Preference To Strongly Date Within Own Race Is Considered Racist?
A few weeks ago, OkCupid, the popular “freemium” dating service, started offering its paid subscribers a very cool new tool. Rather than just sort through potential dates by using familiar filters like age and height, you could use the answers OkCupid members gave to various questions, such as “Do you like to watch sports on television?” or, my personal favorite, “Do you find British comedies entertaining?”
Questions are an important part of what makes OkCupid work. The site nudges you to answer as many questions as you can stand, and it also nudges you to make your answers public, as you can only see the answers of potential dates if you disclose your own answers. Answering questions allows OkCupid’s fancy algorithms to identify people who might be a good fit for you. Though these algorithms can be cleverly gamed, the basic idea that answering questions honestly will allow you to find people who share your sensibilities, goals, and quirks makes intuitive sense.
In a somewhat similar vein, one of OkCupid’s questions reads as follows: “Would you strongly prefer to go out with someone of your own skin color/racial background?” I was struck by the not inconsiderable number of people who answered “yes”—including some people I know “in real life,” many of whom are hilariously self-righteous about their enlightened political views.
Keep in mind that OkCupid users can skip a question with ease. The people who answered this question had every opportunity not to do so. What I found surprising about the fact that a fair number of people answered that they would indeed strongly prefer to go out with someone of their own skin color/racial background was not that this phenomenon exists in the world. Racial preferences in dating are quite common, and women appear to exhibit stronger same-race preferences than men. Rather, I was surprised that people would be willing to openly state that they had strong same-race preferences. One assumes that many people who do have such preferences would either chose not to disclose them publicly, or chose to skip the question entirely.
Is a strong same-race preference something one ought to be ashamed of? Or is it enough to say that the heart wants what it wants and to leave it at that? This is a more important question than you might think. To be sure, dating is about more than the sharing of bread, and OkCupid users who express strong racial preferences may well be doing the world a favor by being open and honest about their wants. But I don’t think it’s too much to ask those who do express such preferences, and those who live them in practice, to reflect on them, and on how there might be more to fighting racism than voting “the right way.”
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