Those old race fears come back to haunt online dating


I’ve been meaning to write about race and dating for a while. Originally I was going to write for Singleblackmale but I’m not really bringing anything new to the party except my own thoughts.

Racism is not gone, not by a long shot. In the online world the xenophobia runs riot.

If you need evidence of this, I’d point you at the now classic OkCupid’s Trend about Race Affects The Messages You Get. Then a more recently thanks to Tim Dobson, some more uncomfortable racial preferences.

Its worth pointing out that like most online dating data, we (not just me) grab on to it in lei of anything else. The last one Are you Interested? Could be seen as a poor/bad attempt to get their name out in an already crowded field. To be honest I had only heard of Are you interested? In passing and never actually tried it or installed it. I was surprised they hadn’t gone for instead.

Here’s the upshot

Despite an increase in interracial marriages and birth of multiracial babiesone study revealed that racism is still a factor when looking for love online.Kevin Lewis, a sociologist at University of California San Diego, analyzed messages sent by over 120,000 users on dating site, OkCupid, finding racial prejudice affects dating decisions. According to Lewis’ research, all users falling within the site’s five largest racial categories (black, white, Asian, Latino, Indian) were more likely to initiate contact with users from their same racial background.“Most men (except black men) are unlikely to initiate contact with black women, all men (including Asian men) are unlikely to reply to Asian women, and although women from all racial backgrounds tend to initiate contact with men from the same background, women from all racial backgrounds also disproportionately reply to white men,”

Now you can pretend or not acknowledge these facts but trust me as someone who has emailed quite a few people in the past, there is something about the replies you don’t get. That silence even when you connect really well on many levels. Of course its not simply one kind of person, it just happens if your males and black, you will get less replies.

This is why I find the data really interesting as its response rates. You can craft an algorithm which connects people in what ever way but their reply rate will say so much more.

However saying all this, something else is at play

Lewis also found that people were more willing to reply to a user of a different race after that person initiated contact. Furthermore, they were more likely to start a conversation with a user of a different race after that interaction.Lewis said one qualifying factor for this could be simple preemptive discrimination. In other words, users are less likely to initiate contact with a person of another race because they’re not sure that person will be interested in them.“Part of the reason site users, and especially minority site users, do not express interest in individuals from a different racial background is because they anticipate — based on a lifetime of experiences with racism — that individuals from a different background will not be interested in them.”

The data were reading from the dating sites is the instant reply rates. As I was saying no one likes being rejected specially on the grounds of race, theres a self censorship or lack of confidence to put yourself through the pain again. However if you do its more likely to work out better than you imagined.

So although the reply rates are bad for certain races such as black people, and it seems hopeless sometimes. I would urge people to keep going. Its a bit of a numbers game and this is once again another reason why the free online dating sites win out over the top of paid dating sites. You need time and its no fun sinking more and more money and your attention into something which isn’t going well.

Keep going…!

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.