black women] the cold shoulder."
While there are countless recorded cases of women, and some men, struggling to navigate an online framework which makes it easy for ignorance and cruelty to roam free ( see Elizabeth Webster, who was asked by one potential suitor if he could put a chain around her neck "with a sign saying 'N***** Slave'"), this experience is also common IRL. 22-year-old black student Yewande Adeniran explains that she has ongoing issues with dating.
"I’ve been exoticised and fetishised, like I’m a new dish to try," says Adeniran. "Unlike the white girls I was friends with growing up, from age 15 I was told by men, both black and white, that they wouldn’t date me because I was too unlike them or because I wasn’t right for them. In my experience, we are masculinised and treated less delicately than white women as well as being hyper-sexualised.
"It’s then hard to know who is genuine and who isn’t. Maybe I’ve been a bit harsh sometimes, but the effects of colourism (discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone) are real. My own brother only dates people who are lighter than him."
Despite this, Adeniran has had some luck. “There are quite a few 'woke' guys who understand, but not enough," she laughs. "I’m kind of seeing someone at the moment and he’s really aware of it, more so since I had a go at him."
For black, gay men the struggle seems amplified. Anthony Lorenzo, 29, calls it a "minefield", made worse by the fact that he’s a minority within a minority. In the UK a recent survey found that 80 per cent of black gay men have experienced racism in the gay community.
"Because racism has few cultural boundaries and is found everywhere, inevitably we come across it on dating sites. Technology makes it easier for people to be rude, racist and dismissive,” says Lorenzo. "The amount of times I've been informed that a guy 'loves black cock' as though it was a compliment is astonishing. It's not a compliment - it's a reduction of black personhood to a sex object."
Lorenzo says he faces the worst treatment when he declines interest. "That’s when the N-word comes out," he notes. But perhaps unusually, Lorenzo doesn’t mind when a guy puts "no blacks" on his profile - saying that it makes "sorting the wheat from the chaff" far easier.
But there are some interesting ways in which dating racism is being challenged. Fellow journalist Zachary Schwartz, 22, took a step into the world of 'swirling', an American term for talking about interracial dating, a few months back. Specifically, he focused on a small but growing movement in the states which is seeing east Asian men and black women (AMBW) forming impromptu dating organisations together; attempting to find love between racial boundaries in a dating world that isn’t always kind to them. In the article, he went as far as to say that he hoped his "own babies are Blasian - the inheritance of these two, rich, under-appreciated cultures would be one of the greatest gifts I could give them".
Catching up with him on the phone from Los Angeles, he tells me that his opinion of AMBW hasn’t changed.
"Growing up as an Asian guy, you start to think certain ways about yourself. It was crazy because I would see all the white skateboarders and all my white friends having first kisses. With me and my Asian friends there was none of that," he says. "The phraseology used when I was growing up was 'Asian guys don’t get girls'. That was like a trope."
Although Zach says he is aware that fetishisation is something to watch out for in these groups too, he thinks it’s "quite cool to see that there’re enthusiasts about that lifestyle".
"Asian guys have to deal with a lot of bullshit, and from my research and also from having black friends, black women also have to deal with a tonne of bullshit. The way that Asian men are feminised and the way black women are masculinised means we are on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. I think that’s why it fits," he adds.
So while it’s doubtful I’ll be returning to the online dating world any time soon, it’s good to know that more inclusive communities are slowly being created. Hopefully by the time I’m back, things will have really changed and the conversations that we’re having around race in the UK post-Brexit will lead to a positive outcome.