Dating has become a bit of a minefield these days.
Between Bumble, Tinder and random hookups, it’s as if finding the right person is next to impossible, which is why many people turn to experts to help them find the love of their lives. Matchmaker Claire, one of the yentas at Friend of a Friend Matchmaking, makes it her mission to help couples connect, but she’s often faced with potential clients whose own personal biases get in the way of finding true love. And it’s more prevalent than you might think. In fact, your own dating preferences may not be preferences at all, but hidden racial biases you didn’t even know you had.
According to the Pew Research Center, in the 50 years since the Loving v. Virginia trial allowing for legal interracial marriage, there has been an increase of nearly five times the amount of interracial couples in the U.S. But in 2015 (the last year stats were available), that was still only 10 percent of married couples—around 11 million Americans in total.
“People don’t often question why they lead the lives the lead,” Claire says. She often encounters potential love matches who insist they will not date people outside of their own race, which, she says, is very common. “They don’t tend to look at the larger forces that shape why they like certain things and gravitate toward specific types of people,” she explains. “It’s also significantly easier to say it’s a ‘preference’ than to sit with the uncomfortable truth that racism [could] inform their worldview.”
New York-based sex educator and activist Dirty Lola agrees, and like Claire, she says her approach is all about education. “I try to share my personal experiences [in dating]. I think the only way to talk to someone about racism in dating is to talk about the emotional impact it can have when you constantly run across it. I try to tap into their sense of empathy.”
Lola also hopes people understand that racism isn’t just overt actions—the ones we all know are wrong—but more subtle, daily things that are deemed acceptable by many in society. “It’s not just calling someone the ‘N’ word or burning crosses in front yards,” she explains. “Admit and accept that racism is still a very big problem in this country.”
While no one is saying you should go for someone you aren’t necessarily attracted to in order to prove you aren’t racist, both Claire and Lola insist that with white folk in particular, the preference to date only white women stems from Euro-centric beauty standards that declare Asian and black women undesirable unless they are Beyoncé or Lucy Liu.
“I had a man tell me that he was able to pretend I was white because of my skin color and how I speak,” Lola says. “He didn’t understand why I was so upset with him after he made that comment. He honestly thought I’d take someone saying they could easily pretend I was a white girl as a compliment. This is the fucked-up dating world that many [women of color] have to deal with.”
The opposite side of a refusal to date outside of your race is a group of people who only date one specific race. Asian women especially are fetishized by white North American men stemming from historical ideas of subservient Japanese women who will cater to a man’s every whim. This bastardization of the traditional geisha culture has spread and attached itself to many different Asian countries.
“Benevolent racism is still racism,” Claire says, admitting that generalizing perfection in someone’s racial background can be just as damaging as racial refusal. Lola agrees, saying, “It harkens back to times when black women were seen as exotic and taboo simply because of the color of their skin. There is absolutely nothing the color of someone’s skin has to do with their ability to be the person who could rock your world.”
If you find yourself constantly swiping left on people of a different race, it may be time to ask yourself why. Although it might be hard to admit you’re inadvertently doing something hurtful to people of another race, figuring out why can open up a whole new world of possibilities when it comes to finding the perfect mate. But don’t do it because you have to, do it because you want to.
“[You should] actually want to break the cycle and not just go through the motions so you appear to be a decent human being,” Lola concludes. “Race is a social construct that really has no baring on whether or not someone will make a good lover.”
So go forth, and meet someone new. Stepping outside your comfort zone will reap rewards.