Dating Without Race on Your Mind? There’s No App for That

Their generation is diverse and progressive, and they have modern love-seeking tools at their fingertips. But black millennials seeking romance online find that it’s impossible to swipe past age-old considerations about race-based preferences, stereotypes and minority status.

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Edwin Dei, a New York City-based event coordinator and video game enthusiast, turned to Tinder—which he describes as “the modern version of the bar scene”—and OkCupid because he felt these tools stripped away a layer of mysteriousness from the dating process and enabled him to filter potential matches based on his interests and values.

But they didn’t strip away the work of making a first impression that was strong enough to compensate for being a member of an underrepresented group. Specifically, Dei, 26, says that as a straight black man—using a site where studies show that whites receive a lion’s share of messages—he has to compensate by expending extra energy tailoring messages, enhanced with gifs and YouTube videos, for a truncated group of romantic prospects.

Why? He doesn’t believe he can get away with “copy and paste,” the practice of blasting the same message to several girls, the way he’s heard white men who dominate the site’s share of male users can.

Dei adds that initiating contact is accompanied by what he perceives as added pressure to “represent all black people” to the women he approaches, since he may be one of a relatively small number of black men they encounter.

The technology offers black millennials little to no escape from nagging questions about how their racial identity informs their interactions and desirability. In fact, it might even bring these questions to the surface for members of a generation in which colorblindess is oftentimes considered an ideal. 

Brunson urges black millennials to reject the heightened sense of racial sensitivity that can come with depressing online-dating studies and the universally experienced discouragement—or, as he calls it, “hope killing”—associated with seeking “the one” digitally. How? By focusing on self-love, remaining hopeful, surrounding themselves with positive people in positive relationships, and developing a strong sense of personal identity. In other words, timeless dating basics for which neither youth nor technology is a substitute.

Editor’s note: This article is part of The Root’s Young, Black, and Viral Weekend. Read more about it here.

Erin C.J. Robertson is a summer intern at The Root.